Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ground rules for a #midrashchat

I'm going to be blunt and unkind: Most people I know, both here on the blogs and in real life, are in the grips of false and indefensible ideas about midrashim. People on the right are too eager to accept everything literally, while people on the left have the maddening habit of waving everything away as a "metaphor"* Meanwhile, neither group attempts to consider what the author of the midrash has in mind or is attempting to do. When you have a #midrashchat with either group the end result is anger, frustration and then you get accused of either (a) being a heretic or (b) demeaning the Rabbis

*Also frustrating is the serial misuse of the word metaphor. Lefties who label every midrash a "metaphor" almost always have in mind an "allegory" not a "metaphor"

So in the interest of my own piece of mind, I am establishing the following ground rules for a #midrashchat

KEY RULE #1:  A #midrashchat must be about the midrash qua the midrash itself. As a result, we will avoid people who:
  • Think every word of every midrash is capital T true in a literal historical sense. These people are not interested in discovering what the midrash is actually saying. They are interested in announcing facts about the world. 
  • Think its cool to present the midrash's hidden or "real" meaning when they haven't bothered to consult the original source material. As with the first group, these people are not interested in dealing with the midrash itself. They are interested in spreading a message, and they are using the midrash as its vehicle. 
KEY RULE #2: A #midrashchat is best enjoyed with people who have been nominally educated. As a result we will avoid people who: 
  • Are not aware that many of our most cherished midrashim are first found in some form or another in the Pseudepigrapha
  • Are not aware that midrashim often contradict other midrashim
  • Are not aware that some midrashim actually do contain literal or historical truths
  • Are not aware that Chazal composed midrashim and,  at times, modified the midrashim they inherited. 
KEY RULE #3: To participate in a #midrashchat you need to be able to think historically. This means:
  • You must be able distinguish the facts of a midrash from the views of its author. For example, you need to be able to wrap your head around the possibility the Rabbi XYZ firmly believed that [whatever] happened even if you and I and other residents of the 21st century are positive that [whatever] could not have happened.
  • You must recognize that ancient standards of proof were much lower than modern standards of proof, in part because our epistemology is different,(we've become more skeptical.) As a result, our ideas of what constitutes science and history are very different from theirs.
  • You must be ok with the possibility that Chazal believed things you and I and other residents of the 21st century  find fanciful or barbaric, and you must be able to recognize that saying this is not a criticism of Chazal. 
Without a promise, I am hereby promising not to get sucked into any more #midrashchats that would violate any of these rules.

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