Tuesday, 8 June 2010

On Pilpulism 1 - Triumph of the Text

I would argue simply this, that promoting the Bavli over the Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Sifrei, etc. Was a direct endorsement of pilpulism and dialectic learning over p'shat learning - at least in the realm of Halachah

One of the premier pashtanim - the Rashbam himself - makes this very point; namely that Midrash Halachah trumps p'shat

The Plain P'shat in "arami oved avi" is that it is either a reference to Avraham Avinu or to Yaakov Avinu. [EG Ibn Ezra says one of them]

The fact that ever year we declare, we affirm, we recite at the seder that it is a reference to Lavan, is an endorsement of Midrash Halachah over p'shat and by extension of pilpulism and dialecticism over the simple read.

For yet another example - see Onkelos on Lo t'vasheil G'di.

I once met an Andalusian fundamentlalist who opposes Tosafot completely and even Bavli partially for this very reason; and sees the Mishnah and the Yerushalmi as more loyal to the Oral Law. It would make for an interesting debte between this fellow and Talmudic fundamentalists who see the Bavli as "uber alles"

As I once commented in the Bet Midrash - Tosafot is applying the Talmud's own methodology towards that text itself. In fact, Tosafot saw themselves as perpetuating tht very tradition of learning. As such it goes beyond what the Talmud SAYS to what the Talmud DOES.

Those who dissent and endorse Bavli and oppose Tosafot are in effect saying With regards to the Talmud "do as I SAY but not as I DO!"

If the Amora'im and the "S'tamma'im" of the Talmud wanted to create a "Mishnah- Torah-style" document - they could have. But they didn't

The Bavli-style instead was preserved - albeit moderately reduced - by EG sh'iltot, Halachot G'dolot, Hilchot haRi"f - even Torat Habayyit ho'oruch. But Rambam's codification was a radical break with the structure of the past.

Shloymie: But Rabbi Wolpoe - you at times present yourself as somewhat of a "strict constructionist". And so how does that jibe with your defense and apology of Pilpulism?

The best answer is that I'm not always consistent! ;-). Let's simply admit that I'm ambivalent towards Pilpulism, and that I might have made different choices earlier in our history if I had the power to do so.

But the real answer is that while I'm no big proponent of Pilpul, I must be honest enough to concede that it has been endorsed at several critical junctures in Rabbinic History.

So although I might WISH things were different, I accept the verdict of history and allow that things didn't go my way.

I oppose the dishonesty of re-writing or retrofitting Rabbinic History by pretending that Talmudism has been opposed to pilpul and dilectic. It is what it is.

OTOH, maybe the Rambam's point was simply valid, in that what was good THEN does not work anymore and on a go-forward basis we should move away from Pilpul. But even if the Rambam had a valid point ...

So even though our Halachic world leans a bit more towards various codes, we cannot "Poo-Poo" the Prominence of Pilpulism - especially in Perpetuating the Paramount Position of the Talmud.


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