Sunday, 14 April 2013

Tractate Avot

I mentioned the Talmud in my last entry (Jagged little pill) so I want to continue it in this particular entry.

There is a tractate (or a book of the Talmud) called, Tractate Avot (sometimes spelt "Aboth") from Pirke Avot or "Sayings of the fathers" that has a lot of relevance to non-Jews (or Christians even unto secular people) who want to try and lead an ethical life: "For kindness I desired, and not sacrifice."

Like any religious/wisdom text, the reading requires reflection and deliberation (as this particular tractate encourages us to do) at many different levels to realize that it speaks not only to the religious-minded but also to people who value rationality and dignity above dogma and orthodoxy (it is not the superficial kowtowing to the legalese and ritual that matters but the unbidden actualization of the spirit of the law).

Indeed, many of the articles in the tractates leave decisions undecided so conscience, reason and circumstance may prevail (the use of the word "safeguard" occurs quite a bit in the tractate but I'm led to believe that it means "vouchsafe" in the archaic sense of the English term - ie, to warrant as being safe (to make such a statement based on the authority of the Torah and past decisions on a particular issue)).

As one reads through the Talmud (especially those pertaining to ethics and morals) one can see the unbroken links between the two sides of Judeo-Christian traditions, and it makes clear that our Lord Jesus was truly a Torah and Talmud prodigy as it says in the Gospel of Luke. The language of Jesus' teachings is the language of the Talmud par excellence.

Though the Talmud is kind to the intents of the heart and shows great forbearance to circumstance rather than the legal language, it certainly hasn't stopped writers like Mordecai Richler from poking fun at the ignorant assumptions about the Talmud; there is a scene in Solomon Gursky Was Here (Richler, 1989) where one of the ancestors of the family (Ephraim Gurksy) is stranded in the Franklin Expedition and he survives having been adopted by Inuit, whom he converts to Judaism and appoints himself a Jewish-Eskimo shaman. They all starve and die in a festival that should last a single day (sunset to sunrise) but the winter night lasts a bit longer than a single day in the Arctic...

Jay

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