Originally published in The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 29 April 1983, p. 13.
Teyku: A Study in the Literary Analysis and Form of the Talmudic Argument by Louis Jacobs. A Leo Baeck College Publication. London, New York, Cornwall Books, 312 pp. $20.
Rabbi Jacobs deals with the 310 instances in Talmudic tractates where Teyku (no solution) is found. He first presents the problem that eventuates in a Teyku. Next, he clarifies what halachic principles and premises are involved. For example:
“Rava set a problem: What is the law if he gave her the bitter waters to drink through a straw or a tube? Is it usual to drink in this way or is it unusual? ‘Teyku’.” Sotah 18a.
Scripture speaks of her “drinking” the water. Consequently, if it can be said to be a normal method of drinking to use a straw or a tube it can be construed as “drinking,” otherwise it cannot.
“R. Ashi set a problem: What is the law if some of the bitter water was spilled or some of it left over? ‘Teyku!’ Sotah 18a.
R. Ashi’s problem is whether she is obliged to drink all the water or only some of it. Note that in all these problems the law discussed had long been inoperative, and the problems are purely academic.
Teyku is a word that occurs often in the Babylonian Talmud but not in the Jerusalem Talmud. To some students, Teyku is a source of relief. Why tarry? Why try to pierce an impenetrable wall? A delicate problem is posed by the Sages, and upon analysis several solutions are adequate, acceptable and logically viable. The Sages themselves make no decision; we are left in limbo. Teyku—“it stands forever in the state of insolubility.” (Introduction p. 14)
Another etymological suggestion; The word Teyku is an acronym for Tishbi yetaretz kushyot ve-ebba-yot (the Tishbi will solve difficulties and problems) (Appendix II, p. 311). Parenthetically, I may add that this is the explanation commonly given to persons beginning to study the Talmud.
However, the Talmud was never intended to be a finalized codex. Except where the Sages decide Vehalacha kavate—he law is definitely in accordance with a certain Sage—the student must refer to the decisors of the post-Gaonic period, such as Alfasi and Maimonides, to discover what is the ultimate result of the Teyku relative to the law. Hence, one who is in a dilemma over a Teyku has to wait until the codifiers resolve the problem that originally ended with a Teyku.
The general rule is: the more rigorous view is taken in cases where the problem revolves around Biblical injunctions and severe prohibitions; the lenient approach is adopted in instances dealing with Rabbinic edicts and monetary affairs.
I somehow have the impression (Introduction p. 14) that Dr. Louis Jacobs, scholar, author, and teacher, favours the premise that the mystery and insolubility of the Teyku was sealed forever. I hope this impression is wrong. In his classic work, Yad Malachi (p. 106), Rabbi Malachi ben Yaakov-Hakohen draws our attention to the fact that a host of authorities argue forcibly that the Teyku must never be categorized as a remote and insoluble phenomenon but, rather, intellectually approachable and logically explained. At any time, someone may come up with a correct answer and it should be accepted. In fact Malachi himself leans to this view.
This book is precisely written, and abundantly documented. In an appendix, the reader is also treated to an erudite essay on “Teyku in the Mystical Literature.”
Rabbi Jacobs has enriched us with an impressive volume.