Friday, March 01, 2013

Tents and Persian fire priests in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET MAGAZINE: Ancient Laws for Modern Times. When is a tent just a tent and not like a bed or a hat? To update Jewish laws, the rabbis reasoned by analogy.
... But the rabbis of the Talmud are not law-makers. They are interpreters of already existing laws, both the written laws of the Torah and the Oral Law handed down over generations. Their job was to close the gaps between ancient laws and modern problems, a task that requires a particular kind of intellectual creativity. This is a creativity that is not, or can’t admit itself to be, originality. The rabbis always insist that the answers to problems are already present in the sources—biblical verses or Tannaitic rulings—and only need to be uncovered. What looks to a modern reader like Talmudic contortions of logic often has to do with the rabbis’ insistence on connecting a new case to an old precedent.
Oh, and rabbinic sages are still here, but there are still some Persian fire priests around too, so I guess we have to call that one a draw.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.