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I am wondering about G'zerah Shavah. It is a rule that I have a hard time accepting, at times. I am wondering what philosophical and theological implications this rule holds. If it is assumed to be a valid rule, what can be said about God, or about the Torah itself? If this is a valid rule, what would that say about the structure and style of the Torah? What qualities can we infer God has, etc.?

Conversely, I am also wondering why this rule should be seen as valid, given the God of the Torah. If we are given the God of the Torah, what about God makes it so that we can infer that G'zerah Shavah is valid?

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Can you say more about what, of all the rules of exegesis, especially troubles you about g'zerah shavah? Thanks. Also, your last question, about why there is no Christian or Islamic midrash, is something we can't answer here, so you might want to remove that. (I also don't know if it's accurate.) – Monica Cellio May 26 '15 at 2:34
  • The simple answer for all the rules is that the Torah is as short as possible so it shouldnt have to say all the 'dinim' many times over. – cham May 26 '15 at 8:15
  • I am asking what the philosophy behind the rule is. For example there is a paper I once read, which said the following about the issue: – Julian Jefko May 26 '15 at 12:08
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    I read your question and the posted answer, and think that you should revise your question based on your comments to the answer. You want to know the philosophical implications and messages of the existence of this rule, not the history or legal justification for it. – jim May 26 '15 at 20:18
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    Ahh, I see. In saying justification, I meant what philosophy is assumed to justify it as valid. I am sorry for the bad wording; I will rephrase the question – Julian Jefko May 26 '15 at 23:19
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"Justification" is the wrong phrasing. Ultimately, the methods by which one interprets the Torah, the list of rules that we use to get from rather-confusing-text to coherent-set-of-rules, are supposed to be those communicated to us from Moshe, who got them directly from God. There are of course certain wrinkles - one, for instance, is the fact that different Tannaim had different lists of rules, and one of the ones that had Gzeira Shava in it (as far as I know there were only two such competing lists, and it may have been in both; I don't know the details) was vindicated by history. It must be noted at this point that one of the assumptions in Judaism is that an omnipotent god will make sure that the correct version of his laws is the one that is vindicated by history.

Regarding the validity of the Oral Torah in general, there's a famous story in which Hillel is approached by a convert who wanted to learn only the Written Torah because he didn't trust the Oral Torah. Hillel being Hillel, he accepted the man's request and began by teaching him the Hebrew alphabet - א is the letter aleph, and so on. The following day he says, "Let's review what we learned yesterday" and says א is the letter bet. The convert, naturally, objects, to which Hillel replies, "Isn't what you're saying right now part of the Oral Torah?"

The object lesson being, of course, that the difference between "how to even pronounce the words written here" and "what the finer points of a particularly complex rule of Biblical exegesis are" is just a matter of degree.

I personally take a mathematical approach to Judaism based on the above principles. Judaism is like geometry. We have the Rambam's thirteen principles of faith (one of which attests the veracity of the text of the Torah) - call these our axioms. We have Rabbi Yishmael's thirteen rules of exegesis - call these our rules of inference. All of the rest of Judaism flows logically from that, just as all of the rest of Euclidean mathematics flows logically from Euclid's five original axioms and the laws of logic. If you switch out Rabbi Yishmael's rules of exegesis for Rabbi Akiva's, or switch out the Rambam's thirteen principles of faith for, say, an alternative grouping that allows for corporeality of God (which used to be far more legitimate than it is now), you get non-Euclidean Judaism. Which, though it sounds like the domain of Cthulhu, is if you know mathematics an equally valid system in which to work.

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  • I just can't see this as axiomatic. If God revealed this rule to Moshe, and that is why it is used, it is very unlikely that God chose this rule arbitrarily. This rule is a rule used to derive conclusions. Since this rule was given by the one who knows what the valid conclusions are, saying this is a valid rule should, in turn, say something about the structure of the book or about how it was written or even the God. There should be implications if this rule is assumed to be valid. If this rule came from God, this becomes the case even more so. I am wondering what these implications are. – Julian Jefko May 26 '15 at 14:38
  • I'm not entirely clear on what you mean. Are you saying that laws of exegesis can't be axioms because there's a certain reasoning behind them? But there's no contradiction between the two. There's always reasoning behind axioms, even in geometry. The point of an axiom is not that we don't have a reason for believing it - it's that we can't (or don't want to) derive a proof for believing it. The definition of an axioms is a statement that is taken on faith; that doesn't mean it doesn't have a source. – Yerushalmi May 27 '15 at 7:30
  • But, why does a = a? Why is the reflexive axiom true? To me, it seems that axioms are more things that "just are", and so, don't really have a reason, rather than things which we can't or dont want to formally prove within the mathematical system. Only when the issue is more complicated, like with the Axiom of Choice in set theory, is reason involved. Though, whether it's called an axiom or not is irrelevant. If it is indeed an axiom, which has reasoning behind it, the question still remains. What is that reasoning? – Julian Jefko May 27 '15 at 11:59
  • But the reflexive axiom is not necessarily true. There are plenty of cases where a does not equal a. We are agreeing to decide that it is for the sake of ease of mathematics. Similarly, the definitions of a point, a line, etc. and their properties are all axioms. We've decided, for convenience, that our geometry contains these items. They are by no means "just are". Some are more intuitive than others but none of them have to be. – Yerushalmi May 28 '15 at 8:58

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