The Burnt Book: Reading the Talmud

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, May 31, 1998 - Religion - 272 pages

In a profound look at what it means for new generations to read and interpret ancient religious texts, rabbi and philosopher Marc-Alain Ouaknin offers a postmodern reading of the Talmud, one of the first of its kind. Combining traditional learning and contemporary thought, Ouaknin dovetails discussions of spirituality and religious practice with such concepts as deconstruction, intertextuality, undecidability, multiple voicing, and eroticism in the Talmud. On a broader level, he establishes a dialogue between Hebrew tradition and the social sciences, which draws, for example, on the works of Lévinas, Blanchot, and Jabès as well as Derrida. The Burnt Book represents the innovative thinking that has come to be associated with a school of French Jewish studies, headed by Lévinas and dedicated to new readings of traditional texts, which is fast gaining influence in the United States.


The Talmud, transcribed in 500 C.E., is shown to be a text that refrains from dogma and instead encourages the exploration of its meanings. A vast compilation of Jewish oral law, the Talmud also contains rabbinical commentaries that touch on everything from astronomy to household life. Examining its literary methods and internal logic, Ouaknin explains how this text allows readers to transcend its authority in that it invites them to interpret, discuss, and re-create their religious tradition. An in-depth treatment of selected texts from the oral law and commentary goes on to provide a model for secular study of the Talmud in light of contemporary philosophical issues.


Throughout the author emphasizes the self-effacing quality of a text whose worth can be measured by the insights that live on in the minds of its interpreters long after they have closed the book. He points out that the burning of the Talmud in anti-Judaic campaigns throughout history has, in fact, been an unwitting act of complicity with Talmudic philosophy and the practice of self-effacement. Ouaknin concludes his discussion with the story of the Hasidic master Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, who himself burned his life achievement--a work known by his students as "the Burnt Book." This story leaves us with the question, should all books be destroyed in order to give birth to thought and renew meaning?

 

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Contents

Preface
xi
Acknowledgments
xvii
Talmudic Landmarks
1
Revelation and Transmission
5
Transcription
24
The Talmudic Masters The Schools
41
The PostTalmudic Period
46
Jurisprudence Derived from the Talmud
50
Violence and Interpretation
176
VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE OR EROTICISM AND TRANSCENDENCE
187
Translation
189
Layout of the Commentary
190
Architecture
193
Visible and Invisible The Contradiction
195
Different Modes of Perception of Revelation
197
The Parokhet The Text the Trace
201

Interpretation
57
Dialogues
82
Openings
101
WHAT IS A BOOK? OR THE STORY OF AN EFFACING
103
Translation
113
LEGIBLE AND ILLEGIBLE
120
COMMENTARY
129
The Two Nunim
131
The Story of the Nunin
137
Dots Coronets and Letters
146
The Structure of the Text
149
An Atopian Text
151
The Book The Verses Beyond
155
An Open Work
159
The Talmid Hakham and the Wise Man Hokhmah and Wisdom
164
The Book and the Manual
166
Time and Interpretation
169
New Faces
204
Confronted with the Text
205
The There and the Name
209
The Structure of the Text
215
An Erotic Image
218
Eroticism and Transcendence
223
Eroticism and Prophecy
229
Invisible Faces
241
The Double Gaze
244
Seeing and Death
251
The Body beyond the Body
253
The Burnt Book
257
Of Hebrew Words Used in This Work
309
Bibliography
311
Index
329
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1998)

Marc-Alain Ouaknin, an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Bar-Ilan in Israel, is a rabbi and has a doctorate in philosophy. He teaches Talmudic philosophy and directs the Center of Jewish Research and Studies in Paris.

Bibliographic information