a First Course in Jewish Tradition

Magic and Science On Artzot Habrit

Magic and emancipation both exist on Artzot Habrit, but emancipation tends to favour magic over science. the continent imports all its magic, the vast majority from the Eastern Lands of Europa on Déot; once it arrives the magic fades away unless it is rapidly collected and redistributed. There is constant argument about the most effective way to allocate the magic before it dissipates.

Magic and Science on Emancipation Island

Emancipation Island is an important ally of Artzot Habrit. It is connected by two bridges, the Wise and the Shechter. Déot and Talmud are friendly but wary of Artzot Habrit’s secular orientation. No bridge has ever been proposed, but the Rav Canal connects the Wissenschaft Sea to the Halakha Sea from the west. The Feinstein Channel connects the eastern shore of Artzot Habrit to Iggeret Moshe on Déot.

The continent has not been as extensively explored as Déot or Talmud. The Kaplan expedition has been the most thorough to date. Its conclusions and methods have been largely scorned, but no one has subjected the Kaplan’s conclusions to the same rigour the Tosofot expedition used for the Rashi’s.

Much smaller expeditions have been mounted by Revel, Finkelstein, Schindler, and Scahchter-Shalomi, but all were really just surveys of local areas in which the expeditions eventually settled. These local areas are a somewhat unique feature of the continent called “movements”. The movements maintain cursory contact but have as little to do with each other as possible.

An Introduction to The Fire Chapters

The Fire Chapters describe describe the path from Torah to tradition and the personalities of the Talmudic rabbis, the inventors of the halakhic codes, the responders to the modern age and the Enlightenment, and the rabbis who influenced 20th century developments, mostly in America.

The titles of the Fire Chapters are in homage to Words on Fire and Souls on Fire, books by Elie Weisel which describe the intensity of prophetic and Hasidic traditions – and also historical epochs. Judaism’s historical trends are always on fire.

I have come across some recent scholarship which wonders “Why did Islam degenerate from the Golden Age of knowledge it originally fostered to its current Dark Age mentality?” That led to me to ask “Why didn’t Judaism degenerate from the Golden Age it shared with Islam in Spain and other Mulsim lands to a Dark Ages mentality?” There is a single answer to both questions: Fire.

Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, was the greatest philosopher religious Judaism has so far produced; he lived his entire life in Islamic lands. His magnum opus, Mishne Torah, followed a Mulsim trend of consolidating legal knowledge into one place for all time. This decision of Muslim jurists created a reliance on tradition and an unspoken tendency that innovation would not be tolerated. Mishneh Torah was very influential among the Arabian Jews in what is now Iraq (other than Baghdad), Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, and the Emirates, and they did degenerate. Their scholars, for the most part, stopped producing any worthy Torah.

European Jews found Mihsneh Torah intolerable; even individuals who acknowledged Rambam’s brilliance, such as Avraham Ben David of Posquières, were appalled at his arrogance. His works were consigned to the flames and were banned by Rabbinic ordinance in 13th century France. The Spanish Jews, however, did not give up on Rambam – rather, they began to write commentaries, and the insights that accrued began to affect other aspects of halakhic enquiry. One man and one work destroyed Jewish scholarship in the Orient and spurred it on in the West.

The Times They Are a-Burnin’

The beginnings of what we Jews call oral law begins with the Mishna, so these are about tongues. The Mishna was analysed by the Gemara – it was minds which caught fire. The Gemara was the core component of halakha for the devisors of the halakhic compendia and codes – it was, shall we say, the heart of the matter? But the codes presumed rapid development of traditions based on latter-day scholarship, thus the times were on fire.

Finally, both the modern and post-modern Jewish ages were subject to stunning upheavals due to pogroms, the Holocaust, and the renewal of “polite” anti-Semitism, thus ashes is the metaphor, but note: Ashes on Fire. The Jewish flame refuses to die, rising repeatedly from the ashes like a phoenix. May it continue to burn!