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Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud

An Introduction

Authored by Ira F. Stone

Publication Year: 1998

Although Jewish scholars have recognized the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas as one of the greatest minds of this century, the majority of Jews have remained ignorant of his teachings, largely because his work-even in translation-is dense and erudite. Rabbi Ira Stone, who has studied Levinas's work for many years and incorporated his methods and perspectives into his own teaching, now makes Levinas accessible to lay readers for the first time.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society


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p. i-i

Full Title

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p. iii-iii


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p. iv-iv


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p. v-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book constitutes an invitation on my part. With it, I invite you into two worlds that I have inhabited simultaneously over the past decade and more. That it is a personal invitation accounts, in large part, for the point of view of the book. That is, I am writing it for you and have tried not to hide behind any authorial screen. The pronoun "I" is used often. ...

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pp. xi-xii

All of the selections from the Talmud were translated by the author on the basis of consultation with the Soncino Press edition, as well as the Mesorah Publications editions. These are wonderful resources, and I gratefully acknowledge their usefulness. Biblical quotations are from the Tanakh: The New Jewish Publication Society Translation According to the ...

1: Theory--A Levinasian Dictionary

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General Remarks

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pp. 3-6

Perhaps the most appropriate first meeting with Emmanuel Levinas should be at the dedications of his two most important books, Totality and Infinity and Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence. The former is dedicated to Franz Rosenzweig, the latter "to the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the National Socialists...

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The General Philosophy

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pp. 7-9

If we recognize that Levinas's philosophy is grounded in his opposition to totalitarianism and its philosophic partner, totality, we discover that what we thought was beyond the comprehension of the average person, a daunting program of philosophy, is actually comprehensible. Levinas begins his work with an insight drawn from Plato's Republic: that there is a "Good beyond Being,"...

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Time, Love, and Fecundity

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pp. 10-13

Tlme, in the Levinasian world, is a function of our relationship with another. Levinas is not referring to our varied personal experiences of time nor to our artificial ways of "chopping up" time into discrete units. Rather, he claims to be able to describe time itself. In order to do so, and to prove that time is "the very relationship of the subject with the Other"(TO, p. 39), Levinas...

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The Face, the Trace, and the Third Person

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pp. 14-15

Levinas structures time through love and death. Complementing one another, love and death provide the basis for understanding solitude and the interruption of solitude by another. However, further analysis is required so that we can understand our lives in the context of time. In the course of this analysis of our lives...

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p. 16-16

Before we return to the subject of the face, we are at this point drawn to look more closely at the subject of infinity and its juxtaposition with the idea of totality in Levinas's central work Totality and Infinity. I have thus far purposely avoided using the word "infinity." We have come to understand that the problem of totality, the problem bequeathed by Rosenzweig to Levinas and that both thinkers identified as the problem...

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The Response to the Face: Language and Ethics

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pp. 17-18

The face of another communicates to me. It expresses itself, and this expression cannot be avoided. It commands me, "Thou shalt not murder." It expresses, also, its pressing needs, and in doing so, obligates me. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas directly quotes the Talmud but once: "To leave men without food is a fault that no circumstance...

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An Interruption: Levinas and Talmud

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pp. 19-22

Although my presentation of a Levinasian dictionary is not complete, I feel compelled to interrupt this systematic progression. As we have already seen, for Levinas one of the most significant failings of Western philosophy is its dependence on the creation of total systems. Therefore, in his own work, both philosophic and talmudic, he practices a kind of...

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A Second Interpretation: Hayyim of Volozhin

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pp. 23-27

One of the most influential Jewish texts to which Levinas makes frequent reference in his work is the book Nefesh ha-hayyim, "Soul of Life," by Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, also known as the Volozhiner. This text develops a theoretical structure to account for the primacy of Torah study in Jewish spirituality-a study not limited to the pursuit of knowledge but, rather...

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Toward God

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pp. 28-30

God is never present. For neither "is-ness"-that is, being-nor presence- that is, time isolated from the relation to another person-can comprehend God. To put it more simply, we know nothing of God's being. Writes Levinas: There can be no "knowledge" of God separated from the relationship with men. The Other is the...

2: Method

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Method: General Remarks

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pp. 33-36

My reading of the Talmud is best described as imaginative. By this I mean that I try to be as sensitive as I can be to the images, ideas, random thoughts, reactions, even distractions that occur as I read and, especially, talk about a text. "Talking" the text of the Talmud is all-important, an accepted principle of talmudic study for as long as it has proceeded. I make note of questions...

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In the Beginning

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pp. 37-39

The practice of Talmud begins by finding a suitable environment in which to read it. A variety of such environments exists, and no one is necessarily superior. Traditionally, three methods have been practiced: reading with a hevruta or study partner; attending a shi'ur or lecture class...

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The First Reading

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pp. 40-43

The purpose of the first reading is, simply put, to learn what's going on in the talmudic text, which is written in a stenographic language, a shorthand, perhaps even a code. The experienced reader learns to recognize a series of technical terms that have developed over time and that clue the reader into a wide range of information...

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The Second Reading

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pp. 44-45

More often than not, the questions that are technically relevant to the second or third reading have already occurred and been asked during the first. But sometimes they have not. If new questions do arise, I ask people to write them down, to save them, to be certain that we understand the text before going off in other directions....

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The Third Reading

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pp. 46-48

The third reading of the sugya builds on what has been learned from the first and second readings. The two "official" readings belie the number of times the text has literally been read. These prior readings now give birth to an imaginative reading, through which the reader discovers in the text its meaning in his or her own life as a participant in...

3: The Practice of Talmud--The Readings

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Prayer and the End of Metaphysics

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pp. 51-57

"Therefore let every faithful man pray to You upon discovering [finding]." Rabbi Hanina says: "In the time of finding" refers to [the finding of] a wife. For it is said: Whoever finds a wife finds a great good. In the West [Palestine 1 they used to ask a man who married a wife thus: matza or motze? Matza, for it is written, "Whoever finds [matza}

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Translation and the Limits of Logic

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pp. 58-71

If one finds deeds of valuation, deeds of maintenance, documents of halitzah [rejection of levirate marriage] or refusal, documents of berurin (see below), or any other document issued by a court of law, one shall return them. If one finds [documents) in a small bag or in a ease, [or if one finds} a roll or a bundle of documents, one...

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The Search for Meaning and the Meaning of the Search

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pp. 72-79

Our Rabbis taught: One may not search either by the light of the sun, or by the light of the moon, or by the light of a torch, save by the light of a lamp, because the light of a lamp is suitable for searching. And though there is no proof of the matter yet there is a memory of this thing, for it is said, "No leaven shall be found in...

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Life, Death, and Doing the Laundry

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pp. 80-84

With the beginning of Av rejoicings are curtailed.. During the week in which the Ninth of Av falls, it is forbidden to cut hair and to wash clothes, but on Thursday it is permissible in honor of the Sabbath. On the eve of the Ninth of Av one may not partake of a meal of two courses nor eat meat nor drink wine. Rabbi Simeon...

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What's in a New Year?

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pp. 85-92

There are four new years. On the first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elu! is the new year for the tithe of cattle. Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon, however, place this on the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei is the new year for years: for release and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of} vegetables. On the first of Sheva...

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Prophecy, Sacrifice, and Suffering

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pp. 93-102

"A false prophet": One who prophesies what he has not heard, or what was not told to him, is executed by man; but one who suppresses his prophecy, or disregards the words of a prophet, or a prophet who transgresses his own words-his death is at the hands of heaven, for it is written, [And one who fails to heed the words which he speaks in My name,] I myself will call him to account"...

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The Problem of the Absent God

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pp. 103-116

From its beginning until we join it here in the fifth chapter, and beyond, mishnah Yoma focuses on the dramatic and crucial preparations undergone by the High Priest so that he might correctly carry out his all-important mission as the representative of the House of Israel seeking atonement. It also describes in great detail the sequence of the atonement ritual...

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Constructing the Gateway to Heaven

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pp. 117-126

How did they carry out the precept of the willow branch? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motza. They went down there and gathered young willow branches and then came and fixed them at the sides of the altar so that their tops bent over the altar; they then sounded a teki'ah [long blast], a teru'ah [tremulous blast], and again a teki' ah...

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What is Hanukkah?

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pp. 127-142

Rabbi Huna said: With regard to the wicks and oils of which the Sages said, "One must not light with them on the Sabbath," one may not light with them on Hanukkah, either on the Sabbath or on weekdays. Raba observed, What is Rabbi Huna's reason? He holds that if it [the Hanukkah lamp] goes out, one must attend to...

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You Must Be Crazy to Speak of Redemption: Purim and a Conclusion of Sorts

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pp. 143-151

Now that you have decided that the words "city and city" have a homiletical purpose, what is the purpose of the words "family and family" [in the same verse] (Esth. 9:28)? Rabbi Yose ben Hanina replied: This contains a reference to the families of the priests and Levites, that they should desist from their service in order to come and hear the reading of the megillah...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 153-154

Index of Biblical Passages

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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-162

E-ISBN-13: 9780827610538
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827606067

Publication Year: 1998

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