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Private Antiquities Beitrag

The Lifeworldly Aspects of the Talmud in Nineteenth-Century Stereotypes and Scholarship

Carsten Wilke

Trumah, Volume 24 (2018), Issue 24, Page 97 - 117

Ever since Rashi started searching for the French equivalents of countless Talmudic realia in the twelfth century, rabbinic scholars have endeavored to reimagine, reconstruct, and sometimes reenact the ancient lifeworld that stands in the background of ancient Jewish texts. This evocation of past life in its most concrete aspects is sometimes part of the process of deriving legal practice, as is the case with the Hadith in Islam. Generally speaking, however, the view of the past obtained from this process of reimagining is refracted through various historicizing and/or moralizing approaches. In this paper, I retrace the epistemological, psychological, and social functions of the lifeworldly interest in the study of Jewish texts by focusing on the often polemical discussion on this phenomenon that came about during the nineteenth-century transition from yeshiva study to academic scholarship. Both traditions of learning pursued different aims, but they shared a common fascination with ancient realities. This observation invites us to transcend the simplistic assumption about cultural transformation in Judaism that religious discourse adapts progressively, albeit often reluctantly, to the modernization of the lifeworld. As I want to show, discourse production does not only reckon with contemporary social and intellectual conditions, but it also involves reconstructing the texture of past life. The construction of a virtual historical reality from the rabbinic texts has served as a way of mediating the opposition of discourse and lifeworld, and the emergence of this virtual historical reality is closely related to the peculiar social position of modern academic scholars.

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