Search This Blog

Friday, October 18, 2013

Torah Sh'b'al Peh and Greece

כי תקנה עבד עברי. To the unprejudiced mind, nothing can show so strikingly the truth of the traditional oral-law as the first two paragraphs [of Shemot 21], V. 2-6 and 7-11, with which this “Mosaic Lawgiving” starts. The civil and criminal laws of the Nation are to be given, the fundamental basis and the ordinances of justice and humanness are to be laid down, which are to govern the relationship and behavior of man to his fellow-man in the state; the first matter to be dealt with, quite naturally deals with the rights of man, and this starts with the sentences: “When a man sells another man,” and “when a man sells his daughter!” What an unthinkable enormity if actually this “written word” of the “book of Law of the Jewish Nation” should really be the one and only sole source of the Jewish conception of “Rights.” What a mass of laws and principles of jurisprudence must have already been said and fixed, considered, laid down and explained, before the Book of Law could reach these, or even speak of these, which, after all, are only quite exceptional cases. And it is with these sentences, the contents of which deny and limit the very holiest personal right of man, the right to personal freedom, that the Law begins. But it is quite a different matter if the written word, the “Book” is not the real source of the Jewish conception of Rights, if this source is the traditional law, which was entrusted to the living word to which this “book” is only to be an aid to memory and reference, when doubts arise…

“The תורה שבכתב is to be to the תורה שבעל פה in the relation of short notes on a full and extensive lecture on any scientific subject. For the student who has heard the whole lecture, short notes are quite sufficient to bring back afresh to his mind at any time the whole subject of the lecture. For him, a word, an added mark of interrogation, or exclamation, a dot, the underlining of a word etc. etc. is often quite sufficient to recall to his mind a whole series of thoughts, a remark etc. For those who had not heard the lecture of the Master, such notes would be completely useless. If they were to try to reconstruct the scientific contents of the lecture literally from such notes they would of necessity make many errors. Words, marks, etc., which serve those scholars who had heard the lecture as instructive guiding stars to the wisdom that had been taught and learnt, stare at the uninitiated as unmeaning sphinxes. The wisdom, the truths, which the initiated reproduce from them (but do not produce out of them) are sneered at by the uninitiated, as being merely clever or witty play of words and empty dreams without any real foundation.”

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary of the Torah (trans. Isaac Levy), Shemot 21:2

“It seems to me, indeed, that in order to understand the works of the philosophers of antiquity we must take account of all the concrete conditions in which they were wrote, all the constraints that weighed upon them: the framework of the school, the very nature of philosophia, literary genres, rhetorical rules, dogmatic imperatives, and traditional modes of reasoning…I do want to stress the fact that written works in the period we study are never completely free of the constraints imposed by oral transmission. In fact, it is an exaggeration to assert, as has still been done recently, that Greco-Roman civilization early on became a civilization of writing and that one can thus treat, methodologically, the philosophical works of antiquity like any other written work.

“For the written works of this period remain closely tied to oral conduct. Often they were dictated to a scribe. And they were intended to be read aloud, either by a slave reading to his master or by the reader himself, since in antiquity reading customarily meant reading aloud, emphasizing the rhythm of the phrase and the sound of the words, which the author himself has already experienced when he dictated his work. The ancients were extremely sensitive to these effects of sound…

“This relationship between the written and the spoken word thus explains certain aspects of the works of antiquity. Quite often the work proceeds by the associations of ideas, without systematic rigor. The work retains the starts and stops, the hesitations, and the repetitions of spoken discourse. Or else, after re-reading what he has written, the author introduces a somewhat forced systematization by adding transitions, introductions, or conclusions to different parts of the work…

“More than other literature, philosophical works are linked to oral transmission because ancient philosophy itself is above all oral in character. Doubtless there are occasions when someone was converted by reading a book, but one would then hasten to the philosopher to hear him speak, question him, and carry on discussions with him and other disciples in a community that always serves as a place of discussion. In matters of philosophical teaching, writing is only an aid to memory, a last resort that will never replace the living word.”
Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a way of life (ed. Arnold I. Davidson), pp. 62-63

No comments: