Originally published in the Society for Old Testament Study Booklist, 1985.
Jacobs L.: The Talmudic Argument: A Study in Talmudic Reasoning and Methodology. 1984. Pp. xvi, 220. (Cambridge University Press. Price: £25.00. ISBN 0 521 26370 0)
The author brings together several earlier studies of the structure of talmudic argument, demonstrating the intellectual system, universe of discourse, and relationship of rabbinic to biblical law, by paraphrastic elaboration and lucid analysis of 19 sugyot (talmudic treatment of specific topics and cases—often academically postulated cases—in order to discover the underlying legal concepts). The main thesis is that the masterly arrangement of assertion, query, proof, counter-proof, etc., has been carefully contrived by early sixth-century editors who are the real creators of the Babylonian Talmud, which could not have taken its shape through mere selection of quasi-verbatim reports of discussions in the academies. He surely vindicates his case. But the book has greater potential importance as a further tool to introduce students (even those innocent of Aramaic and Hebrew, but linguists as well) to the manner in which talmudic rabbis (like Roman lawyers) treat jurisprudence as the discipline of a liberal education. Jacobs helps one understand the (often concrete) terms that are symbols for major legal concepts such as probability (rubba), effectiveness of designation, alienability of privilege, etc. The pedagogical skill and clarity of exposition earn the book a place alongside M. Mielziner’s Introduction and W. Bacher’s Exegetische Terrninologie. A minor blemish is the occasional failure to modify traditional yeshivah (mis)pronunciation of Aramaic into grammatically correct transliterations that the Aramaic scholar can recognize and analyse. If (utinam!) the book could go into paperback at a price that students (and even libraries) could begin to contemplate, this could be put right.