TEIKU: A Meeting of Equals
In modern Israeli usage the term תיקו teiku refers to a tie in a sporting match. The word’s Talmudic ancestor refers to an unresolved interpretive dispute between sages. A popular etymology for the term suggests that teiku is an acronym for “תשבי יתרץ קושיות ובעיות” – “Tishbi (i.e. Elijah the Tishbite) will answer challenges and problems.” But this folk etymology is, while imaginative, incorrect. The word is actually derived from the Aramaic teikum תקום, meaning “it (the question) stands.”(1)
Properly understanding the notion of teiku and calmly demythologizing it might offer necessary Talmudic guidance to make societal shifts toward neighbors seeing (perhaps even caring) about each other once again. True, the dysfunctional dynamics of current political discourse, in Israel and the United States, long in the making and hardened into collective conscience (2), are a cord that “will not be easily broken,” (3) but the lessons of teiku can offer real hope here. It doesn’t have to be like this, a winner-take-all war where one side must vanquish their ideological foes. Teiku teaches that it is ok for things to stand. A tie is not a loss; it is a meeting of equals.
(1) See Teyku: The Unresolved Problem in the Babylonian Talmud, Louis Jacobs (Leo Baeck College, 1981) and Elijah: Accuser and Defender, Clark Hyman, Frieda. Judaism; New York Vol. 39, Iss. 3, (Summer 1990): 282.
(2) See Alan I. Abromowitz’s The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump (Yale University Press, 2019) and Drew Desilver’s “The polarization in today’s Congress has roots that go back decades,” Pew Center, March 10, 2022
(3) Ecc. 4:12