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SBL e-journal

Daniel Sperber

(

2015

)

.

Torat Emet: Subjective Dimensions of Truth

.

TheTorah.com

.

https://thetorah.com/article/torat-emet-subjective-dimensions-of-truth

APA e-journal

Daniel Sperber

,

,

,

"

Torat Emet: Subjective Dimensions of Truth

"

TheTorah.com

(

2015

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/torat-emet-subjective-dimensions-of-truth

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Meditations on Torat Emet

Torat Emet: Subjective Dimensions of Truth

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Torat Emet: Subjective Dimensions of Truth

The rabbis have taught us that the Torah has seventy facets, and numerous sparks of understanding are emitted from it. Presumably, this means that a single Torah text can be legitimately understood in a variety of different fashions, at a multiplicity of levels, all of which have a degree of truth. So each person views the same scene from different angles and describes them with full honesty and accuracy. Yet each description differs.

In the human dimension, truth is not absolute but has an element of subjectivity and relativity. That is the essential nature of human truth. Hence, multiple insights and comprehension of a single canonic text may all have legitimacy. Thus R. Abba in the name of Samuel could state (B. Eruvin 13b and B. Gittin 6b):

שלש שנים נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל, הללו אומרים הלכה כמותנו והללו אומרים הלכה כמותנו. יצאה בת קול ואמרה: אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן, והלכה כבית הלל.
For three years there was a dispute between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, each claiming "the halachah is as we say." Then a heavenly voice declared, "These and these are the words of the living God, but the halachah follows the rulings of Beit Hillel.

And the Ritba – R. Yom Tov Alshvili (13-14 cent.) to Eruvin (ibid., ed. M. Goldstein Jerusalem 1974, p.107), writes as follows: [1]

שאלו רבני צרפת ז"ל היאך אפשר שיהו שניהם דברי אלהים חיים וזה אוסר וזה מתיר,
They asked the Rabbis of France, of blessed memory: How is it possible that both [opinions] be the words of the Living God, when the one forbids and the other permits?
ותירצו כי כשעלה משה למרום לקבל תורה הראו לו על כל דבר ודבר מ"ט פנים לאיסור ומ"ט פנים להיתר, ושאל להקב"ה על זה, ואמר שיהא זה מסור לחכמי ישראל שבכל דור ודור ויהיה הכרעה כמותם,
And they replied: When Moses went up to the heavens to receive the Torah, [the angels] showed him for every single detail 49 facets to forbid and 49 facets to permit. And he questioned the Holy One blessed be He concerning this. And He said that it would be given to the Sages of Israel in each generation [to make a determination], and the determination would be according to their ruling.
ונכון הוא לפי הדרש ובדרך האמת יש טעם וסוד בדבר.
And this is correct according to the homily, but in truth there is a secret [explanation], (i.e. an esoteric one).[2]

Compare this to Midrash Tehillim 12:7, ed. Buber, pp.107-108:

אמר ר' ינאי לא ניתנה דברי תורה חתיכין, אלא על כל דבור שהיה אומר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה היה אומר מ"ט פנים טהור, ומ"ט פנים טמא.
Said R. Yannai: The Torah was not given "cut and dried" (hatichin), but for each word that God gave to Moses He gave 49 facets for [declaring] purity and 49 for impurity.[3]
אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם עד מתי נעמוד על בירורו של דבר, אמר ליה אחרי רבים להטות, רבו המטמאין טמא, רבו המטהרין טהור.
Said Moses before Him, "Master of the Universe, how then will we be able to clarify the issues?" He replied to him, "We follow the majority; if the majority declare impurity, it is impure, if they declare purity, it is pure."[4]

That having been said, not all descriptions are concrete, and not all interpretations valid. The challenge is to distinguish between our truths and falsehoods.

Published

September 8, 2015

|

Last Updated

September 23, 2019

Footnotes

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Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber is the incumbant of the Milan Roven Chair of Talmudic Research at Bar-Ilan University and President of Bar-Ilan’s Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies. He is also the rabbi of the Menachem Zion Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. He holds a Ph.D. from University College London in Classics, Ancient History and Hebrew Studies, and rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Kol Torah. Sperber is the winner of the Israel Prize for his research in Talmud and the history of Jewish Customs, and is the author of the 8 volume series, Minhagei Yisrael [Hebrew] as well as many other books such as, The City in Roman Palestine and On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations.