TRACY MCNULTY: Hello everyone, I'm Tracy McNulty, from the department of romance studies. I'm going to be respondent to this lovely forthcoming paper by Zvi Septimus. And remind me again of the title, since I don't have it.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: The Talmud as Musical Score.
TRACY MCNULTY: OK, great.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: OK, thank you. So first of all, I have to apologize. As many of you know, I just had my tonsils taken out, so my voice hasn't recovered. And also I can't yet form in my mouth to say certain things that I was a couple of weeks ago. So I'm going to try my hardest.
OK, we'll try to do less of that. And also, I don't have a handout. And I want to see if that moves me from the realm of what I previously was, a Talmud scholar, maybe I've become a historian now. But I think most of you-- I think most of you will not think so after this talk.
So this whole project started, we had a Chavrusa that met every week when I was here doing a fellowship at Cornell, for a year and a half with myself, and Jonathan, and David Grossberg. And at some point, Jonathan said, "I wonder what would happen if the Rosh Yeshiva from East Broadway would come in and observe what's going on here. What would he think?" And then I think Jonathan said something like, "He would be interested, but I don't think he would call it learning." That could be apocryphal, but I'm gonna--
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Now, that forced me to think about, what exactly is going on here? Because if you look at the poster that we had advertising this conference, the picture looks exactly what was going on there. We had some books in the middle of the table, and a bunch of us were standing there yelling, and I wondered, that this question of what exactly is taking place here? If we could come to the answer to that question, perhaps it'll help us think differently about how it is that this book got there on the table.
OK, so now I begin. This past semester, I participated in a fascinating reading group at Harvard Law School. It wasn't so much the topics of the texts we explored that made this group interesting. It was the makeup and background of the participants. The Advanced Topics in Jewish Law and Legal Theory Reading Group has been meeting for the past five years. And from what I have heard, has generally consisted of a quite homogeneous group, which was certainly the case this semester.
Of the around 30 participants, 29 of them were men, and all had spent significant time studying in yeshiva prior to law school. A majority of these former yeshiva students had never attended college, but had obtained a bachelor's in Talmudic law from their yeshivas, and had done extremely well on their LSATs. Around 15 years ago, Harvard Law School experimented by taking a few such students. And as these students succeeded in both law school and their professional careers, Harvard accepted more and more of these students into their program, and now they are quite a visible minority on campus.
The reading group this semester entitled "Nation and Peoplehood" is led by Noah Feldman, a constitutional lawyer with strong interests in contemporary religion, especially Judaism and Islam. Noah invited three other professors to sit with him at the table, as a sort of a panel, each with their own area of expertise, running the gamut of Jewish history. Shaye Cohen, leading scholar in Second Temple Judaism was the first. Jay Harris, the Dean of the college, and a prominent historian of the modern and early modern periods. And myself, playing the role of expert in Talmud and rabbinic texts.
And as we worked our way historically from past to present, each of the specialists were called upon to read aloud the particular primary source we were reading that session prior to the discussion moderated by Professor Feldman. I say this all not to encourage Jonathan Boyarin to make this reading group the topic of his next book-- although it would be a good one-- but rather to set the stage for what I learned. Or rather what was confirmed for me about the Talmud when I invited a friend one week to observe.
This particular week, one of the assigned readings was a chapter from my forthcoming book. And though my friend has no background in Talmud, she has read parts of my book. So I thought this would be a good session for her to come and observe. I told her in advance that even though the group is theoretically led in English, no sentence will actually be spoken in English by the participants. Rather, the discussion would be held in a hybrid of English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, a language that has been dubbed Yeshivish. My friend is a translation studies scholar, and I thought she might be interested in the type of complex, and mostly unconscious code-switching yeshiva students engage in when debating Jewish texts-- even at a university founded in order to train Congregationists and Unitarian clergy.
Since this week we were focusing on texts from the Talmud, I was called upon at the start of the session to read aloud the primary text upon which we would be our discussion. Afterwards, I asked my friend, "So, what did you think?" She replied, "I thought you were supposed to be a Talmud scholar." "What do you mean?" I said. She continued, "Why did you make so many mistakes when you were reading? I thought you were supposed to know how to read this language?" "I didn't make any mistakes. What are you talking about?" I said, incredulously. "They kept on correcting you, every two or three words. Everyone in the room was correcting you.
How can you say you're Talmud scholar?" At this point, I was drawn out of my own perspective of what had just taken place over the course of the last two hours, and refocused on what might have taken place in her eyes. When I asked my friend what she thought, I expected her to comment on the virtuosity my masterful performance.
But now I realized that from her perspective, I must have looked like a bumbling idiot, embarrassing myself in front of a group of students as I cracked my teeth on what was, for me, a difficult and foreign text. From her perspective, after viewing my performance, it was the students who were the experts who had exposed me as a fraud. What had taking place in that seminar room that night is quite aptly captured in the painting used on the poster advertising this conference. In fact, it is the premise of this conference, the idea of which was formed during a weekly Talmud reading group held here at Cornell for a year and a half, with myself, Jonathan, and David Grossberg as the participants.
As I tried to explain to my friend that night, the Talmud is not a text that is read, but one that is performed. It is performed in front of an audience, but this audience does not digest this performance in the matter in which we have become trained to listen to classical music since the 19th century. The audience to a Talmud performance does not become silent upon the wave of a conductor's baton, and wait patiently to clap two hours later with another wave of the baton followed by a bow.
Performance of the Talmud is instead accompanied by a real-time critique by the audience to the performance. Even when the Talmud is read privately, such a reading is not an end, but only a rehearsal to a future reading event. And it is in that event that the Talmud takes place, that it becomes a text. In this paper I will explore how the history of musical scores helps us ask fundamental questions about the very existence of the Talmud, what and how the Talmud is. In doing so I will call into question some of the basic assumptions of the type of source and text criticism generally practiced and applied in the academic study of Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud as concert.
To what extent in the oral culture of the Talmud's production were the Talmud passages that we now have before us meant to be statically memorized and repeated verbatim by their transmitters? And to what extent are the written texts that we now read merely representations of what was, at the time they were initially produced, meant as performance notes to be riffed on? If the latter, then what were the rules of the riffing game? And even if the former was the rule, then to what extent did variable pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, cadence, and inflection play a role in how the transmitted "meaning" of a memorized passage was allowed to be altered within the context of an individual performance?
After all in a culture of oral with an O, oral with an A-U transmission, in order to read a text, one must not by necessity first be an audience to a performance of that text. And the oral performance of a text is, by definition, dynamic. What exactly were the dynamics, and how did the dynamics differ from performance to performance? Similar questions apply to the later period, when the Talmud first appeared in written form as a book. And throughout this talk maybe we'll go back to Moulie and Jonathan's discussion about, should we really have such a rigid break between written and oral? Could they be looked at the same?
Were such written versions of the Talmud meant to be read in solitude, or were they meant as lecture notes to be riffed on in the context of academic performance, even after written. Even when the Talmud began to be read by individuals, acting alone-- though such a reader might be viewed as absorbing a static material object, simply because the transmitter's performance has already been frozen on paper. In actuality, the reader of such a text must already have been an audience to a performance of that text.
The Talmud is not a text that can be read or understood unless it has already been read and understood. The idea of a private first reading of the Talmud prior to the 11th century-- when running commentaries and elucidations were produced by Rashi, Rabbi Gershon, Rabbi Chananya-- makes no sense at all. The written Talmud is a text that only makes sense in the context of a second reading, once the reader has already witnessed its reading or performance.
But even after that assisted first reading, which was necessarily accompanied by an oral elucidation of the written text, what role could the private reader, then, in a second reading play in undoing the fixity of the material object while reading? Then, what role did such second time readers play when reading before an audience for perhaps the first time, in providing a first reading for a new set of initiates? And what more private role did individual readers, acting as scribes or dictators to scribes, play in dynamically altering the material object being read into a new one when producing copies?
In order to answer these questions, we must speculate as to what the text of the Talmud represented to those who received it, and those who transmitted it, how they viewed the object or work, and how they view their own artistic expression. An analogy to the academic debates about what classical music scores represent to their composers, conductors, performers, and consumers can be used as a heuristic. In 1994, Lydia Goehr published The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music, a book that stirred much controversy in the fields of aesthetic philosophy and history of music.
There is no need here to detail the academic responses to her book, because the truth value of her claims are really of no consequence for the present discussion. After all, Goehr's argument relates to a distinction between how the musical work was conceived of by its composers and consumers in the 18th, versus the 19th century, with Beethoven marking the turning point in the relationship between performer, composer, work, audience, and the score. Goehr's book is relevant simply because she argues for the distinct differences between these relationships in different historical periods and cultures. As a historian working in the fields of philosophy, it is necessary for Goehr to not only concretely argue for historical reality, but also to explain the causes of the transition she describes.
For my purposes, I am only concerned with introducing a new model for looking at what the Talmud might have represented to its own consumers at any one of a number of historical moments, in both oral and written environments. In my larger project, the purpose in doing so is to present first and foremost an argument about how the Talmud conveys meaning to its implied reader to describe certain prominent literary features of the book, and possible interactions of those linguistic and structural nuances with their consumers. The byproduct of this exploration, what I will focus on in this talk, is a new model for describing the development of the Talmud, based on a proposal for how such literary features might have taken form in the first place.
In short, the Talmud is a book that generates itself through its interactions with its readers. This model serves as an antithesis to the standard models for explaining textual composition and variation that have been developed in the fields of source and text criticism. And exploration, how the conception of a musical score by both consumers and composers differed radically within a short historical period. And the reasons for that shift might yield a fresh perspective of what ancient and late antiques texts might have meant as objects of art.
I therefore turn to Goehr's work to highlight the fact that not only do different cultures practice different modes of relating to the cultural objects, but that different cultures also construct their own historical perceptions of those relationships in different ways. And here I kind of break with the historical way of looking at it. Which is, I'm purposely ignoring the way people talk about what it is that they're doing. Because I think that could somehow lead us down the wrong roads. I would like to first and foremost focus on what has been done, and ignore what people think or say that they're doing as maybe being a red herring.
The science of 20th century Talmud scholarship is based on a particular conception of what the Talmud as a text is, and by extension, assumptions about what the Talmud was. I simply want to ask the question, what happens when we radically alter that conception? To do so, I introduce the musical score as the lens through which to view textual objects and what they represent to their intended consumer. Reading the Talmud with the eyes of one who is reading a score will reveal new avenues for answering the question of what the Talmud is or was.
The fact that a musical score is a material object that relates to a non-material performance is essential to its value as an heuristic through wish to explore the Talmud. I now turn to Lydia Goehr's intervention in the field of music. In short, Goehr's argument runs as follows. In the 19th century, much like today, a music square represented a physical manifestation of an ideal musical work, kind of like a platonic form. The work itself only exists as an abstract entity, the performance of which can never be truly attained in reality. In fact, the 19th century sees a proliferation of people who purposely write unplayable music. Like Liszt would be an example. Because if it's unplayable, then the work really exists.
AUDIENCE: It was only playable by Liszt.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: No, no, or even not. There's even a, one of the composers she quotes says, "And I write this for one whose fingers have yet grown, but I hope that they do."
In contrast, composers of the 18th century do not see their compositions as works that existed in the abstract outside of their actual performance. For 18th century composers, it was each individual performance of a piece of music that was its own separate entity. Thus the music cannot exist as a work outside of its actual performance. Therefore, what the score as physical object meant, and what purpose it served was entirely different for each of these groups.
For a 19th century composer, a score represented the most precise instructions for how to attain in performance the perfection of the conceptualized work, which existed in abstract, even if never played at all. The 19th century coincided with the advent of the Werktreue ideal, which Goehr defines as, quote, "The notion of being true or faithful to a work." According to the Werktreue ideal, conductors and musicians strove to capture the essence of work as it was intended by its composer. But for the 18th century composer, a score simply represented personal notes to be used in the enactment of a single, time-bound performance that was itself never to be repeated.
What is symptomatic of this difference is how the musical score was viewed in each of these centuries, is that the 18th century composer placed on the heading of the score either the date of the performance, or the dates when the score began to be written. In contrast, in the 19th century, the composer placed on the heading the date on which the writing of the score was completed. A second symptom of the 19th century shift to the idea of a work of music existing as a fixed creation independently of its many possible performances, Goehr's words, was that new laws about plagiarism and copyright were introduced to reflect the new cultural understanding of what a score as work represented.
In the 18th century, prior to this conceptual shift over which no one would even have conceived of a composition to be the kind of activity over which one could have property rights. A consequence of the 19th century transformation in the conceptualization of music as a work, was that the actual rules of music composition changes as a result. Where the composers of the 18th century freely incorporated the work of other composers-- or even their own-- into new compositions, this practice was ostracized in the 19th century,
A cursory look at how the emergence of the Werktreue ideal coincided with a major shift in the type of notation found in musical scores in the 18th the 19th century demonstrates that no such ideal, Werktreue, is relevant to what a Talmud text serves to effect in its performance. And now I quote from Goehr.
"The ideal of Werktreue true emerged to capture the new relation between work and performance, as well as that between performer and composer. Performances and their performers were respectively subservient to works and their composers. The comparable duty of performance was to show allegiance to the works of the composers. They had to comply as perfectly as possible with the scores composers provided. Thus, the effect of synonymity in the musical world, a Werktreue and Texttreue. to. Be true to a work is to be true to its score." End quote.
The utter lack of such a controlling element in the notation the composers of the Talmud provide for its conductors and performers therefore aligns the Talmud as textual object analogically to the 18th century conception of the musical score. It also calls into question the project of assessing a date for the Talmud's composition. For like the 18th century musical score, the date of the composition of the Talmud is either to be located in when it began to be composed-- in the earliest layers of the Mishna-- or the date of its performance ongoing. But not in the date of its completion, redaction, or committing to writing, or even print.
Let us then imagine such a conception of the Talmud according to Goehr's description of the 19th century score. The idea that one first composed a work which was then publicly performed here and there hardly existed in the 18th century. This idea can be used to explain the prevalence of the stam, the anonymous layer around which, or through which the Talmud is organized. If the stam represents what was initially a one-time performance, one that manipulated pre-existing named sources in a time manifestation of theme and variation, then it would make sense that such performances are presented anonymously.
Musicians did not see works, as much as they saw individual performances themselves to be the direct outcome of their compositional activity. So not the works, but the performances. And such performances-- as would be the case for conceptualization of the stam-- were not objectified as "works," either in the mind of the performance, or the audience to such performances. They were simply meant to be experienced in time. And here I quote from Goehr.
"Music was not always produced to outlast its performance or survive more than a few performances. And when it did survive many performances, numerous changes could, and usually would be made to the music in the process. When musicians thought about repeatability, they thought more of the multiple uses of themes and parts for various different occasions, than of one in the very same whole composition being repeated in performances dedicated to the performing of that very composition." End quote.
This conception of the stam stands in stark contrast to the prevailing academic debates. Contemporary stam theory can be divided into three camps. All three would argue that a single moment of consciousness, even if over an extended period of time, transformed a proto-Talmud, comprised of main sources, into the Talmud we now read, through the work of anonymous authors. And source critical tools can be used to unwind the work of these anonymous writers, and therefore their moment of authorship.
Shammah Friedman's of the opinion-- now here, it said interesting because Moulie said to me yesterday, "You never followed up on that email." Because like six months ago, I sent Moulie an email. I said, I'm about to send something, I just want to make sure that, I've got Shammah Friedman, with me, right. But I have one more question for you. And you sent me back, you know, some corrections, and I worked it in. But the then I said to myself, you know what? The Moulie Vidas part, I'll just see what happens when I come in.
Let's see what happens. Shammah Friedman's of the opinion that the anonymous material that makes up most of the Talmud represents a creative transformation of earlier materials. Friedman is notoriously careful not to conflate the literary features of the Talmud, the stam, with a historical group, the Stammaim, anonymous ones. Therefore, one can only speculate as to his understanding of the reason for the prevalence of anonymous material in the Talmud. And I think James agrees with this. But it seems that Friedman understands this anonymity as an attempt to mask transformative activity.
David Weiss Halivni, on the other hand-- Chris is shaking her head, we'll see-- is of the opinion that this anonymous material represents an attempt to recapture a lost original argumentation that had always accompanied the named source material found in the Talmud. For Halivni, the material is presented anonymously because the people who introduced the anonymous argumentation that supplies the basis for the reasoning behind the named source material thought of themselves as recovering the past, rather than transforming the past. And therefore, they're anonymous.
A third view recently proposed by Moulie Vidas is that the anonymous material that makes up most of the Talmud was introduced by a group of people who sought to radically break from a tradition, which itself is presented in the text by those named sources, the anonymous layer of the Talmud engages. For Vidas, this material is presented anonymously as a strategy to signal a break from the past, to create a distance between the creators of the sugya, the Talmud literary unit, and the sources they quote.
However, Goehr's framework allows for a different conception of the prevalence of the anonymous material found in the Talmud. If the Talmud is viewed as analogous to an 18th century musical score, than the stam represents the freezing in writing of what was initially a one-time performance, one that manipulated pre-existing named sources into a time-bound expression of theme and variation. The 18th century musical score highlights the idea that the performance of the stam might not have seen the Talmud as a work, or their activity as authorship.
It would make sense, therefore, for such performances, that they are presented anonymously. For if the people responsible for an anonymous material found in the Talmud saw their performances as expiring time-bound compositions, where the central mode of expression was variations of pre-existing themes, then they would not have understood their own activity as moments of authorship to be sustained over time. Instead, they would have viewed their production as individual time-bound performances to be used and played with by other performers in an ever-changing dialogue both with the present and the past.
The people responsible for the stam, therefore, would not have seen either the named source material or the anonymous material they worked with as external and distinct from their own unnamed compositions, but rather, as available components for their own momentary expression of creative production and processes. Just as the 18th century composers do not see the themes that they incorporated into their compositions as owned or authored by anyone. And they didn't-- whether or not these themes were initially their own productions, or that of named and known others. So when they were using stuff from the past, they stole from themselves, and other writers, without even distinguishing between who they were stealing from, because they didn't see it that way.
And they did not seek to create works that were to be repeated. The Stammaim, similarly, perhaps did not perceive of their activity as distinct from the named or anonymous source material that they momentarily played with, or played on in a time-bound event of artistic expression. It is quite possible, therefore, that those responsible for the stam did not think of their own activity as either the transformation of one work into another-- Friedman and Vidas-- or an attempt to recapture a lost original authored work, Halivni.
From such a perspective, whatever Talmud existed prior to their individual performances, and whatever Talmud remained after their performances merely represented notes to be riffed on in a centuries-long riffing game, not authored works to be repeated, captured, or recaptured. Therefore a source critical approach that seeks an original against which a moment of new authorship can be detected, and one that seeks moments of authorship in the division of named and anonymous layers of the Talmud, might be based on a misunderstanding of what the Talmud represented to those people involved in the performance. That there was something before the activity of these people that they considered a work, and that they considered their own activity as a work.
A source critical approach certainly ignores the performance space of the Talmud. The performance space witnessed by a friend during the reading group I previously described, or by one of the faculty members or students who might have wandered into the NES Lounge during my weekly Chavrusa study sessions with Jonathan and David. It is through this performance space that the Talmud-- though seemingly textually fixed-- remains open until this day, more than 1,200 years after it was first put into written form, and more than 500 years after Talmud's text was first frozen in print. OK, that's source criticism.
What text criticism misses. Until now I have applied Goehr's analysis of the differences between 18th and 19th century the musical scores to what might be called the work of the stam. The literary function of the Talmud's anonymous layer, and the people responsible for it. But what happens after the stam? I now want to turn my attention away from source criticism and see how Goehr's intervention can be used to critique the project of Talmud text criticism.
What happens when we refocus the lens through which we view textual discrepancy in Talmud witnesses? What happens when we entertain the possibility that the variations result from different individual performance of the text that were recorded independently? Whether those performances originally took place in an oral, written, or some transitional hybrid environment-- and I want to thank Shorcutt for turning me on to Gregor Schuller, I know Talia engages with, who talks about this hybrid environment in Baghdad at the time of the [INAUDIBLE]. Clearly marked, [INAUDIBLE].
Early 20th century text criticism, for the most, part assumed that manuscripts of the Talmud are copies of earlier manuscripts of the Talmud, and all stemmed from a single original or ur-text. For text critics, a manuscript is an object that is either meant to be an accurate copy of an earlier object, a scribe's honest attempt at recovering an original object by fixing what he deems to be unintentional errors found in the particular object he is copying. This scribe buys into the idea of Werktreue, faithfulness to the work, as explained by Goehr. And does we can-- and it was only he's, unfortunately, at that point-- to produce, in the form of the manuscript he now writes, an object that promotes the future performance of the ideal work, one that was authorized by a single original author, or a group of authors working together.
Though the assumptions of text criticism from the Talmud might stem from both an accurate assessment of the data that were available the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the fair use of the disciplinary tools then available for analyzing those data, text criticism makes little room for the possibility of textual discrepancies that originate outside of the Werktreue paradigm. Variations that might have pre-existed the earliest written recordings of the Talmud, whenever that might have been. Perhaps there were multiple originals. And further, perhaps the Talmud's earliest scribe did not subscribe to the Werktreue ideal at all.
In other words, the fact that we have no statistically relevant evidence that stems from the pre-mid 13th century, the late evidence we do have has skewed the text critic's bias, and perhaps promoted an illusion about the Talmud as a work is or was. Sometimes too much, or in this case, too little, is perhaps more appropriate description of the wrong kind of evidence, inhibits the critic's ability to see things as they are or were. The tools of text critical methodology were developed in the fields of ancient Greek literature and Bible-- especially New Testament-- scholarship.
In both of those cases, hundreds of manuscripts could be used to paint a picture of the evolution of textual corruption. Some of the manuscripts at the disposal of those scholars even date as early as the first few centuries of the common era. Contrast 20th century Talmud scholars were lucky to have five manuscript witnesses for any given page of the Talmud. The earliest such manuscript for an entire tractate, dated by [INAUDIBLE] stems from 1177. The earliest manuscript for a partial tract date dates to 1123. And only one manuscript of the entire Talmud even exists, 1343.
Therefore, the evidence upon which Talmud text critics can stake their claims is primarily garnered from 13th and 14th century European witnesses. Yemenite manuscripts further complicated the picture, since they, on the one hand, might represent an alternative tradition that predates European interventions in the text the Talmud. On the other hand, these manuscripts were generally produced in the 16th century and later, after the time when it's possible that printed editions of the Talmud made their way from Europe.
Quotations from the Talmud found in writings of the Geonim and the Rishonim will share the same problematics. With additional consideration that they are, in fact, only secondary witnesses-- if indeed they are to be considered witnesses rather than performances. What is important to keep in mind is that even after the Talmud first appeared in written form, it did not cease to be performed. And even after the Talmud first appeared in written form, all subsequent written versions of the Talmud were not necessarily copied from a descendant of a single first material object or non-material work related to some performance-- any particular performance.
It is just as likely that, especially early on, unrelated written copies of the Talmud were produced anew, and copied directly in the context of an oral performance, whether that performance had an audience, or was simply enacted by a scribe in the privacy of his own home, perhaps like [INAUDIBLE] did in the legend. Still today, as previously mentioned, every act of reading the Talmud is itself a performance. Only the rules of the performance game and its resultant textual variations change in important ways.
First, when the Talmud was initially committed to writing, sometime between the late eighth and mid-10 centuries, and then again, when Rashi's intervention in the text began to dominate in the 11th century, late 11th century. And yet again, when the Talmud began to be disseminated into print in the late 15th century, early 16th centuries. One cannot avoid the stark fact that the manuscript tradition on which 20th century Talmud text criticism was built is primarily a European one, whose artifacts post-date Rashi's commentary by over 100 years.
So while we certainly see over time what appears to be a move by individual performers, or aligned groups of performers to authorize their own performances, to fix, correct, set, and unify a tradition built on a different premise, still this move must be seen in the context of a trajectory with not all of the players, the performers of the text, understanding their positions vis-a-vis the text in the same way at all historical moments, or even in the same historical moment. If this trajectory exists, then the objects studied by text criticism derive from a late stage of this trajectory, after considerable energy had been expended by some dominant cultural actors in the project of locking down performances of the text deemed authoritative. And here we have to think about Ross' comments earlier in the day, about Maimonides.
And if we look at Jewish Law-- forget about the Talmud for a second-- we just look at Jewish law codification, and the commentaries on the codes, we see a cycle. People trying to lock down, people trying open up, people trying to lock down, people trying open up. And a lot of times, these people are living at the same time. So let's think of the Talmud the same way, as far as text textual fixing.
From a different vantage point, these cultural actors might only appear to have sought to define and standardize the text of the Talmud. But the appearances of their activity actually models the project of contemporary scholars who at first glance might seem to be engaged in the same project. However, the project of text criticism is actually wholly different. Let us imagine the phrase [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] signaling a moment of textual emendation, instead of meaning, this is the text. Let's imagine it to mean, this is the product of our process. And contrast this understanding to the project of what text criticism is trying to do.
What text criticism seeks to establish is a correct and regional text of the Talmud. In short, text criticism describes a likely chain of events, one that places individual textual witnesses in chronological order, and details how erroneous variations between manuscripts arose when later manuscript was copied from an earlier one. Common practices of text criticisms are identifying instances of scribal eye skips, stemming from [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Whatever that word is.
Finding orthographic similarities between two words, signaling a copyist error. Locating an intentional scribal interventions geared at smoothing over the logic of a text, and identifying instances of scribal error that stem from faulty hearings in the course of a dictation. Tautologically, text criticism is very good at explaining variations between manuscripts that likely occurred through the mechanisms that text criticism seeks to explain.
However, when testing textual variation in the Talmud, in contrast, to such variation in the biblical text, one must not only keep in mind those aspects of Talmud recitation reading a transmission that relate to a performance per se, but also how the authors of the various traditions witnessed in the manuscript saw the rules of their individual performance games. Whereas copyists of the biblical text might have swaths reproduced an identical copy, the original copyists of the Talmud were not necessarily motivated by such agendas.
It goes without saying that oral transmitters of the Talmud were certainly not motivated by the concerns of transmitting an unaltered text, and the Talmud itself gives us evidence of this, sort of along the lines that Moulie was saying before. Therefore, as far as the Talmud is concerned, the critical toolbox of a text criticism is limited by perhaps erroneous assumptions of what it is that a textual witness represents. In the case of the Talmud, there certainly is no original to recover.
An alternate approach to the manuscript variation drawn by analogy to Goehr's understanding of pre-19th century musical scores is to view each witness as a product of its own performance. And by virtue of the fact that an individual performance was written and transmitted, each manuscript tradition should be viewed as having its own authorship-- an authorship that has produced a similar but new text. And the nuances of each new tax should be examined and explicated in terms of their distinct literary value and art, similar to the way Bach's music came to be understood once it began to be performed in 19th century concert halls.
And I'm closing here, but I just want to explain this thing with Bach. When you hired Bach to perform at your daughter's bat mitzvah in the 18th century, Bach came, Bach put together some notes, a hodgepodge of some things maybe he played at other people's apartments bat mitzvahs. They set him up right over here. And then the host comes in and says, you know, we have a few more guests, and we want to put the bar over there. Why don't you guys go set up in the corner? And Bach, you know, they move all the stuff, and the harpsichord. And they set up, and they set up in the corner.
And then, you know, Bach starts to play, you know, as the smorgasbord is going on. And some people are listening, but really, they're talking at the bar, they're eating their food. And then in the 19th century, people take this stuff, and they make people sit in a room, in a certain type of decorum, and experience it as if Bach actually wrote a piece of music that was to be experienced in the 19th century. But he really knew no such thing.
Comparisons between manuscripts should thus be used to highlight the art of an individual witness, rather than to establish a correct original. That is not to say that the manuscripts each represent a recording of an unaltered transmission of what was a solitary performance. Rather, each manuscript tradition represents a product that was at some point altered by its transmitters, and its transmitters had no problem in doing so. In earlier periods, when the primary mode of transmitting the Talmud was oral, these alterations the text were fluid and introduced by a public performer.
In later periods, when written control copies of the Talmud began circulating, the types of alterations to the text's prevalent in early performance environments that were exclusively oral were probably curtailed, though not completely halted, by the existence of control copies. The act of writing the Talmud did not freeze the text, but certainly changed the way it could be altered. Therefore, after the Talmud first put into written form, the performance riffing game was limited by the fact that control copies were available and could be checked for discrepancies.
The question is precisely how did the rules of performative textual alteration change once the eastern going academies had ceased to exist, and the Talmud in Europe and North Africa came to be conceptualized as a material object? It is possible that the types of alterations to the text of the Talmud that are best explained in an oral performative environment were not limited to pre-77 ECE Babylonia, the earliest dates cited in the legend for the production of a written Talmud.
Text criticism assumes that variant manuscript traditions result from alterations to the text, some intentional and some accidental, that were introduced by scribes, some smart and some not-so, quite the opposite, who worked alone. However, textual variation in Europe and North Africa can alternatively be explained as the product of academic performance, the recording of the production of a new text in a group, if not public, context. Much like how my friend witnessed the production of a new text, but not a work, as I negotiated my performance with my audience in attendance at the Talmud reading group.
Or, manuscript variation can be explained in the context of two parties contributing to production of a new text, the scribe, and the one dictating the text the scribe was copying. It is precisely in such scenarios the text criticism, when comparing two manuscripts, argues that one manuscript contains errors that were introduced into the manuscript tradition, when a scribe misheard the dictation of the text in which he was copying. The alternative approach would see the same changes as part of a creative process that results when both the performance and the interpretation of that performance are merged into a new text.
This idea can be expanded and met back onto not only textual variation in general, but also to both source criticism and the question of how the Talmud came to be or comes to be. Intentionality in the creative process, not necessarily originate only in the performer, but also may be the product of the imagination of the audience to performance. It is not uncommon for a viewer of art to see something that only existed in the artist's unconscious, or perhaps something that did not exist in artist's minds at all, even though the artist might not have been able to articulate what the viewer sees.
In the case of the Talmud, where a witness to a performance then becomes a transmitter of a text, an audience member's perception of performance becomes part of the textual transformation process, even in a perhaps anachronistic situation where a particular transmitter strives for Werktreue mirror of the performance they experienced as an audience member. Textual tampering can therefore be seen as the sole product of the performer, the sole product of the audience, or more likely, some combination of the two.
Going into Jame's is quote, the reception of the production of the Talmud is already embedded in its production. It follows that the formation of the Talmud itself, the book we now read, and the sugya that fill its bindings, can also be understood as the product of myriads of negotiated performances. Where the negotiation takes place not only between performer and audience, or the present and the past, but also between the performer and the book itself.
Returning to the music analogy, while in the context of a 19th century concert, there was no possibility that the audience would play a role in altering whatever performance was planned and orchestrated by a composer in advance of the performance-- Beethoven would have nothing of that-- in the 18th century, it was far more likely that the audience played an important role in producing what it is that they heard, through the very fact that they were, even as audience members, an integral part of the dynamic process. With the performers feeding on the energy and reactions of the audience, even if these audience members do not engage in a direct real-time musical critique, in transforming a rough set of performance notes into the performance event that was taking place at the moment.
This is similar to what today might take place in the context of a jam band, Phish, the Grateful Dead, performance of a song that they have played hundreds of times before. Or a contemporary performer of an early-to-mid-20th century jazz standard. So where Chris drew a distinction yesterday between the Talmud as performance and the Talmud is performance, and focus the talk on the Talmud as performance, my talk is focused on the Talmud is performance.
Though my talk is titled The Talmud as Musical Score, I do not mean to say that the Talmud is a musical score. But rather, to use the idea of a musical score, and what it means or meant to its composers, audience, directors, consumers, and performers at different moments in history, to simply introduce a new paradigm through which to think about the text of the Talmud, and call into question some of the basic assumptions about the text that scholars of the Talmud have long taken for granted. Is the Talmud of work? Does it exist as a work outside of its performance? And how can these questions help us further understand the nature of the processes that produced the text we now read? And I'm very sorry for going over.
TRACY MCNULTY: Hi everyone. I should say I am not at all a Talmud scholar, so I find myself very much in the position of your friend at the beginning of the talk, witnessing a discussion I have no means to understand. But unlike your friend, I was extremely appreciative of your performance. I thought it was just a delightful piece, and I feel like I got so much out of it.
I was actually going to begin by making some comments about the way that you're interpreting the literary function of the stam. But I realized, in fact, that having no frame of reference for this term which I had never encountered before, and finding that Wikipedia failed me, I sort of came up with my own interpretation of what was going on there. And I realize now it's not correct. I was more assimilating that to the sort of problem of third person narration, and to something like the narrative contextualization for an interchange happening between the rabbis. And now I understand that's a very different point you're making. It has to do more with the sort of becoming anonymous of this tradition. So I'm just going to skip over that part and move onto my next point.
Against the understanding of the Talmud as a work to which one could or should be true, you want to argue that the Talmud is a book that generates itself through its interactions with its readers. To what extent, you ask, are the written texts that we now read merely representations of what were-- at the time they were initially produced-- meant as performance notes to be riffed on. If the latter, then what were the rules of the riffing game? I love this.
So on one level, it seems to me that your paper identifies a set of problems that is common to many different kinds of interpretive performance, as the analogy with musical composition suggests. On the other, it makes an argument that is specific to the Talmud, and to the role that performance plays not only in its transmission, but in its creation and constitution as a book. A constitution that is not something that can be stamped with an end date, as you argue so eloquently, but that is still ongoing every time the Talmud is read and performed.
So first, I'd like to say a few words about what I take to sort of be the broader application of the argument you're making here, and then turn to what I see as the specificity of the Talmud, again, from an entirely naive point of view. So I'll explore the first in relation to a contemporary example, Wikipedia. A book that generates itself through its interactions with its readers might actually serve as a very good description of Wikipedia, whose contributors are at once invited to contribute their riffs, and at the same time compelled to riff according to a number of explicit and implicit rules.
But my point in drawing this analogy is not to claim that Wikipedia is a kind of modern day secular Talmud, nor in particular to suggest that the kind of riffing you identify with Talmudic performance would logically culminate in something like Wikipedia. Instead, I think the analogy helps to draw out that what's at stake in your argument is not simply the distinction between the work-- ideal, atemporal, transcending and exceeding any of its possible iterations-- and performance-- ephemeral, open-ended, susceptible to change and evolution, and so forth. But rather an indictment of something that has recently been getting a lot of attention in the fields of new media studies and digital humanities, namely, the editor function.
Frederick Kaplan, in a recent article on Wikipedia, reveals that 16 of the 20 most active contributors to the English language version of Wikipedia are not human beings, but bots. In fact, when the activity of each contributor is measured by the number of editing actions performed upon the online encyclopedia, the top human contributor only comes in 12th. Wikipedia is not merely a great work of community users who together created a free, open access encyclopedia. It is also the result of the work of hundreds of different algorithms that work every day to format, standardize, oversee, and correct the written content. These bots helped to construct Wikipedia and play a crucial role today in its maintenance and development.
As a result, says Kaplan, they have become a presence, a machinic alterity that the contributors to the online encyclopedia have more or less accepted. Historically, the bots played an important role in the creation and development of Wikipedia. In February 2002, many hundreds of articles from Federal Standard 1037C, which sounds sort of Talmudic in a way. a dictionary of technical terms, were imported and Wiki-fied by an algorithm, furnishing the basis for numerous new pages that the users of Wikipedia could then fill in and elaborate.
During the same period, a number of articles from Easton's Bible Dictionary, a work dating from the end of the 19th century, were incorporated and restructured in the same way to provide initial content for Wikipedia pages that did not yet exist. This importation is responsible for the fact that many Wikipedia pages came to adopt an anachronistic Victorian prose that was gradually assimilated and made to merge with contemporary English. The same bot imported a large number of articles from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, through a copy that was digitized and made available by the Gutenberg Project.
In the early years of Wikipedia, the algorithms were fed primarily by content that was sufficiently old to have passed into the public domain. This content structured the first Wikipedia content, allowing it quickly to attain a kind of critical mass. Once the logic of the template was able to be applied in this manner, bots were used to produce article types. An algorithm named Rambot produced in this manner the template articles for 30,000 different American cities by importing data from census reports, and structuring it in a simple and systematic manner. Sorry? Yeah.
This textual skeleton was then filled in by contributors who enriched it with details of the geography of the local history of each city, experiencing-- without even knowing it-- a composite form of writing involving both human and machine. Today, the bots are responsible for numerous maintenance and repair operations, which are often repetitive and time-consuming. One of the most sophisticated patrol algorithms identifies and repairs acts of vandalism, like the insertion of material that is either offensive, or unrelated to the content of a given page.
Other bots detect possible violations of copyright, establish links between the different language versions of Wikipedia, automatically block pages that are modified too frequently, correct syntax errors, and generally work to automate the rules and norms that allow the online encyclopedia to function smoothly. The ambivalent status of the bots is due to their dual nature. On the one hand, they merely allow for the digital formalization of rules of behavior, and on the other, they are agents applying these rules.
One of the most important controversies involving the presence of bots on Wikipedia was related by Stuart Geiger in 2001. The algorithm HagermanBot merely applied an accepted rule of Wikipedia. It identified all unsigned commentaries, and automatically added the identity of their authors. The impressionistic, like, I'm not sure quite what I'm doing, associations with your argument here. No one contested this rule.
But when it was applied systematically by the algorithm, the action of the bot was perceived by some as rather embarrassing. There were situations in which an author might not want to include his signature, or decide to leave a commentary unsigned. Some argued that the rule of the signatures was merely a guideline, and not a law whose application had to be systematically verified by the sometimes violent policing mechanisms of an algorithm.
In this way, the collectively negotiated rule became an algorithm, and the algorithm became an agent that caused the rule to be applied systematically. A hostile force seemed to menace the utopian edifice that had been collectively constructed. To ask whether the Wikipedia bots are nefarious comes down to asking whether Wikipedia is the archetype of a self-organized collectivity that works, a model to imitate in the future in order to create egalitarian digital societies serving the common good.
Or whether, to the contrary, they prefigured a massive algorithmtization of society, characterized by continuous and self-inflicted surveillance. Unlike the humanoid robot, the bot is terrifying not because it begins to resemble the human being, but to the contrary, because it turns out to be inflexible, blind to context, and whether rightly or wrongly, able to make men submit to the laws they themselves have created.
So what is my purpose in citing this example? It will be a little bit less clear than if I included the first part, which is actually a misunderstanding of your argument. While the construction of a Wikipedia entry might seem to have something in common with the performative and participatory features you stress in Talmud commentary, riffing is precisely what it excludes in its reliance upon the editing bots that come in to homogenize and render anonymous the contributions of different voices. What appears as a collective work in progress, an open-ended and ongoing performance, is actually more formally consistent and unvarying than a dictionary or encyclopedia with a single author or editorial committee.
Not, surprisingly internal Wikipedia surveys have revealed that the bot-produced edits are invariably judged by human readers to be the most authoritative. What the editorial bots eliminate are the linguistic traces of a subject. So I think the point that I'm trying to make here is that what you call performance throughout your paper, is what I might be tempted to call subjective speech, right? The mark of a subject in its singularity, the mark of a human subject, who is susceptible, to error, to variation, to idiosyncrasy, and so forth.
In contrast, Wikipedia produces an impersonal, subject-less language. Amusingly, it often takes the form of an anachronistic Victorian English, as if the bots and their algorithms were working to validate and preserve the original authorship of the first redactors of the Oxford English Dictionary, even in their predilection for a bland and anonymous style. So your friend responded to your Talmud performance in the way that many readers of Wikipedia respond to the contributions of actual human beings-- by being appalled at their irregularities and discontinuities, their lack of a seamless mastery of the subject.
While Wikipedia seems to be about a repudiation of authority in favor of a collective construction of knowledge, the opposite is often the case. In fact, we see something like a return of the big other, right? In the sense of some sort of third agency that would facilitate communication and transmission between parties, or guarantee a meaning or an interpretation. But as this example shows, only an algorithm can occupy that place. What we see is a displacement of the human by a machine that knows a knowledge that is not only not derived from subjective experience, but that explicitly repudiates all experiential insight, all "riffing," in Svi's terms.
While the aim of your paper is largely to indict the limitations of a textual approach to the Talmud, I'm interested in questioning further the human psychology at work here. The psychology that makes possible, and even demands the reduction of subjective performance to anonymous authority. The psychology that underlies the difficulty we have in dealing with the absence of a final authority who could tell us once and for all what to do. If there are only individual performances and not a completed work, then there is no ground, no ultimate authority or source.
So what then appears to me is the specificity of the Talmud with respect to this argument, which seems to me to concern in some ways what is pernicious in editing, right, as opposed to performance. And what performance needs to sort of re-inject into that understanding of the work. At the end of this passage that I read about Wikipedia, there was the line, some argued that the rule of the signatures was merely a guideline, and not a rule whose application had to be systematically verified by the policing mechanisms of an algorithm.
Isn't the distinction between guideline and law something that the Talmud is intimately concerned with? Although I'm no expert, it seems to me that the difference between guideline and law, or between what Svi calls a performative riff and a mere recitation, is absolutely central to the Talmud considered as a practice, and not merely as a work. If there weren't a difference between a guideline and a rule, an interpretation and a prescription, there wouldn't be a Talmud.
Here one need only refer by way of contrast to any number of fundamentalist practices that hold the very act of interpretation to be a kind of heresy with respect to a work conceived as perfect and unchanging. If the yeshiva, the reading group, the community must assume responsibility for the work of interpretation, it's because there is no big other, no ultimate authority who could authorize and guarantee once and for all.
What you're calling performance is also the activity of the human being who doesn't simply declare his fidelity to a text or its prescriptions, but who Judaism calls upon to take responsibility for the work of interpretation, to assume the absence of this authoritative other. Whence the importance, no doubt, of Talmud to legal scholarship. The conception of the Talmud as a unified text doesn't merely turn the text into a static, frozen hole admitting of no further transformation, but also supposes an understanding of authority or of knowledge that the practice of Talmud seems precisely intended to counter.
I think it is this practice that Walter Benjamin draws upon when he opposes the written commandments of the Hebrew Bible, which he understands as ethical guidelines or constraints, to the law understood merely as a rule, as a kind of authority, or as a criterion of judgment. Commenting upon the commandment, thou shalt not kill, Benjamin writes, "Those who base a condemnation of all violent killing of one person by another on the commandment are mistaken. It exists not as a criterion of judgment, but as a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude, and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it. Thus it was understood by Judaism, which expressly rejected the condemnation of killing in self-defense."
The commandment does not prescribe or tell us what to do, but is a guideline or constraint in relation to which we elaborate our own interpretations. In Svi's terms, it is not a rule to be blindly applied, but a rule of the riffing game, a rule that sustains and supports our riffing, rather than policing our actions. The Jewish law is not an algorithm. Isn't this the point of Talmud?
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Thank you. Thank you very much, Tracy. That's-- you've touched on a lot of very important things. I mean, especially the Wikipedia. And we have to ask ourselves about the internet in general, and its construction, how it relates to the way that the Talmud was composed and formed. I always wondered who is controlling this Wikipedia, and I didn't know about these bots.
And the question it raises for me is, who are these bots in relation to the Talmud? Is it only Hebrew University? Or is it something that extends past, in times past beyond that? Is the Bach a bot? Is the Rashash a bot?
TRACY MCNULTY: [INAUDIBLE]
ZVI SEPTIMUS: What?
TRACY MCNULTY: [INAUDIBLE]
ZVI SEPTIMUS: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. And this comes at this question, going back to [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which we find on every page of Rashi, but we also find in every page of the Talmud. And which, this is the thing that, we've got a problem with this text? No, this is how we read it. The word [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is a very interesting word, because it means read, it means recite, it means edit, it means chew, ruminate, it's digestive term.
But it doesn't mean either of these seven things I just said. It means all of them. Because it's a conception of the process of what happens when you say something, I hear it, and then I repeat it. The fact that we know that it's not the same, the fact that we know that this is the transmission process, and we have no problem with the fact that things become digested as they move on.
So the question is, are the people making these changes to the text looking to control it? Or are they participating in the process, knowing that someone else is going de-control it? And the question is, is the bots of the Wikipedia-- would Wikipedia be used if it wasn't for people constantly fighting these bots? Would people shut off the Wikipedia then? Is the war necessary between those locking up and those opening up? Even at the same time that it is the bots that control the rules of the game.
And that's why I'm most interested, most of my talk was about source criticism, but the truth is that's really not what I'm interested in. I'm really interested in what happens after words. Really interested in the types of things we look at when we compare manuscripts of the Talmud, and try to figure out which one we're putting in our article. Oftentimes, I see I am using the best version of this text.
And the best version of this text, oddly enough, is always the one that has those literary features that you want to make in your argument. Or, it's the one that the Hebrew Language Institute decided was the best version of the text, and inside source told me that there was a random selection that has now been codified. We use the Hamburg Manuscript for this, we use the Vatican Manuscript like that, because some lazy guy decided to do that, and put it on the website.
So what I always tried to look at, when I'm looking at text, is each one its own performance, and each one has its own things that it's doing. Not that these things were necessarily intentional, not they were doing by one thing, but this is an artifact of a performance that does things. And we should start leveling out, and look at all these versions of the Talmud, and talking about what it is that they're doing. Instead of finding the one that might have been the one. Because there really isn't that, in my conception of what the Talmud is.
Another thing that you touched on, that I think is important-- because a number of us have touched on this-- is what was the purpose of the Talmud? And I don't think that the purpose of the Talmud was either to have authority, or to make law. That's something that was imposed on it after the fact. But you've highlighted a very good question about anonymity versus signatures, and whether there's some people trying to oppose. Because it goes back to Moulie's talk. When the people are trying to impose the name on anonymous, and that's some kind of control by some kind of bot figure, that's very, very interesting. I'd have to think about that.
TRACY MCNULTY: Yeah, because I really like that interplay between authorship and anonymity in your talk as well. I mean, it was very much in play. You know, the idea that the sort of signatory falls out, in a sense, when the comments are taken up by a tradition, become authoritative, right. So that the becoming anonymous is the sign of the interpretation having been accepted, or received, something like that. Whereas, I think the effect of calling out the author that happens on Wikipedia functions in a way to delegitimate what has been said.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Like Rabbi Mayer.
TRACY MCNULTY: It's sort of contamination, right.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Like his example with Rabbi Mayer. That, oh, no, no, no. That wasn't anonymous. That was Rabbi Mayer, and therefore we don't have to listen to him.
TRACY MCNULTY: Right, exactly. Yeah.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Very good.
AUDIENCE: So for those of us who have been through it, or have witnessed that the performance is indelibly tied up in, I don't know, 19th century European, East European practice of how Talmud is studied, leavened by, maybe, films that we've seen of Sephardic approaches to it. Do we have the equivalent of Arab travelers in foreign lands, who will tell us how the Talmud was performed in medieval times? How it was--
ZVI SEPTIMUS: I don't even know if we have, in Ashkenazi lands. I know that we have people saying how one should perform the Talmud. But I don't know if we ever have descriptions. You know, we have what's his name, [? Nas ?] [? Nababvli. ?] Like, someone came, and sort of like, they had chairs.
AUDIENCE: Yaakov Deutsch would be a person to ask that question from. Because he's writing about early modern Christian ethnography of Jewish communities. [INAUDIBLE]. I don't think he does.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: We have some?
AUDIENCE: We have some that he-- I'm not saying that one should trust them. But we have the famous tradition about how it was that the Tosiphists managed to cross reference the Talmud, which means that--
ZVI SEPTIMUS: That one person was an expert in each tractate.
AUDIENCE: 60, right, there were 60 students of was it, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] And they each-- I may be wrong about whose students they were-- but if this is an Ashkenazi tradition, and each one memorized a different tractate, and they sat together, and that's how they cross-referenced. I don't think this is true, this is an ideological tale.
But the other thing that we do have is, Capsali has, Eliyahu Capsali in Seder Eliyahu Zuta has a very clear description about how in 15th century Italy, in the Ashkenazi yeshiva of [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] of Cologne, we know how they studied. We know that they first did study with the books closed, and then they looked, then-- it's a very clear curriculum, description of what happens in the classroom.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: Yeah. I have to say that I don't buy the Tosiphist description, I've heard it. Right, because it doesn't make sense-- it doesn't make sense to me, because I've met people, and we've all met David Weiss Halivni, who don't need that. But what it does do is it reinstantiates this notion of the team. That even in the context of the teacher, the production-- and that's one of the things I mentioned briefly-- was who's to say that the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is not the result of the environment That after we went through this whole back and forth.
And one of the things that my friend pointed out, that I didn't mention in the talk, was she was very surprised at the utter lack of authority that I had, sitting in front of the class, as the professor. That these students are, didn't seem to-- didn't make any impression on them.
AUDIENCE: They kept interrupting.
ZVI SEPTIMUS: They kept interrupting, kept on telling me I was an idiot. And this was very surprising to her. And you know, the fact that the Talmud itself encourages this type of interaction has made it that through generations people have allowed this. And we look at the classroom, and we look at you know, this thing. Yeah, why do we have 60 people in the story? We have it because they're all part of the production, the audience is part of the production. Yes, James.
AUDIENCE: I was going to apologize for interrupting so quickly, but I won't. And I'm going to ask you another question about specifics. But what I wanted to point out was another analogy to your Wikipedia analogy, which is that I am currently involved, right now, in copy editing contributions by six Talmudists in this room about the Talmud.
AUDIENCE: It's a bot.
It's a good bot.
AUDIENCE: It's very interesting. It's a very interesting process to think through in relationship to your conversation, precisely because as I go through each of these contributions, I have a style guide. And there are certain things in that style guide which need, in principle, to find their way into the submission so that the volume looks harmonious. And people are using a different transliteration systems, and different spellings of common words, and things like that.
On the other hand, knowing the contributors, knowing the field, being aware of their priorities, I frequently have to disregard even very basic things in the style guide. So one contributor who shall go nameless would like to see everything in Ashkenazi spelling, so I preserve that.
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Zvi Septimus of Harvard Law School spoke at "Talmud: Process and Performance," May 18, 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.