Friday, April 14, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- immersion

Have you ever been involved in a great conversation and somebody comes into the room and asks, “What are you talking about?”  An extreme case is you are sharing a great joke and laughing hysterically, and the third person comes in and asks, “What’s so funny?”
You can never explain something like that to the satisfaction of the third party.  At some point you wind up saying “you had to be there.”
Or if it’s a tweet-fest, you have to tell them, “go back and read all the tweets.”  And even then, they won’t get it. 
They weren’t immersed in the situation and they will never understand all the nuances of what happened.
It’s the same thing with learning a language.  Immersion works better and faster than any class with discrete sessions and isolated lab work.  Language is often spontaneous, and programmatic learning sessions will never teach you some things that a native speaker will teach almost without thinking about it in an immersion course – body movements, voice tones, and so on.
The same is true with Torah and Talmud.  They are more comprehensible to people who live in the culture that now transmits them, than by external solitary study.  They are easier to learn and easier to retain through immersion than in bits and pieces among the moments of getting a living and running a household.
The issue isn’t the capability to learn, AKA intelligence.  The issue is mental and physical experience, not just with the information, but also with its practical consequences, AKA education.  (There’s a rant in there but I’ll let it go and move on.)
The rabbis say that study has to lead to practice, lilmod ulelamed, lishmor ve-laasot ul’qayem kol divrey Talmud toratekha be-ahavah.  But at one time fewer and fewer people were even doing the first part, studying.  That was one of the motivating forces in 1923 when R. Shapiro created the Daf Yomi program.  It asks that people set aside half an hour to an hour every day to study Talmud.  There are programs for both Talmuds.
My experience shows that if you jump straight into Daf Yomi you won’t make much progress.  You have to start with Torah the way you have to start with the alphabet when learning to read.  Then you have to learn Mishnah so that the Gemara doesn’t distract you from the basic principles.  Only after you understand the basic principles behind Jewish law and culture will you understand what Talmud is trying to teach you.  That means starting with the beginning of Jewish law and culture in Torah.  As a primary source, not in translation and not in commentary.
There is a sort of Cliffnotes version of Talmud on a website that has helped me out a lot.  But it’s only an outline, it’s not the real deal.  For that, you need to study the primary document.
You can’t say you know Talmud without that primary document, any more than you can honestly say you read War and Peace if you only read the plot description on Wikipedia.  The English Wikipedia site. 
And if you don’t know Talmud, you can’t produce a good argument for the claim that Talmud talks about Jesus. 

On to the fallacies!
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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