The Babylonian Talmud is a work beyond completion,
which may help to explain, perhaps, why God invented not just Tosafot,
but Aharonim, who weren’t born in time to be called Rishon,
great rabbis who attempted to unravel the Gemara’s Gordian knot.
Franz Kafka tried unraveling this knot in human beings’ trials, but he never managed,
because, it seems, each time that he came close to a solution it completely vanished,
as curiously would have happened also to his writings had they not be saved by his good friend in Prague, Franz Brod,
preserved as Moses preserved Israelites, his prayers preventing threats of their destruction that had been pronounced on them by God.
Inspired by the Babylonian Talmud and its interpreters, and Franz Kafka (see “Franz Kafka, Party Animal: We think of him as a recluse, but an unfiltered translation of his diaries reveals an artist who was often antic, alive, and in motion,” by Becca Rothfeld, The New Yorker, January 9, 2023):
Literature usually reaches us in its finished form, when it has already ossified into irrevocability. By the time a book is bound and printed, it is easy to forget that the words were once in motion. Franz Kafka’s fitful fiction provides a reminder. Most of his work was published posthumously, through the efforts of his best friend, Max Brod, and much of it still bears the marks of its author’s uncertainty. Kafka finished none of the three novels he started, and his final attempt, “The Castle,” leaves off abruptly midsentence.
Not only are Kafka’s fictions incomplete; many of them also contain meditations on the impossibility of completion. A messenger in one of his stories travels through one antechamber after another without ever reaching the person to whom his message is addressed. A lawyer in Kafka’s second novel, “The Trial,” drafts and redrafts a petition that is “never finished,” and a character in “The Castle” wonders, as he clambers toward the fortress of the title, “Could this path be endless?” If Kafka’s works are as endless as the path to the Castle, it is because they teem with potent indeterminacies. In these “fairy tales for dialecticians,” as Walter Benjamin once called them, rules are enforced, then revoked; principles are established, then contravened. The behavior of a bureaucrat from the Castle can “mean that the official procedure has begun, but it can also mean that the official procedure has not yet even begun.” Defendants in “The Trial” spend hours mired in Talmudic debates about the conduct of court officials, all without coming to any consensus about what it signifies. They know they live in a world of omens, but they cannot begin to fathom what the omens mean. Before they are found guilty, much less sentenced, they are already condemned to a hell of eternal interpretation….
Although he occasionally worked in bursts, almost every word he set down in these diaries was once contested, and his twelve private notebooks (along with four sets of notes from his travels) are indices of elaborate indecision. Drafts are attempted, then aborted; passages are reiterated and ruthlessly reworked.
Rishonim were the leading rabbis and poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך, “Set Table”, a common printed code of Jewish law, 1563 CE) and following the Geonim (589-1038 CE). Rabbinic scholars subsequent to the Shulchan Aruch are generally known as acharonim (“the latter ones”).