JONATHAN BOYARIN: I'm Jonathan Boyarin. I'm the Director of Jewish Studies greeting you very briefly and wanting to make sure that everybody knows that the bulk of the legwork for this conference tonight and tomorrow was done by our friend Zvi Septimus who's been teaching at Harvard Law School this spring. I'm really delighted, because we have collected here at Ithaca, for the next 24, 36 hours, I think just about the top creative thinking in this field in the United States today. We will be continuing all day tomorrow starting at 9:30 till about 6:30 with breaks in the English and Comp Lit lounge over at 158 Goldwin Smith Hall. And with that, I'm going to turn it over the podium to my colleague Lauren Monroe, who's going to introduce tonight's keynote speaker.
LAUREN MONROE: Thank you, Jonathan. And thank you to Zvi for your work in organizing this. It's great to see everybody here after so much talk about it over the course of the year.
It's a distinct pleasure to introduce this evening's keynote speaker, Christine Hayes, Robert F. and Patricia R. Weiss Professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica at Yale University and no longer chair of the Religious Studies Department I just found out. Prior to her appointment at Yale, Hayes served as Assistant Professor of Hebrew Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. She's an affiliated scholar at the Center for Jewish and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School and at the Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization at New York University.
I expect that Professor Hayes has no recollection of this. But my first encounter with her and her work was in 1999, when I was a graduate student at NYU in the Skirball Department of Hebrew Judaic Studies. To make ends meet, I was working as the Administrator for the American Academy for Jewish Research. That year, the fellows of the academy awarded Professor Hayes the Salo Baron book prize for an outstanding first book in Jewish studies for Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds published by Oxford University Press.
As a graduate student facing the blank page that would be my dissertation, the uncertainties of the academic job market, and a field dominated by men, Professor Hayes made a strong, lasting, and inspiring impression. Though, I never actually spoke with her in that encounter. In returning to that today as I prepared this evening's remarks, I found myself once again inspired by Hayes as she addresses the matter of history as it pertains to Talmudic texts.
She writes, "only with a proper understanding of Talmudic strategies of interpretation, argumentation, and rhetoric is one equipped to recognize precisely those places in which these strategies are violated, to spot interpretations of Mishnah or early tradition diverge from interpretive norms, to sense when a Rabbinic reading is reading against the grain. And it is precisely where the exegetical element is muted or compromised or deformed that the text may be susceptible to analysis in cultural and historical terms." Hayes articulates here an essential and far-too-often overlooked aspect of working at the intersection of sacred or authoritative texts and historical criticism, but in my experience pertains as much to Biblical studies as to Talmud.
Hayes brings her sensitivity to diachronic reading of sacred texts to her Introduction to the Bible, the superb textbook she wrote for open Yale courses. Here, without getting bogged down in source critical reconstructions, she guides students through Biblical texts, attending to them both as composites and as exquisitely synthesized narratives. In addition to her receipt of the AAJR's Salo Baron prize, Hayes' Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud was a finalist for the 2003 National Jewish Book Award and Scholarship.
Her most recent monograph, What's Divine About Divine Law? published by Princeton University Press, won the 2016 Prose Award in Theology and Religious Studies and the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship. Of this work, Anthony Kronman writes, "for anyone interested in the history of Western legal thought, this lucid, lively, and meticulously argued book is an indispensable text. With a verve and a scholar's mastery of the sources, Hayes brilliantly tells the story of an ancient theological quarrel whose echoes can still be heard every law school classroom today."
This evening, Hayes turns her attention to performance and, if you will, to another quarrel as she invokes the words of young Hamlet in The Play's the Thing, Performance and Performativity in Rabbinic Literature. Please join me in welcoming Professor Christine Hayes.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Thank you so much for that very generous introduction. Before I start, let me make sure I've done what I need to do with the microphones and everything. OK. So that all seems to be well.
Yes, thank you again. And it was very nice to hear that story and to know that we have, in fact, met in the past. And I'm also sure that I speak for all of the conference participants when I extend my thanks to Zvi wherever he is now and Jonathan and Elah and the Cornell community in general for the conception and the execution of this conference.
Although I enjoy performing and I also enjoy Talmud-- and from time to time, I find myself performing Talmudic texts, both Aggadic and Halachic-- I've never really systematically sat down to think about the Talmud in performance terms. So I'm grateful to the organizers of this conference for pushing me to delve more deeply into the field of performance studies and how it might apply to Talmudic studies. So in this opening lecture, I'd like to address a number of fundamental questions.
In the first part of the talk I will ask, what do we mean by performance, performativity, and performance studies? And what does performance studies as a discipline offer to the scholar of Talmud. And then in part two, I will ask how theories of the relationship of performance to truth and the real illuminate the relationship between Talmudic performance and Rabbinic notions of truth and the real.
So performance is a contested concept about which there is much disagreement I have learned from reading a bunch of books now in performance studies. And correspondingly, performance studies has a fundamental fluidity and playfulness that resists definition. Nevertheless, at the most basic level, performance studies values performance which consists of action as an object of study in and of itself.
So before we can speak of performance studies, we must ask what precisely is performance. And I've put an interesting little post from Richard Schechner who is a very big scholar for performance studies I have learned, many books on the topic. But according to Schechner, any action that is framed, presented, highlighted, or displayed, any action that is framed, right, is performance.
And so he notes, "being is existence. Doing is the activity of all that exists. Showing doing, that is pointing to or underlining and displaying doing, is performance. Explaining showing, doing, is performance studies."
Because it entails showing, or framing, or presenting, highlighting action, performing assumes both an audience and a consciousness that one is showing or performing. And so Richard Bauman writes in connection with verbal performance that performance consists, quote, "in the assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative competence. And this competence rests on the knowledge and ability to speak in socially appropriate ways. So performance calls forth special attention to and heightened awareness of the active expression and gives license to the audience to regard the active expression and the performer with special intensity." You're watching how someone is doing something, not just what they're doing.
So certain events are clearly framed as performances in any culture by context, by convention, by tradition. Certainly, the conventions regarding what counts as performance are culturally and historically specific. So the great 14th century church cycle plays that reenacted the history of the world were not viewed at the time as theater in their day, because of an anti-theater bias of the church. But today, they would certainly be regarded as theatrical performances.
But performance also occurs outside of formal performance contexts. And performativity is a term that refers to events and actions, even everyday actions, that have performance-like qualities even though they are not performances in perhaps the formal or conventional sense. Another way the scholars distinguish between formerly marked performances and ordinary actions or behaviors with performance-like qualities is to differentiate between-- and I have this on your hand-out-- is performance and as performance.
There are formal limits to what is performance, limits established by context, convention, and tradition. But anything can be studied as performance. So while cultural practice determines what is and is not performance, theorists apply the wider lens of performativity to consider how everyday actions and events might be analyzed as performance, how they may be interrogated in terms of their doing, their behaving, their showing, in terms of their performativity.
The is performance paradigm and the as performance paradigm can both be fruitfully applied to Rabbinic literature. It may seem paradoxical to assert that the Talmud is performance. After all, the Talmud is a written work. And performance studies, according to most theorists, is not about the written word. It's about action.
However, insofar as the Talmud may be seen as a script, a mnemonic aid and a prompt to performance, rather than a primarily literary form of knowing distinct from embodied cultural practice, it falls under the is performance paradigm. And many of the scholars who adopt a performance studies approach to the study of Rabbinic literature operate within the is performance paradigm, which I won't be doing so much. So I'm just going to give a tip of my hat to them. And I think tomorrow others will be talking about Rabbinic literature as script.
But people like Marty Jaffee and Elizabeth Shanks Alexander and Stephen Frod have looked, for example, at the Mishnah and related works as scripts whose literariness is secondary to their all-performative essence. That's what's crucial about them, the performative nature-- in particular the Mishnah, whose very name indicates that it was recited or performed before an audience of some kind. The Mishnah is described by these scholars as a work generated in performance through a process of oral performative composition.
So a source, its composition is a performative one. And it is generative of future performances through a process of oral performative transmission. It keeps being recited, and rediscussed, and retaught.
So for Marty Jaffee, the diverse textual performances of parallel materials in different Rabbinic works point us towards a social world in which learning centered on the memorization of highly formulaic texts for performance and exposition in various contexts. According to Jaffee, quote, "Rabbinic writing retrieves these performative texts from the primary performance setting of face to face study to the secondary performance setting of the manuscript, where a rendition of the text is stored as the basis then for further performative presentations. So written manuscripts are models for future performances or scripts providing mnemonic foundations for returning the text from the written back to the oral milieu that is the context to study and teaching."
So the goal of the scholar of Rabbinic literature is not so much the retrieval of a putative original version of the component-- in this oral circulatory system, there really is no strict early and late-- but rather, the reconstruction of the oral performative deployment of materials across diverse works as part of a living tradition. The is performance paradigm has greater traction in the case of Mishnah, which seems to be a rendition of memorized and recited units of tradition, than it does in the case of Talmud. It's true that some traditional approaches to the Talmud understood and understand it to be an almost stenographic record of the live debates of the ancient beit midrash.
But modern scholars have long since abandoned this view and have developed a deep appreciation of the sophisticated literary construction and artifice of both individual sugyot-- a sugya is a self-contained discussion within the Talmud-- and of the literary construction and artifice of the larger tractates within which they are embedded. So there's much to be gained, then, from shifting our focus to the Talmud as performance independent of the debunked claim that the text records a performance in that beit midrash or even the claim that it emerged in an oral performative context. To treat the Talmud as performance means to examine the Talmudic text from the perspective of performance, to interrogate it in terms of its performativity-- its doing, its behaving, its showing, to ask performance questions like, how is the Talmud delimited and framed by space and time?
How does the signal its awareness or self-consciousness of its performing and of its audience? Who are the performers, and what roles do they play? How are events in the performance introduced and managed? And how are the Talmudic performances evaluated, their competency and virtuosity assessed?
So as a test case, let's examine, although extraordinarily briefly unfortunately, a sugya as a performance. So I've brought a sample sugya here. It's, obviously, far too long for us to be able to look at in any depth. But I'm hoping that we can at least look at the structure of it and understand what the different parts of it are doing. And then I'll offer a brief analysis of it has a performance.
So this appears on your hand out-- first the Mishnah, followed then by the Gemara. Let me sketch what's going on in this sugya overall. The topic of this particular section of the Mishnah and the Talmud is the acquisition of found objects that are ownerless. How do you go about acquiring such objects? So we open with a Mishnah.
If one sees an ownerless object and falls upon it-- right-- and another person comes and seizes it, he who has seized it is entitled to its possession, right? So what is the mechanism by which one acquires things? That's a question in this particular Mishnah.
So the topic is acquisition of a found ownerless object. The Mishnah features two persons. The first party does something that's legally ineffective as an act of acquisition. Just falling on an object doesn't acquire it for you.
The second party seizes the object. And that is legally effective in securing an acquisition. The Gemara that follows is divided into two parts.
So I have one. And then if you flip over to page two, you'll see a number two. And one thing you should notice is that the two parts open the same way. Reish Lakish said in the name of [NON-ENGLISH] and [NON-ENGLISH]. And if you see in number two, Reish Lakish said further-- it's really just a [NON-ENGLISH]-- and Reish Lakish said in the name of [NON-ENGLISH] and [NON-ENGLISH], right? So that's kind of a nice sign that there's a framing going on for us.
In the first part, Reish Lakish says in the name of [NON-ENGLISH] and [NON-ENGLISH] that a person's 4 cubits acquires for him [NON-ENGLISH] in every place. It's just a statement or tradition he's conveying. A person's 4 cubits acquire-- what's ever within your 4 cubit space-- acquires that thing for you everywhere.
The Babylonian sages Abaye and Rava also boldface their site objections offered by students. Rabbi Hiyya and Ya'acov bar Idi, these are Palestinian students of Rabbi Yohanan. And for those of you who don't know, Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yohanan are a famous debating pair. So Reish Lakish has just cited a tradition in the name of [NON-ENGLISH] and [NON-ENGLISH].
And then we have traditions cited by Abaye and Rava, another disputing pair. Both of them cite Palestinian traditions by students of Rabbi Yohanan. So we can expect the signals already to us. This frames us, you know, to the fact that these will be objecting in some way to what Reish Lakish has just taught.
They cite objections offered by students of Rabbi Yohanan that are taken from other areas of law, law of Pe'ah of the sheaves or gleanings left behind in a field, and laws of Nezikin, which actually happens to be our law. So that's a slightly unusual thing. In both of these cases, first we get an explication of a biased citation of Rabbi Hiyya bar Yosef and his objection from the laws of Pe'ah.
And then if you switch over to the next page, you'll see we're going to get an explanation of Rabbus teaching of the tradition of Rabbi Ya'acov bar Idi, right? So each one of us is going to give us an objection of a case which seems to be challenging this first principle. I'm trying to be schematic without going into too many details.
In both of these cases, the objection is based on the idea that if the rule cited by Reish Lakish were true and a person's 4 cubits acquired things for them, then the persons in these cases, the case cited from Pe'ah and the case cited right here from Nezikin, should have legally affected acquisition. Falling on the found objects should have done it. It's within 4 cubits. Or falling on the gleaning in the field should have done if that's within the person's 4 cubits.
And yet the Mishnah in both places seem to say that the claim to acquisition is invalid. Well, the answer which I've underlined, because I want you to see that is, in fact, the identical answer-- notice that we just have the same piece of text verbatim lifted and just repeated. One of the definitions of performance actually is restored behavior, repeated and rehearsed behavior.
So we have here a piece of restored and rehearsed behavior. The answer which is given is the identical answer that's given in both places. Having acted to acquire the item by falling on it, the person made it clear that he was not exercising his right to acquire the item in question simply by means of the 4 cubits principle.
He kind of waived his right to acquire it that way by taking the steps of falling upon it. So these are not, in fact, real contradictions. The problem is resolved by noting that the phrase "in every place--" right, Reish Lakish in number one said, "in the name of Abba Kohen Bardala, a man's four cubits acquire property for him everywhere."
We have these contradictory cases where people are falling on things. And you would think that that would acquire things for them. So we're eventually going to resolve this a little bit further down at the end of section one by saying, each of these cases, that they are different.
In every place is not literal. The rule of acquisition by 4 cubits doesn't apply when you're in the private property of another person, for example, right? That would be disastrous if every time you walked into someone's house everything within 4 cubits was yours suddenly. And it doesn't apply in a congested public area.
OK. So much for the first part of the sugya. The second part of the sugya opens with a [NON-ENGLISH] and maybe translated-- and Reish Lakish further said in the name of Abba Kohen Bardala. And we get a second teaching conveyed by Reish Lakish. That teaching, we will see, is immediately disputed by Rabbi Yohanan, who is, in general, the partner who disputes with Reish Lakish.
And so the second part of the sugya really opens with a [NON-ENGLISH], a dispute. That's the problematic that's going to be the engine for the second part of the sugya. The [NON-ENGLISH] is between Reish Lakish who says, in the name of Abba Kohen Bardala, "a minor female, [NON-ENGLISH], does not acquire things by [NON-ENGLISH]--" her courtyard.
If you throw something into her courtyard, does that affect acquisition? She does not acquire by [NON-ENGLISH], and therefore, also, not by her 4 cubits. Rabbi Yohanan disagrees. He says she does acquire by [NON-ENGLISH], her courtyard. And she does acquire by 4 cubits.
The [NON-ENGLISH] is followed by a very brief explanation of what their point of difference is, right? And then we have a lengthy discussion that may be divided into two parts each part beginning with a question that I've underlined. But is there anyone who says or holds-- right, and then we'll have a discussion. And then a little further down, we see, again-- but is there anyone who says or holds?
All right, so there are those two subdivisions of the lengthy discussion that follows. That lengthy discussion is almost entirely anonymous. Only two names appear, late Amoraim, late teachers of the sixth and of the fifth century, early sixth century, Ravina and Rav Sama.
So that's the basic structure. Both part one and part two deal generally with the principle of acquisition by means of 4 cubits. The subject of the first part is is there such a thing as acquisition, [NON-ENGLISH], by means of one's 4 cubits.
The subject of the second is the minor girl. Does she have the right of acquisition by means of her courtyard, her [NON-ENGLISH], and by extension by 4 cubits? Although, that's really just sort of implicit.
The real subject of the second part is whether a minor girl can acquire by her courtyard, by her [NON-ENGLISH]. It's only the opening statement by Reish Lakish that throws in the 4 cubits. So the [NON-ENGLISH] between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yohanan in part two is explained as relating to their different understandings of the manner in which a [NON-ENGLISH], your courtyard, acquires for you.
Everyone agrees that the [NON-ENGLISH] acquires. And they agree that it acquires, because it's an extension of or it's included in the idea of your hand. The biblical verses cited that, you know, you acquire something by your hand. Something found in your hand is yours.
And that extends also to your sort of general domain. It's sort of like an extension of your hand. Everyone agrees with that.
But does the [NON-ENGLISH] affect acquisition for me by virtue of its being like my hand in the physical sense, or by virtue of its being like my agent who can affect acquisition on my behalf? If a [NON-ENGLISH] is sort of like my hand in a physical sense, then since a minor girl can acquire things with her hand-- she can pick things up-- then she can also acquire things with her [NON-ENGLISH]. It's just sort of another hand if you will.
But if the [NON-ENGLISH] acquires things for me in the way that my agent might acquire things for me, then since a minor girl cannot appoint an agent, her [NON-ENGLISH] cannot acquire anything for her as well. That's the principal difference between them. The discussion that follows, as I said, subdivides into two parts each opening with a question.
But notice these questions. The first-- is there anyone who thinks that the [NON-ENGLISH] is like an agent? The Gemara argues that the [NON-ENGLISH] can't be an agent.
Because that would lead to a contradiction with an accepted rule that there's no such thing as an agent for sin. You can't say to someone, would you please go out and commit that sin. You know, they can't do that.
You're ultimately liable for that. They're liable for that. I'm sorry. They can't pass it off and say it was you. They are liable for having done the sin.
You can't have an agent for a matter of sin or transgression. And the verse we're learning from is dealing with theft. So the verse we're learning it from must have a notion of the [NON-ENGLISH] or the courtyard as being like the hand and not like an agent.
So it would seem after this discussion-- and the details really do not need to detain us here, but it would seem-- that a [NON-ENGLISH] does not acquire things for you on analogy with an agent. And yet too late Amoriam who are listed here, Ravina and Rav Sama, will still come in. Even though we seem to have set this view aside, they will still come in.
And they will sort of rescue this as a possibility. Again, the details don't need to detain us. What's important is that the sugya works to keep the game going as long as it possibly can and works to keep this possibility open, even though we'll see in a moment that it will still prefer a second option.
The second option occurs in the next subdivision, also underlined on page three, that begins with a question. Is there anyone who says that [NON-ENGLISH] is not included in the term hand? And the Gemara then demonstrates that, in fact, a [NON-ENGLISH] acquires things for you on analogy with your own physical hand.
And then, surprise, the sugya concludes with an 180 degree reversal. There are three proposals made. We'll come back to these in a moment. There are three proposals made which completely redefine the original [NON-ENGLISH] between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yohanan, a [NON-ENGLISH] that I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy. I invested a great deal of energy in getting at the principles behind it and so on.
We're going to return to these three resolutions momentarily. But I first want to just read the sugya as a performance. How do we analyze this text that I've just sketched for you as a performance?
Well, as I said earlier, one of the definitions of a performance is action which has been framed, right, or keyed as performance. Something which shows or displays or presents action is a performance. So the concept of keying or framing an action as performance comes from the work of Erving Goffman and Gregory Bateson.
According to Bateson, all communicative interaction contains explicit or implicit messages that instruct us on how to interpret the other messages being communicated. Bateson refers to this communication about communication as meta-communication. And different communities employ different culturally conventionalized forms of meta-communication To Key the performance frame, so that communications that occur within that frame or performance will be properly understood.
There are conventionalized meta-communications that tell the audience to interpret certain words or actions as a joke-- for example, exaggerated gestures and tone of voice or a wink. To interpret them as a secret, for example-- a softer vocal tone and a finger pressed to the lips, or as an aside-- as I am doing right now-- or a quotation and so on. Richard Bauman observes that in the verbal arts there are special codes and special formulae that are employed by performance systems to frame their communications as performances of one kind or another.
"Once upon a time" frames up a fairytale. "Did you hear the one about" frames up a joke. So if we approach the Talmud as performance, we may ask what are some of the conventionalized techniques and communicative means that serve to frame Talmudic performance.
Well, first, performances are always framed in literary time and space. Or written performances are framed in literary time and space. Because formal performances are also things that happen or take place in a specific time between a marked beginning and a marked end, whether it's the raising and lowering of the director's baton or the blowing of the referee's whistle.
Performances also take place in a demarcated space-- on a stage, or a screen, or a sacred center, or a magic circle. A play takes place on a stage of some kind and has temporal divisions or subdivisions into discrete acts and even scenes. So if a tractate of Talmud is likened to a play, then we may see its treatment of each successive Mishnah as a distinct act.
And just as an act is divided into many scenes, so in the Gemara, the treatment of the Mishnah, you will see many discrete sugyot, the sugya being a self-contained unit of Talmudic discussion. Each scene has a marked beginning and a marked end. Likewise, a sugya has a rhetorically marked beginning and end.
The first scene of the act, the first sugya of the Gemara, begins when the citation of the Mishnah is concluded, as it does here. It ends when the question or the problem addressed or posed at the beginning of the sugya is deemed to have been answered, as here-- in fact, we're given three resolutions-- or, as happens on occasion, is declared unsolvable. And the next sugya begins, the next scene begins, with an explicit or an implicit reference to a new question or problem or even a new Mishnah.
There are certain formulae that frame a unit of text by telling us how to interpret it. And this happens in our sugya in a really interesting way. For example, the two questions that I've underlined-- but is there anyone who says, or is there anyone who holds-- these two seem to be identical at first.
But if you look at them carefully, you'll see that they are not. And they frame up the way we are supposed to understand what happens next. There's a subtle difference.
The first question asks, is there anyone who thinks that the [NON-ENGLISH] is like an ancient? Now, that frames that up in a particular way. That phrase expresses surprise that anyone would think that [NON-ENGLISH] is an agent.
It prejudices me against the position already. Is there anyone who would think that [NON-ENGLISH] is like an agent? You'd have to be crazy to think that, right?
And so I'm not prejudiced against that position. And I'm going to view any attempt to establish that position with suspicion. The second question is phrased differently.
Is there anyone who thinks that [NON-ENGLISH] is not like a hand? This phrasing expresses surprise that anyone would not hold the position that I've just articulated. It makes me very favorably inclined towards that position, more likely to say, of course not. We all would accept that a [NON-ENGLISH] is like a hand.
So the Talmudic texts, through these kinds of subtle markers, gives not only temporal and spatial demarcations of discrete scenes and acts that make up the overall performance. It gives us verbal cues that dispose us to interpret statements and positions negatively or positively, to be rooting for some statements and to be, you know, booing other statements. Within the frame of time and space, we meet a diverse cast of characters whose actions are further framed by a set of standardized stage directions.
The characters are Rabbinic sages, Palestinian and Babylonian, across nearly three centuries who clearly were never gathered in one room together. And they are said to perform various actions. The verbs that are used are the following.
They are said to speak, to object, to derive views, to respond, to differ, and to agree. In some sugyot, the sages will feature an [NON-ENGLISH], brief anecdotes that add complexity and drama to the ongoing discussion. That doesn't happen here.
Often, however, the sages are actually lacking in personality to the point of becoming invisible, if not dispensable. When that happens, the sages traditions rather than the sages themselves become the central actors. They enter the arena when summoned by the anonymous ringmaster, the [NON-ENGLISH], the anonymous voice, with such phrases as [NON-ENGLISH]-- and we have also learned in [NON-ENGLISH] the following.
Or, you know, [NON-ENGLISH]. What did Rabbi so-and-so say? Let's bring his tradition. Forget about him.
Or-- didn't we learn-- these sorts of introductory phrases that summon a tradition onto center stage. So using these and other conventionalized terms and grammatical forms the [NON-ENGLISH] shines the spotlight on one tradition after the next marking all that is taking place as sheer performance, a showing of what was said or done or deduced or disputed by this sage or that, only to now be recombined and represented in a new performance crafted by the [NON-ENGLISH].
Traditions, statements, and actions are reported or presented for inspection, put on display to then be analyzed, critiqued, revised, and reformulated by the active voice of the anonymous [NON-ENGLISH]. These terms of presentation and dismissal betray a consciousness on the part of the [NON-ENGLISH] that it is showing. But at other times, the [NON-ENGLISH] steps out of its role as ringmaster and becomes one of the performers in the unfolding performance.
We see this in the frequent use of first person forms-- singular and plural forms, participles, subjunctives. We have it in our sugya in the phrase [NON-ENGLISH], we deduced, or [NON-ENGLISH], or what are we dealing with here. And we find it in many, many other phrases. [NON-ENGLISH]-- I would say. Or [NON-ENGLISH]-- I would say, and other such first person phrases.
These terms introduce the [NON-ENGLISH] inferences, the [NON-ENGLISH] speculations, challenges, and actions into the performance and make the ringmaster now one of the performers. Similarly, the [NON-ENGLISH] terms of presentation signal an awareness of and a responsibility to an audience. Numerous second person forms speak directly to the observers or auditors.
[NON-ENGLISH]-- if you were to suppose. Or as we see in the last three, the resolutions-- "if you wish, I will say," right-- offering an alternative solution. If you wish a second person forum, then I could say the following. Or if you wish, I could say the following.
Or we also have in this sugya, "I will tell you" after a particular phrase. I will tell you. And, of course, many other such terms appear elsewhere in the Talmud. [NON-ENGLISH], come in here-- an imperative, second person form, [NON-ENGLISH]-- and so on. These terms, however, do more than simply address and acknowledge the presence of the audience.
They invite their imaginative participation, a phenomenon described by Burke as the performative use of quote, "formal patterns designed to elicit the participation of an audience through the arousal of an attitude of collaborative expectancy." And I think that's a great description of what the Talmud's doing, collaborative expectancy. Well, we infer this. But now we have a problem. Well, what are we dealing with here?
As several theorists note, performance also entails both artistry and competence usually, and therefore invites evaluation. When we approach the Talmud as performance from this perspective, we find ourselves applying aesthetic terms to the text, describing a sugya as elegant or as beautifully constructed and experiencing the kind of pleasures that we associate with artistic performances-- balance, rhythm, harmony, suspense or tension, and the resolution of suspense. In this particular sugya, we have everything in twos, which is a little unusual.
Because as Shimei Freeman has pointed out, sugya are very often built around threes and, particularly, [NON-ENGLISH] itself, actually. But in this particular one, we have pair after pair after pair. We have the Abaye and Rava bringing a pair of traditions. And each of those pairs of traditions is then explained and responded to by another later pair Rav Papa and Rav Ashi who are closely associated in time.
The whole thing can be divided into a part one and a part two. Within part two, we start off with a [NON-ENGLISH] between a pair, right? And then we have a pair of individuals offering a response to one of the difficulties that's raised, Ravina and Rav Sama.
So there are pairs all the way through. We have the two subsections of part two each introduced by the pair of questions that are sort of the inverse of one another. And then the final moment, we have a trio of things.
But as we'll see when I describe those resolutions, we really have two things and then a grand synthesis at the end. So we see a real rhythm and a real balance and an artistry in the performance on the page of the Mishnah-- of the Talmud, sorry. As noted earlier, viewing the Talmud as performance then means examining the Talmud from the perspective of performance and interrogating it in terms of its performativity.
So far, we've asked how the sugya's action is delimited and demarcated or framed, how it signals to us the way we are to interpret certain passages, how it signals its consciousness of its performance with a lot of sort of wa-lah moments in its terminology, and how it signals its awareness of its audience. We've also asked about its performers and the roles they play and its mode of introducing and managing events. And we've evaluated, to some extent, the aesthetics or the virtuosity of the performance.
But we turn now to a final and, in some ways, more fundamental question prompted by our desire to interrogate the Talmud as performance. What is this performance's relation to the real and to truth? The question of the relation of performance to the real or to truth has a long history with distinct approaches that may be grouped for strictly heuristic purposes into two very broad categories.
According to one approach, performance is mimetic. It's a reflection of a stable reality. But it's not reality itself. It's illusion. And that's a negative thing.
According to the second approach, reality is itself an illusion. And therefore, the true and the real are not reflected, but constructed through performance. We'll explore these two ideas in a little more depth before asking to which of these conceptions of performance does our sugya most closely cohere.
So Plato, of course, famously banned all actors and poets from his ideal republic-- trading, as they do, in lies. For Plato, the only entities possessing true reality were the ideal forms. The ordinary reality that we experience is nothing but shadows on the walls of the cave of ignorance.
And theater, as an imitation, a mimesis, of those shadows is, therefore, at a second remove from all that is real and true. Moreover, theater appeals not to reason, which for Plato is the only sure guide to truth, but to emotion. Aristotle was a little kinder to theater. He gives us some of our greatest descriptions of what theater is all about.
And he even saw the utility in its imitation of actions which trigger the arousal and the understanding and, ultimately, the purging of emotions. The idea central to both Plato and Aristotle that theater imitates or reflects or expresses a separate and more true reality was the dominant idea in Renaissance Europe. In order to expose the truth of his uncle's fratricide, Hamlet proposes that a play be performed exclaiming, "the play is the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
And in his role as director, Hamlet tells the players that the purpose of playing quote, "was and is to hold as it were the mirror up to nature." I think I put these quotes on the hand out as well. Such expressive or representational theories of performance assign performance and life or nature two different orders of reality. Life and nature are primary. Performance and art are secondary.
Indian philosophers, also considering relationship between theater and the real at the same time as the Ancient Greeks, arrived at a very different idea. For them, the entire universe, all of reality is [NON-ENGLISH] and [NON-ENGLISH], illusion and play, ever-changing and elusive. Now, opinions differ as to what lies beyond [NON-ENGLISH], either nothingness or absolute unity which is also a sort of nothingness-- the absolute unity of the Brahman which is entered through meditation. But in general, reality is [NON-ENGLISH] for both humans and gods.
Post-modernism, of course, has issued in the collapse of the traditional categories and hierarchies of reality that informed traditional Western performance theory and has brought us closer to a [NON-ENGLISH] conception. For post-structuralists, every action, every idea, is a performance and a process. Instead of stable representation, there is unstable iteration.
Instead of static originals, there are dynamic repetitions. Instead of a central locus of established power and authorized meaning, there is a de-centralized struggle towards provisional power and provisional meaning. Paraphrasing Hamlet, Brecht argued that art is not a mirror held up to nature, but a hammer with which to shape it. And when performance is no longer about truth, then we enter the play sphere.
In Homo Ludens A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Johan Huizinga-- I think that's how you pronounce his name. I have no idea. Johan Huizinga defines play as follows. And I'm going to gloss his definition a little bit.
He defines it as quote, "a free activity." So play must be voluntary, or it's not play. Standing quite consciously outside ordinary life-- not real life, but ordinary life. So in this respect, it differs a bit from performance, since the ordinary actions of life can be viewed as performance. But play always stands outside of ordinary life in some sense, he argues.
It is not serious. But at the same time, it absorbs the player intensely and utterly. This is an important point. Play is not serious in that it is fully conscious of its distinctness from ordinary life. But in another sense, it is deadly serious, generating acts of devotion, rapture, self-dedication, self-sacrifice, and even risk of self-harm.
He also says that it is activity connected with no material interest. In other words, one plays for the fun of it or for the thrill of it. And no profit can be gained by it. In other words, it's not about satisfying wants and appetites. It's an intermezzo in daily life.
He says that play proceeds within its own boundaries, own proper boundaries, of time and space. It has a definite duration and occurs in the stadium or on the chess board or in the tennis court. But it's the last element of Huizinga's definition that proves controversial.
Play, he says, is carried out according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. Although, others hold a different view. Huizinga emphasizes play as a rule-bound activity. In fact, it demands absolute order to circumscribe the temporary world in which it is conducted. And transgressions of this order spoil the game, break the illusion, so that the play world collapses and the game is over. Such a person is a spoil sport, right?
So while he emphasizes play as a rule about activity, he does acknowledge that the element of risk in play is apparent in the word's etymology. It derives from Anglo-Saxon [NON-ENGLISH] whose cognates in Old English, Old Saxon, and Old High German mean to vouch or stand guarantee for, to take a risk, to expose oneself to danger for someone or something. Think of the related English word pledge, meaning to be surety or to stand a warranty for, to risk or take a wager for.
Picking up on this element of risk in play, Victor Turner, the famous anthropologist, describes play as free-wheeling, volatile, disorienting, dizzying, and even dangerous. Spinning loose in this way, Turner writes, quote, "the wheel of play reveals to us the possibility of changing our goals, and therefore the restructuring of what our culture states to be reality," unquote. Because of its anarchic potential, play has not been unambiguously valued in the West.
Indeed, it's been segregated or sublimated in rule-bound activities engaged in during time off. Go play over there, away from the serious business of life-- work, rational thought, and knowledge production. So some theorists assert then that there really are two kinds of play-- one that is orderly and one that is wild and unpredictable.
Schechner describes the two this way. Quote, "the first kind of playing is rule-bound, where all players accept the rules of the game and are equal before the law. The second kind of playing is Nietzschean, where the gods can change the rules of the game at any time, and therefore where nothing is certain," unquote. The ability to create the rules as one goes along is why play has often been associated with those possessing power and freedom.
Gods and kings indulge their desires. And in their play, they create cosmic and social worlds. Think of gods sporting with the Leviathan in the next real world.
So the idea of the cosmos as the plaything of the gods was anathema to Plato and Aristotle, who wanted a rational universe with laws that governed nature, humans, and the divine. In the Greek rationalist tradition, a rational order, the natural law, which is none other than the mind of God, governs the universe. But according to this competing view I've been sketching, the cosmos is dynamic, emerging from processes that are in constant flux, producing probabilities rather than certainties.
Einstein captured these two approaches when he wrote to a colleague, "you believe in a God who plays dice and, I, in complete law and order in a world which exists and which I, in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. Even the great initial success of quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice game," unquote. The Uncertainty Principle that is anathema to Einstein underlies the world view prevalent in India according to which play is fundamental.
Schechner writes, quote, "the idea that the universe may be a cosmic dice game, that meaning is a quote, 'play of signification,' that the will to power and the Uncertainty Principle operate at all levels of natural, animal, and human life and experience has been a persistent theme in Indian philosophy and aesthetics for about 2,500 to 3,000 years." According to Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, quote, "this concept of [NON-ENGLISH] as a kind of artistic power led gradually to its later connotation of magic, illusion, and, negatively, deceit."
It often means not merely bringing something into existence, but manipulating the existing forces of nature or invoking the power to create and achieve the marvelous. Thus, [NON-ENGLISH] first meant making something that was not there before. Then it came to mean making something that was there into something that was not really there.
The first describes the universe in the Vedic worldview, making something that wasn't there before. The second-- the universe in the Vedantic worldview. But in both cases, [NON-ENGLISH] can often best be translated as transformation.
Well, the Uncertainty Principle also underlies the philosophy of deconstruction in which there is no fixed center and authority is displaced, opening spaces for all kinds of radical free play. These ideas also resonate with the concept of the performative, which I haven't talked about until now, as described by John Austin in 1955 in and a set of lectures published posthumously as how to do things with words. The central idea behind his concept of the performative is that language can actually do things.
With this ring, I thee wed actually creates a marriage and transforms a single person into a married person. The transformative quality of what John Searle calls speech acts is expressed by performance theorists as efficacy, the ability of speech, of language, of performative events, generally, not only to describe reality, but to effect change, to create worlds. What then of our sugya?
Is it a performance that not only entertains and describes, but possesses efficacy, creates realities, effects transformations? Well, yes. It makes things both appear and vanish. And we'll show this in two respects. And this is how we will finish up with our sugya.
As is so often the case, the raw materials of our sugya in the Babylonian Talmud appear in the Yerushamli, the Palestinian Talmud. The Yerushalmi contains one statement by Abba Kohen Bardala. And it's conveyed there also by Reish Lakish, as it happens. And it's the statement that appears here as the following.
A person's 4 cubits effect acquisition. However, it doesn't have the words [NON-ENGLISH]. It doesn't say everywhere. It just says a person's 4 cubits affect acquisition. Abba Kohen Bardala doesn't appear again.
Separately, in the Yerushalmi in a completely different place, in the completely different tractate, in tractate [NON-ENGLISH], we have a [NON-ENGLISH] between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish on the issue of [NON-ENGLISH] and 4 cubits. Rabbi Yohanan is said to hold that there is acquisition by means of the [NON-ENGLISH] and 4 cubits. And Reish Lakish holds that there is no acquisition by [NON-ENGLISH] or 4 cubits.
Elsewhere in that same tractate, but in another place, that same [NON-ENGLISH], that same dispute, appears in reference to a female minor, an [NON-ENGLISH]. Not a [NON-ENGLISH], but a [NON-ENGLISH]-- same thing almost. It seems, then, that Abba Kohen Bardala taught in a general way that 4 cubits affect possession.
Reish Lakish inferred from this, or perhaps someone had Reish Lakish infer from this, that in regard to a get, a divorce document, a minor girl's 4 cubits do not affect acquisition for her since she has no [NON-ENGLISH]. That's already quite a derivation from Abba Kohen Bardala's statement. Moreover, by adding the words everywhere, [NON-ENGLISH], the Babylonian Talmud's version of the teachings sets up a dramatic tension, because exceptions are immediately cited that will force a re-evaluation of the universality of the teaching.
But even more impressive than this act of conjuring, creating something from things that existed before, is the sugya's act of vanishing. And we'll see this if we return to the three final proposals that I left to the side before. These are the three final proposals that are describing for us what the [NON-ENGLISH], what the dispute between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, was really all about.
You'll recall, if you look at that [NON-ENGLISH] which was on page two, I think, that according to that [NON-ENGLISH]-- and it states that explicitly. According to Reish Lakish, the courtyard, the [NON-ENGLISH], and the 4 cubits of a minor girl, says [INAUDIBLE], does not affect acquisition. According to Rabbi Yohanan, they do.
So the first interpretation of that [NON-ENGLISH] that I get at the end with numbers one, two, and three, the first proposal offered by the [NON-ENGLISH] states that, you know, Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish actually agree that the [NON-ENGLISH] acquires like a hand in the case of a minor girl's divorce document. They just disagreed over the case of her found object, right-- so narrowing the dispute. So it was only in regard to a found object and not a divorce document.
Because one authority holds that the case of the found object cannot be derived from the case of the divorce document. And one holds that it can be. But then we have a second proposal. A second definition of the original [NON-ENGLISH] between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish is offered.
According to the second proposal, no, Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish actually agree in the case of a minor girl that her [NON-ENGLISH] acquires both her get and her found object. They agree completely on all of that. Both of them are willing to derive the law of the found object from the law of the get. Where they disagree is on the law for a minor boy, who has now popped up out of nowhere.
This is a rather odd assertion. Because if we look at the language of both of the two sages, both of their views are explicitly formulated in the feminine form. They both seem to be talking about a minor girl.
And this bothers Rashi a little bit. But there's more. While the first interpretation of the [NON-ENGLISH] attributed their dispute or narrowed their dispute to the kind of object being acquired-- a get versus a found object-- and the second interpretation of the dispute attributed their dispute to the subject of acquisition-- a minor girl versus a minor boy, that's what they disagreed over-- the third interpretation focuses on both the object and the subject of the acquisition and combines them in such a way that there's no controversy or disagreement at all. Perhaps, Reish Lakish was talking about a minor boy.
And we know that a minor boy doesn't have the right to acquire with his [NON-ENGLISH] for a found object. And Rabbi Yohanan happened to be talking about a minor girl who does have the right of acquisition through [NON-ENGLISH] in the case of a divorce document. In other words, one is talking about a boy and a found object. The other is talking about a minor girl and a divorce document.
They're apples and oranges. They're talking about entirely different things. And in fact, if they were talking about the same thing, both would have agreed with the other. And there is no dispute or controversy at all. Poof, the [NON-ENGLISH] vanishes like magic.
If Talmud is a performance, what kind of performance is it? It's a magic show. And the [NON-ENGLISH] is the master magician and illusionist, conjuring and vanishing objects at will.
I will leave for another day a discussion of how and why this performative portrait is consistent with the Rabbi's understanding of law and law's relation to reality. But for now, I offer only the following parable. This is a wonderful passage on the whatever page. I didn't number them. Is that page four of your hand-out?
The truth beyond magic, I call it. It's taken from John Fowles' book, The Magus. Some of you may be familiar with it. But I think it's a great parable for the Rabbinic texts.
"Once upon a time, there was a young prince who believed in all things, but three. He did not believe in princesses. He did not believe in islands. And he did not believe in God.
His father, the King, told him that such things did not exist. And as there were no princesses or islands in his father's domains and no sign of God, the young prince believed his father. But then one day the prince ran away from his palace.
He came to the next land. And there, to his astonishment, from every coast he saw islands and, on these islands, strange and troubling creatures whom he dared not name. As he was searching for a boat, a man in full evening dress approached him along the shore.
Are those real islands, asked the young prince. Of course, they are real islands, said the man in evening dress. And those strange and troubling creatures, they are all genuine and authentic princesses.
Then God must exist, cried the priest. I am God, replied the man in full evening dress with a bow. The young prince returned home as quickly as he could.
So you back, said the father, the King. I have seen islands. I have seen princesses. I have seen god, said the prince reproachfully. The King was unmoved.
Neither real islands, nor real princesses, nor a real God exist. I saw them. Tell me how God was dressed. God was in full evening dress.
Were the sleeves of his coat rolled back? The prince remembered that they had been. The King smiled. That is the uniform of a magician. You have been deceived.
At this, the prince returned to the next land and went to the same shore where, once again, he came upon the man in full evening dress. My father, the King, has told me who you are, said the young prince indignantly. You deceived me last time, but not again.
Now, I know that those are not real islands and real princesses, because you are a magician. The man on the shore smiled. It is you who are deceived, my boy.
In your father's kingdom, there are many islands and many princesses. But you are under your father's spell, so you cannot see them. The prince pensively returned home. And when he saw his father, he looked him in the eyes.
Father, is it true that you are not a real King, but only a magician? The King smiled and rolled back his sleeves. Yes, my son. I am only a magician.
Then the man on the shore was God. The man on the shore was another magician. I must know the real truth, the truth beyond magic. There is no truth beyond magic, said the King.
The prince was full of sadness. He said, I will kill myself. The King, by magic, caused death to appear. Death stood in the door and beckoned to the prince. The prince shuddered.
He remembered the beautiful, but unreal, islands and the unreal, but beautiful, princesses. Very well, he said. I can bear it. You see, my son, said the King, you, too, now begin to be a magician."
When there's no truth, we enter the play sphere. And so to paraphrase Hamlet, exactly as the Rabbis would do by taking him out of context, the play's the thing. Not because it catches the conscience of the King, not because it's nature is mirror reflecting reality, but because the play is the thing, period, the only reality. And the game is, therefore, infinite.
So I will leave you with John Carse's description of finite and infinite games-- the Talmud, I believe, being a species of the latter. "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning-- an infinite game, for the purpose of continuing play. The rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree on who has won.
The rules of an infinite game change during the course of play to prevent anyone from winning the game and to bring as many persons as possible into the play," as we brought Ravina and Rav Sama, even though it was a position we had long ago given up on. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself. Thank you. I'll be happy to entertain your questions.
Time to play. Yes, John.
AUDIENCE: So to jump to a really big question--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Oh.
AUDIENCE: How might you begin to articulate how a view of Talmud as infinite play actually fosters, authorizes, makes possible, a tradition in which for centuries the Talmud is the ultimate source of religious or legal authority? Intuitively, it does seem to me that it is precisely that capaciousness which affords the possibility that it can be looked to again and again as that source of authority. But within a certain tradition, the two would seem to be at opposite poles.
CHRISTINE HAYES: They would. And that's what I found so useful about-- it was interesting when I was doing some reading. And I was reading different descriptions of play. And I came across Huizinga, who play is completely rule bound and absolutely ordered. You can't have play without absolute order and rules.
And then you read Victor Turner. Play is free-wheeling. There are no rules. Its eruption, right?
And so I thought, OK, this is kind of interesting that you have these two theorists who are equally convinced of the rule-boundedness or the non-rule-boundedness of play. And then I came across Schechner who said, play is both of these things and for a variety of reasons.
And I began to think that it was a question of temperament. Something else that I was reading talked about the fact that play, of course, developed a very bad name in the west. Puritans were very anti-play as we know.
And so much of Western culture-- I think, again, very much inheriting certain notions from Greco-Roman culture in which sort of rationality is supreme and order and rationality are supreme and violations of that are somehow leading one away from truth and reality, because truth and reality are rational. So we in the West, I think, have a very inbuilt prejudice against that which is not rule-bound. And we tolerate and see as whimsical and humorous, to some extent, small transgressions.
But we also see the risk and the dangers. And so we clamp down. And we begin to isolate play. Oh, that's just Aggadah, right, instead of Halakhah, right? There all sorts of techniques that people use in order to sublimate or channel away the playful element even within Rabbinic literature to set up a hierarchy between what's serious and what's not and what's playful.
And I think that really comes very much out of a kind of an inherited Greco-Roman sort of notion. But to some extent, the Bible and some of the early Rabbinic sources originated outside the ambit of the Greco-Roman world with different notions of reality and different notions of the divine. And I think that the Bible itself presents God as a huge actor.
I mean, he is the biggest showman on Earth, right? What is he doing? Let there be-- ta-dah! You know, opening scene in Genesis 1 is all about watch me do this. And now I'm going to do this.
And watch me split water. And, you know, with a mighty hand and many wonders, I'm going to get you out of Egypt. And this is a God who is constantly performing and showing off and acting through history and time. To me, it just comes very much out of that world, right?
But you have these two very different notions that have always been clashing. And I think so much of biblical and Rabbinic traditions which do participate, I think, in a larger Eastern world, I think it's been in a continual struggle with notions that come out of the West, which are sort of anti-play, are strongly prejudiced towards rationality and the existence of some sort of truth and reality.
I mean, I've just finished writing a book where I argue, essentially, that the Rabbi's notion of law and Halakhah and divine law is one that defies Greco-Roman notions that divine law is somehow embedded in reality. And I think that they see it as, in fact, divorced from truth and divorced from reality. So I see this as playing very much into the arguments I make in that book.
But it's one that has been covered over by subsequent tradition, post-Talmudic era, when so much of Greco-Roman thought has really entered Western civilization. And people read the Bible and the Talmud informed through Greco-Roman categories of rationality that are anti-play and pro-truth. It's not so much that I'm anti-truth. I'm just not pro-truth. I don't know.
And you know what else? Because it's hard. People get uncomfortable and scared. And so they want rules. And they want things to be fixed. And they want sources of authority.
And that's sad, because they obscure so much of what I think is the very powerful and important message of this text, which is don't stop. Keep thinking. Keep playing. Anyway I don't know if that answers the question. So, yes.
AUDIENCE: Taking up that a little bit further, staying within that tension with which Talmud and the Bible are viewed as law and staying within the Jewish tradition, maybe part of the attractiveness of both Kabbalah and Hasidism in their own way was that they restored a play element.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Absolutely. I completely agree with that that we have the return of the repressed all the time through history in various ways. So precisely those elements that are being sort of sidestepped-- and, you know, Barry Wimpfheimer's book has a wonderful introduction that talks about how it's really the creation of this distinction between Aggadah and Halakhah and what's serious and what's playful.
It's really a late distinction. You know, it begins the immediate post-Talmudic age, the sort of effort just to de-rail-- no, what's the word I'm looking for-- to push to the side notions of non-seriousness or playfulness. But that's only going to come back, right? There have been all sorts of historians and people who know more about this. And Talya Fishman is one of them-- can tell you whether it's true or not.
But, you know, when does Kabbalah arise, right? It arises at a time when there has been a strong turn towards rationalism, either in sort of the Sephardic world, philosophical rationalism, Maimonides, and so on. Or in the Ashkenazi world, you have the rise of scholasticism and Talmud commentarians and so on. And so we see Kabbalah arising.
You can make the same sorts of arguments about other, you know, mystical movements at different times in Jewish history as being kind of the return of the repressed if you will. So, Talya.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. This is really magnificent. I have lots to think about. I have a sort of small question, but I think it's a bigger question that focuses mostly on the first past of your talk. And that is, what is relationship between the classical discipline and rhetoric and performance studies. What do you get in performance studies that you don't get in classical rhetoric?
CHRISTINE HAYES: So performance studies is really focused on action as opposed to speech, precisely trying to position itself as celebrating embodied knowledge and not knowledge coming through words, through written words or spoken words, which is really what rhetoric is about. Rhetoric is really about the power of words to do things. That's why I didn't talk about performatives until very briefly at the end when I wanted to talk about words doing things.
So I was focusing more on performance and performativity, which from my reading I'm understanding these are all slightly different things. So performativity is precisely, I think, a rebellion against the idea that there is something privileged about knowledge that happens in verbal forms, either speaking or reading or writing. And that there is a different kind of knowledge that comes through embodied action. And that you can analyze, therefore, events in the world for the knowledge that they reveal.
And it's a different kind of knowledge. It's a knowledge that's always revised. It's always rehearsed. It's always tested. And it's always reformulated, so it's dynamic as opposed to knowledge that comes from language and words, which in this model-- you know, we can argue about whether it's right or wrong-- is viewed as sort of static or fixed-- not necessarily true.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] and Searle.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Also, they talk about performatives. So they talk about words as performing actions, right? So in a way, they kind of collapse that, which is why I kind of left it to the end. And I tried to bring those two things sort of together at the end.
But at the beginning, I was trying to keep things a little more just focused on action, which is what performance studies proper really focuses on. And it doesn't focus on the verbal arts so much.
AUDIENCE: If I may just tag onto that--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yup.
AUDIENCE: Does your focus on performance studies open the door to the second part of your--
CHRISTINE HAYES: So I think it does through the work of people like Austin and Searle. So once we sort of say, hold on, let's stop and look at actions, at [INAUDIBLE] actions as things that display or convey or embody. You know, I can't use the word-- I guess I can use perform-- that perform knowledge in various ways. Let's do that.
And so people did that for a long time. And there was a lot that was illuminated by looking not always just at the content, but at the medium and the way things are conveyed. OK. But then I think there reached a point where sort of the pendulum swung a little bit the other way and said, but wait. Instead of thinking of events or, you know, scripts and words as actions, we can think of events in these forms.
We can think of words. We've turned away. We've divorced actions from words. Now, instead of divorcing action from words, let's bring words to action, right? Let's think about the way words are, in fact, actions and accomplish things in the world.
And this might be a way to kind of bring the two together. So I find that a particularly helpful-- that's why I kind of was ending with that. To me, that says something about the relationship between performance and words to reality, the relationship of performance and words to reality. And I think that there's a real tight connection between those two.
So to the extent that the Talmud is a performance in words, you know, then I can use performative or speech act theory by Austin and Searle. Or I can use performance studies by people like, you know, Goffman and Bateson who talk about how you frame things in order to incline people to hear and interpret them in certain ways. You can bring all of that together to think about what it reflects about the relationship of words and actions to reality.
And, basically, what is your metaphysical conception, right? What do you think reality even is? Is it something that you're describing and referencing? Is language referential?
Are actions imitative? Or is it something that is not real and out there, but something that is precisely created and performed, created through language, performed through actions. Does that help?
CHRISTINE HAYES: Zvi.
AUDIENCE: Chris, thank you so much for such a wonderful talk. You've said so many things that I really have to think about a lot of this. As you probably know, I'm more interested in the Talmud is performance aspect.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Right. And I kind of figured some people were, so I was going to [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I know. So I was happy that you didn't everything that I wanted to say. But you did say something in the Talmud as performance aspect that I want to ask your opinion about the Talmud is performance aspect of that.
Which is, if there's a performance, there's an audience. If there's no audience, there's no performance. And this we character-- we learn, you know, this whole participatory thing that's going on. Who is situated where? It's not the directors, not the orchestrators, not the authors, not the [NON-ENGLISH]. Is it us, the reader? Or is it something that actually blends the audience in the--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Right. So, I don't know. You know, I did think about that a little bit. And there was a part of me that said, can you be your own audience? Do we perform for ourselves?
I think we actually do. And then that kind of dissipates the question. Because if all you ever need is an audience of none or an audience of one, yourself being the one, then we're home free.
Everything we do is a performance even in the privacy of your shower when you're singing into the shampoo bottle and you think no one's listening, right? So everything's a performance. You're performing to yourself.
And I think that there's this whole strand of performance studies which says that, which says that, yeah, there's a responsibility or a commitment to an audience. But it can be an imagined audience. There's a way in which you're still playing to an audience even if there isn't any-- tree falls in the forest. Guess what? It really does make a sound.
Even when there's no audience there, you still have a performance, right? So that would be one way of looking at it. If you're asking me an historical question about what these particular framers were thinking as they did this--
AUDIENCE: I'm not asking that.
CHRISTINE HAYES: OK, good. I'm glad you're not. Because I don't really have an answer for that. But I mean, does that get close to answering?
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah. I don't know. I don't have a good answer to that. I don't. I do there were a community of redactors and editors. And they might be referring to themselves when they said that there isn't one redactor [INAUDIBLE]. I know. Ishai and then Ross.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. This was really magical. You've talked about two kind of oppositions, truth and play and reality and illusion. And I want to throw into the pot two other concepts that I think could a little complicate the story.
One is normativity. I mean, the sugya, the playfulness, the openness of the sugya I think works differently in terms of normativity. And I would read, by the way, the question [NON-ENGLISH] not in terms of, you know, truth value or plausibility. But normativity, is it allowed? Because then comes the [NON-ENGLISH], right? So can it be argued, meaning is it--
And from this angle, I think it's a more open question. Is the sugya this kind of never-ending play, or is it leading you from point A to point B, like Boyarin-- the other Boyarin-- are claiming in Socrates and the [INAUDIBLE] Rabbis, that the sugya is much less dialogic than it seems to be. Because it is the magician that leads you to where it wants.
And the other term that I would add into the discussion is construction. And Judith Butler and her peers will claim that reality is not illusion and not real. It's constructed. And constructed is real, but it's not natural, right--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Right.
AUDIENCE: --which is a different game all together.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah. It is. And I left her out. I though this was getting too long and I have to leave out something, so I left out the Butler that I read. This is a really important and good question.
The interesting thing with this particular sugya is I actually have no idea what the [NON-ENGLISH] is at the end of the sugya. If you do, you're a better reader than I. Even though the-- you know, is there anyone who holds, those two views, they actually don't put the first one to rest. Ravina and Rav Sama actually both come up with different ways to rescue that particular possibility that the [NON-ENGLISH] might be actually acting like an agent. So they even rescue that.
So they don't put it to rest. And they just leave and go over and say, but does anyone think it's not, you know, [NON-ENGLISH] like a hand? No. And so let's talk about that, because we're just happier over here.
But they don't actually resolve. They don't negate the first one. It's there as an open possibility. And it's even rescued in two ways.
And then when we get to the end, they say, you know what? Here's three different ways to understand the [NON-ENGLISH] between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish. And I get very different [NON-ENGLISH] in each of those three.
So this is, I think, one of those sugya despite, as you say, having a very strong tour guide. It's clear that I have a tour guide. It's clear that he's telling me exactly what foot to put next. And I'm dancing this dance that's already been danced, right?
I am clearly dancing a dance that I'm being told to dance in a particular way. And yet that's sort of the point of why it's play. Because play is for the fun of it, for the thrill of it.
You get to the end. And you're like, I'm in a different place now. I've been through this dance. I'm not quite sure what emerged from it. But I had that experience going through that dance.
And I enacted those positions for a moment and thought about what it would be like to inhabit those positions and kind of ended up over here where there's three answers. So I just like the sugya, because it's so not resolved, you know? But you're right. There are many more that you don't quite get that feeling, right?
So I guess the question is, did the presence of sugya like this frame and color and temper the other sugyot in which there seems to be a little less ambiguity and a little bit more guidance to a particular end? And so I don't know. I think that's probably how I would respond to that.
It is true, though, that things can be very rule bound, and yet still very, very playful. Let's remember that. I mean, think of some sport with-- they tell me Bridge is, like, this incredibly rule-bound game. It takes people, like, months to learn it.
I don't know if that's true. But I have friends who's like I just finally learned how to play Bridge after months. And yet it's clearly a game you walk in there, and you have no clue what's going to happen and how things are going to turn out.
So the very rule-bound or structured nature of something does not diminish play. And that was what was so interesting about reading Huizinga's work. And he actually has a chapter where he talks about play and law.
And he says at first you might think that play and law have nothing to do with one another. The words that we associate with law are words like establish, fixed, decide, things that are very normative and don't seem to allow for any freedom or any play. But then he continues to walk through and show that, first of all, in its performance, it's very much like play.
People don costumes. You know, judges wear wigs. They sit in the sacred circle in a particular place. Everyone adopts, you know, postures and rhetoric and terminology. You frame things.
You know when you hear something and it's from a court case and not just regular speech, right? All of the elements that go into play certainly surround our performance of law. So perhaps in some other ways as well law is very playful despite the fact that it's about rules and normatively.
And that's something I'm going to think about more, actually, that I'm going to go back and sort of study that chapter more and give it more application to the Talmudic material. Because I think it's not intuitive. Those two things are not intuitive mates. And so I think there's more work to be done there to see how play and normatively or rules really do feed one another. Ross, did you have your hand up before?
AUDIENCE: Yours was a dazzling intellectual performance.
CHRISTINE HAYES: I will now do an interpretive dance.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] way too much, sadly. I just have a really brief comment. I finished teaching a class here on Maimonides, a seminar. And although we all know about him that a whole branch, a main branch of Talmudic scholars just were fit to be tied by what he did--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: --you have given the best explanation I have ever heard of what it was that bothered them.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Absolutely.
AUDIENCE: It wasn't just about their livelihood or different methods of study. He was depriving them of an entire world--
CHRISTINE HAYES: It's an infinite game, making it finite.
AUDIENCE: --of experience.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Spoiled sport, he's the spoiled sport.
AUDIENCE: And you need to take this show to a conference on Maimonides Halakhah. And it will rattle things. It all rattle some cages.
CHRISTINE HAYES: I'll call it Maimonides, A Spoiled Sport. Yes.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about these framing elements, but is there anyone who holds elements, and whether you would understand those as compositionally connected to what follows, compositionally produced at the same moment as our, or whether they are framing elements that are introducing, that are kind of gathering and collecting and directing--
CHRISTINE HAYES: I think that's the ringmaster that's summoning something.
AUDIENCE: Say it again.
CHRISTINE HAYES: I see that as happening simultaneously in the construction of the sugya.
AUDIENCE: You see it happening [INAUDIBLE].
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah. That's coming in that long section which is all anonymous. And so it seems to me that this has been a particular effort to sort of say, would anyone hold such a view? Let's show now why people wouldn't hold that view.
So I see it as the ringmaster summoning the sources which then come and do his bidding to play the game a little longer. And I think we probably need to wrap it up. So was there any-- yes, sorry.
AUDIENCE: I was thinking as you were speaking about a quote from Adorno about robbing the subject of illusion of happiness by naming the illusion. And I was wondering whether the sugya that you've been working with can puncture in some ways, whether it's [INAUDIBLE] today or [INAUDIBLE] older people in this room can puncture that illusion and the dangers that you see with these different types of sugyot.
CHRISTINE HAYES: That's interesting. I'm not sure I'm understanding your question. I think it's the opposite of what I thought you were saying. Whether this sugya can puncture the illusions of people who, say, are the ones that Jonathan had in mind when he asked his question? That there are people for whom somehow this text is sort of canonical and authoritative and--
AUDIENCE: It could go both ways.
CHRISTINE HAYES: That's interesting.
AUDIENCE: It could go both ways, because I think something announced itself as play.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah.
CHRISTINE HAYES: But serious play, right? Like, people died for this. This was serious play. But yes.
AUDIENCE: Or it is play, and it's not announcing itself as such, keeping the illusion going and always in danger of--
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah, that's interesting. I left out one thing that I was going to mention. I don't know if this begins to adjust that question. I think I have to think about that more.
AUDIENCE: And I [INAUDIBLE] performance studies, by the way.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah, yeah. yeah.
AUDIENCE: Judith Salverson first worked with some of the [INAUDIBLE] work on that.
CHRISTINE HAYES: OK. Salverson. This might be a beginning of an answer to that. So I don't think it's going to answer it all the way. I have to think about it more.
But there are moments-- and I almost brought some of them in, but I ran out of time-- where the Rabbis themselves sort of get annoyed with someone for being a spoiled sport, OK? And I didn't gather these examples. So I'm going to be getting it wrong.
Other people might remember them better than I. But every now and then, you'll have a statement by a sage. And people will laugh, all right?
And then the [NON-ENGLISH], and anonymous voice of the Talmud will come back and say, wait a minute, a great man has spoken. So you don't have the right to dismiss it. You got to show how smart it is or how clever it is. Get to work, right?
This is the game. This is what we do. It may seem like a silly statement, but he's a great man. It's now been entered into the ring.
Start working on it. Start showing that this might have all sorts of interesting deductions and things that you can derive from it and so on, right-- that kind of statement. That, to me, is kind of calling out a spoiled sport.
Doesn't happen often, but it happens a few times. And then there are about 20 cases, I think, where we have this explicit statement where they've been discussing something for a long time, but it's leading them down these various rabbit holes. And they're running into greater and greater problems. And they're not really able to solve them. And the game is getting tangled.
And they end up saying, you know that thing we said that person said back there at the beginning which started us off on this? Actually, he didn't say that. Or he didn't say it explicitly. We just inferred it.
That happens about 20 times when they say, you know, [NON-ENGLISH]. He didn't say it explicitly, but we inferred it. That phrase happens 20 times. But I think that the action of doing that happens much more frequently.
So people will say, well, only 20 times do they say, oh no, we misrepresented things. He didn't really say that. We derived it.
But I think even in our sugya, you see them pretty much saying that. Towards the end, they just don't use the technical language. They say, you know, you think the [NON-ENGLISH] is about that. Or you think Abba Kohen Bardala, you know, said it in that context. He really wasn't talking about a divorce document, right? So they just do it so often.
And there they're kind of rolling their sleeves back and saying, guess what? We're magicians, right? That's the tip off to you that we're playing fast and loose with some of this stuff.
And if it's leading us into entanglements, then we might just going to have to back off a little bit and start down a new path. But we've exposed ourselves in that moment of backing off that we were engaged in this sort of construction and this artifice. And there, construction is the right word to use, right-- Judith Butler's stuff, the social construction, absolutely.
AUDIENCE: I think it's entirely appropriate for the keynote event of a Talmud conference to have the last question come from a student.
CHRISTINE HAYES: But tomorrow, right? Doesn't he have to ask it tomorrow [INAUDIBLE] statement is? Yes.
AUDIENCE: I just wanted to return to the question earlier about the nature of performance. I would assume that the reason behind performance is like, obviously, very much related to who the audience is.
CHRISTINE HAYES: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And I assume, for instance, as a musician is giving a concert, if the concert is for lay people and the concert is for other musicians, the reason behind the concert from the beginning is very different. So if Rabbis are sitting down and, you know, playing this game and they're doing it for the sake of the students and the Rabbis, that's very different than if they're doing it for average people.
CHRISTINE HAYES: That's really important. And that is really what's behind this notion or the claim of the Uncertainty Principle, right? So there's the famous Uncertainty Principle, the idea that we can never have certainty about anything. Because the moment we observe something, we're changing what it is we're looking at.
The presence of the microscope or the presence of the observer is a factor in the event that you're observing or the item that you're observing. So by definition, we never have certain knowledge of anything, because we're always observing it. That's the famous Uncertainty Principle.
And that grounds a lot of performance studies, the idea that performance doesn't reflect a reality. It creates it. Because the very fact that you have an audience watching means that things are changing. Things are accommodating that audience. Things are being played to that audience even in the most subtle ways, right?
So the idea that the audience makes a difference is really what grounds the Uncertainty Principle in science as well and is really, I think, behind this sort of metaphysical notion that we never really actually have access to some reality out there. Everything is always part of a performance involving an audience that is effecting and creating and transforming the very reality. So, yeah, I mean, that's a really deep question.
And I think that kind of gets at the heart of this particular world view that I think is happening in the Talmudic text. So thank you for your questions and your time. And [INAUDIBLE] go to dinner.
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Christine Hayes of Yale University delivered the keynote address at "Talmud: Process and Performance," May 17, 2016. The conference was co-sponsored by the Cornell Jewish Studies Program, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Mediterranean Studies Initiative, Department of Anthropology, Department of Classics, Society for the Humanities, and the Second Avenue Kosher Delicatessen.