27 March 2011

Academic Talmud & Lomdus Contrasted

An interest of mine is academic Talmud, as mentioned previously (III, II, & I), which is why I found the following a neat, concise distinction between academic and lomdus approaches to learning Talmud. At the outset of Rabbi Dov Linzer's "Ownership or Partnership: A Source-Critical and Conceptual Analysis of the First Sugya in Kiddushin" (delivered at YCT's 2010 Yom Iyun on Talmud and Torah She Baal Peh on 24 January 2010), I found his contrast of the source-critical method with the lomdus perspective of learning Talmud to be of interest:
In general, what has dominated for the last 150 years in the world of the yeshivot is a process of learning called לומדות, which is loosely translated as an analytical, conceptual approach. And what has dominated in roughly the same last 100-150 years in the academy has been academic Talmud, which consists of many components, but the one that I think is most interesting and most fruitful in the type of learning that would normally go on in the high school or the yeshiva level is the source-critical approach.
Now these approaches have very different assumptions in their goals. The לומדות approach – the conceptual approach - looks at the text, as the text has pretty much always been looked at for the last 1500 years: ahistorically. It does not look for – is certainly aware that the Mishnah comes before the Gemara and so on – but it assumes that pretty much all of the ideas, all of the material, all of the statements are true; at the same time, it does not look to sort of mark out how ideas might have developed over the course of history, over the course of time. And it does not try to see signs for that in the text. What it is interested in is in hearing the different voices in the text or at looking at a topic, at a sugya and asking, "What is the conceptual way of understanding what is going on here?" Meaning, it’s not just the statement that’s being made, but how would we more precisely conceptually define the issue and, through a clear, conceptual definition of the idea that will help explain to us the different opinions, the different consequences, based on sort of our theory of this particular law. And then the לומדות approach developed in its higher terminology to be used for more precise definition of these conceptual differences. …
The source-critical approach is very different. The source-critical approach, as the name indicates, recognizes that not only is the Mishnah earlier than the Gemara, but the Mishnah could be made up of layers, the Gemara could be made up of layers, and it looks, with a critical eye, towards these sources or these layers of the text and tries to understand what was at the earliest layer, what came next, how did the text develop to where it got. Now, already in the academy, for some, it’s just tracking the historical changes; but already in the academy, you do have some, like Shamma Friedman and others that try to bring in from this world of the yeshivah and ask, "Well, as the text developed and different ideas came at different times in history, how did the concept of the law change? What was the intellectual history? How was the way this law was perceived change over time?"
But, if that could be used in the academy to create a type of intellectual history, and not just a marking of changes, it could also be used in the yeshivah as well. We could ask our לומדות questions, our conceptual questions, but not just from an ahistorical lens, but actually try to find out maybe ideas changed over time. And maybe we can bring both of these disciplines together.

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