I picked up Sergey Dolgopolski’s What is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement at the AAR and subsequently read it in one weekend. It is a fascinating study putting forth Talmud as an art alongside philosophy, sophistics, and rhetoric — an art predicated on irreducible and fundamental disagreement. Dolgopolski argues that the Western tradition has always privileged agreement as a goal and tends to dismiss disagreement either as the result of a mistake or misunderstanding or, more generously, as a necessary step along the way to ultimate agreement. Even if agreement is admittedly difficult to reach, so the story goes, it is held forth as both an ideal and as something that should be directly attainable. Dolgopolski believes that the advent of post-Heideggerian and poststructuralist philosophies and anti-philosophies has opened up a new path in this regard, but that they still maintain the basic agreement-centered schema — crucially, though, they provide a way of viewing Talmud, and specifically the understanding of Talmudic art present in the fifteenth-century rabbi Canpanton, as an alternative to Western philosophy.
To understand the notion of Talmud put forward here, it might be helpful to look at the example of Christian scholasticism, which I assume is more familiar to most readers of this blog and which also relies heavily on staged debates between different positions. Read the rest of this entry »