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Keen argumentation, sharp-witted discussion, especially of Talmudic and Halakhic themes, probably from the word pilpel, ‘pepper’, hence a peppery argument. In Ethics of the Fathers (6. 6) the pilpul of disciples is mentioned as one of the ways in which learning is advanced. Generally speaking, the method of keen dialectics represented by pilpul is highly prized. A distinction must, however, be drawn between pilpul with the aim of arriving at the truth (by a close examination of the various moves in an argument) and pilpul for its own sake as a kind of game in which far-fetched analogies are produced by a scholar with the aim of demonstrating his skill in debate. The latter form, prevalent in the Middle Ages, met with strong opposition on the part of some teachers, although others encouraged it as a means of sharpening the mind. The term pilpul is often used, nowadays, to denote hairsplitting.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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