~ Thursday, January 15, 2004 ~
Do you find this funny? Or is it just me?
Many of the people at Drisha have been getting a little sick, and today Talia came in with a voice like a phone sex girl. Jarah, who studies with me in Rabbi Stavisky's rabbinics class on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, was quietly singing the chorus to "Closer to Fine" during a break and suggested that Talia (who was sitting next to us) join in with the harmony. Talia laughed her patent "What am I, stupid? I didn't grow up on Long Island for nothing!" laugh and reminded Jarah of the current state of her voice. Jarah, who is from Miami and has a somewhat more understated demeanor, laughed back, "Yeah, but that's the best time to sing Indigo Girls!" Instead, though, Jarah taught me the harmony part. Later that day, with that melody in my ear and Talmud on the brain, I jotted this down:
I went to the Mishna,
I learned (1) the Gemara,
I looked at the Rashi,
I read from the Torah(2).
There's more than one answer to this question(3),
Making me draw a blurry line(4),
And the more I search the source (5) for some definitive
The closer I am to blind
The closer I am to blind
(1) Study : College :: Learn : Drisha. We're just that much more efficient.
(2) What tickles me is that this even happens to be in the standard order. First we read a teaching from some rabbi or other, called a mishnah. (The Mishnah, with a capital M, is the book that has all these mishnayot together in one place.) Then we attempt to plow through the generally rather opaque commentary on that mishnah, which is called a gemara (mishnah : Mishnah :~: gemara : Gemara). Next we try to figure out what the heck the gemara is saying by looking at Rashi's comments. "Look at the Rashis" is as much a local turn of phrase as "learn the gemaras". If the mishnah or gemara quotes any verses in Tanach--an acronym meaning Torah (five books of Moses), Nevi'im (prophets), and K'tuvim (writings), what the rest of you call the Old Testament--we then read that verse and the ones surrounding it to understand the context. Understanding context occasionally helps, and occasionally muddies the waters further. The rabbis felt free to take quotes out of context in the interest of proving their points. Yay.
(3) The canon of rabbis was an opinionated bunch. In fact, the whole point of the Gemara, as far as I can tell, is to record their disagreements, or machlokot, about what a phrase means or how a law ought to be interpreted.
(4) The machlokot are rarely resolved, so the reader is generally left to figure out the practical implications by himself or herself.
(5) "Source" is another technical term. Instead of referring to the people who responded with commentaries to Tanach, Mishnah, Gemara, etc. as "people who have acted as sources of information and explanation," they're just called "sources". Yes, it's lazy speech, but it adds flavor. :)
By the way, this bevy of commentators--Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rashbam, etc.--are no less opinionated than the canon of rabbis whose ideas are recorded in the Gemara. In particular, Ramban, who lived later than Rashi, almost never agrees with him, and likes to subtly tell us exactly where Rashi can stick his commentaries before presenting his own pearls of wisdom.
~ prattled by Miriam at 9:52 p.m. [+]
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