November 28th, 2012
Literary critic Adam Kirsch continues his weekly reflections on Daf Yomi with a discussion of deduction and analogy in the Talmud. Here’s an excerpt:
One of the most challenging things about reading the Talmud, I have found over the last several months, is its total lack of interest in arranging topics in what might seem like their logical order. Reading Daf Yomi means starting with what is conventionally called the beginning of the Talmud, with Tractate Berachot. But in fact, there is no real beginning or end to the Talmud; it does not start with basic concepts and move on to more advanced ones, or set out its axioms and then apply them. Rather, reading it is like joining a long-running conversation, in which the participants—the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Gemara—already know the issues at stake and the definitions of important terms. They often refer to subjects that will only be treated in “later” tractates, and they introduce wholly new teachings on the basis of a verbal parallel or a common Tannaitic source. The only way to get up to speed is to keep reading, in the hope that eventually everything will become clear, or clear enough.