The Talmudic Argument. A Study in Talmudic Reasoning and Methodology. By Louis Jacobs. Pp. xvi + 220. Cambridge University Press, 1984. £25.00.
Louis Jacobs here provides an immensely rewarding exposition of nineteen Talmudic sugyot, combining the traditional yeshiva emphasis on the content and flow of the argument with a concern for the basic literary-historical questions of the editing of the Talmud. The author has made notable contributions to both approaches in the past, not least in his earliest work, Studies in Talmudic Logic and Methodology. Two introductory chapters describe the character of Talmudic argument, viewing it as a technical species of a genre of ‘sustained argument’ which has ‘strong antecedents’ in earlier Jewish sources. The notion of a ‘sustained argument’, however, is left somewhat too general to make the comparisons very revealing. So too, perhaps, when the author sees in a host of biblical dialogues a ‘dialectical tone’ which finds its way into the Talmud. Talmudic argument makes use, in a highly formalized style, of a finite repertoire of argumentative ‘moves’, its uniqueness resulting not merely from the ingenuity with which these moves are deployed, but also the literary skill which characterizes the construction of entire arguments. It is the author’s claim that the overall logical structure of these entire arguments is such that the Talmud must be regarded as essentially the creation of its final editors, notwithstanding the earlier literary strata which can be identified within it. The Saboraic editors did not receive this structure, and merely make final additions to it; whatever the extent of the earlier traditions they received it was they who moulded them into their present form. The Talmud is neither a ‘Hansard’, a verbatim account of oral rebate, nor the end result of a long history of written transmission