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Introduction to Talmudic Methodology

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
            Prior to describing the objective of these 'shiurim' I feel obliged to issue several disclaimers regarding  the term 'methodology'.
            I do not assume that there is one method of learning Torah nor that one style is superior to another.  Such an assertion would be both arrogant and fatuous.  No one would chas ve-shalom minimize the Torah of the Penei Yehoshua or the Maharsha simply because their styles of learning didn't match ours.  To learn Torah is to fully appreciate its quintessential infiniteness.  By the same token, there has been one distinct style which has popularized itself over the last 100 years and which to a greater or lesser degree is studied in most of contemporary yeshivot - an analytic style which in its purest form is labeled the "Brisker Derekh".  This analytic style, which recognizes the fundamental essence of a Health as the source for its constituent halakhic particulars, was by and large practiced by the Rishonim.  Indeed, there are different variants of this approach to lamdanut but at their root they all exhibit substantial similarities.  It is the aim of these shiurim to explore this methodology.
            However, there is an additional hazard to the term methodology.  It assumes that within a "derekh" there exists one distinct system and technique for analyzing the gemara and arriving at the desired structure.  Such a premise is also erroneous.  The nature of intellectual enterprise is that objective knowledge is acquired in a highly subjective and personal manner.  I might analyze a 'sugya' from a wholly different perspective than you would even though we would arrive at similar conclusions.  There is no specific order or strategy and to adopt one is to stifle the personal initiative which is so vital to true Torah mastery.
            What, then, after these disclaimers, is the intention of these shiurim?  Despite all that has been said there are certainly distinct patterns of analyses which recur throughout our learning and if studied carefully and elaborated can greatly assist our learning.  What, for example, are the general methods which Rishonim employ toward resolving a setira.  On what grounds should a machloket - any machloket - be analyzed?  What are the most accurate nafka minot to help elucidate a 'chakira'.  Taking stock of these methods and formalizing, and categorizing them, greatly assists us in our daily learning.  We all experience the "apple of Newton" effect when, in the middle of our learning, we receive that sense of deja-vu:  "I've seen this pattern before!!".  To articulate and formalize these principles is the aim of the shiurim.
       To this end, each shiur will select a sugya from shas which showcases one or several of these patterns.  The shiurim are not meant to be exhaustive - they delve laterally rather than vertically.  I will be happy to provide further elaboration of the sugya for those who are interested.  Also, it goes without saying comments, questions, and the like are welcomed and will be included in the ensuing week's portion.
Bebirkhat Kol Tuv, Moshe Taragin
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