Friday, 11 July 2014

Halakha

The term, halakha, is a Hebrew word meaning "the way to go" which is taken to mean the "overall system of religious law" which is contrasted with another term, aggadah, meaning "to draw out" which is taken to mean the diverse corpus of rabbinic commentaries and philosophical and mystical interpretations of the Holy Scriptures and other important works of Jewish literature and thought.

I was given a book recently called, How Forests Think: toward an anthropology beyond the human (2013), by the author, Eduardo Kohn, a husband of an old friend and whom I now consider a new friend. In much the same way that original intellectual works of achievement draw together seemingly disparate insights from seemingly unrelated fields of study,Einstein's theories of relativity drew from ideas and findings that had been bandied about for many years before he came up with a consistent frameworkEduardo's work on, and applications of semiotics is profoundly insightful.

I read an article today on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/torah-robot-berlin-jewish-museum_n_5574936.html?utm_hp_ref=science&ir=Canada) that got me thinking about the Kohn book, or more precisely, helped expand the notion of transcending dualism as Kohn speaks of it in his book.

The inventors of the robot arm that writes Hebrew calligraphy takes pains to make clear: "The finished scroll, to be complete in January 2015, will not be considered halakhic, or meeting the requirements for use for religious purposes. The installation is part of the exhibition 'The Creation of the World' ('Die Erschaffung der Welt' in German), predominantly a collection of Hebrew manuscripts."

There is a system to copying the Holy Scriptures—a halakha—that is considered, by some sects of Judaism, as a partnership between the people and G*d, and not to be taken lightly at all:

"'In order for the Torah to be holy, it has to be written with a goose feather on parchment, the process has to be filled with meaning and I'm saying prayers while I'm writing it,' said Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov."

This brings me to Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)—and Kohn's comprehensive critique of dualism. Baudrillard, in his later years, increasingly became obsessed with virtual reality, and, in effect, gave up on trying to transcend dualism and sided with materialism in the extreme having seen his children (his theories) either cut down by history or by the very developments in technology and human knowledge he said would happen a certain way with certain results. -Here's to Baudrillard: a tragic hero of post-modernism.

Kohn, on the other hand, uses the very terror and angst that brought down Baudrillard to gain an original perspective on the nature and ontology (and perhaps a way out) of dualism. In reference to a personal experience that brought about an "aha!" moment, he writes:

Panic provides us with intimations of what radical dualism might feel like, and why for us humans dualism seems so compelling. In tracing its untenable effects panic also provides its own visceral critique of dualism and the skepticism that so often accompanies it. In panic's dissolution we can also get a sense for how a particular human propensity for dualism is dissolved into something else. One might say that dualism, wherever it is found, is a way of seeing emergent novelty as if it were severed from that from which it emerged. (Kohn, p. 57)

In my rather crude interpretation of Kohn, I'd say that the interplay between the halakha and aggadah (ie, the historical being that is Rabbi Yaacobov) is what distinguishes the Rabbi from the robot arm, but the distinction is ultimately superficial because it is not a matter of choice but a symbiosis between the goose feather, the parchment and the Rabbi that creates the religious act (the partnership between G*d and man, if you will). This symbiosis negates the utility of the robot arm but simply because the cycle of relations is complete.

It is these cycles of relations within cycles of relations that Eduardo Kohn studies:

An emergentist approach can provide a theoretical and empirical account of how the symbolic is in continuity with matter at the same time that it can come to be a novel casual locus of possibility. This continuity allows us to recognize how something so unique and separate is never fully cut off from the rest of the world. (Kohn, P. 56-57)

Jay

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