Thursday, March 5, 2009

The fox and the hedgehog

The podcast From Israelite to Jew (feed), by Michael L. Satlow is an ongoing study into the development and nature of the Hebrews in early antiquity. This was the time they developed from Israelites, a nation, or a set of tribes within a loose nation into an ethnic group the Jews. It offers a very clear and accessible insight into the study of the Bible and history.

Within the series is one exceptional episode that is hardly related to the subject at all and it bears the enigmatic title The hedgehog, the fox and the Talmud. Even though this episode is reflecting on the study of the Talmud and I have little or no understanding of the Talmud, there was quite a chord struck in me.

Satlow ponders upon the question how the Torah and consecutively the Talmud can be studied if they are such a vast collection of writings. Those writings are from different ages, from different perspectives and ideologies and also of different natures and styles. How can one take this hotchpotch as one whole with some kind of unity and system that can be studied? A beginning of an answer he finds in Tolstoy and his use of the fox and the hedgehog as animals who each have a different way of perception and approach to reality and these than serve as exemplars of how one can think. It resonated in me with my old struggles when I was writing my PhD about the system of Law and had to find some way of assuming logic and unity within the vast body of the Law that is also an anthology of different kinds of rules, from different ages and with different goals, values, criteria and ideologies in mind.

It seems to me that Satlow by applying Tolstoy's analogy to the study of Talmud, makes an application that is useful in many other fields of study, theory of Law not in the least.

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