Friday, June 9, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- AND Sampling Bias

The author’s next attempt at redefinition combines with the fallacy of ambiguity to propose that a certain phrase emended Talmud chiastically.
I can see how you would build Talmud chiastically. How you emend it chiastically is what puzzles me, and the author doesn’t explain it. Let me build from what he does say.
He says that there are directions for emendation in Talmud which the text says were accepted, but that the text as recorded retains the material that should have been emended.
So potentially the phrase he points at might be followed by something like “and that is the halakhah,” meaning that the emendation was accepted. He doesn’t say how he knows that his proposed emendation was accepted.
Unfortunately the phrase he labels as chiastic is qe-tani l’tsdadin (he reverses the words but this is how the expression reads in my digitized Talmud). Two new problems fall out of this.
First, the word tani as “tell, say” appears throughout Talmud, alone and in the selected phrase, and descends to the title of the Tanya by R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founding work of the founding father of Chabad/Lubavitch Chassidism. The author of my academic article is using the redefinition fallacy on this phrase so he can use it as what he claims is a huge number of phrases directing emendation of Talmud.
The phrase appears 14 times in the 2700 pages of Babylonian Talmud. This suggests why the author has to pile up such a large number of possible emendation phrases: if he wants to show that mass emendation went on, he has to show that a mass of material was targeted for emendation and he doesn’t get that from this one phrase. It also suggests why he uses a high redefinition of “I say” to make it not only a proposal but a direction for emendation. But it doesn’t necessarily reflect the function of those phrases in Talmud and he admits that he hasn’t done the research to show that they do prescribe emendation.
Talmud uses qe-tani l’tsdadin to mean that an issue has two sides and the ruling encompasses both of them. This is a proposed explanation for how the halakhah reads, not a direction to change the text of Talmud. Our writer cannot redefine a phrase well understood for over a thousand years by millions of people.
Then the author commits the fallacy of sampling bias. Out of the 14 occurrences of qe-tani l’tsdadin in Babylonian Talmud, 7 follow the existing halakhah (no emendation in sight); 4 are rejected (no emendation); 1 is followed by a counterargument (no emendation); 1 includes two propositions made in a prior discussion.
The 14th example is marked in Talmud with the word kashya, meaning that the difficulty/question remains unresolved. What’s worse, this example includes material from 4 rabbis, only one of whom used the phrase qe-tani t’tsdadin. Statistically, the author’s claim doesn’t work.
I fully understand that scholars are breaking down a large subject, Talmud, into smaller pieces for study. That’s perfectly scientific. But at some point results have to be fitted back into the umbrella topic, and it’s not worthwhile doing that with results that incorporate fallacies.
And now one final problem with this paper.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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