Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The 73rd volume

In the first masechta (portion) of Baba Metzia, one of the books of the Jewish Talmud, there's a long and complicated discussion about what to do in the situation when two men are holding on Talit (article of cloth), each claiming ownership of the whole garment. The discussion goes on and on about the different ways to handle this situation, bringing in opinions from several distinguished rabbis, and dissecting the issue in detail. Then it goes on to the next topic of discussion: Two men are holding the same Talit, one claims the whole thing, one claims half of the thing. What do you do then? Then the next topic: Two man are holding the same Talit, each claiming the whole thing, and there's a door between them. What do you do then? Then the next: Two men are holding the same Talit. Each claims all of the thing, and one of them is standing on a boat. What do you do then?

The Talmud is the compendium of Jewish law. But that's actually not true. There are 72 volumes to the Talmud. The amount of actual law in there is probably only about one book's worth. The rest is commentary, and more important, arguments. Lots and lots of them.

I mention all of this because sometimes when I read brewing books, I get the same feeling I got when I use to study the Talmud. Rabbi Palmer says thus shall not use hops for longer than 60 minutes, for they will not contribute any more acids. Rabbi Mosher, on the other hand, gives recipes using hops for 90 minutes, and claims that yeast should rehydrate at warm (41C water). But rabbie Papazian disagrees.

And to make matters worse, you have the local commentaries: The guy who claims that mashout is unnecessary when using HERMS. The dealer that says "I don't have 80L. Take some 60L and 120L and mix them together, it'll work". The guy who cites the Australian brewing rabbinate and claims that the best way to brew is with a bag and a plastic cube, and the guy who disagrees. Seriously. If we take about a dozen active threads on any beer forum, translate them to Aramaic, and put "rabbi" in front of the user names, it would read just like the 73rd of the Talmud. Masechet Mivshulim.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because I have decided to re-vamp my system. In fact, I'm rebuilding it completely to be a full-pledged HERMS system. At least that's the theory. In practice, there is so much information out there, and so many contradictory opinions that one can be stuck in an "information paralysis" - where you're so afraid of doing something wrong that you end up doing nothing at all.

And to that too, Jewish tradition gives an answer. In Pirkai Avot Rabbi Yhosua says "Make yourself a Rabbi" - Pick someone to follow and learn from. So often in Brewing (and Halacha) there are so many contradictory opinions involved that you just have to pick someone who looks like they know what they're doing, and seek their advice. As an interesting side note to that idea, the Rambam adds a commentary to that verse saying "Learning is good, but learning from from his fellow will be more successful and better understood. Even if his fellow is of the same wisdom as he, or below him" IE, every person, no matter how knowledgeable should find a "rabbi" - a person to learn from and learn with, even if he believes that person to be less knowledgeable than himself. Or in other words, no one person knows everything, and you can always learn new things.

No comments:

Post a Comment