Friday, March 24, 2006

Textual Analysis of Gemara - Truth and Consequences

In an article I mentioned earlier byR. Neria Guttel in BDD #15, titled “Layers” in Revadim, discusses the Research Approach versus Yeshiva Approach in learning. He presents the issue from three different perspectives, Truth, Pedagogical and Educational.

From the perspective of Truth, which this post will limit itself to, RNG states that there is no question that the Gemara is layered with different strata, Amoraim, Stamaim and Sevoraim. He however tries to show that the great scholars of the past were aware of the layers and consequently that there are alternative understandings to the Gemara’s when explaining quotations from earlier generations. Rambam in Pirush Hamishna Zavim 4:6 notes a Sevorai interpolation, as does the Ritva in many places. Tosafos Yom Tov in Nazir 5:5 notes that Rambam learns a Mishna differently then the Gemara does, however only when it does not impinge on Halacha. The Gra was also reputed to learn Mishnayos with a different understanding then the Gemara. Gra also was reputed saying that “Chasira Mechsera” is an alternative explanation to the Gemara’s traditional understanding. RNG goes on listing others, Ramban, Rashbam, Netziv etc… concluding that there was a clear understanding among the great Gemara scholars that it is layered and one can interpret differently.

RNG points out that to go from scattered examples to a new theory in the composition of the Gemara is a long way. (Here Halivni I think has shown that it is more than scattered examples). But ultimately he admits that truth be said there is no question that there are “layers” in the Gemara and it was accepted by Rishonim and Acharonim.

(Most of the quotes from Rishonim and Acharonim, as far as I can ascertain, deal mainly with alternative explanations to Mishnayos rather then later Amoraim versus earlier ones. It is not clear that, other then the few notes in Rishonim about interpolations of Sevorai and R.Yehuda Gaon, they accepted alternatives to Amoraitic understanding of their predecessors. It is one thing to disagree on a reading of a ruling Mishna style, another disagreeing on a discussion Gemara style; unless one accepts Halivni’s conjecture that Gemara consisted of rulings rather than dialogue. I am not an expert in this area, but it would seem to me that RNG, confronted with reality, is making a big effort trying to lessen the novelty in the approach).

RNG points out that to go from scattered examples to a new theory in the composition of the Gemara is a long way. (Here Halivni I think has shown that it is more than just scattered examples). But ultimately he admits that truth be said there is no question that there are “layers” in the Gemara and it was accepted by Rishonim and Acharonim.

RNG points out further that from a practical point, the alternative explanations are only alternatives and cannot be seen as the only truth. There is no basis to accept them rather then the Gemara’s or the Stamaim’s understanding. Arguments like “simpler”, “easier” etc… do not necessarily make the suggestion correct. The alternative approaches can therefore have no impact on Halachik rulings and can only be seen as “personal” explanations. (Interestingly RNG does point out that alternative readings in Gemarot suggested by Acharonim did affect Halacha. I think Prof Marc Shapiro in his book on RYY Weinberg reports a query to R. S. Lieberman regarding a reading in a Tosefta to help in a decision relating to an Agunah.) RNG quotes R. S. Lieberman in Tosefta Kefshuta where he cautions in seeing the “Layers” approach as a panacea and answer to all textual difficulties. RNG however concludes that the Gemara is layered is a fact.

In my opinion we are witnessing a major revolution in learning which will eventually affect Halacha. RMS in Meshech Chochma in Bechukosai points out that with the lack of Sanhedrin and the introduction of novel Halachik rulings, learning can become static. There is a limit to how much one can do with a sealed system. This new approach has broken the seals and opened up a channel of study that can go a long way in making learning more innovative. Perhaps it is a way of preparing tools for the Sanhedrin to use in their deliberations when they are reinstituted, hopefully in our times. (I am too realistic to believe we can bridge our differences in such a short time, but one can hope).

9 comments:

  1. Have you seen the revadim website - there are more articles there which you might find interesting:
    www.talmud-revadim.co.il

    Also Hatzofe had articles on the subject:
    http://www.hazofe.co.il/web/madornew/mador.asp?Modul=24&kod=164&kod_gilon=2687

    And you can try:
    http://www.yeshiva.org.il/midrash/shiur.asp?id=1359
    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/toshba/hatalmud/shaar-2.htm

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  2. Heshey Zelcer3/24/2006 3:22 PM

    How does:

    "Tosafos Yom Tov in Nazir 5:5 notes that Rambam learns a Mishna differently then the Gemara does, however only when it does not impinge on Halacha. The Gra was also reputed to learn Mishnayos with a different understanding then the Gemara. Gra also was reputed saying that “Chasira Mechsera” is an alternative explanation to the Gemara’s traditional understanding. RNG goes on listing others, Ramban, Rashbam, Netziv etc… "

    Prove:

    "...concluding that there was a clear understanding among the great Gemara scholars that it is layered ..."

    Maybe they simply gave an interpretation of the Mishnah that they felt was superior to that of the Gemara?

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  3. Heshey,
    Your question is excellent. The way these posts work is that you cannot write too much in one post without losing your audience so I assume that whoever reads this is aware what Revadim is.

    The idea behnd Revadim is that there are layers in the Gemara. Tanaim in the Mishna, ( it has layers within itself - different generations), Amoraim with different generations, Stamaim and sevoraim. Every time a later generation interprets an earlier one, if they don't cover every possibility of interpreting, we are not sure that the original tana or amora really meant what the later one imputes to him. That goes on to the stamaim and the sevoraim. Having alternative explanations, other than the Gemara's is the first step in the analysis and establishment of layers. It is much more involved but is a beggining of an answer to your question.

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  4. Heshey Zelcer3/25/2006 10:05 PM

    That there are layers in the Gemara is, to me, obvious.

    For example we often have a sugya in the Gemara that records a conversation that R. Yohanan had with others. On the other hand when the statement reads, אמר לך ר יוחנן it is clear that R. Yohanan is not answering a question but that the Gemara itself is trying to imagine what R. Yochanan would have answered.

    I just do not understand why you write that when the Rambam interprets a Mishnah differently than the Gemara (especially when you say that these types of re-terpretation should only be done when they do not effect halacha) that it proves that there are layers.

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  5. Because that proves that the Gemara's interpretation is not necessarily the Mishna's original intention. If I want to really know what the mishna meant I now can start from there and arrive at totally different conclusions then what the Gemara's understanding led us to conclude. The caveat is only the tosafos Yom tov's - modern scholars dont have that inhibition. The revadim idea is not defining the layers only, which is not always as obvious as your example, but also to take each layer to its logical conclusion. Of course everybody knows that there are layers and fictitious discussions,( see e.g. the last Rashbam baba basra 95:2) it is what one can do with them that is the issue. Tosafos Yomtov limits it to alternative non halachik pshat others go further.

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  6. BDD #15

    May I ask what BDD is?

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  7. It is a journal put out by Bar Ilan University. It stands for "Bechol Derachecha De'ehu" and deals mostly with orthodox issues. You can find it on the Bar Ilan website.

    ReplyDelete