Talmudic Does Not Equal Socratic
On the Leftreasonous rag The Guardian’s online forum, Comment Is Free (which I usually call, “Grauniad Ciff”, as anyone who’s seen my linkfests on LGF knows), Seth Freedman brought another of his anti-Israel articles dressed as “concern for Israel’s future”, No Peace, no prosperity, from September 18, 2007 (subtitle: “All the money spent on war, walls and West Bank expansion is taking its toll on the sectors of Israeli society that badly need state assistance.” The fact of Israel having to spend on defense even within its 1949 Armistice Line borders is conveniently ignored). Once again, the more interesting stuff goes in the comments. Here’s the first, from “TheKingOfDoubt”:
/YAWN/ One more "gig" for Freedman to draw silly moral equivalences between Palestinian terrorists (whom he calls "militias") and Israeli settlers (whom he calls radicals).
Freedman, one of the reasons I would never convert to Judaism is that there are people like you within this prestigious religion, making a mockery of your own heritage, and slandering their own people under the excuse of a phony "objectivity". It's a bitter "gesheft," to be sure.
It never ceases to amaze me how non-Jewish pro-Israel commenters tend to be much bolder, and furthermore, much more Jewish in their stance than a lot of Jews. On the later thread Life behind the wire, by Chris Doyle, another piece hammering home the “Israel = Apartheid South Africa” libel, a commenter named “RowdyDragon”, who says of himself that he is “neither a Jew nor an Evangelical”, posted three comments advocating mass expulsion of the Muslims from Israel! (The second comment was deleted—the “free” in “Comment Is Free” obviously refers to price, not to freedom—but as always when I catch them in time, I save them for posterity.)
But back to Freedman’s thread. A commenter named, “figliomedio” answered “TheKingOfDoubt” thus:
Another reason that you would never convert to Judaism is that you do not appear to know that when two burglars drop down a chimney it is inconceivable that one will be clean and the other covered in soot.
Argument, debate, turning and turning it and turning it again goes to the very essence of Judaism. People like you who would merely stifle debate do not have the necessary qualifications. [Emphasis mine. —ZY]
This point needs addressing, because one of the charges of “Progressives” (in reality, cultural-Marxified religionists) everywhere is that “the true spirit of the religion” is about absolutely open debate, and moreover, is about asking questions for the sake of asking questions.
With all due respect to the Socratic method, which has its uses and might be beneficial in certain situations, it’s not the traditional Jewish way. The Talmudic method asks questions, sure, but that’s just about what it has in common with the Greek philosophical tradition. And if anyone says the Talmud is based on asking questions for the sake of asking questions, he couldn’t be more wrong.
Let me open with the Mishnah, Brachot 2:1:
From when do you say the Sh’ma in the evenings? From the hour that the priests enter to eat in their offering.
“Until the end of the first watch [of the night]”, [those are] the words of Rabbi Eliezer. And [the other] sages say: “Until midnight”. Rabban Gamliel says: “Until the column of dawn rises”.
A story [goes] that his sons came from the house of feasting, and said to him: “We did not call the calling of Sh’ma”. He said to them: “If the column of dawn has not risen, you must call”.
And not just this did they say, but also, in all places where the sages said, “Until dawn”, their mitzvah is until the column of dawn has risen. Incense the fats and the body parts—their mitzvah is until the column of dawn has risen. And all that which is eaten in one day, their mitzvah is until the column of dawn has risen. If so, why did the sages say, “Until midnight”? So as to distance a person from transgression.
This mishnah begins with a question, but there are many things here that go against the “Progressive”, or the Socratic, tradition.
First, far from the Socratic-Progressive tradition of putting everything up for grabs, we can see here an assumption, taken for granted, that a Jew must say the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4) in the evenings. Were that debate along the Progressive lines, there would be the question, “Who says the Sh’ma must be said in the evenings at all?” In fact, the Progressive way of “questioning everything” (everything except for the newly-hatched orthodoxy of Progressivism, that is) would lead to such questions as whether there is any divinity in the Torah, or whether God exists at all, until one is far gone in the depths of estrangement from everything that has defined Judaism for over 3,000 years. No, in the Talmudic method there are some truths that are given and are not to be questioned. Progressives may not like it, but that’s the way traditional religion, as opposed to the New Age deviations, goes.
Second, the questions are not for the sake of asking them—they are for the sake of coming to a conclusive answer. The whole of traditional Jewish discourse is purpose-driven, something that flows from the above fact of buying into the divine assumptions: Talmudic debate is for the purpose of finding the halachah, the religious decree which every believing Jew must follow. The Torah was given in order to be performed; in the Talmud, our rabbis elucidate the details as to how. And though the rabbis may go on wild tangents, the debates often looking like today’s jumps from hyperlink to hyperlink, in the end they come back to the goal: “Halachah k’Rabbi ploni”, meaning, “The religious decree is as Rabbi so-and-so said”, and then the debate is closed.
The aversion to questions for the sake of questions is most illustrated by the Aramaic phrases, “Mai nafkah minah?” (“What goes out from that?”) and “nafkuta hilchatit” (“Halachic consequence”): whenever a question is asked that does not seem to have any consequence to the final verdict, to the religious decree that will be the final outcome of the debate, our sages ask what difference that question makes. The sage who raised the original question is then called to justify it, showing how his question makes a difference as to the final decree. If he does not succeed in doing so, the question is discarded—the Talmud is deeper than the sea in extent, but it has no time to waste on mere philosophy. The purpose stands above all: How to do the Creator’s will.
The New Age, meaning the Primitivist and Cultural-Marxist mindset applied to religion, is about remaking all religions in its obligation-free, faith-free, fluffy and above all heretical image. To be sure, the basic questions that the New Agers ask (mostly concerning the attributes of God) have their place. But not in the Talmud and its tradition, which is beholden to the view that those questions are already behind us, and now the only real question is how to serve God according to His will. And by the way, like all “rebellions against the Establishment™” that have only spawned new orthodoxies, often far worse than the ones they rebelled against, the New Agers are pretty much set on their dogmas: it’s settled for them that, for example, prayer is a means of focusing oneself and does not effect any change in objective reality, or that reward and punishment are systems flowing on a natural, “You reap what you sow” basis rather than meted by God. They display little skepticism for those dogmas.
Beside my encountering of this issue on a forum of the anti-Israel Guardian, this point is important for the defense of Zionism on two counts: because part of the same Progressive tradition is the denial of Jewish nationalism, i.e. of Zionism; and because the Progressive mindset of putting everything up for grabs is the engine that powers the debilitating movement of Post-Zionism, which in the name of “slaughtering sacred cows” has made it fashionable to view the whole Zionist project in doubt, and thus serves as ammunition for those who call for the dissolution of Israel as Jewish state (God forbid). Without that excessive doubt which leads to questioning one’s core assumptions—to sawing the very branch on which one is sitting—and then turning its “skepticism” into the orthodoxy which one must accept or else suffer opprobrium, the preposterous idea that the Jews of Israel are settler-colonialists, rather than a nation returning to its homeland, could never have taken root as such is the situation now. And on the international stage, excessive doubt is the root cause of the pathetic dhimmitude we see all over the non-Muslim world today. Such are the fruits of self-doubt to the point of nihilism.
There are some materials that have to be handled with care, and there are some questions that, if asked at all, must not be asked in a cavalier manner. Doubts and questions are necessary for pruning branches that have not grown the right way; it is when doubts and questions are applied to the roots, to one’s core assumptions, that great caution must be taken, for the results could be disastrous. Many isolated tribes have been blighted by an epidemic of suicide ever since they were first exposed to the changed world outside them. That is because the exposure challenged all the assumptions that they had held until then. Confidence in one’s way, in one’s purpose, is the key to survival. The Muslims have that, and that is why they are able to inflict damages on non-Muslim states way out of proportion to their military capabilities. It is only when we regain our confidence that we will be able to fight back.