To Know Wisdom

Science, Rationality and Torah-Study


Menachem Fisch

Publisher Van Leer Institute Press and Hakibbutz Hameuchad
Language Hebrew
Year of Publication 1994
Series Connections

The enormous corpus of writings of the Tannaim and Amorim, first and foremost the Babylonian Talmud, documents an incisive and profound investigation over a period of more than 700 years. As such, it is unique in Western culture. We do not know of any other collection of texts, certainly not from the ancient period, in which an attempt was made by the scholars and interpreters themselves to reconstruct in such a detailed and comprehensive manner the debate in which they were participating; and especially given the enormous breadth of the talmudic texts, there is no doubt that it is a unique documentation of a unique intellectual undertaking.

This book is a programmatic, albeit initial, attempt to examine the talmudic texts from the special vantage point of the philosophy of science, because Western science, it seems, is the only intellectual undertaking as comprehensive of that of Chazal. Its conclusions are that a) at least from the second generation of Tannaim, the Tannaitic writers of the Talmud and the midrashic interpretations tried to formulate and document a tradition of study based on epistemological premises and standards of rationalism and progress that are surprisingly similar to those that characterize the modern discourse as we understand it today, and that b) in contrast to scientists of the past, Chazal had before them a text in which, in their view, those premises and standards were undergoing a vigorous philosophical examination. This text, which is discussed in detail in the first section of the book, is the book of Ecclesiastes.

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