Systematic Thinking

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  • Judaism and Jewish Studies


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The type of thinking in which diverse ideas and concepts are brought together to form a coherent whole. It is obvious to even the most casual reader that biblical thought is not of this order. The Hebrew prophets, for example, urge their people, in the name of God, to practise justice and show compassion but Socratic analysis of the concepts of justice and compassion are completely foreign to the biblical way of thinking in which it is taken for granted that these and similar values are good without having to use any abstract term such as ‘values’ for them to be substantiated. Even in the book of Proverbs, which does form a unit and was intended as such, there is no attempt at systematization. The proverbs are precisely that, a series of dynamic responses to various situations and, since human life is full of variety, hope, and frustration, it is pointless to attempt to find consistency in the book. Contradictory advice is offered in Proverbs because what is called for in one situation is unhelpful in a different situation. The book of Job is a tremendous poem on the sufferings of a righteous man but one will look in vain there for an examination of why evil and suffering should exist at all.

It was under the influence of Greek philosophy, which came to them in Arabic garb, that the medieval thinkers tried to present their thoughts systematically and, since a good deal of their thinking had to do with the teachings of the Bible and the Talmud, they were bound to cast the ideas found in these works into a form essentially alien to their nature. The very systematization of biblical and Rabbinic thought, even when that thought was conveyed accurately (this was not always the case), was a distortion. Nevertheless, once Jewish thinkers had become accustomed to systematic thinking, there could be no turning back. This kind of thinking had become endemic to the Jewish mind as it had to the human mind in general.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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