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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Textual analysis

I've been going to Saturday morning Shabbat services, and one of the many aspects I appreciate is the respect given to text- particularly the Torah and the Siddur (prayer service). There was a long time when I thought that the bible was not very interesting and problematic in many ways, and the focus on this particular text is a bit arbitrary. But the traditions and interpretations that build up around texts are valuable and represent important loci of knowledge of how communities can stick together and support each other. 

On a somewhat related point, I recently read about this incident where law professor Josh Blackman was invited to give a talk on the legal side of free speech at CUNY law school. A protest was organized and he was heckled and called a racist and oppressor and students attempted to intimidate him and prevent him from speaking. In the end, he stayed and engaged with the few students who wanted to hear him speak. He maintains an "originalist" interpretation of the US constitution, and is a member of the federalist society.

Now, both the Torah and US constitution have material that one may object to, but I'm getting more sympathetic to the view that one should take the original documents very seriously, and then work with how they have been interpreted over the years. Its too easy to just throw the whole thing away and think you can do a better job. Is this viewpoint making me a conservative? Perhaps. I like to think this is the basic perspective of an intellectual- someone who takes texts and ideas seriously and has some respect for traditions of interpretation.

Of course, some of the most repressive regimes arise out of taking texts to be immutable and implementing a rigid interpretation of their strictures. The important point to not lose is that there are different traditions of interpretation, and this is where one can push towards different outcomes. Tying these discussions to texts and referencing past interpretations gives one the wisdom of time to see how different textual interpretations have coexisted within communities or societies and what kinds of outcomes resulted.

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