Old Series: Volume 3 (1994)
“Know thyself?” “But do not separate yourself from the community?” Philosophy is not your basic team sport. Even postmodernists suspicious of Enlightenment models tend to practice philosophy alone, in the kind of quiet solitude that lets them attend, for long stretches of undisturbed time, to long lines of undisturbed inference. At the same time, as exhibited in our previous issues, these postmodern philosophers tend to write about the virtues of teamwork: “relationality,” for example, or “dialogue,” “love,” or “communities of interpretation.” It is not yet clear how these virtues enter the long lines of postmodern inference. Do they enter as premises? As conclusions? Or are these virtues summoned as angels of rescue whenever postmodern-yet-modern argumentation breaks down, or falls short of its goals? The question, in sum, is how communal virtues could and should enter into the practice of postmodern Jewish philosophy.
This was one of the questions raised at the third annual meeting of the Bitnetwork, held last November during the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Washington. As previewed in the November Newsletter of the Bitnetwork, our discussion topic was “The Semiotics of Money: Reflections on B. Talmud Perek Hazahav” (by Robert Gibbs and Peter Ochs). The Reflections stimulated hearty exchanges among the twenty-five participants including many specialists in Talmudic literature and a plan to continue the exchanges next year. Among the general questions generated by the session were: how does Talmudic study contribute to the practice of postmodern Jewish philosophy (are there models for this practice among the interpretive and dialogic methods of Talmudic study?) How do logical and philosophic models emerge from or contribute to Talmudic study (is their use always a priori or reductive, or does postmodern Jewish philosophy offer procedures for non-reductive study of general models?)? are any of the methods of contemporary rabbinic scholarship already in dialogue with any of the methods of postmodern Jewish philosophy?