Key words: Values, Talmud, Analysis, Kavanah
"So what !?!" is probably the most defeating and damning statement given by a student in response to a teacher's lesson. It implies that, after all is said and done, what was studied is perceived by the student as irrelevant and meaningless.
Many students of Talmud have exclaimed and continue to exclaim, "So what !?!" It is to this retort that I turn my attention.
Before demonstrating the method with a model lesson, let us explore some conceptual issues related to the values analysis approach.
The question, properly formulated by the educator, is: What is useful in teaching the text? What avenues can we pursue; what anchors can steady us in presenting Talmud in a more intelligible way to the students? It is much less important to us that the text identify these avenues or anchors by name. If, through analysis, these techniques are helpful in explaining the text, we can safely conclude that they are, in fact, "there."
Let us demonstrate this point from what has become known as the Brisker derekh - the "conceptual - analytical" approach, first introduced by Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik. This approach offered alternative theoretical constructs for the study of Talmud to the more prevalent ones of the day, which fell under the general rubric of pilpul. This new approach represented a shift from its predecessor. Yet, from that point forward in history, it revolutionized the study of Talmud.
Opponents of the new approach argued that the conceptual - analytical approach was contrived and artificial. The conceptual constructs identified have no real correspondence to the text, given that the text does not explicitly state them. This argument, however, can be mounted against any interactive approach to the text, whether it be conceptual-analytical, pilpulistic, or something altogether different. Every interpretive framework involves translation.4 Each approach applies its own set of theoretical concepts as tools to interpret the printed word. Each approach attempts to be consistent in employing its set of interpretive rules. Each is justifiable to the degree that its methods help elucidate the text. The avenues and anchors may "exist" even if not identified explicitly by the text.
Tzedakah, for example, is a value attested to in Aggadah countless times. Its exact parameters and limits as a normative requirement, however, are to be found in the halachic sections of Talmud. Emet is a positive value, as sheker is a negative value. Midrash and Aggadah are replete with statements regarding each one. It is only in the Gemara, though, that one discovers the particular criteria for truth in business affairs, on the one hand, and situations in which the whole truth may be set aside, on the other. Even though these values may not be stated explicitly in the text, they are lying beneath the surface, as anchors, waiting to be used to help us plumb the depth of meaning contained in the Talmudic text.
Every halachic discussion in the Talmud can be analyzed for its value content. Discerning these values as one studies the text, is the focus of this approach. Why does the Talmud not state more explicitly the values it is attempting to codify? The very nature of values discussion in Aggadah is fluid and indeterminate. Strict and unified definitions are altogether avoided to insure the organic nature of the value complex in the Aggadah; they are allowed to take on a multiplicity of meanings and shades of meaning. Halachah, on the other hand, concerns itself with deciding the law. Multiplicity of meanings will no longer do. The law must be clear and precise. Indeterminacy has no place in the realm of Halachah. For this reason the Halachah "conceals" the values at play. Stating them explicitly would limit the multiplicity of "belief afforded values" in Aggadic material.6
Orthodox Judaism rests upon the assumption that law is imposed from above. Accordingly, man's role is to decide whether or not to accept the law. The validity of the law, itself, however, does not depend on that choice. If this is true, an approach to Talmud study that attempts to focus its attention on the belief system of the student corrupts the very foundation upon which the Talmud is based. Does not attempting to make Talmud more acceptable to students through values analysis begin with this erroneous assumption regarding the basis for authority? Does not this approach convey an erroneous message to the students?
Second, this approach does not begin with the belief system of the student; it presents the belief system of the Talmud as authoritative. However, as said above, students without an a priori commitment to halachah require an entryway into Talmudic discourse that bears meaning for them; one way is by comparing and contrasting the Talmud's values with their own. The very exercise of Talmud values analysis leads the students to make independent comparisons and contrasts. This necessary prerequisite will help the students take the Talmud and its ideas seriously and find them worthy of consideration.
Is this, then, not merely a ploy to make Talmud more acceptable to students? In a way, yes. This is a legitimate approach to Talmud study, applied specifically here to meet the needs of a particular community of learners. Given a different population of learners, one might well use an alternative approach to Talmud study. Schools serving hareidi students often use Humash study as a springboard for values education while utilizing a more traditional approach for learning Talmud. I would add that, unfortunately, very few schools of any persuasion study Midrash and Aggadah in a serious fashion. A complete picture of Rabbinic Judaism's world view will never be complete without the incorporation of both Halachah and Aggadah. The approach to Talmud study suggested here attempts to incorporate into the study of halachic texts the essence of its relationship to the values expressed in Aggadah.
I believe that values do underlie each Talmudic passage, and I attempt to demonstrate this point through the very "ordinariness" of the passage I have selected as a model lesson: Acceptable marriage proposals, as debated in Masekhet Kiddushin. Correspondingly, I intentionally ignored the selection from folio 40b which raise the question: What is superior, Torah study or performance of commandments?, since it is all too obvious that values are central to that Gemara. The selection that has been made here to demonstrate the values analysis approach is typical of common, ordinary, Talmudic passages.7
Is there but one way to interpret the values of a given Talmudic selection?
Clearly not. As with all forms of interpretation, a given values analysis must withstand the objections of those who come to criticize it. Just as Tosafot argue with Rashi regarding the interpretation of a particular selection of Talmud, so, too, differences of opinion will inevitably emerge regarding what values are central to any given Talmudic text.
The model lesson proposed here is not meant to be the final word on what values are implied in this text and how these values are to be studied. Rather, it is meant to demonstrate one interpretation of the text with one methodology for its study. The reader is encouraged to take issue with my interpretations and offer alternatives. The sole purpose in presenting this model lesson is to demonstrate the values analysis approach to Talmud study.
קידושין דף ו.א
ת"ר הרי את אשתי, הרי את ארוסתי, הרי את קנויה לי - מקודשת... הרי את שלי, הרי את ברשותי, הרי את זקוקה לי - מקודשת. וליתנינהו כולהו כחדא! תנא, תלת תלת שמעינהו וגרסינהו. איבעיא להו: מיוחדת לי, מהו? מיועדת לי, מהו? עזרתי, מהו? נגדתי, מהו? עצורתי, מהו? צלעתי, מהו? סגורתי, מהו? תחתי, מהו? תפושתי, מהו? לקוחתי, מהו? פשוט מיהא חדא, דתניא: האומר לקוחתי - הרי זו מקודשת, משום שנאמר: (דברים כד) כי יקח איש אשה. איבעיא להו: חרופתי, מהו? ת"ש, דתניא: האומר חרופתי - מקודשת, שכן ביהודה קורין לארוסה חרופה. ויהודה הויא רובא דעלמא? ה"ק האומר חרופתי - מקודשת, שנאמר (ויקרא יט) והיא שפחה נחרפת לאיש... ועוד, ביהודה קורין לארוסה חרופה, ויהודה ועוד לקרא? אלא ה"ק: האומר חרופה ביהודה - מקודשת, שכן ביהודה קורין לארוסה חרופה. במאי עסקינן? אילימא בשאין מדבר עמה על עסקי גיטה וקידושיה, מנא ידעה מאי קאמר לה? ואלא במדבר עמה על עסקי גיטה וקידושיה, אע"ג דלא אמר לה נמי! דתנן: היה מדבר עם אשה על עסקי גיטה וקידושיה, ונתן לה גיטה וקידושיה ולא פירש, ר' יוסי אומר דיו, ר' יהודה אומר: צריך לפרש... ואמר רב הונא אמר שמואל: הלכה כר' יוסי! אמרי: לעולם במדבר עמה על עסקי גיטה וקידושיה, ואי דיהיב לה ושתיק ה"נ, הב"ע - דיהב לה ואמר לה בהני לישני, והכי קא מיבעי ליה: הני לישני לקיושי קאמר לה, או דילמא למלאכה קמאר לה? תיקו.
רש"י קידושין דף ו.א
ליתנינהו כחדה - למה לי למיתני מקודשת מקודשת תרי זימני. מיוחדת - לשון והיו לבשר אחד (בראשית ב). מיועדת - לשון אשר לא יעדה (שמות כא) שהוא לשון קידושין באמה העבריה. עזרתי נגדתי - לשון אעשה לו עזר כנגדו (בראשית ב). סגורתי - לשון ויסגור בשר (שם). עצורתי - לשון עצרת שתהא נאספת עמי לבית ורבותי אמרו לשון כי אשה עצורה לנו (שמואל א כא) ולא נהירא דההיא עצורה ממנו קאמר דהא אחימלך אמר לו לדוד אם נשמרו הנערים אך מאשה ודוד אהדר ליה אשה עצורה לנו והננו טהורים. ויהודה ועוד לקרא - וכי המקרא צריך סיוע ממנהג שביהודה. שכן ביהודה כו' - אבל מקרא ליכא למילף דההוא יחוד בעלמא הוא שהרי בשפחה כנענית הכתוב מדבר שאין קידושין תופסין בה ומעיקרא הוה סלקא דעתיה כמ"ד בגיטין (דף מג) בחציה שפחה וחציה בת חורין הכתוב מדבר דשייכי בה צד קידושין. במאי עסקינן - בהנך לישני דקא מיבעיא לן אי הוו קידושין או לא ה"ד אי בשאין מדבר עמה קודם לכן על עיסקי קידושין וכן בהנך לישני דגירושין שלא היה מדבר עמה על עסק גיטה. מנא ידעה כו' - כלומר אפילו הוו הנך לישני לשון קידושין היכי מקדשא הא לא ידעה מאי קאמר לה שתתרצה להתקדש לו. ואלא במדבר - מה לי אי לא הוה לשון קידושין אפילו לא אמר לה מידי נמי אלא שנתן לה קי" דהוו קידושין כר' יוסי. גיטה וקידושיה - או גיטה או קידושיה. ה"נ - דמקדשא כרבי יוסי דאמרינן מסתמא לשם קידושין נתן והיא קבלתם לכך אבל השתא דפריש הנך לישני אם לשון קידושין הן נתקדשה ואם לשון לבוא לעשות מלאכתו הם הרי גילה בגעתו שאינו חפץ לקדשה עכשיו.
With these introductions, students will be ready to approach the text. We want students to understand that the man must have kavanah to marry his wife and that he must express his kavanah in a way that is communicated to others - most importantly, to his intended wife.
The Gemara introduces a beraita citing six legitimate expressions of marriage proposals that clearly articulate the man's intention to marry, followed by a question regarding eleven other expressions of marriage proposal in which the man's kavanah to marry is not clear. The questions below attempt to lead students to understand that the Gemara's issue is one of correctly ascertaining what is a person's exact intention.
Q. What is the conceptual difference between the expressions listed in the beraita and those suggested in the Gemara?
The answer to this conceptual question may be less obvious to the students than the factual answer of the previous question. Here the teacher should help the students analyze the expressions by writing them on the blackboard in two columns and having the students translate each one. (This is a good opportunity for students to practice their dictionary skills.)
If the students are still unable to discern the difference, the teacher should then ask them to concentrate on what is the purpose of the marriage proposal, and which list of expressions best accomplishes that purpose.
In the course of the discussion, students may be troubled why the Gemara has any question regarding the eleven vague marriage proposals. Of course a woman is not married on account of any of them! If the students do not ask, then the teacher should raise the question. Rashi analyzes six terms and demonstrates that although these terms are less obvious suggestions of marriage than the proposals stated in the beraita, nevertheless, they may convey one's intent to marry.
Q. If the Gemara's expressions are so vague, why is there any question regarding their legitimacy? Of course they are invalid.
A. (A perceptive student may discern the point without the help of Rashi. Even so, Rashi should be used to validate the student's insight.)
The teacher may first want to prod the students to discover the answer on their own before directing them to Rashi. By focusing attention on terms which Rashi doesn't explain, such as: tzelaiti and tahti, students may remember the Biblical connection. Use of a Biblical concordance may be a helpful technique which also reinforces a necessary skill.
If the teacher has not already directed the students to the terms not explained by Rashi, he may want to encourage them to suggest their own interpretations for such terms as tzela'ti and tahti whose Biblical referents may come to mind (see Gen. 2:22-23).
(Tangential to our discussion on kavanah, but still worthy of attention, are such enrichment exercises as:
(a) the use of Talmudic variant readings (perhaps Rashi's failure to explain three terms reflects a different reading of the text?); and
(b) Rashi's disagreement with his teachers (s.v. atzurati).]
To further bring the point home students should be asked to identify the Gemara's rationale regarding the terms lekuhati and harufati as legitimate expressions for marriage proposals. Here the students will see that expressions which approximate Biblical terms which are associated with marriage are valid, eg., lekuhati approximates ki yikah ish ishah, and that an expression which strongly suggests marriage is also valid, e.g., harufati in Judah, because it is synonymous there for arusah.
Q. What is the Gemara's rationale for concluding that lekuhati is a legitimate expression of marriage proposal, as is harufati in Judah?
A. Lekuhati approximates the Torah's expression of ki yikah ish ishah. In Judah the term harufati was synonymous with arusah and therefore its use to indicate the intent to marry is also obvious.
Before answering the question regarding the list of eleven marriage proposals (now pared down to nine), the Gemara directs itself to how we can measure the man's efficacy in expressing his intentions to marry by using the woman's consent. Only when the woman understands from the man that his intention is to propose marriage are we satisfied that the necessary kavanah has been expressed.
Q. According to the first half of the Gemara's twofold question, on what does the success of the man's expression of kavanah to marry depend?
A. The success of the man's expression of his kavanah to marry is dependent on the woman's understanding. Therefore, she would not be considered married if the man was not previously speaking of matters related to marriage when he proposed to her using one of the "vague" expressions. The woman's consent in this situation would not be assured.
Yet the Gemara - in the second half of its question - discloses a unique halachic feature that may be the key to uncovering the depth of kavahah as a value. In the circumstances in which the man's kavanah can be ascertained vithout any verbal pronouncement whatsoever, the woman is considered married. Moreover, the Gemara sharpens its question regarding the nine expressions of marriage proposal such that a verbal pronouncement may distort his intention rather than clarify it
Q. According to the second half of the Gemara's question, what seems odd about how the woman is considered married?
A. It is odd that if a man is discussing matters relating to marriage in the presence of a woman and then gives her money, she is considered married without any specific verbal expression from the man whatsoever.
Q. What idea about kavanah is advanced here that the Gemara had not yet addressed?
A. Kavanah reflects a mindset behind the man's statement. If his state of mind can be ascertained without his speech, the woman is considered married - given her tacit consent.
Q. In its final reshaping - what is the Gemara's question?
A. The final question posed by the Gemara is: Does the man's statement impede his desire to communicate the intention of marriage, or does it have a neutral effect?
Q. Why do you think Rabbi Yehudah required an oral pronouncement even when circumstances clearly indicate that his intention is to marry the woman?
A. Conceptually it is not altogether clear with what Rabbi Yehudah disagrees. He may require a verbal pronouncement to remove all doubt and insure consent on the part of the woman. Rabbi Yossi, on the other hand, does not consider lack of a verbal pronouncement an impediment to the woman's consent providing the circumstances point to a particular conclusion. This line of thought centers on the woman.
Alternatively, Rabbi Judah may be of the opinion that full kavanah on the part of the man is actualized only when it moves from conscious thought to articulated speech. Anything less may be considered incomplete kavanah. According to Rabbi Yossi, kavanah, by definition, cannot be reduced to an act. Kavanah to marry must accompany the act of marriage which here takes lace in such a manner that the man's internal kavanah is reasonably ascertained.
To further support the reasonableness of this second interpretation of Rabbi Yehudah's thinking, the teacher may want to discuss the distinction that Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik makes (in Al HaTeshuvah) between kiyyum hamitzvah and pe'ulat hamitzvah. Repentance regards the internal state of mind of the penitent. Peulat hamitzvah is the action one is required to do as a result of being commanded to do teshuvah by means of confession (vidduy). The Rav makes the point that the act of vidduy actually affects the kiyyum, or internal state of mind. Without it the kiyyum is incomplete.
Q. Besides teshuvah, what are other examples of commandments which require thought or verbal pronouncement?
A. Reciting Shema, prayer, blessings, love of G-d, fear of G-d, remembering the exodus from Egypt, etc..
Q. What is the difference between commandments of thought and verbal pronouncement - which require kavanah according to all - and other commandments in which there exists a disagreement?
A. Commandments of thought and verbal pronouncement, which originate in the mind, by definition require kavanah. In these cases kavanah is the fulfillment of the command, as opposed to commandments requiring physical action in which one can distinguish between the action and the thought behind the action. According to the view that commandments do not require kavanah, doing the action is what is required. Good "deeds" are objectively good. Fulfilling the act as commanded is what is necessary regardless of the person's kavanah. According to the view that commandments require kavanah, commandments serve to improve the individual. The mere completion of the deed is not sufficient. A "good deed" must be reflective in nature if any positive attribution is to be ascribed to it. Otherwise, it is a random act of chance bearing no meaning on the life of that individual.
The teacher should point out that although the Rishonim argue about the law, the Talmud appears to conclude that commandments do not require kavanah. What remains clear, however, is that Judaism has long stressed the value of performing commandments with kavanah. The teacher may want to assign an out-of-class essay or lead an in-class discussion on evidence in Judaism for the importance of performing commandments with kavanah. This activity has broadened our lesson from our specific Talmudic text considerably. However, it offers the teacher the opportunity to develop the concept of kavanah, which is central to our text in its larger context. The following sources and ideas may add to the discussion:
1. The Hassidic custom (whose influence reaches far beyond the Hassidic world) to say hinneni mukhan umezuman lekayyem mitzvat assei prior to performing a positive mitzvah.
2. The formula of leshem mitzvat... prior to tying tzitzit or baking a matzah.
3. The invalidation of a sacrifice by deliberately intending not to perform all its required services (piggul).
4. The requirement to destroy a Torah written by a heretic.
5. The statement of rabbi Yosef Karo in Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 1:4; tov me'at tahanunim bekavanah meharbot belo kavanah.
Finally, the teacher will want to bring the lesson back to the Talmudic text at hand and ask the students why the Gemara concludes in teiku.
Q. Why does the Gemara conclude in teiku?
A. According to the Gemara, although the circumstances indicate that the man's intention is to marry, the language he uses may indicate his desire to just employ the woman for work. The Gemara is unable to decide which of two lines of thought is most compelling. Either the expressions, combined with the circumstances, are a clear enough indication that his intentions is to marry, or the expressions are vague enough to possibly indicate his intention solely to employ her and, therefore, they override the circumstance and leave her unmarried.
If successful, this lesson will have demonstrated the following:
1. that kavanah is an underlying value in this Talmudic passage;
2. why kavanah is necessary in this situation;
3. how kavanah, as a value, becomes concretized in Jewish law;
4. broader applications and contexts of kavanah as a value in Judaism.
1. "Talmud: Text and Talmid - The Teaching of Gemara in the Modern Orthodox Day School," TEN DA'AT 5:1 (Fall, 1990) 17-21
2. A complete discussion of these ideas on teaching Talmud are developed in my Talmud Instruction in the Modern Orthodox Day School (Jerusalem, 1994; unpublished).
3. Such thinking is reflected in the writings of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Professor Eliezer Berkovitz, Professor Emil Fakenheim, and Professor Emmanuel Levinas, among others. The most explicit description of the relationship between values and halachah is in the works of Max Kaddushin, most notably, The Rabbinic Mind, 3rd edition (New York: bloch Publishing Co., 1972). For the most elaborate discussion on values in Jewish education and their relationship to classical Jewish texts, see Michael Rosenak: Roads To The Palace: Jewish Texts and Teaching (Providence; Oxford: 1995) chapters 9 and 10, in particular.
4. Rosenak: op. cit., Chapter 6.
5. It should be pointed out that there are halachic sections of Talmud that discuss Jewish values explicitly, albeit to a lesser degree.
6. The indeterminacy of Aggadah and its network of values is well develped by Max Kaddushin. That halachah concretizes those values into discrete forms of practice - requiring the concealment of those values seems to me a natural extension of Kaddushin's thinking.
7. In my Talmud Instruction in The Modern Orthodox Day School, I presented three model lessons - all from Talmudic selections that address values only implicitly in order to demonstrate my thesis that values underlie all halachic discussions in the Talmud.
8. I thank professor Michael Rosenak for suggesting this example.
9. Pinhas H. Peli: On Repentance: From the Oral Discourses of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Jerusalem: 1975), 40-41, 62.