Reasonable, Ruled, Responsible

Interpretation Theory and Practice in the Talmud

Abstract

The paper begins by posing the theoretical problem of the foundation of reasonable interpretation and arguing that it cannot be realized by calculable rules or pure common sense or a hermeneutic “art”. There must be rules that make the interpretation strategy explicit. This thesis is studied with the example of the Talmud, who theorises different levels of interpretation and above all builds lists of rules of the correct argument. It is shown how these rules have a rhetoric character and are governed by some meta-principles, such as the total significance of the sacred text, the hierarchy of sources, the principle of majority of the competent ones, to show at the end that in this tradition reasonableness is evaluated in terms of responsibility for interpretation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen,—what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. […] The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. By the universal, I mean how a person of a certain type will on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the names she attaches to the personages.

  2. 2.

    “Common sense is the best shared thing in the world; for each one thinks of being so well endowed that even those who are the most difficult to content with anything else have no habit of wanting more than they have.”

  3. 3.

    It is not possible to investigate here this theme, central to twentieth-century philosophy, discussed for example in Wittgentstein ([17] § 234; [18]: I §2; and Heidegger ([6] §§ 31–33). It is enough for me to start from the fact that there is a level of understanding of the text which appears to be not very problematic and “natural” and a more complex and aware one which constitutes the actual interpretation. Cf. [13] cap 4, [14].

  4. 4.

    For a more complete explanation of this process, I would like to refer to the first two chapters of [15].

  5. 5.

    There are many analysis of these rules. Cf., for instance, http://yahshuaonline.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/beginner_torah_8_Rev.231200753.pdf; https://www.betemunah.org/rules.html.

  6. 6.

    In western legal hermeneutics, the typographic and orthographic form does not count, but terminological correspondence certainly does; and the principle of unity of law relates all norms and definitions, according to a precise hierarchy of sources.

  7. 7.

    For a more extensive discussion of this well known episode, I would like to refer to [2].

References

  1. 1.

    Debenedetti Stow, S. 2004. Dante e la mistica ebraica. Firenze: Giuntina.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Della Torre, S., V. Franzinetti, and J. Bali. 2010. Il forno di Akhnai. Firenze: Giuntina.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Diltey, W. 1900. Die Entstehung der Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Freedman, H. 2014. The talmud a biography: banned, censored and burned the book they couldn’t suppress. Hatfield: Keren.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Gadamer, G. 1960. Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr.

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Heidegger, M. 1929. Sein und Zeit. 11. Tübingen Niemeyer: Auflage. (1967).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Hicks, S.R.C. 2004. Explaining postmodernism: skepticism and socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Loves Park: Ockham’s Razor.

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Lotman, J.M., and B.A. Uspenskij. 1975. Tipologia della cultura. Milano: Bompiani.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Magrini, J.M. 2016. Reconceptualizing Plato’s Socrates at the limit of education. London: Taylor & Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Neusner, J. 1994. Introduction to Rabbinic literature. New Haven: Yale Un. P.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Steinsaltz, A. 1976. The essential Talmud. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Stemberger, G. 1982. Der Talmud. Muenchen: Beck.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Volli, U. 2008. Lezioni di filosofia della comunicazione. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Volli, U. 2019. “Ideology and Science in the Debate about the Non–Existence of the Author” in Lexia. Rivista di semiotica, 29–30 Intenzionalità.

  15. 15.

    Volli, U. 2019. Il resto è interpretazione. Livorno: Belforte.

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Weiss Halivni, D. 2013. The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud. Oxford: Oxford Un. Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Wittgenstein, L. 1970. Zettel. Berkeley: University of California Press. (first published 1967).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Wittgenstein, L. 1999. (written 1933, first published 1969) Philosophische Grammatik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp; Neuauflage.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ugo Volli.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Volli, U. Reasonable, Ruled, Responsible. Int J Semiot Law (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-020-09737-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Talmud
  • Interpretation
  • Pardes
  • Hillel rules
  • Semiotics
  • Reasonable