Gershon Hepner

Why Talmud Rabbis Told Stories

Like Virginia Woolf, by seeing the aesthetic rather than the didactic

as a method both to engage with and explain reality,

talmudic rabbis chose to tell aggadic stories as a tactic

to explain aesthetically legality and illegality,

attempting often with success to bridge what seems to be a gulf

that’s larger than the one between Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Discussing  Winifred Holtby’s book on Virginia Woolf in “As Not afraid of Virginia Woolf: Re-reading the critical memoir of a fellow novelist,”  Rohan Maitzen of Dalhousie University  writes in the TLS, 4/8/22:

Holtby quotes with wry amusement Woolf’s comment in an early essay that “every second Englishman reads French”: “that particular hyperbole was only possible to a woman brought up as Leslie Stephen’s daughter had been brought up”. Yet Holtby vigorously counters the still too commonplace view of Woolf as a loftily detached aesthete: “her own sense of reality and of the importance of human beings kept her feet firmly on the ground”, counteracting “the temptation to be rarefied”. She understood that Woolf saw art as “an extension of reality” and welcomed both “innovations in technique and innovations in social custom”. Because Woolf chose “the aesthetic method” rather than the didactic, however, her engagement with history and politics is at once omnipresent and subterranean – thus, for instance, although the First World War is present in everything Woolf wrote after 1919, “we are allowed to see its effects, not its actions”.

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