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June 12, 2017 2:28 pm

New York Times Trashes the Talmud — and the Truth

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Leave it to the New York Times to find a way, as an aside in a profile of Israeli author, teacher, and philosopher Micah Goodman, to trash the Talmud.

The Times writes:

In “Catch 67,” he gives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a kind of Talmudic treatment, where everything and its opposite are true.

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It is true that the Talmud frequently records a variety of different opinions on a topic, and that it, like Judaism overall, is not without its paradoxes and internal tensions. But to say, as the Times does, that in the Talmud “everything and its opposite is true” is a groundless slur. It’s inaccurate. It’s an attempt by the Times to impose, retroactively and anachronistically, its own postmodern or deconstructionist, relativist, nihilist worldview on a Jewish text. The Talmud is full of laws and boundaries, many of which are emphatically posed. In some cases it will record that a rabbinic dispute is unresolved, but in many other cases it will record that the law is according to one opinion. In some cases it will go so far as to describe a severe punishment, like excommunication, for those following a different practice.

What, really, is a world in which “everything and its opposite are true”? Not the world of the Talmud, but the world of the New York Times. This is an example of what might be called “projection” — the Times accusing someone else, in this case the Talmud, of something that the newspaper is itself guilty of. One need look no further than the Micah Goodman profile itself for an example of this nonsense from the Times.

The Times asserts in the Micah Goodman profile: “Palestinians are close to outnumbering Jewish Israelis between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Yet a different article in the Times, as yet uncorrected, falsely asserted earlier this month:

But official Israeli and Palestinian population statistics indicate that Jews have been a minority in the territory Israel controls for several years now, and with no repercussions: A majority of the world’s nations still speak of undemocratic rule by a Jewish minority as a hypothetical future, not an unacceptable present.

The Times manages to claim both that “Palestinians are close to outnumbering Jewish Israelis” and that “Jews have been a minority in the territory Israel controls for several years now… A majority of the world’s nations still speak of undemocratic rule by a Jewish minority as a hypothetical future, not an unacceptable present.” That — not the Talmud — is an example of claiming that “everything and its opposite are true.”

In fact, without Gaza — which Israel withdrew from in 2005 — Jews far outnumber Palestinian Arabs in Israel, even if one includes the West Bank territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. And with the Arab and Jewish birth rates now roughly even, there’s no reason to believe that the situation will change anytime soon. That’s leaving aside the possibility of increased immigration to Israel by Jews from Europe or North America, which is certainly a real possibility, though one not contemplated by the Times in either one of these stories.

My point here is not to take a position on whether Israel should or shouldn’t withdraw, wholly or partially, from any of the territory it took in the Six-Day War. There may be reasons for withdrawal or for retaining the territories wholly apart from the demographic trends. My point is simply to call attention to the Times‘ own dramatic inconsistency and inaccuracy in describing the demographic reality, and to assert that it is in the Times itself, not in the Talmud, where, as the Times puts it, “everything and its opposite are true.”

The Times has a history of disdain for the Talmud of which this is just the latest example. Last year it had to run a correction when it got the number of pages in the Talmud wrong. And the newspaper refused to cover the news that the online Jewish text library Sefaria had published the William Davidson Talmud, a free digital version of the Talmud with English and Modern Hebrew translations.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

 

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