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Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 257 Reviews READING THE RABBIS: THE TALMUD AS LITERATURE. By David Kraemer. Pp. x + 165. New York. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1996. Cloth. $29.95. In Reading the Rabbis. David Kraemer argues for choosing to read the Bavli as "literature" or. in his words. to use a literary "lens" to read the Bavli. Since there is no satisfactory way of defining "literary" as opposed to "non-literary" texts (pp. 4-5). the Bavli is not necessarily literature. but "it is if we read it as such" (p. 9). Reading the Talmud as literature means asking a certain set of questions aimed at the Bavli's rhetoric. For what purpose was the text put together in this way? How does its arrangement impact upon the reader to create a meaningful impression? How are rhetorical turns employed to affect the development of a thesis? What in the synthesis of the parts into a whole influences the reader's understanding of the composite message? .. How then does the author's choice and arrangement of earlier traditions affect our understanding? How does his shaping of source materials create a coherent thesis? What is the nature and authority of his sources and proofs? Is his logic cogent, or are there contradictions? (p. 10). In order to read the Bavli as literature. it is incumbent upon the reader to "assume the position of the intended ancient reader" (p. 12). That is. since the Talmud is written in such a way as to draw the reader into its discussion . the reader is then implied in the text. This being the case. if the purpose of the modem scholarly reader is to "recapture. to the extent possible , the intention of the authors of those texts." (p. 12) the reader must approximate. as closely as possible. the Bavti's intended reader. Who then is the Bavti's intended reader? According to Kraemer: (1) He lived and studied in sixth-century Babylonia; (2) He was a member of a schooled elite who understood scripture in its original language. committed much of scripture to memory. and was able to apply certain specialized methods to its interpretation; (3) He commanded significant quantities of the Mishnah and related texts; (4) He needed to have devoted a significant number of years to acquiring command of the rabbinic tradition. "Our reader was. at the very least. an advanced rabbinic disciple" (p. 12). Furthennore. the intended reader "was confident and critical. capable of grasping the most sophisticated analyses and arguments and predisposed to evaluating each from a variety of perspectives. Like the Bavli itself. he challenged and questioned. and he was anything but intellectually submissive . His piety did not demand simple acceptance of received traditions. Instead. he was called upon (intellectually. at least) to transform the tradi- Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 258 Reviews tion according to his own reasoned understanding. He was the incumbent master of a developing tradition, one which he had a hand in transforming" (p. 15). In sum, Kraemer's theoretical starting point is that the Bavli is best (or certainly "better") understood using a certain type of reader-response criticism . This entails the assumption that the contemporary Talmud scholar has the ability to assume the position of the intended (expert) reader of the Bavli's author successfully, and in that way understand the author's original intent in composing the Bavli's sugyot. From this theoretical position Kraemer analyzes eight sugyol dealing with a wide range of issues: the relationship of the Written and Oral Torahs (the sugya asserts their equality); the Rabbis' relationship with Scripture (they are ultimately independent of it); Tradition and Innovation as rhetorical categories (the Bavli erases the distinction between them to further claim the equality of Scripture and the Rabbis as sources of Halakhah); divine and human truth (they are different and stand independent of each other); pluralism (the Rabbis extended their theoretical pluralism into the realm of practice); the status of Halakhic categories in regard to the halakhic status of women (the categories are rife with exceptions and the discussions are ambiguous and ambivalent); circumcision and the category of the Jewish male (he is defined by what he is not-not uncircumcised...


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