What Do the Talmud and the Internet Have in Common? More, and Less, Than One Might Think

The sprawling nature of the Talmud, where discussion of one topic leads seamlessly to another, sometimes with only the loosest of connections, has invited comparison with the Internet, where a reader can follow one link after another to roam farther and farther afield from the subject with which he or she began. But the comparison only goes so far, writes Gil Student:

While there is some truth to this abstract comparison, [the differences] deserve our attention as well. [The Talmud] begins with page 2a of Tractate Brakhot and continues for 2,711 pages until it concludes with Nidah 73a. Of course, you can start anywhere in the middle, particularly at the beginning of any of the 37 tractates. But it has a discrete beginning and end. . . . By contrast, the Internet has no entrance or exit. Every article contains links to many others. Every person has his own beginning and only stops when other concerns beckon.

[In studying the Talmud], we study the text, perhaps with additional tools when available, but always remaining on, or at least returning to, the page. The Internet, [by contrast], has no anchor, sending you across the globe with endless links.

Finally, notes Student, while the Internet encourages social isolation, the Talmud is customarily studied communally—with a study partner, or in a class, or even individually in the public space of the synagogue or study hall.

Read more at Jewish Action

More about: Internet, Talmud

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood