Traditions of dispute: From negotiations of talmudic texts to the arena of political discourse in the media

Shoshana Blum-Kulka*, Menahem Blondheim, Gonen Hacohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Israeli political talk-show debates are notoriously fierce and overtly confrontational. To understand the structures and origins of this discursive style, we apply a historical pragmatics perspective, comparing debates of current political events on a popular talk-show to a classic and historically cherished form of traditional Jewish argumentation-the oral study of the premodern Talmud-as performed through paired-study debate (xavruta) in contemporary Talmudic academies. The institutional environments and deeper social significance of the two speech events we compared are highly divergent: Political talk shows represent the uneasy coexistence of real-life conflict and antagonistic game, while xavruta interactions make use of a superficially adversarial format to maximize mutual comprehension between interlocutors and ultimately enhance sociability. Yet on the level of performance-in rhetorical strategy and confrontational style-they have marked similarities. Transcribed recordings of debates in these two arenas of argument were analyzed and compared, and the analysis yields a series of marked similarities in discursive attributes between the two. These similarities include: i. a marked preference for disagreement, ii. high dialogicity of the exchanges in the sense of nuanced listening and responding, iii. acceptability of occasional disruptions in the dialogicity of the conversation-flow without its breakdown, and iv. high complexity of logic and structure in argument and argumentation. Given the direction of the historical timeline, these findings suggest the possibility of a carry-over of discursive styles from the religious/scholarly milieu to the public sphere of ideological and political debate. The survival of this unique discursive style from antiquity to the present, both within and across the scholarly, educational, and public spheres, and across media of communication, would demonstrate the resilience of traditional cultural patterns in the face of radical technological, political, and ideological change.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1569-1594
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number10-11
StatePublished - 2002


  • Argumentative discourse
  • Historical pragmatics
  • Jewish studies
  • Media discourse
  • Talmudic texts


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