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Special Issue on Talmudic Hermeneutics

date: July 8th, 2016

Studia Humana invites contributions to our workshop on 'Philosophy and History of Talmudic Logic'. All accepted papers will be published electronically in Studia Humana as well as in a special volume of a book series "Studies in Talmudic Logic (לוגיקה תלמודית)".

Philosophy and History of Talmudic Logic
Affiliated Workshop of Krakow Conference on History of Logic (KHL2016)
27 October 2016, Krakow, Poland
Jagiellonian University, University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow

The purpose of this workshop is to examine the meaning of Talmudic hermeneutics in the contemporary epistemology and logic. One of the main features of Judaism is that Jewish religious laws are not dogmatic but based on specific legal reasoning. This reasoning was developed by the first Judaic commentators of the Bible (Tannaim) for inferring Judaic laws from the Pentateuch. Our workshop is aimed to consider Judaic reasoning from the standpoint of modern philosophy: symbolic logic, rhetoric, analytic philosophy, pragmatics and so on. On the one hand, we are interested in possibilities to import into the Talmudic study modern logical methods. On the other hand, we are interested in possibilities to export from the Talmud new logical principles which are innovative to contemporary logic. Topics
The topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

• History of the Talmudic hermeneutics,

• Symbolic-logical formalizations of some Talmudic passages,

• Medieval Judaic logic,

• Language philosophy of the Talmud,

• Talmudic hermeneutics from the standpoint of contemporary analytic philosophy,

• Epistemology of the Talmud,

• Philosophical presuppositions in the Talmudic exegesis,

• Logics of Judaic reasoning.

We are very pleased to invite scholars and rabbis interested in the philosophy and history of Talmudic hermeneutics. Each of the areas mentioned above may be subject to research and reflection for potential conference participants.

Paper Submission and Publication
• Authors should submit abstracts (as MSWord file, up to 1 page A4, 12 pt) to with the copy to by September 15th, 2016
• Papers should be sent to and by November 20th, 2016.
• Papers will be refereed and accepted on the basis of their scientific merit and relevance to the workshop.
• Conference Postproceedings will be published in a special volume of Studia Humana and a book series Studies in Talmudic Logic (לוגיקה תלמודית).

Important dates

• Abstract submission: September 15 2016
• Acceptance decision of abstracts: September 30, 2016
• Workshop date: October 27, 2016
• Paper submission: November 20, 2016
• Acceptance decision of papers: December 20, 2016


Accepted Abstracts



Rabbinic Methods for Handling Uncertainty


Moshe Koppel


Bar-Ilan University,



We consider the range of methods used by the rabbis in the Talmud for determining the law in cases where the facts are uncertain. In particular, we explicate the dictum “follow the majority”.

We find that the rabbis distinguish between cases where there is a finite sample space so that probabilities are determined by counting (ruba d’itta kaman) and cases where there is no clear sample space but there is some reference class regarding which some statistical claim can be made (ruba d’leita kaman).

Furthermore, we find that for cases involving an object selected randomly from some finite set with known distribution over a relevant binary property, the rabbis distinguish between two cases. In one case (kavua), the object is regarded as inherently part of the set, thus inheriting the “mixed” status of the set with regard to the property. In the other case, the object is regarded as no longer part of the set (parish), so that its status with regard to the property must be resolved one way or the other. The distribution of the property in the set is used for the purpose of resolving in accordance with the majority.

Hermeneutics in Plural: Through the Two Talmuds to Presocratics

Sergey Dolgopolski


University at Buffalo,



Where the two Talmuds are between two models of hermeneutics, the one of Peri Hermeneias of Aristotle and the one stemming from the 19th century project of interpreting ancient texts, from Homer to Bible? Drawing on the critique of the both modes of hermeneutics in post-Heideggerian tradition of thinking, including the critique of that tradition in Deleuze, this paper will ask the question of the relationship between the Talmud, hermeneutics, logic, and rhetoric as mutually commensurable but radically mutually irreducible traditions, disciplines and ways to think, act, and engage with the world. In that theoretical framework, the paper will necessitate asking a new question, that of the place of the two Talmuds in the traditions of thought unfolding from pre-Socratics to Deleuze and, in a non-mirroring movement backwards, from Deleuze and two Talmuds to pre-Socratics.

Using Lotteries in Logic of Halakha Law

שימוש בהגרלה בלוגיקה של פסיקת ההלכה

פרופ' עלי מרצבך

המחלקה למתמטיקה, אוניברסיטת בר-אילן

Ely Merzbach


Bar-Ilan University, Israel




במהלך ההיסטוריה, החל מן הפילוסופיה היוונית ועד לרציונליזם המודרני, חל תהליך מתמשך של חילון מושגי הגורל והאקראיות, והצגתם כמציאות עיוורת וחסרת פשר. אולם בעולמם של חז"ל (תלמודים ומדרשים), ממלאים הגורל והאקראיות תפקיד ערכי רב-משמעות. נחשוף מצבור מפתיע של מקורות הרואים את ההגרלה כדרך הטובה להכריע בעניינים ערכיים, הן בדיני ממונות והן בדיני נפשות. ננתח מקורות אלו בכלים מתמטיים של תורת ההסתברות. נצביע על ערכן הדתי של הגורלות בשימוש ההלכה המובילה להתבוננות מחודשת בהגרלה ובאקראיות, והרואה בהם התרחשויות מלאות במשמעות, ובכך הופכת אותם לאופציה תרבותית, דתית ומשפטית.


Medieval Judaic Logic and the Scholastic One in 14th-15th Centuries Provence and Italy.

A comparison of the logical works by Rav Hizqiyyah bar Halafta (first half of the 14th century) and Rav Judah Messer Leon (second half of the 15th century)


Mauro Zonta


Sapienza Università di Roma,




Hezekiah bar Halafta was a 14th-century Provençal Jewish philosopher. From the short references to him, most of which are found in the colophon of the only three manuscripts where his works are now preserved, we know the name by which he was called among non-Jews: “maestre Bonenfant de Millau.” He was from Millau, now in the French department of Aveyron (near the Languedoc), and lived in the first half of the 14th century, probably in the Provençal city of Rodez. He seems to have been a physician, since he wrote at least one book of medicine, bearing the title Book of Gabriel (in Hebrew, Sefer Gavri’el). However, he was also interested into various philosophical matters, since he wrote a short book on theology and Jewish religion, The Doors of Justice (in Hebrew, Ša‘arey edeq).

He wrote in 1320 what was probably the first text on Peter of Spain's Summulae Logicales in Hebrew, in form of a “gloss-commentary.” – that is to say, a “supercommentary” on a previous Latin commentary on the Summulae. This text, preserved in a unique manuscript and still unpublished, has been examined in its structure and sources in 2010. The structure was compared with that of Peter's work, while the many Latin, Greek, Judaeo-Arabic and Arab-Islamic sources are listed in detail. Judah ben Jehiel, in Italian Giuda Messer Leon, was a Jewish writer, teacher, rhetorician, and philosopher of 15th-century North-East Italy. He was born in Montecchio Maggiore around 1420-1425, then he lived in Padua, where he apparently attended courses at the local university. Around 1450 or little later, he created his own Jewish academy (yeshivah): this itinerant academy followed Judah ben Jehiel in his various workplaces, like Ancona, Bologna, Mantua. Later on, from 1480 onwards, he stayed in Naples; he fled from that place after 1495, and probably died some years later, around 1498. In youth, probably in the years 1454-1455, he wrote and diffused three works, which may be included into a sort of Hebrew trivium, i.e. the lower division of the seven liberal arts in Medieval Latin schools, consisting of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This seems to show Judah ben Jehiel was a real “Hebrew Schoolman”, as can be found in many other works of his, particularly in the philosophical ones: he apparently employed concepts and methods he found in a number of works of classical Latin literature and Latin Scholasticism, for understanding aspects and characteristics of Aristotelian philosophy, and of the Bible as well. The three above mentioned linguistic works are: The Pavement of the Sapphire (Livnat ha-sappir), about Hebrew grammar; The Perfection of Beauty (Miklal yofi), about Latin Scholastic logic; The Honeycomb's Flow (Nofet ṣufim), about Latin rhetoric. The first and second of these works are still unpublished.

In the above mentioned communication, I will try to make a historical comparison between these two authors, Hizqiyyah bar Halafta and Judah Messer Leon, in order to find the birth and the end of the “Hebrew Scholastic logic”, that is, the variable approach to Latin logicians  among Jewish scholars from 1200 to 1450 circa, and the employment of that Scholastical logical methods by Medieval Judaic thinkers in Western Europe.

Babylonian Roots of Talmudic Logic. The Analysis of Reasoning in Business Correspondence and Trial Records in Akkadic and Aramaic


Andrew Schumann


University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow,




The legal tradition of the Talmud is a continuation of the Babylonian tradition. In the Bible we can find out the following three ways of law formulations which are typical for non-Jewish Aramean texts, also: (1) “casuistic”: ‘if/when (non-Jewish Aramaic: hn or ’m) this or that occurs, this or that action must be undertaken or this or that punishment must be inflicted’; (2) “apodictic”: ‘thou shall not... (non-Jewish Aramaic: prohibitions in the second person singular of the imperfect, sometimes by using the negative particle ’l)’; (3) “relative”: ‘the man who… (non-Jewish Aramaic: ’īš zī or gәbar zī or ’enāš zī)’ or ‘whoever … (non-Jewish Aramaic: or mn)’. Hence, the Hebrew legal style was integrated in the broader context of Near Eastern juridical terminology. This terminology was thought up by the Sumerians first in the law codes which were first over the world: Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.); Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1900-1850 B.C.), and later by their successors, the Akkadians: Hammurapi (1728-1686 B.C.). The casuistic law formulation: ‘if/when (Akkadic: šammu) this or that occurs, this or that must be done’ allowed the Akkadians to build up a theory of logical connectives: “... or… “, “… and…”, “if…, then…” that must have been applied in their jurisprudence. The apodictic and relative law formulations allowed them to differ general cases/notions from particular cases/notions and to use a naïve set theory. The analysis of Old-Babylonian and New-Babylonian business correspondence and trial records shows us many examples of difficult logical schemata as results of applications of some inference rules to law codes. The main idea of Babylonian trial was that any trial must be final in problem decision and its verdict must be complete and be inferred from the list of arguments (facts and documents): ‘if facts and documents, then a trial verdict’. In case the set of arguments is not complete for inferring a final decision, the court takes a conditional verdict: ‘if facts and documents, then if an additional document that is missing, then a trial verdict’ (that is logically equivalent to the following sentence: ‘if facts and documents and an additional document that is missing, then a trial verdict’). For instance: “Five branded sheep were seen in the flock of Kīnaya. Zēriya testifies against Kīnaya, proving that Kīnaya stole three of the sheep. The assembly decrees that Kīnaya must repay those sheep thirtyfold. Kīnaya claims that the remaining two sheep were given to him by a shepherd. Kīnaya must present the shepherd to the administrators of the Eanna. If he does not present the shepherd, then Kīnaya must repay the Eanna thirtyfold for those two sheep, as well” (Shalom E. Holtz, 2014 [29 October, 547 B.C.]). After the detailed analysis of Babylonian business correspondence and trial records we can assume that the Babylonians used inference rules which are analogous to the Talmudic middot (logical rules), first of all to the Hillel rules. Thus, we can claim that formal logic appears first not in Greece, but in Mesopotamia and this tradition was grounded in the Sumerian/Akkadian jurisprudence and the Talmud preserves this tradition for us until today. One of the first law codes of the Greeks that is excavated recently is the Gortyn Code (Crete, 5 c. B.C.). It is analogous with the Babylonian codes by its law formulations; therefore, we can suppose that the Greeks developed their codes under the direct influence of the Phoenicians: the Code as the words of the stele and the courts as logic applications to these words. In this way the Greek logic was established within a Babylonian legal tradition, as well. Hence, a Sumerian-Akkadian ‘logic’ was first over the world.

The Development of the Qelal Uferat Uqelal Hermeneutic


Michael Chernick


Professor Emeritus of Rabbinic Literature,

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York




The purpose of this study is to show that the logical content of a Tannaitic hermeneutic changed and developed as it passed into the hands of the Amoraim, the Tannaim’s successors, and then into the anonymous stratum of the Babylonian Talmud. This hermeneutic was based on a very specific syntactical order in a biblical verse, which was formed by an initial inclusive clause, followed by a list of specifics, and then followed by a second inclusive clause. This hermeneutic is called in Hebrew qelal uferat uqelal.

In the Tannaitic period the hermeneutic required that the second inclusive clause had to be more extensive than the first one. It appears that this new degree of extensiveness suggested that the list of specifics was not definitive of the initial inclusive clause and that other things might be implied by the second one. The way that the rabbinic interpreter determined what these things might be was by seeking the common characteristics that the items in the specifics clause shared.

By the time of the Amoraim the requirement for the two inclusive clauses had changed. The formal syntax of the hermeneutic remained, but inclusive clauses had to be equal in their degree of inclusivity. Indeed, the Babylonian Talmud Zebahim 4b and 8b state specifically, “[How can this be a qelal uferat uqelal?] The first inclusive clause is not the same as the same as the last one?!”

The change in logic seems to be the result of viewing a second, more inclusive clause as a distinct element that could be disconnected from the first inclusive clause and the specifics that follow it. If the two inclusive clauses were, however, the same or similar, the rabbinic interpreter could argue that they belonged to the same categories and thus formed a legitimate qelal uferat uqelal.

In the final period of the Talmud’s creation neither the syntactic nor logical requirements were any longer needed the qelal uferat uqelal. Two inclusive and some specifics could appear in almost any order within a biblical verse and be considered a qelal uferat uqelal. It appears that the desire of the rabbinic interpreters of each era to connect their Halakhot to the Torah is the force behind the changes we have described.


Connecting the Sacral and Mundane: from Bilingualism to Hermeneutics in Hebrew Epitaphs


Michael Nosonovsky


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA

(On a sabbatical leave at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel)



Gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions are the most common class of Jewish monuments still present in such regions as Ukraine or Belarus. Epitaphs are related to various Biblical, Rabbinical, and liturgical texts. Despite that, the genre of Hebrew epitaphs seldom becomes an object of cultural of literary studies. In this paper, I show that a function of Hebrew epitaphs is to connect between the ideal world of Hebrew sacral texts and the world of everyday life of a Jewish community. This is achieved at several levels. First, the necessary elements of an epitaph – name, date, and the location marker – place the person into a certain absolute context. Second, the epitaphs quote Biblical verses with the name of the person thus stressing his/her similarity to a Biblical character. Third, there is Hebrew/Yiddish orthography code-switching between the concepts found in the sacred books and those from the everyday world. Fourth, the epitaphs occupy an intermediate position between the professional and folk literature. Fifth, the epitaphs are also in between the canonical and folk religion. I analyze complex hermeneutic mechanisms of indirect quotations in the epitaphs and show that the methods of actualization of the sacred texts are similar to those of the Rabbinical literature. Furthermore, the dichotomy between the sacral and profane in the epitaphs is based upon the Rabbinical concept of the “Internal Jewish Bilingualism” (Hebrew/Aramaic or Hebrew/Yiddish), which is parallel to the opposition of the Written and Oral Torah.

The Genesis of Arabic Logical Activities: From Syriac Rhetoric and Jewish Hermeneutics to al-Shāfi‘ī’s Logical Techniques


Hany Moubarez


Aïn Shams University, Cairo,




This paper tries to outline a history of development of Semitic informal logic in Semitic languages and especially in Arabic. It tries to explain how the first definite formulation of rules of an Arabic informal logic appeared at al-Shāfi‘ī’s Risāla (d.820), a work on usūl al-fiqh or methodology of law. That appearance is explained as a result to the influence of both Talmudic logic and Aristotle's Rhetoric. This claim is based on philological, historical and logical analysis of texts.

Epistemic Disagreement and Elu V’elu Divrei Elohim Hayim


Joshua Halberstam


Jewish Studies, City College of New York,

160 Convent ave.

New York, NY 10031;

Department of Communications Arts and Sciences

Bronx New York, 10453




A robust exchange in recent epistemological literature considers the problem of epistemic disagreement — the status of epistemic warrant when one confronts the opposing judgment of an epistemic peer.  The competing views about how to proceed with such peer disagreements (which assumes shared evidence, a mutual lack of bias, and the absence of other relevant epistemic asymmetries) fall roughly into two camps: so-called conciliationists contend that the realization that your epistemic peer disagrees with your opinion that P is sufficient reason to suspend or at least reduce your confidence that P, as should your opponent reduce his confidence that –P.  So-called stead fasters, on the other hand, argue that we are justified in maintaining our own beliefs even when confronted by disagreement of an epistemic peer. This discussion has direct bearing on the general assumptions underlining the notion of elu v’elu, consequences that have, hitherto, been largely ignored. For while the concept of elu v’elu has been treated to a millennium of competing explications ­­— so much so that these differences call for their own “meta-elu v’elu” — there has been little direct analysis of the grounds of maintaining confidence in one’s opinion or psak when a peer disagrees.  That is, nearly all explications of elu v’elu have focused on the ontological or metaphysical matter of “truth” – on how differing opinions do not violate the law of noncontradiction, suggesting pluralistic readings of truth, or by assuming justified, alternative epistemic perspectives that bypass actual disagreement.   But, nearly all (if not all) of these approaches implicitly adopt the steadfast view, i.e. that peer disagreement need not prompt one to abandon, or at least significantly minimize confidence in one’s own opinion. This presumption needs to be made explicit, and, moreover, will, in most cases, found to be wanting.  Third party judgments would seem to be even more problematic: for what epistemic warrant is there in choosing between a disagreement of superiors?  To be sure, there are procedural methods for choosing between disagreeing decisors, but these factors do not address the epistemic matter of warrant in the face of peer opposition, a concern not vitiated by mere assertions of elu’v’elu. This paper reviews some of the relevant issues in this current epistemological literature, points out some of the significant implications for halachik decisions and behavior, and suggests how we might better analyze the warrant of belief in cases of peer and superior disagreement.

The Influence of Lvov-Warsaw School on Post-Cohenian Neo-Kantianism: the Case of Samuel Atlas (1889 - 1978)


Iveta Leitane


LU Jūdaikas studiju centrs (Center for Judaic Studies),

Raiņa Bulvāris 19.

LV-1586, Riga;




Though some progress might be discerned in the historical research on Hermann Cohen school beyond his life time, the involvement of Cohenian ideas in contemporary discussions beyond the so-called continental framework leaves much to be desired. The aim of my paper is to track post-Cohenian developments as far as changes in logical paradigm are concerned in case of scholars indebted to the Hermann Cohen-school. Samuel Atlas, who regarded himself a disciple of Hermann Cohen and whose philosophical dissertation On Epistemological Foundations of History (1929) at the Giessen University was written under Walter Kinkel, had at that moment a rich experience of studies in yeshivot at Slobodka and Panevezyis and was an ordained rabbi. While teaching at the Institute of Judaic Studies in Warsaw (1929 – 1934) he gained a significant additional philosophical training and came under influence of some representatives of Lvov-Warsaw school. The traces of this training became more apparent in the years he was visiting Cambridge University and lecturing there. Atlas became an influential figure in Hebrew Union College in the U.S. in the 40s by teaching Talmud and Jewish medieval philosophy. His influence reached far beyond Reform congregation and embraced erudite scholars of both neoorthodox and conservative wings. Primarily known by two major works, one on Salomon Maimon From Critical to Speculative Idealism and the Other – the collection of articles Pathways in Talmudic Law, Atlas is less known as continuator, advocate and modificator of Hermann Cohen’s ideas and particularly his understanding of modalities. The originality of his contribution lies in the fact that he rethought the messianic idea against the background of the modal discussions in the 40-60s. The modal turn in philosophy became more pronounced in the 50s and 60s. Also, some continental authors whose concepts allowed for modal interpretation, were translated into American and came into discussion. All these moments shaped a strong motivation and context for Atlas to develop a kind of modal argument. This argument, which was not put forth in a formalized form, though allowed for some formalization, was affected by other polemical intentions which I am going to refer to. There are several sources and ideas (both classical and non-classical) that were at Atlas’s disposal to refine and correct the modal terminology of Hermann Cohen as applied to the messianic idea. I am going to demonstrate how Atlas confronts two modal paradigms which emerged on the American scene in the 50-60s, at the same time drawing on both. The opponents against whom Atlas’ argument is directed are identified. Time permitting, I’d like to also demonstrate some consequences of Atlas’ argument and show his allies in contemporary modal discussion identifying some more problematic issues that require an in-depth discussion. The confrontation of the ideas represented by Lvov-Warsaw school with genuine neo-Kantian objectives necessarily lead to some inconsistencies and paradoxes (alethic and deontic modalities). The paper sums up my research done in Tel Aviv, Princeton, Cincinnati, and Warsaw.

Who Studied Logic in Ruthenian in the 15th Century? The ‘Logika’ of the Judaizers, its Initiators, Translators and Readers


Moshe Taube


Department of German, Russian and East European Studies,

Hebrew University of Jerusalem.





In the third quarter of the fifteenth century, a Jewish translator from Kyiv, working together with a Slavic amanuensis of Belarusian provenance, translated into Ruthenian, the official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that was East Slavic, two medieval Hebrew works that are translations of Arabic philosophical texts – a short work on logic attributed to Maimonides (but possibly by a different medieval Jewish author) named Logical Terminology (Millot Higgayon), and two sections of the Muslim theologian Al-Ghazali’s famous Intentions of the Philosophers. Highlighting the unexpected role played by Jewish translators as agents of cultural transmission in the heady messianic atmosphere, both among Jews and Christians, leading up to the year 1492 (=Anno Mundi 7000 according the Orthodox calendar), these texts drew the attention of the Muscovite Orthodox Church authorities as being in the possession of the enlightened heretical sect that appeared among the white clergy of Novgorod in 1487 and spread to the high circles of the princely court in Moscow, known as the Judaizers. The aim of the talk is to identify the provenance and the purport of the translations, discuss the textological issues raised by these early Ruthenian texts, point out the theologically sensitive points in the logical texts and the biased way they are treated in the translation, and put forward the likely dissimilar motivations of the Jewish translator and the intended Christian readership, which explain both why these texts were translated at all, and why they were translated in the way they were.