The following article is an overview of David Halivni's lifelong work on the Talmud. This is the English translation of an article originally written in French and published in Cahiers du Judaïsme 26 (2009), 98--109 and also available on this blog.
More than three decades ago, David Halivni made the fundamental hypothesis that the Talmud as we know it is the works of generations of anonymous sages, the Stammaim, who lived after the Amoraim, the last sages whose name appear in the discussions in the Talmud. According to David Halivni, only the legal conclusion was officially transmitted by the earlier generations of sages (Tannaim and Amoraim), the dialectical material (shaqle ve-taria) being only individually recorded in the memory of the sages attending the legal deliberations.
I review this thesis from its inception (the problem of doh'aq in the Talmud) through some of its textual manifestations in the Talmud and the rabbinic litterature, up to its contemporary consequences, both historical and philosophical. The article also includes a discussion of the idea of a Jewish resistance to history (in the sense of Hegel) which accounts for the extended ahistoricity of traditional Jewish learning. David Halivni's works call for another kind of learning, both historical and fallible. In particular, I argue that at the root between pshat and derash, the historical noncoincidence between the legal conclusions and the explicit reconstruction of the arguments of the deliberations is a key structure of Oral Law.