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It's a Tie!

Many years ago, when studying in Jerusalem, my friend and I skipped an evening lecture to attend a soccer match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Yerushalyim. Our teachers were displeased with our decision. What could we possibly learn at a soccer stadium? How to curse in the most colorful of ways? Soccer matches do not represent the highbrow culture of the poet Yehudah Amichai or the thoughtful debate of the beit midrash, the study hall. We watched fights break out. We looked on in disbelief as fans threw smoke bombs.

It was a rather unsatisfying game. The final score was 0-0. It ended in a tie. It concluded with the fans muttering “Teiku.” Modern Hebrew has borrowed a word from Talmudic times. It has lifted a word out of the study hall and brought it into the everyday.

Teiku is the Talmud’s word for when a debate is concluded without rendering a decision. It means let it stand. Others say it is an acronym meaning when Elijah comes and heralds the coming of the messiah this disagreement will be resolved. This is the original meaning for Elijah’s cup at the Seder table. Some rabbis said there should be four cups of wine and others said five. Teiku! For now, we compromise. We drink four cups and leave the fifth for Elijah.

No one wins. No one loses.

The beauty, and genius, of the Talmud is that it allows contradictions to stand. Our book is not a law code of answers. It is a record of discussions and debates. The Jewish people are often called the people of the book. Many think this phrase refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, but it is the Talmud that better gives life to our spirit. What we find in the pages of the Talmud best exemplifies the Jewish heart. It is there that Israel, the people of the book, is born. And again, it is here, in this book that the outline of the Seders we will soon celebrate are given expression.

Its central ritual is the four questions. The Seder is about elucidating questions. Every action is crafted so as to prompt us to ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Rabbis who vociferously disagreed with each other are found on the same page of the Talmud. Family members who continue to disagree with each other sit at the same Seder table. That is the most important lesson of the Talmud’s volumes. Even though we disagree, every one of us, can be discovered on the same page.

Today, by contrast, we value ideology over debate. We tend to value loyalty to ideas over devotion to community. We write those with whom we disagree out of our books.

The Talmud is our heart. That is the lesson I learned from my teacher, Rabbi David Hartman.

Teiku! Let it stand.

We can scream and yell for our team. We should argue for our view. We should fight to advance our position. When passions get the better of us, we might even curse. Debate is not always as highbrow as our teachers would like it to be.

Heated arguments guarantee our future. Knowing when to let it stand ensures that we have others with which to argue, and that allow family members to stay seated together around the Seder table.

Lift Elijah’s cup up high. Sing to Eliyahu HaNavi. One day Elijah will come and solve all our dilemmas.

For now, we only have each other.

Teiku. 0-0!

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