Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 3

In the Summer of 1974 I took 2 courses on Scientific Techniques in Talmud from Professor MS Feldblum OBM In an early class, Professor Feldblum offered several radical, innovative, and perhaps revisionist perspectives on how to read a sugya.

The majority of the students - many in YU's semicha program - jumped up in protest: "This will overturn the Shulchan Aruch!". And left in a huff as class ended. Probably to be a contrarian - and also out of sympathy for a man under attack - I stayed after class.

The dialogue with Professso Feldblum [MSF] went somewhat like this:

RW: Is it true that your methods will overturn SA?

MSF: Not at all! The SA [practical Halacha] remains as it is; I am only using science to better understand the sugya

RW: So why bother revising the understanding of the sugya

MSF: Over time, this will INFLUENCE how Halachah is interpreted.

He might have said "Torah Lishma" but he did not. Revised THINKING was important to him, but so was loyalty to Halachah. Many at YU could not handle this form of cognitive dissonance.

IOW MSF's goals were influence and evolution, and neither dogma nor revolution. As MSF saw it philology of Talmud and Psaq Halachah will converge over time, probably over many generations. Meanwhile Halachah is what it is.

He also taught the importance of understanding even "incorrect" girsaot and mis-understandings in order to better empathize with how Rishonim VIEWED the text - even when mistaken from an absolute sense.

IOW, the Rashba might have "run" with a faulty decision based upon a faulty girsa. It is also my thesis that Rambam would often concur with Rashi and Tosafot had he had their version of Talmud Shabbat.


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