Monday, August 18, 2008

Some things never change - Kli Yakar on Pilpul

In this exhortation I have seen fit to conclude the "pillar of Torah" by saying that in our generation it is quite feeble and hanging over the void. For in all the ways of learning there is no wholeness, from the time one comes to the age of reasoning until he grows old. For before the lad knows to renounce evil and choose [good], he is entrusted to a "melamed" to teach him scripture. One week he learns a few verses from the portion "Bereshit," the next week a few verses from "Noah," and so forth. He only teaches him the meaning of the
words, not the connection of the verses.

Even if he studies the entire portion with him, he never teaches him the connection of ideas. Afterwards he starts to learn Mishnah or Gemara. But he still does not know about the principle that God is one, or acceptance of the yoke of His reverence and commandment, because he knows nothing about the love of the Lord or the fear of the Lord or the commandment of the Lord. What is the point of teaching him Mishnah or Gemara? From all that he has learned in Scripture, he has derived nothing of substance - it contains no learning of Torah, but only learning of language, to speak in the sacred tongue (Hebrew), for he will only remember the meaning of the words. But one could study the sacred tongue with him without any book at all, in the manner that one learns any ordinary language. I am amazed how one can call mere linguistic study "the study of Torah." Is this Torah?

Also, when one teaches the student Gemara, one teaches him tractates of which he has no need of knowing, such as Eruuin, Hullin, and the like. With the passing of time, all is forgotten, and his memory retains nothing of all that he learned. One has acquired only the talmudicaI method, but not the knowledge to perform any mitzvah properly, nor any moral instruction of which youth is in need. The reason for all this is pride, for the father only wants to puff up the reputation of his son, so that others should say, USee how this one is tender in
years but is learning halakhah, or Tosafot, or chilluk! He knows pilpul, how to draw an elephant through the eye of a needle!" When he progresses in years, he will get to sit in the circle of the "learned." There the essence of study is sharpening the wits, the empty and vain pilpul which they call "chilluk." Heavens, be astonished
at this! - that an elder rabbi, ensconced in a yeshiva, should pervert what is common knowledge to him and to others in order to say, "I have a new insight t
o tell you, and indeed it is the plain sense of the Gemara!" - when he knows full well that it is not the plain sense." Is there such blindness in the world, that he should lie to himself and to others? Is this what is commanded, that he should sharpen his wits through falsification, to waste his days in vanity and cause his listeners to waste their days similarly? It is all to make a glorious name for himself.

I myself know that there are a few lonely survivors in this generation who have as their constant desire to abolish this kind of study, but they have not the power to do so, for they are perceived by the mass of the people as deviant...they are vastly outnumbered by the many rabbis who oppose them in the land. The majority think that this pilpul is the essential of Torah. They entice them with words until the words of those who cry out and protest are annulled and have no weight. In this way the pillar of Torah is completely corrupted.

from Amudei Sheish - translated by Leonard Levin, "Seeing with both eyes:The intellectual formation of Ephraim Lunschitz"

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