6/20/09 Gafni, pp295-312funny-shoes-7.jpg


Josepheus bridged Greek learning and Jewish knowledge, taking into account Greco-Roman thinking and acheivements. Other Jewish thinkers of the time did not study the law in this manner. The rabbis, unlike Josepheus, did not seem to be compiling a 'critical study of the past.' They did dedicate themselves to the biblical past, but saw this as a fixed, laid-out past. The rabbis were searching for religious significance rather than ultimate 'truth' or accuracy (as was the Greek model).
Religious implications of biblical history was a 'higher calling' than historical record. Scripture was seen as models for the past, present and future.

The rabbis saw no need for the Oral Law to be subjective to historical circumstances because it was an eternally sanctioned set of laws, and whatever future teachings every Jew will have already heard at Sinai. I think the reading is trying to explain that rabbis wrote these interpretations and commentary without taking into account any historical context because they saw the legal system of the scriptures as an eternal, fixed system.

While Greek thinkers tried to find some underlying common causality to the world, Jewish thinkers explained history as it revolved around the Jewish people. (Ex. The Romans were destined to fall to the Persians because the Second Temple was built by the Persians, and destroyed by the Romans, therefore, they would fall to the Persians. G-d's hand?) In fact, references to the past are reduced to single event references: 'people of the flood,' or 'dor ha-pelega.' Without the confines of historical accuracy, the rabbis can speak in broader terms, or not follow the progression of time. They are free to interpret in terms that apply to everyday life (at that time). Ex. Story of Rebecca passing by synagogues and schools, but these institutions didn't yet exist.

There is an acknowledgment of the past, of course, as can be seen with the repeated phrase "what happened--happened." But there is not much care or analysis given to the particulars of the past in the most accurate sense. (Rashi says, 'this is history, why should we even ask?' There were discussions comparing how things were compared to how they used to be. This was useful when commenting on biblical laws versus contemporary circumstances, an obvious disparity. Ex. Mishnah differs from Deuteronomy in reference to killing a heifer. (?) These changes were a result of a different reality and also the destruction of the Temple. The Mishnah addresses the changing nature of human behavior and the applicability of biblical law.

(p. 302) There was also a perceived change. Example: M.Sota 9 refers to fruit losing its flavor as a result of the Temple's destruction, but how could they know what biblical fruit tasted like? Lots of phrases that imply change... "at first" and "in the beginning" and "nowadays" and "but later" as examples. Believing in a static Halakha doesn't deny changing conditions, just applying the behavior of previous Halakhic practitioners to a new reality.

Question: Are these writings implying a glorious past and dim present, or a superior present compared to the past? They seem to accept that the time of the Prophets is gone. Ex. Prophets existed before Alexander the Great, but after, only Sages (Seder Olam 30), implies a glorious past and dim present. Whereas, another writing says sages take precedence over prophets (B.Bava Batra 12a), and another says the prophecies were given to the sages.

In rabbinic writing, Sages were certainly favored over the priests in the Second Temple period (their immediate predecessors). The misdeeds of the "Sons of Aaron" as compared to the Sages' good deeds as the "Disciples of Aaron." Move toward prayer combined with Torah study as the preferred form of worship, better than the priest cult that existed with the Temple.

(p305) 'Rabbinization' of history: representing Jewish history--biblical and a few post-biblical instances--within the framework of rabbinic Judaism that the Sages operated within. Retelling the patriarchs as being versed in rabbinic law--Joseph kept Shabbat in Egypt, Abraham knew about carrying within an eruv, Aaron teaching people how to pray--shows rabbinic preference of prayer over sacrifice. (Maybe by painting the past in rabbinic light, they were showing praise?) There seems to be some contradiction in two approaches: the past and present as fundamentally different paradigms--the present requiring new and distinct behavior from the past; or the scriptures as timeless laws that need not be addressed in terms of time because it applies to everyone, for all time?

Interestingly, if the ancient Jews, who were consistently messing up, merited G-d's blessing, than surely the more pious practitioners of Jewish laws also deserved veneration? This doesn't seem to be so. In fact, the previous generation's abandonment of laws such as reciting the Shema resulted in the punishment of future generations (destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem). This is projection of the present onto the past; example: Jerusalem was destroyed because they didn't respect the sages (B. Shabbat 119b), even though sages came after! Similarly, ancient figures were rewarded for studying Torah (Ahab rewarded with 22-year reign because he studied the 22 letters of the Torah; B. Sanhedrin, 102b.) This idea that the Torah was always known and practiced by our forefathers (Adam and Abraham observed many laws), was also shown in previous literature, ie. Book of Jubilees.

Light competition from the newly established Church added to rabbinization of the past (applying patriarchs to a more spiritual account of behavior).