Talmud blatantly differs from the document upon which it comments. The formalized rhetoric of the Talmud breaks Mishnah’s carefully unfolding taxonomy, in which circumstances combining to define a hypothetical case are systematically varied, in order to generate lists of such cases requiring classification with respect to the law’s application. First, Talmud fragments the mishnaic text, eclipsing its system.’ Second, the talmudic editors freely examine excised pieces of Mishnah in relation to other sources, equally deconstructed, such as a homiletical, scriptural exegesis (aggadic midrash) or more often a datum from an extra-mishnaic legal pericope. The overall effect shifts one’s focus from Mishnah’s ideal world to the Talmud’s own process of query and analysis. That process remains the principal, sustained trait of the Talmud’s authorship, overshadowing any structured definition of the world contained in Mishnah, the Pentateuch or any other authoritative document or tradition. While the authority of the documents, everywhere cited in fragmented form, lies behind the talmudic authorship, the Talmud effectively borrows that authority for its own scholastic critique. In making passages of Mishnah to some extent one body of evidence among a larger set of materials culled from other texts, the process of critique remains enduringly holy and authoritative. If there is sacred power in the documents, only the Talmud’s rhetorical endeavours make manifest that force in this world-much as the early medieval, Roman bishops claimed that the saints’ relics work their miracles subject to episcopal authority. Insofar as persons, namely, rabbis, engaged in Talmud-like scholastic activity, their authority in a sense both subsumed and displaced that of Mishnah.

Jack N. Lightstone, “The Institutionalization of the Rabbinic Academy in Late Sassanid Babylonia and the Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 22 (1993), 172-173.

Leviticus is often contrasted to the New Testament teaching about turning the other cheek, which is widely assumed to be a lesson in passivity. Not true. Jesus lived in Palestine when it was ruled by the Romans, for whom it was a sign of weakness to strike another person with the back of the hand. Yet that’s precisely what happens if I turn my cheek when you and I are facing each other and you go to hit me, and you, like most people, are right-handed. You have to go past my left cheek and backhand me to get a good blow. In Roman times, that meant you were confronting your own weakness even as you exercised power over me. Jesus teaches us not to ignore the wrong done to us; he wants us to force those who would punish us to experience how they are diminished by their lack of mercy.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 95.

The real problem with the reality-show comparison is that it fails to explain what’s so enjoyable about long presidential seasons in general, and this one in particular. Unfolding over a year or more, this genre also incorporates elements distinct to the soap opera and the sporting season. Like a soap, there’s endless repetition, so you can miss half the debates and still feel current; there are implausible plot whipsaws; figures from the past return unexpectedly (like Newt Gingrich, storming in from the Clinton era to prove that 1990s-style petulance totally holds its own in today’s combative political environment). As in sports, the sweeping Monday-morning-quarterback pronouncements of the commentariat are often more entertaining than the game. And now that primary voting is under way, we’ll get a series of decisive win-lose moments, sure to be spiked with upsets and blowouts as well as poor sportsmanship, questionable calls and lots of instant replays.

Rob Walker, “‘The Best Thing Happening in Pop Culture Right Now’”, The New York Times Magazine (8 January 2012), 42.

While we talk today of the fluid and tangled nature of the many “blended” families in our society, the complexity of modern family dynamics does not even approach that of Jewish antiquity. The marital paradigm was the first marriage, and this paradigm was expressed in cultural, mythic, and ritual terms. Despite the meagre evidence, the demographics alone make it clear that most marital situations were not paradigmatic. Widowhood and divorce, both followed by remarriage, would have been common among Jews in antiquity. The possibility of levirate marriage and continuation of polygyny would have created families far more complex than we find in our own society. Our evidence even attests to stable nonmarital relationships, although their quantity and the details of they worked are obscure.

Michael L. Satlow, Jewish Marriage in Antiquity (Princeton, NY & Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press, 2001), 195.

I think Judaism’s ancient tradition can help all people find deeper meaning and greater joy in their lives, whether or not they are Jewish. I have come to believe that religious traditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her life.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 51.

Since One God created both Torah and science, it is axiomatic that Torah and science can never be in fundamental conflict. Torah and science are manifestations of One God, the Author of truth. If Torah and science appear to be at odds on certain points, then either we have not understood Torah properly or we have not done our science correctly.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations, Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 32.

A simplistic, literalist approach to the words of Hazal continues to be influential—and very widespread. This is not only intellectually and pedagogically unsound: it is a degradation of Torah and Hazal, as pointed out by the Rambam. We all need to raise our voices for the sake of Torah, truth and the religious wellbeing of our future generations.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 37.

…a basic truth of social systems: no effort at creating group value can be successful without some form of governance.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 283.

Our schools should not be teaching our children that dinosaurs did not exist. They should not be telling children that the dinosaur bones are just “dog bones swollen in the flood of Noah’s time”. This is not Torah education, but mis-education. Not only is there no religious necessity to teach such nonsense; it is a religious mandate NOT to teach falsehood. To cloak falsity in the clothing of religion is to undermine true religion.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “Reflections on Torah Education and Mis-Education”, Conversations Issue 6 (Winter 2010/5770), 34.