model of cultural transmission that shares features in common with
post-modern thought. And in fact, the Talmud has indeed proved to be
an excellent vehicle for transmission of the modes of thinking,
decision making methodology, and to some degree historical issues of
its time (I say "to some degree" because the various historical
features are viewed very much through the lens of the editors and of
the scholars who are quoted). Its not quite as simple as that because
the Talmud was always a constructed text based on an idealized model,
since few or none of the scholars quoted actually sat in the same
room together or were actually responding to one another, since they
lived in different times and places. Mel's description of the the
intertexuality, intuitive and freely unfolding nature of Talmudic
dialog well captures the nature of the text as we have inherited it.
But this cannot be the end of a conversation about the Talmud as a
model. There are problems inherent when process becomes enshrined in
written text, and also when the setting for deeply engaged study
falls, as in most religious traditions, in a closed system, under
orthodox purview. Looking at some of these problems can be as useful
as examining the original model.
First, the Talmud proved to be an excellent vehicle for engaged study
of analysis and reasoning drawing upon a particular cultural context,
but not one to address practical needs - since the goal is not a
bottom line. This required the creation of codes during later
centuries, which had the positive value of offering clear guidance,
yet undercut the authority of the Talmud. Talmudic study became study
for study sake (a terrific, but lost goal in contemporary societies),
but disconnected from the real world.
Maybe more important, is that one can only very rarely find a house
of Talmudic study today where the Talmud is used as a model for
inquiring dialog, self-reflective examination of process, and
open-ended searching for how contemporary concerns can be addressed
in new ways, yet informed by the past. Personally, I did study in a
progressive place like this, but it is very rare, especially among
those who treat the text as a literal guide to daily life. Inquiry
has been replaced by study of the text as the object for memorization
of recorded positions and the argumentation that led to them. It is a
second hand look at people who actually engaged in the kind of
dynamics that one would hope for but cannot find in the present.
"Cannot" because study takes place under the auspices of authorities
that privilege stasis over change. Isn't that the nature of
orthodoxies in general?
So - the questions I think this can open up include, among others --
about how one can keep a process of open engagement alive and well
and renewed; what happens when a process of dialog becomes an
artifact to be studied; cultural transmission as cultural
preservation vs. as a renewing force, and so on...
- Bob Gluck
Robert J. Gluck
Associate Professor of Music and Director, Electronic Music Studios
Affiliate Faculty, Department of Judaic Studies
Associate Director, Publications: Electronic Music Foundation
New FMR CD: http://www.electricsongs.com/trio
"Some I know, the cawing crow and three pulsed dove that sounds a coo
nothing like a baby's. Others I cannot name: trill-like-insect
sibilant-song and a gullet-throbbing call forced out by the staccato
notes that follow. It all comes together like a symphony. the passing
cars, notes with flags. counterpoint to the birds." (Susan
Robertson, 'Morning Prayers')
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