The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Talmud

Here's an interesting article about the Talmud, posted a couple of weeks ago on the ZEEK/Jewcy.com website.

Written by Michael Satlow, "The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Talmud" owes much to Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which examined Tolstoy's understanding of the nature of history, particularly evident in War and Peace. Citing the Greek poet Archilochus's maxim, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," Berlin suggested that writers typically fall into one of two categories:
"[T]here exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel--a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance--and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.... The first kind of intellectual and artistic personalities belong to hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.."
Tolstoy, Berlin argued, does not fit comfortably into either category. As much as he wanted to see history as having some overarching purpose, he struggled to reconcile this with his understanding of the complexities of real life. In this article, Satlow summarises Berlin's insight: "Tolstoy is a fox who wants to be hedgehog."

So what does this have to do with the Talmud?

Satlow describes how the Babylonian Talmud was written by foxes, but redacted by hedgehogs. It's quite a fascinating fascinating read.



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