What to say when you don't have a good answer: Rabbi Hoshaya and the philosopher

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In this article, the author proposes a new reading of a well-known text of Be-re'šit Rabba, which reports a debate between Amora Rabbi Hoshaya (220-250) and a philosopher about circumcision. The question of the philosopher is this: why was circumcision not given to Adam? The author's argument emphasizes the following points: 1. Rabbi Hoshaya has no really convincing answer to the philosopher's question; 2. He is therefore led to ask another question; 3. This second question, like the answer given by the philosopher, refers to elements of the philosophical culture of the time; 4. The philosopher's answer may even contain a quotation from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; 5. The rabbi's question is not intended to pave the way for an answer to the first question asked. It is formulated solely to arouse the embarrassment of the philosopher; 6. Rabbi Hoshaya also knew very well how the philosopher would answer his question, which enabled him to control the conversation; 7. The rabbi's final answer, unsatisfactory in itself, finally appears to be good in contrast to the philosopher's embarrassment and failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-296
Number of pages16
JournalRevue des Études Juives
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 2018

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