Welcome! This site is a space promoting rigorous philosophical analysis of any aspect of Judaism. We look forward to your participation. THIS WEBSITE HAS MOVED! IT CAN NOW BE FOUND AT http://www.theapj.com/blog

Monday, 15 August 2011

Hirsch on Identity in the Talmud: Post #2

There is certainly much of interest in this excellent article both for philosophers and for Talmudists (and even more for those who are both).  I want to focus on just one issue, which is briefly addressed at several points in the article and which I take to be of some importance.  I tried to tackle this issue in a paper that I presented this summer at the Shalem Center’s conference, Philosophical Investigations of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash.  What follows draws heavily on that paper.  [For those who are interested in the full version, please click on the link at the end of the post.]

At various points in the article, Hirsch asserts that the Tana’im and Amora’im were making claims about identity.  For instance, he says, “I think it is clear that R. Yochanan was indeed making a claim about identity and I have formulated his principle accordingly.” (p. 167) And later he writes, “I think it is no distortion to say that the tractate as a whole presents an extended treatment of the identity of a wide range of artifacts.” (p. 175) If this is right, then R. Yochanan and the Tana’im (and Tosafot) are entering into debates with “ordinary” metaphysicians – from the Hellenistic philosophers, who had a keen sense for the interesting philosophical questions about identity, to contemporary philosophers like Peter Geach, Roderick Chisholm, Eli Hirsch, and others.  And presumably, they are also having such debates with each other – two Tana’im who have a machloket about whether a certain kli is still tameh are (in certain circumstances) having a dispute about identity, plain and simple.  [See pp. 7-11 of my paper for a discussion of some examples in which there would appear to be a machloket about identity.]     

Hirsch on Identity in the Talmud

I have read Professor Hirsch’s paper with much interest and enjoyment. I think that his article provides a benchmark for good scholarship in the philosophy of Judaism. I have a few questions on the paper, all of which are clarificatory. I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on these points:
1. Is there any relation of the concept of panim chadashot as found in the laws of sheva brakhot, to the concept of panim chadashot as it is discussed here with regards to artefacts?
2. On a more fundamental level: Is there a unified Jewish position on artefact identity that we need to uncover through various examples in the various texts (as Hirsch does by quoting different debates on identity)? Or is the nature of artefact identity up for grabs, in which case different sources need not be aligned with one another to form a coherent position? (I’ve asked a similar question in a previous post “Some Meta Questions.”)
3. Hirsch’s solution to the problem raised by Tosafot on the relative tumah properties at different stages, as i see it, depends on the notion of an embedded kli. I find it hard to read the sources Hirsch quotes as being cases exemplifying this principle. I think it a little stretched to understand the respective opinions as being committed to the claim that when a single piece of cloth functioning as a coat is split into two coats, that the two coats are to be considered as embedded kelim of the larger coat. Similarly for the oven that is cut in half.
4. Is there any relation between the concept of an embedded kli and the opening mishnah of Baba Metzia about two claiming ownership of the identical cloak/talis? A similar question can be asked regarding the commandment of sukkah: what does shifting some branches of a sukkah one built last year do such that merely shifting some branches this year enables one to fulfill the mitzva of sukkah? Surely the properties of the original sukkah are such that Rav Yochanan's principle does not apply.
5. With respect to Hirsch’s interpretation of Rav Yochanan’s principle, what implications are there, if any, of a kohen who loses his status as a kohen for whatever reason e.g. he marries a forbidden partner?