Thursday, September 11, 2014

Haircuts, mourning, and theodicy in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Rules for Hair Cutting and Rending Garments—and Exceptions for Newborns. Daf Yomi: The Talmud’s ruling principle is that there is always a correct course of action, since God is watching. This one covers a lot of ground and is hard to excerpt, but it concludes:
But then, at many points in the Talmud we read about a father being chastised by the loss of his children, or a husband by the loss of his wife. A family, in the Talmudic view, was not a collection of individuals but a man’s possession, which could be taken from him if he sinned. In this way, the rabbis tried to find some modicum of logic, of cause and effect, to loss. If you are punished, it must be because you deserved it. Likewise, in Moed Katan 18b we read that a person is never accused of a crime unless he is at least somewhat guilty: “A man is suspected of having done something wrong only if he has indeed done so. And if he did not do it wholly, he did it partly. And if he did not do it even partly, he thought in his heart to do it. And if he did not think to himself to do it, he saw others doing it and was happy.” To the rabbis, anything seemed preferable to acknowledging that life, with all its grief and suffering, might simply be random.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.