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Book details
  • SubGenre:Religious
  • Language:English
  • Pages:300
  • eBook ISBN:9781483525518

Talmud as Philosophy

The Problem of Evil and the Search for Wisdom in Rabbinic Language

by Gabe Eisenstein

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A philosopher seeks to demonstrate that creative spirituality need not conflict with pragmatism or respect for the facts, by showing how both kinds of thinking work together in the Talmud. On its surface the Talmud is an apparent jumble of myth, legend, history and random moralizing. But to close reading, the patterns in its sequences of “sayings” exhibit a deep awareness of many universally relevant questions (such as what modern philosophy calls the “problem of evil”), as well as a realistic and surprisingly modern understanding of the linguistic obstacles to answering them. In addition to making traditionalists more aware of the Talmud’s subtlety (and its openness to criticism), I hope to persuade secularists of its relevance, and recommend it to the modern progressive mind.
The bulk of this volume consists of readings of two sections of the Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli): the section on the “Three Kings” (who are excluded from the world to come), beginning at Sanhedrin 101b, and the section containing the “Evil Inclination” parable, beginning at Yoma 69a. In addition there are short pieces dealing with the “Ten Tribes” debate (Sanhedrin 110b), the discussion of the two Hebrew alphabets (Sanhedrin 21b), the interpretation of dreams (Berachoth 55a), the four men who “entered paradise” (Chagigah 15b), and the instruction to “give thanks for evil” (Berachoth 60b). The point of view of these readings is that of a sympathetic outsider. It was my hope as I began this project that my naivete as a student of Judaism might have its own virtue, in that I could regard the texts with fresh eyes, and might see some things that piety and respect for authority tend to render invisible. Several years later, I feel as if I have uncovered treasures beyond my wildest expectation. I have found that traditional interpretation underestimates the level of thinking in the Talmudic text, by taking it too literally. Mythic and legendary stories, along with far-fetched leaps of language, have traditionally been treated with extreme credulity and reverence, when the text demands just the opposite: a creative engagement that penetrates to the underlying ethical, political and spiritual questions. That was how the rabbis themselves proceeded. The book should appeal to secular Jews, philosophers and progressives (as well as traditionalists willing to take a fresh look). The author considers himself to be making a contribution to contemporary philosophy, as well as to the interpretation of the Talmud.
About the author
Gabe Eisenstein was born in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy, and from the University of Texas with PhD. in Philosophy. He taught Philosophy at Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, Portland State University and Willamette University. He also worked as a Computer Scientist for 20 years. He is now retired and lives in rural Oregon.