Sunday, June 25, 2006

Texts and creativity -- a response to a comment

I recently received an interesting comment that I would like to share with you along with my response:

I find your comments asserting the elevated status of a Jew in sanctifying the physical world a glaring contradiciton to your earlier reflections on creativity and dogma. To suppose that any made [sic] made text, be it Talmud, Torah, New Testatment, Koran, or Vedas, confers any special power to imbue mundane reality with spiritual fullness seems absurd at best.

Perhaps I agree with you more than you think. In looking back at the quotation your comments are connected to, it clearly is a very Jewish-centric position that I am quoting, which does inflate the value of the Torah.

What I hear you saying is that no "man made" text can do that. First, I do agree that these texts, particularly the Oral Torah (i.e. the Talmud and all its ongoing commentaries) is man made (what else could they be, since as the Talmud says, "The Torah is not in heaven" -- meaning it has been give to humanity to interpret and extend.

However, most interstingly, what I do find incredible is that at its best this Oral Torah is actually a source great of creativity and an antidote to dogma, as a recent shiur on Halakha and Technology reminded me, when it made clear that a 2000 year-old document can be used to define laws for situations unimaginable when it was first written. If that isn't creativity, I don't what is.

I profoundly believe that the creativity that has been at the heart of the Talmudic project has in fact provided a level of "spiritual fullness" for those who believe and follow it. The spiritual fullness only comes from commitment and dedication and is not something that magically occurs. Whether this text "imbues mundane reality with spiritual fullness" for someone outside that group is not really the point.

Overall, I just marvel at the power of texts and those individuals and communities that interpret them to create ever new visions of life and reality.


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