Philosophy, and, Talmud, Best Session Ever?

Shamefully, I must admit that for various reasons, I found myself (for the third time in my life) at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego last week. Overall, I haven’t much liked the AAR over the years. Nothing personal, I just find that the Association for Jewish Studies and SPEP to hit closer to my own particular interests. However, on the upside, all of the “Study of Judaism” sessions I attended were quite good. Of particular interest was a panel on The Talmud and Philosophy that dealt with Solomon Maimon’s rather negative views of the Talmud, Levinas, the Talmud and translation and a fascinating paper by Serguei Dolgopolskii‘ entitled “Talmud, And, Philosophy.” Here’s the abstract (although the paper was quite different, as per usual):

This paper addresses the Talmud not only, nor even primarily, as a book or a historical object that for other disciplines to appropriate, but as an intellectual project coextensive in scope to those of philosophy and its significant other, rhetoric. By comparing the theory of Talmudic learning in the work of R. Yitzhak Canpanton (d. 1463) with R. Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s (d. 1746) view of the Talmud as an organon of a perfect rational thinking, this paper asks how the project of the Talmud and that of Enlightenment relate to each other. More specifically, the paper addresses the place of the Talmudic notion of disagreement (machloket) in these two thinkers, proposing to re-read Canpanton’s notion of disagreement in the broader context of the value of agreement that has hitherto been tacitly dominant in philosophy.

The paper was part of a larger project (most papers are) that deals with Rhetoric and Talmud. The presentation began with a rather Derridan problematization of “and” as either conjoining or severing the two terms/disciplines/lines of thought “philosophy” and “Talmud.” More broadly, the argument explored sophistics, which in the tradition of Western metaphysics is either wholly excluded from philosophy or minimally, allowed into it as a second-order discipline of philosophy. Dolgopolski suggested that in post-structuralism rhetoric/sophistics is at times considered the very “ground” for any philosophical approach. He then tied this instabilty to the instabilty of the reception of the Talmud–explored in the panel vis a vis Solomon Maimon and Emmanuel Levinas– explored in his presentation vis a vis the traditional Western dialogue between dialectics and rhetoric. At any rate, I will look forward to the complete forthcoming project: What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement (Fordham University Press). Continue reading