R. Simeon Ben Eleazar and the Offended Man

The Ugliness of the Haughty Scholar

in European Judaism

The spiritual world of the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud contained two intrinsically opposing elements, that were forced to coexist in the Talmudic corpus, in a tense relationship not without outright clashes. The law, that is a very 'male' creation, is by its very nature conformist, and tends to create a uniform and unyielding, hierarchical, and institutionalized structure. On the other hand, the 'feminine' aggadah (the nonlegal portions of the Talmud and midrashim) characteristically lacks a rigid and obligatory core. While the aggadah might seem like mere window dressing for the profound halakhic discussions in the Talmud, it strikes home when it presents the weaknesses of the establishment and the entire inflexible legal orientation.