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Torah from heaven: Talmudic interpretations of Sinai

What makes the period from 200 BCE to 600 CE a coherent and revolutionary era in Judaism? Halbertal gives four reasons. Watch the video
A fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Moshe Halbertal has a doctorate in Jewish Thought from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he teaches. Currently the Gruss Professor at New York University School of Law, Moshe previously served as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and University of Pennsylvania Law School, and as a fellow in Harvard University’s Society of Fellows. Moshe’s extensive list of publications includes Idolatry, which he co-authored with Avishai Margalit


What makes the 800 years from the second century BCE to 600 CE, the era of the development of the main rabbinic commentaries on Judaism known as the work of "chazal" – the scholars of their day – a single period, despite the fact that the work collected in the Talmud, Mishna and Midrash are in different languages, based on different influences and even conflicting opinions?
In this lectue, Moshe Halbertal explains the reasons – and why they represent a revolutionary period in Judaism. He says, in fact that if the prophets Jeremiah or Isaiah fell into this period, they wouldn’t have recognized Judaism.
He says there are four main reasons:
  1. The rise of scholar: The new ideal type replaced the previous biblical ideal of a prophet or priest. In contrast to the Bible, a scholar presents himself in opposition to the old type. The basis of his authority is not lineage, but personal virtues and expertise in the law.
  2. The rise of a new ideal: The study of Torah. Talmud torah is not in the Bible. The idea of the scholars was that God reveals himself in the text; each new interpretation is another encounter with the Divine. This idea grew out of the historical crisis – the fall of the Second Temple – there was no more sacred space.
  3. The emergence of the new institution: The beit midrash, or study hall. "I challenge you to find one mention of beit midrash in the Bible," Halbertal says. In the rabbinic period, – things happpened in the beit midrash.
  4. All rabbinic texts are marked with controversy, not as in the Bible or the prophets. "The fact that there are controversies is related to fact that there are scholars, not prophets. Arguing against prophecies makes a false prophet.
All these features make this culture a new, unified culture. The rabbinic revolution kept the Jewish people going until today.
Watch the video to get the full explanation of this dynamic interpretation and assessment of the changes in Jewish history and in the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

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