Friday, July 12, 2019

On digressions in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Neither Less Than X nor More Than Y. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ minima and maxima decorate the memory palaces Talmudic rabbis built to sustain the oral tradition of Babylonian learning.
The reason why digressions are so common in the Talmud is that it began as an oral tradition, not a written text—a vast memorized accumulation of the debates held in the Babylonian academies. What look like digressions on the page usually served some mnemonic purpose. The appearance of a certain sage’s name, for instance, might trigger the recollection of his opinions on different subjects. Often, the common principle is grammatical: When a teaching that takes a certain verbal form arises in the Gemara, the sages will recount other, unrelated laws that happen to follow the same pattern.
This is a deployment of the catchword principle, which was also a major feature of ancient Jewish exegesis of scripture. It is also used often in the New Testament.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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