Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More on multivalence . . . the heart of lomdus

In a recent comment to a post, a good friend wrote:
"Multi-valent" is a good, strong word, though I prefer "particulate", in the sense Blake meant when he referred to 'reality' as made up of "Minute Particulars" . . . Particulars can be collected -- and we don't pick flowers-in-general, we pick these daisies in front of us here and now.
I believe his description of particulars is an important one for each of us to remember in our day-to-day lives as we interact with all the individuals (persons and things) in our lives and strive not to simply generalize or categorize our encounters.

However, for me "multi-valent" has a different meaning. It points to the nearly infinite number of meanings and chiddushim that Rav Rosensweig can seemingly discover within a sugya. It refers to what Shalom Carmy calls "polyphonic diversity" in his essay entitled, "Polyphonic Diversity and Military Music," from Lomdus: The Conceptual Approach to Jewish Learning, edited by Yosef Blau.

Rabbi Carmy opens his essay with these sentences from the Arukh ha-Shulhan, Hoshen Mishpat:
Indeed it is the glory of our holy, pure Torah, for the entire Torah is called a song (shirah) and the glory song is when the voices vary; that is the primary pleasantness. Whoever sets sail in the sea of Talmud will discover varied melodic pleasure in all the varied voices.
A student who is comfortable with the polyphonic world of the Talmud is also comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, and does not seek simple answers, because in the end they do not exist. Rabbi Calmy writes:
Typical of the polyphonic consciousness is the Rav's assertion that when human beings are faced with many crucial dilemmas and orientations of value, Halakhah "tries to help man in such critical moments," but does not provide a formulaic "synthesis, since the latter does not exist."
It is this type of student who appreciates what Rabbi Calmy calls, "the infinite challenge that defines the human endeavor to study Torah."

To help me better understand what lomdus is and how it is lived out, I found this essay on the internet entitled, Humility and Halakah: Placing Derekh Ha-Limud in Perspective, by Rabbi Doniel Schreiber.

At first he describes various types of iyun or lomdus (in-depth gemara study) this way:

  • One end of the spectrum, reflective of classic iyun found in Ge'onic times, would place the elucidation of texts as its main goal. All questions and analyses, in this approach, aim to arrive at a better understanding of the texts.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, reflective of more contemporary lomdus, is the attempt to understand concepts by classifying, conceptualizing and defining halakhic matter.
  • In the middle of the spectrum, one finds a more balanced system embracing both the importance of text and the centrality of concept. The text generates analysis of concepts, while concepts shed light upon new ways of reading text.
He then defines lomdus practiced by Rav Rosensweigh in the following manner;

More recently, mori ve-rabi HaRav Michael Rosensweig shlita, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, has catapulted iyun into a new sphere of analysis. It demands, on the one extreme, a microscopic approach. This entails an exhaustive, comprehensive, and often tedious sifting of the most subtle halakhic minutiae and the most seemingly trivial detail. On the other extreme, it requires one to ascend to a macroscopic perspective, in which one, taking into consideration a wealth of sugyot revolving around a broad issue, peers downward upon the sweeping, halakhic landscape. This method, in essence, expands Brisker analysis to the farthest reaches of both ends of the sugya.

These two polar extremes, rigorous scrutiny and panoramic vision, when concomitantly implemented, enable one to integrate and interpret all forms of nuances and detail into the landscape of the sugya in the broadest sense of the term - the meta-sugya.*
For example, elements of halakha associated with the process of beit din (courts) may shed light on how to understand the broader concept of din (Jewish civil law); details in the topic of eidim zomemim (false witnesses) could reflect on the larger picture of eidim and eidut (witnesses and testimony); minutiae in the discussion of gittin (bills of divorce), might clarify the wider topic of shtarot (legal documents). The incessant and rigorous investigation of a detail's relationship to the meta-sugya is the hallmark of this system. To some degree, this may represent the pinnacle of lomdus and the Brisker derekh.

*I use the term meta-sugya to refer to mori ve-rabi HaRav Rosensweig's emphasis on analyzing classic sugyot and then treating each of them as a detail within a broader enveloping sugya, which in turn may become a detail in an even broader sugya, and so on.

I am proud to say that I have listened to many of Rav Rosensweig's shiurim in which he has done very similar to the ones described above . . . they truly are quite a ride.

As Rabbi Schreiber continues in the his essay, he also speaks of some of the benefits and reasons for taking such an approach:

When one is involved in conceptual analysis of sugyot, reaching great depths of understanding, one achieves a genuinely rich sense of satisfaction. While this is partially due to the fact that one is involved in the important and basic mitzva to learn Torah, it is largely because one is engaged in something that is the most meaningful and penetrating experience as humanly possible. It is the endeavor, in our never-ending pursuit to draw close to God, to understand Divine intent.

The only real way finite man has to reach God is to be involved in what God has revealed to us. This, to be sure, includes performance of mitzvot, but especially pertains to talmud Torah, because talmud Torah is THE embodiment of the will of God. While thrashing out questions of kinyanei geneiva (theft law) is not as obvious a method of bringing one closer to God as learning the laws of avodat Hashem is, it accomplishes it as effectively.

Although one may be serious about talmud Torah, if one does not relate to this experience, if one is not animated by it, one cannot be passionate about learning Torah. Anyone who is really passionate about his learning, to the extent that he is actually consumed by, and excessive in, his talmud Torah - not just that he derives a certain pleasure from it - has certainly, whether consciously or not, encountered the Shekhina.

As well as these:

Success [in lomdus], inasmuch as there are always new facts, new definitions and new situations, lies in the ability to perceive new concepts in new facts, to penetrate to their meaning as much as possible, and apply them to new situations. This is the pursuit of Divine intent and its inner logic.

and these:

It is important to keep in mind throughout that lomdus is not a formal method which merely requires a series of steps, nor is it an artificial process consisting of stale categories of thought. Rather, lomdus is a response to internal stimuli; one must always endeavor to be creative, open to nuances, formulations, and shifting winds - flexibility is critical. Thus, while these tools are useful, one must not let them dull sensitivity and constrict creativity.

Lomdus, when successfully implemented, allows one to respond to sugyot with intuitive precision and depth of understanding.

and finally these:
A skillful lamdan, thus, transforms the passive absorption of information into an encounter, an engagement with devar Hashem.

To learn more about this approach I came upon this recorded shiurim by Rav Rosensweig, which I intend to listen to shortly: Derekh HaLimud 1 (11/21/05) and Derekh HaLimud 2 (11/28/05).

In a few words, I guess I am drawn to the profound ability and desire to find infinite depths in the finite world around us. While my good friend Gary's words opened this post, about the importance of the particulars around us, which certainly holds much truth, I cannot help but think that a lamdan, might see the same flowers that Gary speaks about and immediately ask him or herself, halakhic questions regarding its permissability to be eaten or planted or uprooted on Shabbat, etc.

To close this too long post, I want to share some quotes from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik's Halakhic Man:

When a fruit is growing, halakhic man measures the fruit with the standards of growth and ripening that he possesses: budding stage, early stage of ripening, formation of fruits or leaves, and reaching one-third of complete ripeness. He gazes at colors and determines their quality: distinguishes between green and yellow, blue and white, etc., etc., “between blood and blood, between affection and ffection” (Deut 17:8) p21

There is no real phenomenon to which halakhic man does not possess a fixed relationship from the outset and a clear, definitive, a priori orientation. . . . The Halakhah encompasses laws of business, torts, neighbors, plaintiff and defendant, creditor and debtor, partners, agents, workers, artisans, bailees, etc. p22

When his soul yearns for God, he immerses himself in reality, plunges, with his entire being, into the very midst of concrete existence, and petitions God to descend upon the mountain and to dwell within our reality, with all its laws and principles. Homo religiosus ascends to God; God, however, descends to halakhic man. The latter desires not to transform finitude into infinity but rather infinity into finitude. p45

The study of the Torah is not a means to another end, but is the end point of all desires. It is the most fundamental principle of all. p87

1 comment:

GSK+ said...

"In a few words, I guess I am drawn to the profound ability and desire to find infinite depths in the finite world around us. While my good friend Gary's words opened this post, about the importance of the particulars around us, which certainly holds much truth, I cannot help but think that a lamdan, might see the same flowers that Gary speaks about and immediately ask him or herself, halakhic questions regarding its permissability to be eaten or planted or uprooted on Shabbat, etc."

The wonder-full thing is, these are not cintraries. My Comment focused on the wealth of "minute particulars" found variously in the Sophists and the Talmudists you wrote of in your post. I spoke of them as "collectors" - you're rightly adding their (especially the Talmudits's) greatness as "connectors". Not as in "System", but, as you say, in depth-ing each/any Particular. We're playing here in that green field where Curiosity and Imagination play together as friends!