Monday, 20 December 2010

Halachic Empathy, Martial Arts, and P'saq

In discussing a knotty Halachic issue with a colleague I was kidding around and wrote down my impression of his point of view. Then I challenged him - "Can YOU articulate MY sheetah in YOUR words?"

It then occurred to me that the Halachah follows Beth Hillel over that of Beth Shammai, and I had a flash of insight as to WHY that is so. Lich'orah the rationale is the one we know and love, namely that Beth Hillel respectfully preceded Beth Shammai's opinion before offering their own and this seems to mean that the Halachah follows the "Humble" Beth Hillel. While much more can be said about humility
I'd like to offer an alternate angle. Namely that Beth Hillel's arguments were superior because they could ALSO understand and even articulate Beth Shammai's viewpoint. Thus, their EMPATHY level was superior

Shloymie: What about BH's HUMILITY?

RRW: I'm thinking that their anivut was mostly a pre-requisite [hechser] for attaining the empathy for their opponent's point of view. But anivut alone would not allow them to "GET" BS's POV. Rather, it requires empathy to get past one's own convictions and be able to articulate the "other's". Note, too, that it takes a bit less energy to merely understand another's point of view than to actually explain it.

Shloymie: How does this relate to Martial Arts?

A significant component of Martial Arts is sparring and competitive fighting between two opponents. In a sense, it's quite similar to Talmud debate and discourse.

Once, a Martial Arts master explained what it takes to be successful in competition using a Zen-like formula:

It's important to know oneself

It's important to know one's opponent

It's best to know BOTH.


Knowing one's own strengths and one's opponent's weaknesses certainly makes for success in a competition. In Talmudic debate, the advantage is more subtle but similar. Understanding and articulating one's "competitor" will undoubtedly help that side to have a more "air-tight" case.

We can actually see this dynamic at work when BH changes its mind in the face of a challenge by BS. The fact that BH submits when its case is weak, suggests that when they DON'T concede, they THEMSELVES have evaluated BOTH sides. This also means when they don't concede, it says something! Conversely when BS does not concede, it says little, since they do not bother to articulate THEIR opponent's s'vara.

Consider a contemporary school that sees and comprehends both sides as opposed to a school that loudly advocates ONLY its own side. Such partisanship must undermine its credibility. Since it lacks objectivity, such a school is "Weak" during competition. It cannot overcome a well-reasoned riposte.


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