Oscar Hoffman, an excellent Professor of Sociology at the Bucharest University, kept telling us, his students:

“For a proposition to be ‘true’ it is not enough for it to be ‘logical’, it also has to make sense from the epistemological point of view.”

Rather hard to swallow, specially for young individuals… and since most students tend to be … well… at least young at heart… it wasn’t simple for us to follow him.

Here’s a story that might help.

“A young man knocks on the door of a great Talmudic scholar.

“Rabbi, I wish to study Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic?”

“No.”

“Hebrew?”

“No.”

“Have you ever studied Torah?”

“No, Rabbi, but I graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in philosophy, and received a PhD from Yale. I’d like to round out my education with a bit of Talmud.”

“I doubt that you are ready for Talmud. It is the broadest and deepest of books. If you wish, however, I will examine you in logic, and if you pass the test I will teach you Talmud.”

“Good. I’m well versed in logic.”

“First question. Two burglars come down a chimney. One emerges with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“The burglar with the dirty face.”

“Wrong. The one with the clean face. Examine the logic. The burglar with a dirty face looks at the one with a clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with a clean face looks at the burglar with a dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes.”

“Very clever. Another question please.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One emerges with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“We established that. The burglar with the clean face washes.”

“Wrong. Both wash. Examine the logic. The one with a dirty face thinks his face is clean. The one with a clean face thinks his face is dirty. So the burglar with a clean face washes. When the one with a dirty face sees him washing, however, he realizes his face must be dirty too. Thus both wash.”

“I didn’t think of that. Please ask me another.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One emerges with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Well, we know both wash.”

“Wrong. Neither washes. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face thinks his face is dirty. But when clean-face sees that dirty-face doesn’t bother to wash, he also doesn’t bother. So neither washes. As you can see, you are not ready for Talmud.”

“Rabbi, please, give me one more test.”

“Two burglars come down a chimney. One emerges with a clean face, the other with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Neither!”

“Wrong. And perhaps now you will see why Harvard and Yale cannot prepare you for Talmud. Tell me, how is it possible that two men come down the same chimney, and one emerges with a clean face, while the other has a dirty face?”

“But you’ve just given me four contradictory answers to the same question! That’s impossible!”

“No, my son, that’s Talmud.”

OK, but where’s the promised link?

Well, who wrote the Talmud in the first place?

A countless number of people who have figured out there’s no such thing as a definitive answer for any question?
That books should be written to help other people develop their minds, not to ‘mold’ them?
That books should be read as an exercise for the ‘thinking muscle’, not in (vain) search for ‘the absolute wisdom’?

Still looking for that link?
Keep reading, only take greater care when choosing them books.

(another version of the same story ends up like this:

“Goldstein is desperate. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

He groans, though, when the rabbi lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Neither one washes his face.”

“Wrong. Do you now see, Sean, why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is “narishkeit”, foolishness, and if you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

May we all have the wisdom to ask, and answer, the wise questions!)