Friday, March 31, 2006

Constitutions

Three months later, I return to this space with less drive and intensity. I continue to study the daf, more or less; at this point a few weeks behind the "official" schedule. I have notes that I often promise myself I will refine and post here, but I've come to realize that if I insist on that being a prerequisite to keeping this space alive then this space will indeed go dark except for the robotic spammers who parasitically post their promotional announcements disguised as comments.

As to my current Talmud reading: it's a dry patch. There was an inspirational gemara that I incorporated into a d'var Torah last week. I hope to write up those notes this weekend. But mostly, I'm not engaged just now. Just to be clear: Talmud continues to engage me; I am speaking only of Tractate Pesachim as being a hard slog.

I continue to read and think about Talmud. Yesterday I picked up Moshe Halbertal's People of the Book, which opens with the following story, credited to an unnamed teacher:
Don't think that hell is where people are consumed by fire for their sins or that heaven is where they are rewarded with pleasures for their piety. What really happens is that God gathers everybody in one large hall. Then He gives them the Talmud and commands them to start studying. For the wicked, studying Talmud is hell. For the pious, it's heaven.
I would add that for this am haaretz it is sometimes heaven and sometimes hell, but it is the hall I find myself in.

My current secular studies include America's Constitution by Akhil Reed Amar. The miracle of self-governance (not in heaven) is shared by Rabbinic Judaism and our more recent set of Founding Fathers, so studying constitutional law does not seem very distant from studying halacha. In fact, Halbertal literally closes the gap when he notes that "If a text is authoritative, then the issue of who may interpret it is of enormous importance." We must be content to empower the Supreme Court to be the great arbiter of our constitution; but in the absence of a Great Sanhedrin, who should we empower to interpret our Talmud?

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