Old Series: Volume 2, Number 3 (November 1993)

Copyright (c) 1993 Postmodern Jewish Philosophy
Bitnetwork. All rights reserved.

Office of Jewish Studies, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940
Peter Ochs, Editor
Paula Massa, System Manager
Bitnet Address: POCHS@DREW. DREW. EDU; Telephone: (201)

Dear Bitnetwork Members,
Yes, it’s been unsatifysingly long since our last issue.
Meanwhile, several new members have joined us (we’re now over
seventy) and a pile of material from and for you has piled up.
Nonetheless, it may still be over a month before this editor
returns from sabbatical enough to issue another full issue to you.
Instead, and for now, here are announcements about postmodern
Jewish philosophic events at the next annual meeting of the
American Academy of Religion. As you may know, the meeting takes
place at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, Washington, D.C., this
week: November 20-23, 1993. Aspects of ALL seven of the Study of
Judaism sessions will be of interest to Bitnetwork members; some
sessions by BITNETWORK members will be explicitly on the subject of
postmodern Jewish philosophy:
*A39: Jewish Memory (Shabbat 3:45-6:15pm): including
postmodern Jewish philosophic studies by O. Stier, R. Gibbs
and B. Zelechow.
*A66: Jewish or Christian Approaches to Textuality,
Interpretation and Suffering (Sunday 9-11:30 am): including
postmodern Jewish philosophic studies by R. Cohen and P. Ochs.
* A93: aspects of The Holocaust in Historical Context (Sunday
1-:3:30 pm)
* aspects of A120: Loss and Absence in the Jewish Tradition
(Sunday 3:45-5:45pm)
* A168 Language and God (Monday 1:00-3:30pm): including
pertinent hermeneutical reflections by E. Wolfson and Y. Greenberg.
* aspects of A193: Their Powers Revealed: Women in Recent
Jewish History
* aspects of A216: Feminist Methodology and Lived Experience

Finally, the BITNETWORK will hold its third annual meeting at
the AAR:
9:30-11pm Sunday in OS-Council
The discussion topic will be:
“The Semiotics of Money: Reflections on B. Talmud
Perek Hazahav” by Robert Gibbs and Peter Ochs.
Following the discussion, we’ll hold a business meeting to
discuss new projects in the Bitnetwork.
As for the discussion itself, we hope you’ll have time to take
a look at BT Baba Metsia 44b before you come and, if possible, read
through the work-in-progress that is appended to this newsletter.
If the assembled group has time to read the paper, we’ll be able
to get more quickly to the discussion on what Talmud study may (or
may not) have to do with postmodern Jewish philosophy!

We look forward to seeing you at the AAR. And we look forward
to hearing from you by BITNET or INTERNET: please continue to send
in material, letters and comments. They’ll appear soon in the next

Gold and Silver: Philosophical Talmud
Robert Gibbs and Peter Ochs
AAR Presentation for 21 November 1993
For some postmodern philosophers, there are only two
hermeneutic options. One is a strictly foundationalist hermeneutic
that reduces phenomena to their a priori forms as defined by some
unity of apperception or other. The other alternative is a
strictly suspicious hermeneutic that despairs of offering any
general guidelines for domesticating the disclosures of experience.
We believe that a specifically Jewish postmodern inquiry offers a
third option: studying how the elemental texts of a given community
of interpreters implicate that community in certain modes of
conduct: that is, how the texts command. We understand one of the
main tasks of Jewish postmodern philosophic inquiry to be
diagramming and evaluating how and what the texts command. To
diagram is to construct a performative logic of the way in which
the texts command some readers or community of readers to act. A
performative logic means some kind of pragmatics, which means some
kind of semiotics: that is, a model of how the texts, as commanding
symbols, refer some interpreting community to some form of conduct.
To evaluate such symbols is to examine what their consequences
would be for given communities of interpreters.
One of the elemental texts of contemporary communities of
rabbinic Jews remains the Talmud. Our task here is to illustrate
postmodern Jewish philosophic inquiry by diagramming and evaluating
how one Talmudic text might command a community of postmodern
rabbinic Jews to act. Applied to the practices of such a Jewish
community, a postmodern semiotic becomes a specifically Jewish
postmodern semiotic, which means it exhibits certain features that
might not always be evident in other forms of postmodern study.
These features are best displayed only in the performance, but
we’ll offer a few remarks now about what you might anticipate. For
starters, the semiotic is performative, which means it does
something. One thing it does is to stimulate dialogue : if the
Talmud classically commands a dialogic way of studying it (the
chevruta), it also commands a dialogic way of diagramming its
semiotic. To prove the point, here you have the two of us
presenting this report. Of course, not only this report, but also
our study has been dialogic: the text becomes diagrammed through
the way it stimulates us to argue about what it is arguing. As you
will see, we have been stimulated to engage in several
distinguishable levels of argumentation. The first one classifies
the kinds of argument that are presented in the text and
redescribes those arguments as ways of classifying the issues under
consideration. Our second level of argumentation identifies what
the Talmud arguments are about, or their domains of reference, and
redescribes this arguments as claims about certain aspects of the
world. Our third level identifies the different rules of inference
with respect to which the Talmud makes these claims and redescribes
the Talmudic arguments as performative demonstrations of these
rules. Our fourth level redescribes these different rules as
prototypes of three different forms of contemporary postmodern
inquiry: syntactics, semantics and pragmatics.
As you will have noted, our approach does not fall into any of
the categories of traditional Talmudic scholarship. While we do
not believe the text can be separated from practical concerns, we
do not study in the manner of traditional poskim (legal decisors)
nor in the manner of the contemporary yeshivot. While our study of
the text’s semiotics is and would be enriched by phililogical and
historical-critical research, our’s is not an historical or
literary-critical study. We do have several precedents in recent
publications called philosophical: such as Jacob Neusner’s, Louis
Jacobs’, and Emanuel Levinas’. Levinas’ talmudic studies are,
however, limited by his audience, since he delivers the reading
popularly and does not engage in an halakhic analysis, nor one that
explores logical complexity in the text. Jacobs is closer to that
sort of rigor, but his interpretations do not attend to several of
the metaphysical and ethical dimensions in the text. Finally, while
Neusner explores several dimensions of logical complexity in the
texts, he may not reflect self-consciously on the philosophic
concerns he has applied to the text and then objectified in his
reading of it. Such an approach may delimit multiple possibilities
of textual meaning.
Among the philosophic topics to which our interest is drawn,
the first topic is the logic of disagreement. Our concern is with
credible multiple views on a given issue or principle. The goal is
not simply to find out which one is true, but rather to accept
multiplicity as intrinsic and understand the kinds of reasoning
that help negotiate inextirpable disagreement. The love of
arguments is not merely a forensic issue in talmud, but opens into
a more general issues of reasoning and coordination of disagreeing
views. The example we provide for this paper is one excercise in
such a logic.
A second topic of conversation with the talmudic text is
semiotics, or a theory of signs. The Sages reflect with great
sophistication on how words signify, and indeed locate the question
of written words in the contexts of all manners of inscription.
Their concerns are both material, (what sort of ink, what sort of
stone, what sort of engraving ), but also about the nature of the
signified, especially when referring to idolatry and the naming of
God. They are, for us, a marvelous resource for examining how signs
A third topic in our study is the ethical dimension of
communication. Our discussion of how signs work appears in the
context of questions about oppression and business deals.
Transactions or exchanges of goods are made a model for linguistic
communication, and in the process both receive a greater depth:
language becomes intrinsically a transaction, a performance based
on trust between two parties, and business deals are linked to both
interpersonal ethics and ultimately also to a divine economy
(temple exchanges).
A fourth topic for philosophical speculation is the place of
pragmatics in legal theory. In some ways, the talmud itself is an
essay in jurisprudence–a course of education on how laws work, are
decided, on what values are relevant to law, and so on. In critical
legal theory (the new, postmodern kid on the legal-theory block),
there is concern for many of the issues addressed somewhat
obliquely in the talmud. Moreover, a key question is the
non-generalizable nature of legal reasoning: that specificity is
inherent in jurisprudential matters. How specificity and
indexicality fit with legal reasoning is one of the topics that the
talmud revels in and offers a substantial contribution to the
philosophical conversation.
Fifth, and last for this introduction, the Talmud assumes
multiple readings and indeed, multiple readers. The socialisation
of the text in study pairs or even schools, carries into practice
many of the claims about the sociality of texts and the plurality
of interpretations. The creation of a textual form that supports
multiple readers is striking to us. Moreover, the dynamics of
reading together, of arguing through the text with the need to take
turns, playing the r_les of the various sages and thus displacing
our own positions for those of others, all lead to insights into a
practice which plays off our cognitive subjectivity, and similarly
the autonomy of our own thinking and acting. The folding in of
these textual practices into the reflective activities seems
closest to the task of postmodern Jewish philosophy.
The Context for the Argument
Our text is from the fourth chapter of Baba Metsia. The
general topic is the closure of sales, but the specific question is
the interchangability of two currencies: gold and silver. From the
mishnah’s viewpoint, gold has intrinsic value and so can close a
sale as merchandise, but silver is only money. The mishnah is eager
to establish some ‘real’ things to which money can be referred for
its value, and so ‘devalues’ silver. The gemarah does not begin
with our text, but by opening up the alternate view: not that
silver is merchandise and real and gold is only money. But rather
that the two are interchangable. The gemarah pushes as hard as it
can, again and again, to argue against the elevation of gold into
merchandise. What we see, instead, is the question of the
relativity of designation: is gold money in general, but
merchandise in relation to silver? Or can money ever become merely
We read this discussion of money and merchandise as the
general question about signs and objects and thus as the question
of translation from one sign to another sign. The general thrust of
the gemarah then becomes the acceptance of signs to refer ‘merely’
to other signs and no longer to fixed objective referents. The play
of signs, becomes the exchange of coins. But our real concern with
the text before you is how those questions can be played out in a
formal logic of disagreement. The central disagreement between
Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel is subjected to three different pairs
of interpretations. Each pair is played out, in an almost formulaic
way. The point being that even the disagreement requires an
interpretative disagreement in order to be clarified. The problem
is that the pair who interpret the first argument (Resh Lakish and
Johanan) are reported by later sages to have had three different
pairs of approaches to the original disagreement. Moreover, the
editor has brought these three pairs into formulaic agreement and
arranged them with a lesson in mind. Thus we receive a logic lesson
in three stages, leading to deeper understanding of the question
about coins (as signs).
Outline of the Central Argument
As we read the text, our Mishnah introduces an inquiry into
the relativity of value and thus, as we interpret it, of meaning.
The concrete question is the economics of exchanging second tithe
produce for coins and coins (as money) for other coins. For the
Mishnah, the topic raises the spectre of market value: is the
variable market value of money to replace the absolute standards of
the Temple cult? Is market value, furthermore, a symbol of the
merely conventional meaning of signs; and is that conventionality
a symbol of the relativity of meaning after the chorban habayit?
Possessing meaning only by convention, are not signs unreliable
bearers of Torah? Are they not irremediably subject to arbitrary
use and to deceptive and thus oppressive use? Are there no longer
any reliably absolute standards of economic or moral meaning?
Through the sixth mishnah of chapter four, the mishnaic text
appears to draw an as yet sharp distinction between realms of
divine and human value: the absolute standards of Temple service,
symbolized by the absolute economic value of tangible things, and
the unreliable standards of human discourse, symbolized by the
relative values of money and signs. In 4.7-8, however, explicit
discussion of the Temple service introduces the possibility of a
more subtle trichotomy among money (as simple sign), things (as
simple objects) and, now, action or performance, symbolized by
Temple service. The Temple transforms things into elements in
relation with the divine, as displayed in the Temple’s divine
economy. Then again, there is no Temple. The Mishnah’s solution
to the problem of meaning remains as yet an unrealized one. The
trichotomy of money, thing and performance remains an ideal
trichotomy that stands, dichotomously, over-against the actuality
of a fallen Temple and of a fallen system of human discourse the
performance of which may lead to deception as much as to meaningful
As we read it, the Gemara offers a more hopeful depiction of
this performance, at least when it is guided by the rules of Torah,
at least, that is, when those rules are reinterpreted by the
Tannaim and, then again, by the Amoraim. We focus on one section
of the Gemara in which this hopeful depiction takes the form of a
lesson in non-dichotomous logic. The subject is the Mishnah’s
discussion of the economics of exchanging second tithe produce for
coins and, in particular, gold coins for silver coins, or
vice-versa. More precisely, the issue is a disagreement between
Rabbi Yohanan and Resh Lakish: three different versions of their
differing interpretations of that over which Bet Shammai say “one
may not exchange sela’im, for gold dinarim” and Bet Hillel permit.
Our interest is drawn to the Gemara’s bringing three different
versions of this disagreement. Why three? What do the three teach
differently? Our study itself has four levels (four levels of
three versions of two arguments over the meaning of one two-line
argument). We begin with the topic itself of exchanging coin for
coin and move toward a study of how, for the Gemara, produce is
exchanged for money, things are exchanged for meanings, objects for
symbols, and meaningful performances (of interpretation and of
other meritorious behavior) for meaningful texts for meaningful
things. Ultimately, we surmise, reliable methods of discourse and
interpretation are exchanged for the old standard of absolute
standards standing over-against mere things or merely relative
The study begins with a Reading of the Central Argument. We
will display this reading in outline form, hoping you will match
each of our divisions of the argument to the appropriate verses of
the text from BM 44b. In case you find it convenient to follow the
argument in Adin Steinsalz’s English translation, we have keyed
each topic in the following outline to the corresponding line of
the Gemara in that edition. (Thus the “First Version” begins on
Steinsalz p.13 Line 8–13.8).

44b: The Argument (13.5)
Bet Shammai say: silver sela’im may not be exchanged for gold
Bet Hillel say: it is permitted
(The symbol Y will refer to R Yohanan; R= Resh Lakish.
YS=Bet Shammai’s position according to Y; etc. YS1 means the
first version of this (with two more to come).
YSH= Both Shammai and Hillel agree, according to Y, that…)
Y’s interpretation concerns the status of selaim. He says
that S argue that NO silver selaim can be exchanged for gold
dinarim while H argue that, YES, they can. The resultant positions
YS1 (for whom silver is money): PRODUCE may not be exchanged for
(silver) MONEY and then the money for GOLD. (13.10)
YH1 (for whom gold is money):YES produce may be exchanged for
silver and then for gold.(14.1)
YSH1 and both permit produce to be exchanged for gold.(14.3)
R’s position concerns the exchange of produce for gold: that
gold is always produce and doesn’t change. The resultant positions
RS1 (for whom gold is always produce): produce may not be
exchanged for gold. (15.5)
RH1 (for whom gold is always money): YES , produce may be
exchanged for gold (15.5)

Y’s second interpretation concerns the differing status of
first money and second money in the exchange of second tithe
produce for coins. Y2 assumes that silver selaim may not be
exchanged for gold. The resultant positions are:
YS2 (for whom the silver is 1st money): 1st money
may not be exchanged for other (2nd) money ; therefore, NO produce
may be exchanged for silver and then silver for gold (20.8)
YH2 (for whom 2nd money may be exchanged) :YES, produce may
be exchanged for silver money and then for gold. (21.1)
YSH2… :YES second-tithe produce may be exchanged for gold
(since it can be first money) (21.3) ‘s second interpretation
also concerns the the differing status of first money and second
money in the exchange of second tithe produce for coins. But R2
argues that the exchange of produce for gold is also disputed. The
resultant positions are:
RS2 (for whom produce cannot be exchanged for gold):
produce may not be exchanged for silver money and then for
gold (21.5)
RH2 (for whom gold is always money and for whom,
YES, produce may be exchanged for gold): YES, produce may be
exchanged for silver and then for gold…(21.5)

Y’s third interpretation concerns whether or not delay is a
reason for disallowing exchanges of silver for gold. The resulting
YS3 The Torah allows exchanges of silver and gold,
but out of concern for delay, the rabbis say: silver money may not
be exchanged for gold. (24.3)
YH3 The Torah allows exchanges of silver and gold,
and there is no rabbinic concern for delay:. YES, silver money may
be exchanged for gold. (24.5)
YSH3 YES produce may be exchanged for gold. (24.7)
R’s third interpretation concerns whether or not delay is a
reason for disallowing exchanges of produce for gold. The resultant
positions are:
RS3 …: NO produce may be exchanged for gold. (24.9)
RH3 …: YES, produce may be exchanged for gold. (24.9)

Our First Level Observations: On Classifications
Our first level stays with the most concrete level of the
three versions of the argument. The progression of the versions
examines the different elements being argued about: that is, each
construes the element of the dispute by referring to a different
set of classes. The question in each version is, Into which class
do we put gold and silver? The question between the versions is,
Which kind of classes are under dispute? The task of exploring
classification as applied to different kinds of classes reflects
the discrepancies between different fields of discourse and raises
the question of communication between different systems or
different langauge games.
The First Version classifies the essential elements as if
they were directly observable entities, that is, “things” in
Nature. Within this version, different positions displayed
differing tolerances for relativity or, that is, for polysemic vs
simple definitions:
YS1: displays more absolutism or simplicity in definition;
YH1, YSH1: displays some relativity (as in the Mishnah);
RS1, RH1: simple absolutes;
The Second Version classifies the elements as elements of a
system of Money. The argument is seen in terms of the status of
money as ‘first’ or ‘second’ money, and the different positions are
linked to questions of different language systems:
YS2: privileges an original language (and the textual
repetitions are referred back to that language);
YH2,YSH2: privilege a deictic reading of Torah as text;
RS2, RH2: privilege Torah as law.
The Third Version classifies the elements as elements of a
Textual system of Rabbinic Law. Here, all the positions display the
influence of rabbinic law over the Torah text as well as over

Otherwise put, the interpretations of the positions of R.
Yohanan and Resh Lakish are based on three different ways of
classifying the issue, applied to the constants of S (no silver for
gold) and H (yes silver for gold):
FIRST VERSION: The issue is relativity of value in nature
(Naive Realism).
Y, as interpreter, and H, as subject, attend to the
RELATIVITY OF SILVER’S STATUS, as opposed to the absoluteness or
simplicity of the position of S and the intepretation of R: the
latter attending to the absoluteness of the status of gold.
SECOND VERSION: The issue is the significance of a Biblical
(thus Textual) law about first or second money (Biblical
Y offers a literal reading of the indexicality (literal
deixis) of silver. Thus: S refers to “THIS silver,” while, for H,
the text indicates (ostensively) that silver is money in general.
R offers absolute or simple definitions once again, reducing all
issues to one point: THIS silver (referred to indexically) vs THIS
THIRD VERSION: The issue is the impact of a Rabbinic and thus
Hermeneutical or Interpretive law about delay in the use of first
or second money (a Rabbinic hermeneutical revisionism).
Y examines whether or not the rabbinic law will be applied to
a particular case:S says one must be concerned about delay; H says
one need not. Here, R shares the concern, but applies only one
interpretive principle to two different empirical (literal) cases.

Second Level Observations: On Domains of Reference

Our second level concerns three different domains of meaning
and of value in the three versions. We look at the arguments as
situating the question in realms where meaning is constituted
differently, reflecting different authorities for meaning. The
contrasts of the three versions, therefore, reflect upon the
question of plurality of systems of meaning and value.
For Version #1, money and produce are elements of a natural
world that is informed by certain natural or, in that sense,
absolute standards of economic value. Disagreements about the
absolute standards produce dichotomous legal alternatives.
For Version #2, they are elements of a social world that is
informed by the societally authorized standards of the Temple cult,
including Temple-based, absolute standards of economic value.
Disagreements about the absolute standards produce dichotomous
legal alternatives.
For Version #3, they are elements of a textual world that is
informed by hermeneutical standards for interpreting discussions of
economic law. Disagreements about these standards tend to produce
trichotomous legal alternatives.
At this level we see that a simple opposition of natural vs.
social sources of meaning and value will still not resolve the
tendency to see only absolute value and its opposite. The switch to
a level of interpretation, where texts require interpretation in
order to bear their meanings allows for a richer field of meanings
and values.

Third Level Observations: On Modes of Logical Inquiry

Our third level moves from this sequence of sources of meaning
and value to the logic required in exploring these arguments. The
versions will represent a ladder of complexity, but the basic
structure of the arugment is consistent: as can be seen even from
the formulae of the text itself. The arguments of Y vs R teaches
the difference between a 3-valued logic (or pragmatics) and a
2-valued logic (or semantics). Y displays the former; R displays
the latter. Therefore, if the issue is to be interpreted according
to R, then the two sides disagree ON PRINCIPLE: the argument is
governed by the law of excluded middle. But if the issue is to be
interpreted according to Y, then the two sides disagree about the
PRESUPPOSITIONAL CONTEXT with respect to which the issue is to be
decided; in this case, the two sides do not represent simple
As a lesson in the presuppositions that may inform a logic,
the three versions of the argument display three levels of
argumentation, each one informed by interpretive presuppositions of
increasing semiotic complexity. For Version #1, the argument is
about the economic character of the THINGS at issue (money or
produce). In other words, version #1 defines scriptural law
according to its referentiality, or the way it indicates something
about some objects in the world. According to Y and R, Bet Shammai
and Bet Hillel assess these objects differently. For Version #2,
the argument is about the way these objects are signified in the
Torah law. It is therefore about scriptural law as a collection of
SIGNS of certain meanings or attributes or purposes. This version
reads the scriptural law of redemption, for example, as a
collection of signs about God, holiness, and place. According to
Y and R, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel interpret the meanings of these
signs differently. For Version #3, the argument is about rules for
interpreting the scriptural texts that signify this or that law.
According to this version, rabbinic legal traditions define rules
for interpreting the meaning of scriptural law. According to Y
and R, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel argue for different legal
traditions of interpretation

Fourth Level Observations: Anticipations of Postmodern
Logical Inquiry

Finally, in the context of a postmodern philosophical
inquiry, we can reread the three versions as anticipations, or
types, of three moments, as well as three great stages, in the
development of a logic of signs, or semiotics. The possibility for
postmodern semiotics would be established elsewhere, but here the
different ways that signs relate is easily enough on display. That
is, we can analyse relations between signs, relations between signs
and referents, and finally relations betweens signs and
interpreters. These different modes of semiotic analysis are
required in postmodern thinking precisely because the variation is
needed by the process of signification. This talmudic paradigm puts
each mode into play.
Since it distinguishes arguments only with respect to the
objects they refer to, Version #1 offers lessons in precritical
sign theory, or a theory for which signs are simply identified with
their referents or objects: silver or gold either is money or is
produce, or it is not. Since no distinctions are drawn here
between objects and the signs that signify them, the logic that
informs this theory is non-relative that is, it does not take
relations of any kind into consideration.
Since it distinguishes arguments with respect to the ways in
which they refer to their objects, Version #2 offers lessons in
critical or modern sign theory. This theory is roughly synonymous
with semantics, or the logic that relates signs to their potential
objects or referents (such as coins that signify first money vs
second money). This logic drawns dyadic distinctions: that is,
between signs and objects.
Since it distinguishes arguments with respect to rules for
interpreting relations between signs and objects, Version #3 offers
lessons in post-critical or postmodern sign theory. This theory is
roughly synonymous with pragmatics, or the logic that relates signs
to the interpretants (or interpretive contexts) with respect to
which they signify certain objects (such as coins that signify
first or second money with respect to the Torah laws of tithes).
This logic draws triadic distinctions: that is, among signs,
objects, and interpretants.

A note on 45B:
Semiotic innovation in the Discussion of Monetary Exchanges

Exhibiting subtleties of semiotic analysis that are not
exhibited in the Mishnah, The Gemara that follows our Central
Argument’s three versions gives additional evidence of the logical
interests of this chapter. We learn here that coins can be used as
produce or non-money, to the extent that they are indices of
certain unique properties rather than symbols of certain general
values. Differences between the positions of Rav and Levi reinforce
our sense that the Gemara is exploring differences between
mono-semic (or “substantialist”) and polysemic (or semiotic and
pragmatic) conceptions of meaning: in this case, between Levi’s
assumption that money is money (and thus signs are signs and
objects are objects) and Rav’s belief that differences between
money and produce, or sign and object, may be relative to context.
Rav Papa introduces a reason for Levi’s view: coins are coins
strictly by convention, and conventional meaning is strictly
relative. As indicated at the outset, we believe our Mishnah is
unable to free itself fully from this view, while the Gemara
introduces a semiotically more adventuresome debate.


Through its four levels of interpretation, this postmodern
inquiry diagrams BM 44b as an activity of classification,
reference, argument, and, finally, of teaching logic. The original
problem is one of coins, specifically in the context of exchanging
coins: Which one counts as currency, which as produce? But, for our
reading, this disagreement points out the central question about
coins: how does money bear value? The question of the value of
money itself is a key issue in the theory of signs in general: for,
while meaning can be located in arguments about signs, the question
of justice is played out most of all in an economic realm. It is
not by chance that a text which is so well suited to a postmodern
semiotic focuses on the various sign systems (coinages) of economic
exchange. For rabbinic semiotics, the issues of justice are never
merely a consequence, but rather animate the examination of all
meaning, illuminating, in particular, the importance of the
varieties of modes of interpretation.
To study this text, then, becomes a way of performing a series
of different modes of interpretation–in which we can never eclipse
the economic dimension of signification. This talmudic passage
teaches its readers to distinguish between and to perform three
different forms of logical inquiry. As defined in our fourth, or
contemporizing level of observation, these three forms anticipate
three stages in the development of semiotic inquiry
corresponding, respectively, to an unreflective process of
signification, to a critically reflective distinction between signs
and their objects, and to a postcritical reflection on relations
among signs, their objects and their modes of interpretation. For
critical or modern reflection, arguments may be distinguished
effectively with respect to their different claims that is, the
different meanings they assign to given signs. For postcritical
or postmodern reflection, however, such arguments may be
distinguished effectively only with respect to certain rules or
traditions of assigning meanings to signs: if we can’t identify the
different rules or traditions that inform different arguments, then
we can’t make sense of, let alone resolve, differences among those
arguments. These traditions of interpretation themselves revolve
around different understandings of the justification of authority
and reflect the practical and economic significance of different
ways of interpreting a conflict about money. For postcritical
reflection, the stakes are therefore pragmatic in the concrete
sense of pragmatism, even as the analysis moves into more complex
theoretical semiotic issues. In the multiplication of arguments,
versions, levels and so on, we find the text of BM 44b offering a
lesson in pragmatics and in postmodern logic, a lesson bound up
with theory of signs as well as with coins of gold and silver.