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Post-Scriptum Riff

While keeping What Precisely under wraps,
but using very liberally If,
and on both But and even more Perhaps,
I hardly can resist a chance to riff
on texts of others, flouting my reliance
on others’ words which I play and spin,
and roll with in a post-scriptum alliance
promoted by my verbal rolling pin.

I think my verses mostly are less classy
than are editions of the talmud shortened
in Fez by a great Rif, Rabbi Alfasi,
who thought its fables with strange morals oughtn’t
be recollected in this legal book,
and therefore radically omitted them,
and in the cutting process thus forsook
aggadata, rabbinic fabled gem,
attempting to make talmud readers focus
on law, ignoring all poetic riffs
of stories as rabbinic hocus pocus,
unholy Aramaic hieroglyphs.

Martin Lockshin, in a review of  Stories for the Sake of Argument by Robbie Gringras and Abi Dauber   (“What is the value of arguing? Can the authors’ scenarios help navigate divisive, confusing hot topics?” Jerusalem Post, 7/16/2022) writes:

As even beginner students know, arguing is central to the Babylonian Talmud. It’s rare to find a page without a disagreement between the rabbis. Often the rabbis conduct their disputes respectfully, but sometimes disturbing insults fly. In a few places in the Talmud, one rabbi expresses an opinion and another retorts, “It seems to me that he has no brain inside his skull” (Yevamot 9a, for instance).

Back in the 11th century, Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (aka “Rif”) composed an abridged version of the Talmud that, among other innovations, removed all references to disagreements. This kinder and gentler Talmud had a short heyday as a popular text for Jewish study. But scholarly Jewish communities throughout the world generally stuck to the quarrelsome Talmud. Rif’s magnum opus turned, presumably against the author’s intent, into a text that simply provided one possible interpretation of the Talmud, to be contrasted with other interpretations, thus continuing the hallowed tradition of arguing.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.

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