Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1:1:13-27 (Aggadah and halachah): Left unsaid

Maybe I'm missing something, but amid all the comparisons between aggadah and halachah (which are fascinating, and which I'm sure we'll hear a lot about in today's regular posts; halachah = bread and aggadah = wine?!), there seems to be no suggestion that aggadah and halachah have any effect on each other; they are treated as entirely independent spheres of Torah. For me and others, the interdependence of halachah and aggadah is crucial to our understanding of both. So what's going on here? Does this represent a formalistic understanding of halachah, where halachah is treated as a closed system with no input from aggadah? Or are Bialik and Ravnitsky, through their selections of what to include, promoting a post-halachic secular Jewish culture in which aggadah can roam free without influence from halachah? Or is this simply an accurate reflection of how aggadah and halachah are treated in the classical sources, and the idea that they influence each other is a modern idea? Thoughts?


David A.M. Wilensky said...

It's curious. I was noticing that myself during today's reading. I find it especially odd because in Talmud, Rabbis often pause to make their halachic point by illustrating with a little story.

NeilLitt said...

The notion that halachah is bread and aggadah is wine may hold the key to this puzzle. If I drink the wine without first eating the bread, I will become intoxicated and my judgment will be impaired. Wine does not influence bread, but one should always have bread first and not drink on an empty stomach.

General Anna said...

A good friend of mine did her college thesis on the fundamentally narrative nature of halachic discourse-- the idea that all halacha is essentially narrative, too. Halachic discussions are framed as real-time conversations between rabbis even if those rabbis lived generations apart, which demonstrates the text's deep alleigance to storytelling. "If you do X, then you must do Y." "Rabbi Z taught in the name a Rabbi A..." So either we need to define aggadah as more specific than just narrative, or we need to think of the boundaries as being much more fluid.

David A.M. Wilensky said...

I don't buy this bread and wine notion at all.

Halachah is nonexistent without aggadah, where halachah=rules and aggadah=narrative.

Every rule we have very received is framed by narrative. As today's reading points out, the Torah doesn't begin with the first rule. It begins with the first story.

In human-ordained law, rules are made because they're broken first. Something bad happens and a rule is made to prevent it from happening again.

Without the narrative of the bad thing, there is no rule, where narrative=aggadah and rule=halachah.

Does that make sense?