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Why read the Talmud if Judaism is false?

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  • Why read the Talmud if Judaism is false?

    I would like to read the Talmud at some point, but it's a nontrivial time investment and I have thousands of other books I want to read. Why should I read it, assuming I still haven't decided for Judaism by then? (Sorry if this post is crass in its practicality.)

  • #2
    The Talmud isn't meant to be read the way you'd tackle Aristotle. Serious spelunking requires conversion. Read the Mishneh Torah's Book of Knowledge and the Guide of the Perplexed. The latter tackles the notorious problem of reconciling the immutable Prime Mover with HaShem and His changing emotions. And how much we can say or even think about G-d.

    If you're looking for considerations to tip the balance in one direction, watch the weekly Torah portion. First impression: "Cute, like South Park sans nihilism. I didn't know they think the Torah was literally written by G-d. This is completely unlike christian interpretations." After a year of watching: "That the Torah is Divine rather than pasted together like some Naked Lunch Dada collage is a rational position."
    Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 06-10-2019, 01:16 AM.

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    • #3
      Fair enough. But I meant: “Does it have literary, historical, and political value like the Bible or Qur'an?” Not: “Does it have philosophical value like Aristotle's Metaphysics?”

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      • #4
        Everyman's Talmud was a fascinating read. I loved it. Whether it's an optimal intro I don't know. Historically, the Talmud has been burned en masse by other traditions that are, not incidentally, crashing down around us.

        What is the Talmud?

        Talmud crash course

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        • #5
          Originally posted by John West View Post
          Fair enough. But I meant: “Does it have literary, historical, and political value like the Bible or Qur'an?” Not: “Does it have philosophical value like Aristotle's Metaphysics?”
          I suppose? But since judaism is false, it might be more interesting for you to read commentary or stuff *about* the Talmud and its historical and political influence; might be more direct and cost you less time?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by John West View Post
            Does it have literary, historical, and political value like the Bible?
            Literary value like the (King James) Bible? No. Nothing does. But your search is well-motivated. Faulkner said there's only three books you need to read if you want to be a good writer: "The Old Testament, the Old Testament, and the Old Testament." When Bill wrote a sentence it stayed writ. Ditto for Melville, Cormac McCarthy and some of the many Pynchons. They're standing on the shoulders of a Book written by G-d and translated into the best our language ever had to offer. Even as an atheist I flirted with the Argument from Literary Perfection as evidence for the TaNaKh's Divinity. Consider a passage from Isaiah.

            In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

            Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

            And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

            And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

            Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

            Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:

            And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

            Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

            And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

            Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

            Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,

            And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.

            But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.

            Even if it's false, check out the Rebbe as a sociological phenomenon. The modern Noahide movement is largely the result of his efforts. The reason some pegged him as Moshiach is because he actually did things the Messiah should, like leading the nations to recognize the One True G-d and reminding the Jewish People that this is their Cosmic Mission.

            Originally posted by The Rebbe
            The body is merely a pair of sunglasses which are placed around the soul, so that the soul, peering through its sunglasses, should be able to recognize and elevate the world; and while the world will remain in its physical state, “This physical world, the lowest of the low,” every creation will be cognizant of the Creator and therefore, every thought, speech and action done in the world will be done in the spirit of G-dliness.

            In simple words, as mentioned before: The way to prepare for Rosh HaShanah is by illuminating our lives: “What is my true purpose?” “What is expected of me, and what must I accomplish with the world?” How will we know our purpose?

            If G-d created the world, and placed man inside of it, we can be sure, that in His Goodness, He won’t allow man to stumble in the dark. So He gave us the Torah of Light. He gave us something which will illuminate our lives, and illuminate the world surrounding us. If we will enlighten ourselves, then we will understand and feel – and if we are worthy, we will even see – the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, that the world is constantly created with G-d’s word, “By G-d’s word, the heavens were made,” and continue to be created every moment. ... G-d constantly creates the world and gives it life, so He is the true essence of the world, even though it is a world where G-dliness is hidden. G-d’s presence is merely covered by a “blanket.”

            The parables of the Baal Shem Tov are fascinating even in naturalistic possible worlds.

            For purposes of comparing western theologies and highlighting how radically different they are, Kabbalah-inspired fantasy is more exotic than the traditional tropes.

            If Pirkei Avot doesn't constitute "wisdom literature" we should dispense with the term.
            Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 06-13-2019, 03:24 AM.

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            • #7
              I would say that, unless you're willing to very painstakingly work through a rather difficult text in Aramaic then there is very little reason for you to study the Talmud. I've completed the Talmud - something even most observant jews don't manage to accomplish. And you know what? I still wouldn't say that I know the whole thing well. The Talmud (at least its bulk - the legal parts) is completely incomprehensible unless you're willing to spend hours trying to understand a single line. Its style is very terse, and its reasoning comes across as tendentious or silly without properly understanding what the context and subtext is. In short, the only way to get any gain out of the Talmud itself is to study it intensively along with the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists - and even then you're going to have a lot of analysis to do on your own. If you're really interested in taking it up, though, I would advise you to first read through Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (a complete compilation of jewish law). That will give you a sense of the legal context against which the Talmudic discussions take place. You also need to get used to the style and method of the Talmud, which is extremely terse and cryptic. Also realize that much is going to get lost in translation.

              In terms of its effect, understanding the Talmud is absolutely crucial to understanding Orthodox Judaism. But as a political or social text you will probably not find it very satisfying. Not that those things aren't in there, only that you need to know the whole thing to be able to construct a coherent whole, and even then you're going to need to discout a bunch of passages as dissenting opinions.
              Last edited by Abraham; 06-13-2019, 06:28 PM.

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              • #8
                Thank you for the honest replies, gentlemen.

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