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December 15, 1989 - Image 21

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BOOKS

COUNTER
INTELLIGENCE

First English Talmud
Is Due For Chanukah

BERNARD S. RASKAS

Special to The Jewish News

T

he Talmud is alive and
well and living in
America.
Sometime around
Chanukah in late December,
Random House will publish
two books in a long-range
project to make the Talmud
available in contemporary
English. This is a giant step
and a major achievement in
bringing the 1,500-year-old
compilation of Jewish
thought to the English-
speaking world.
The Talmud is not only the
basis of Jewish oral law but
is also a collection of
legends, philosophy,
theology, history and
folklore.
Random House will
publish two volumes simul-
taneously. One will be a
guide and introduction to
the entire Talmudic system,
which will enable both the
scholar and layman to
understand the rabbinic pro-
cess of thought. The second
volume will be a translation
into English of the Tractate
Baba Metziah.
Since its compilation 15
centuries ago, the Talmud
has been the most important
book in Jewish culture, the
backbone of Jewish intellec-
tual and social life.
The Talmud has a unique
dialectic and style. It leaves
no subject unexamined;
questioning is not only ex-
pected, but encouraged. No
statement goes unchalleng-
ed, and intense difference of
opinion is the hallmark of its
style.
There is the story of a poor
itinerant Jewish scholar
who specialized in the study
of the Talmud. One day he
came to the shtetl on the eve
of Shabbat in need of food
and a place to stay.
He knocked at the door of
the local rabbi's house seek-
ing a meal and shelter.
"What do you do?" the rabbi
asked.
"I am a student of the
Talmud," the scholar
replied.
Thereupon, the rabbi
challenged, "prove it."
Replied the scholar, "Say
something and I will refute
you."

Rabbi Bernard S. Raskas is
rabbi emeritus of the Temple of
Aaron in St. Paul and author
of the trilogy, Heart of
Wisdom.

The Talmudic phrases
vedilma iphkha ("and
perhaps the opposite is
true") and ipkha mistbra
("the opposite holds") help to
explain the Talmudic style.
It is a critical stance leveled
at social and general prob-
lems. Considering the other
possibility at times becomes
a creative spark of genius.
The multiple sense of the
meaning of Scripture is a
cardinal principle of rab-
binic Judaism. As the
Talmud itself states: "Just
as a hammer shatters rock
and generates numerous
splinters, so may a single
verse yield a multiplicity of
meanings" (Sanhedrin 34a
on Jeremiah 23:29).
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in
his Random House English
translation of Tractate Baba
Metziah, illustrates this pro-
cess. Baba Metziah has as its
central theme the conflicts
that may arise over the
ownership of various items
of property.
The opening section
discusses two people who
have found a specific object
that each wants to keep. Is
one of them lying? Could
they both be lying, or could
they both be telling the
truth? What criteria do we
use in determining a claim?
As with all talmudic discus-
sions, there comes the subtle
interplay of human relation-
ships that reflect the spec-
trum of all of life and thus
render the discussion
timeless.
But the Talmud is vastly
more than law. It is the
repository of thousands of
years of Jewish wisdom, the
range of human knowledge,
various philosophies, anec-
dotes, humor and a blend of
logic and pragmatism.
Rabbinic lore contains one
story that is an illustration
of this approach:
A ruler said to Rabbi
Joshua ben Hananiah, "I
wish to see your God."
He replied, "You cannot
see the Divine directly."
"But I must see God," said
the ruler.
Rabbi Joshua then placed
him facing the sun during
the summer solstice and said
to him, "Look up at the
sun."
"I cannot," he replied.
Then Rabbi Joshua said,
"If you cannot look at the
sun, which is but one of the
many servants of God, how
can you expect to look upon
the Shechinah (the presence

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

21

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