Orthodoxy and Talmudic Criticism? On Misleading Attributions in the Talmud

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Critical approaches to the Talmud flourished among liberal elements in nineteenth-century Jewry. Scholars whose aim was to introduce further alterations to Jewish law found backing for their agenda in their scientific treatment of the Talmud, emphasizing the dynamic transmission of this central Jewish tradition. However, describing the emergence of Talmud criticism without considering the contribution of traditional writers would be misleading. Orthodox scholars did occasionally arrive at and elaborate on critical insights, at times precisely in order to defend their conservative views. An instructive example of this phenomenon comes from the writings of a leading opponent of Wissenschaft des Judentums, Yitzhak Isaac Halevy (1847–1917). In one of his apologetic discussions, Halevy introduced a revolutionary principle, according to which the Talmud would often attribute an original phrase by an Amora to that same Amora in other halakhic contexts.

  • 17

    On Weiss see E.R. Malachi‘Rabbi Isaac Hirsch Weiss’Perakim 4 (1966) 185–206; M. Hershkowitz ‘Ha-Hoqer Rabbi Yitzhak Zvi: ha-mekhunneh Isaac Hirsch Weiss’ in G. Effel ed. Sefer zikkaron le-Shemuʾel Kalman Mirsky (Jerusalem 1971) 211–235. Starting in the first volume of his periodical Bet Talmud Weiss described the contributions of various Amoraim to the development of the oral tradition as reflected in the Talmud. See I.H. Weiss ‘Tekhunat ha-Talmud bikhlal’ Bet Talmud 1 (1881) 2–9; idem ‘Kelei omanutam be-binyan ha-Talmud’ Bet Talmud 1 (1881) 33–39; idem ‘Omanut yad bonei ha-Talmud’ Bet Talmud 1 (1881) 65–71. Similar matters were discussed at greater length in his Dor dor ve-dorshav vol. 3 (Vilna 1904) 1–190.

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  • 28

    Ibid. 509.

  • 31

    See C. Albeck‘Le-heqer ha-Talmud’Tarbiz 3 (1932) 1–14. Albeck addressed this issue one year earlier in his introduction to Bereshit Rabba (Berlin 1931) 2 n. 3. See also: C. Albeck Mavoʾ la-Talmudim (Tel Aviv 1987) 452–522.

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  • 34

    See Y.E. Efrati‘Ha-toʿelet be-derekh ha-limud ba-shita ha-integralit’Bi-sedei hemed 20 (1977–78) 74–82 174–179 242–249 288–292 366–371. Efrati concludes that the original context of the statement was in bBer 60a see p. 249.

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