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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

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Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

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Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

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John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

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Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

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Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

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April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

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The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 11, 2006 / 13 Nissan, 5766

Plato and the unwritten Haggada

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Plato walks with disciple
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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | With Jews the world over soon gathering around the Seder table to read the Haggada, the story of the exodus of Egypt, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the art of reading.


Plato in his Phaedrus (275a-278a) and in the "Seventh Letter" (344c) questioned, and in fact attacked, the written word as completely inadequate. This may explain why philosophers have written such few words about the idea of "writing" although they have extensively made use of it!


It is well known that Plato himself used to write in the form of dialogues. Moreover, it becomes clear for anybody reading these "conversations" that his main purpose in doing so was the fact that he wanted to hide the characteristic of these "texts" (although it is well known that he worked for years polishing the literary form of these dialogues — Cicero maintains that Plato, being eighty-one years old, actually died at his writing table. "Plato scribens mortuus est". (1))


What was Plato's problem? Plato believed that a written word will eventually fall prey to evil and incompetent readers who can do anything they want with the text without the author being able to defend or explain himself. He was afraid that the text would live its own life, independent of the author as this characteristic of the written word. Even more interesting is his observation that a written text actually becomes a pharmakon — a poison that can heal or kill, depending on how it is used. According to Plato, a text may be used as a prompt but will ultimately lead to memory loss since it will make the brain idle. Years later Immanuel Kant wrote in similar terms when he said that the "script" brought havoc on the "body of memory". (2)


This however, at least according to Plato, means far more than just losing the information or the lack of memorizing. Real knowledge was for him a matter of "intrinsic understanding"; a total "presence' of one self with what one reads or says. Only that with which one totally identifies and which has become united with oneself really makes "knowledge" possible. That which one has only read or learned by heart is not really "acknowledged". Knowledge is only that which is "in-scribed" in one's whole personality.


Without being aware of this, Plato touched on a most fundamental aspect of the Jewish Tradition. Although Jews are called the 'People of the Book', they are not. They are the people of the ear. The Torah is not to be read but to be heard. Neither was it written in the conventional sense of the word. It was the Divine word spoken at Sinai, which had to be heard and which afterwards, out of pure necessity, "unfortunately" became frozen in a text but with the sole intention to be immediately "defrosted" through the art of hearing, which became the great foundation of the Jewish Oral Tradition.


When one reads, one uses one's eyes and as such the act stays external. It does not become "inscribed" into the very soul of the reader. Rabbi Yaacov Leiner, the author of "Beis Yaacov" and son of the famous Ishbitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, and one of the keenest minds in the Chassidic tradition, speaks about "seeing" and makes the valuable observation that sight discloses the external aspect of objects while hearing reveals their inwardness. (3) One must hear a text, not read it. This is the reason that the body of Torah (Bible) exists of a minimum of words and a maximum amount of oral interpretation.


Still, does the open-endlessness of the Torah not give the opportunity for anybody to read his own thoughts into this text and violate its very spirit? The Jewish Tradition responded to this with great profundity. It created an ongoing Oral Tradition, in which unwritten rules of interpretation were handed down, securing the inner meaning of the text and at the same time allowing the student to use all his/her creative imagination.


Even after the Oral Torah was written down in the form of the Talmud, it stayed as such unwritten (as any Talmud student can testify). No other text is so succinct and "understaffed" with written words and simultaneously so interpretative explosive. The fact that the art of reading the Talmud can only be learned through a teacher — student relationship and not through the written word proves this point.


Only when the student "hears' his master's oral interpretation of the text, he is able to "read" it, because the teacher will not only give him interpretations but also convey the inner vibrations which were once heard at the revelation at mount Sinai. It is this inner knowledge that the teacher himself received from his teachers, taking him all the way back to this supreme moment at Sinai. In that way the student can undo himself of a mechanical approach to the text. He will hear new voices in the old text without deviating from its inner meaning. It will give him the courage to think on his own and he will free himself from prejudice. As such, the text is not read but heard.


Jewish law states that even when one is on one's own on the Seder night one must still pronounce the text of the Haggada and not just read it. One must hear oneself. One must also explain the text to oneself in a verbal way. There is a need to be in a dialogue with oneself so as to understand and also to feel what happened thousands of years ago.


Plato touched on this matter without fully realizing why his own teachings never came close to the full treatment that they perhaps deserve. They are too much read and too little heard. At the same time this may be the difference between a human word and a Divine word. The Divine holds dimension for which words have no spiritual space. Human words are too much grounded in the text. The Divine word is beyond these textual limitations and henceforth can only find their way through the act of listening, as it is this faculty that is able to hear the perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.


When Jews on the Seder night read the text, they should be aware that the text only provides the opening words. The real Haggada does not have a text. It is not to be read but to be heard. And just like the Torah itself, we have not even started to understand its full meaning. We are just perpetual beginners.


(1) Cicero, About Old Age, 13

(2) Imanuel Kant, Antropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, Suhrkamp, STW 193, Frankfurt an Main, p 489-490

(3) Rabbi Yaacov Leiner, Beis Yaacov: Rosh Chodesh Av

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JWR contributor Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.


© 2006, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo