The Land of Truth and its Borders
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From the Atlantic Magazine, July 2019, George Packer review of The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey

We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment. The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves. Totalitarian propaganda unifies control over all information, until reality is what the Party says it is—the goal of Newspeak is to impoverish language so that politically incorrect thoughts are no longer possible. Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division—not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions.

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ונקי וצדיק אל תהרוג... ראוהו רודף אחר חברו להרגו והסכייף בידו. אמרו לו הוי יודע שהוא בן ברית והתורה אמרה שופך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך (בראשית ט). ואמר יודע אני, על מנת כן. והעלימו עדים עיניהם ולאחר זמן מצאוהו הרוג מפרפר והסייף מנטף דם מיד ההורג. שומע אני יהא חייב, תלמוד לומר ונקי וצדיק אל תהרוג....

וכבר היה יהודה בן טבאי נכנס לחורבה, ומצא שם הרוג ומפרפר והסיף מנטף דם מיד ההורג. אמר לו יהודה בן טבאי תבא עלי אם לא אני או אתה הרגנוהו. אבל מה אעשה שהרי אמרה תורה על פי שנים עדים יקום דבר (דברים י״ט:ט״ו). אבל היודע ובעל מחשבות הוא יפרע מאותו האיש. ולא הספיק לומר עד שנשכו נחש ומת.

"A clean and righteous person you shall not kill."

If they saw him pursuing another to kill him, the knife in his hand, and they said to him: Be it known to you that he is a son of the covenant, and the Torah writes (Genesis 9:6) "The spiller of the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be spilled," and he said "I know, and even so!" And the witnesses averted their eyes (for a moment) and afterwards they found him (the victim) in the death throes, the knife dripping blood in the hand of the murderer — I might think that he is liable (to execution); it is, therefore, written "and a clean one and a righteous one you shall not kill." ...

Once Yehudah b. Tabbai entered a ruin, where he found a man in his death throes, the knife dripping blood in the hand of the murderer. Yehudah b. Tabbi said to him "May it come upon me if neither I nor you killed him; but what can I do (to you) when the Torah has written (Devarim 20:15) 'By word of two witnesses shall a thing be established!' But the Omniscient One will exact punishment of that man (i.e., 'you')." He had hardly finished speaking before a snake bit him and he died.

3 ג

מה אני מקיים בקש קהלת למצוא דברי חפץ בקש קהלת לדון דינין שבלב שלא בעדים ושלא בהתראה יצתה ב"ק ואמרה לו וכתוב יושר דברי אמת (דברים יז, ו) על פי שנים עדים וגו':

How do I uphold the words “Kohelet sought to find words of delight”? Kohelet sought to issue judgments of the heart, based solely on his intuition, without witnesses and without warning. But a Divine Voice issued forth and said to him: “And that which was written uprightly, even words of truth.” Which words is this referring to? “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6). Punishment can be administered only based on the testimony of two witnesses.

4 ד

(יד) וְהֻסַּ֤ג אָחוֹר֙ מִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה מֵרָח֣וֹק תַּעֲמֹ֑ד כִּֽי־כָשְׁלָ֤ה בָֽרְחוֹב֙ אֱמֶ֔ת וּנְכֹחָ֖ה לֹא־תוּכַ֥ל לָבֽוֹא׃ (טו) וַתְּהִ֤י הָֽאֱמֶת֙ נֶעְדֶּ֔רֶת וְסָ֥ר מֵרָ֖ע מִשְׁתּוֹלֵ֑ל וַיַּ֧רְא יְהוָ֛ה וַיֵּ֥רַע בְּעֵינָ֖יו כִּֽי־אֵ֥ין מִשְׁפָּֽט׃

(14) And justice is made to fall back,

And vindication stands off afar.

for truth stumbles in the square,

and honesty cannot come in.

(15) And truth is not to be found,

who turns from evil is despoiled,

And the Lord saw, and it was evil in his eyes, for there was no justice.

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אמר רבא מריש הוה אמינא ליכא קושטא בעלמא אמר לי ההוא מרבנן ורב טבות שמיה ואמרי לה רב טביומי שמיה דאי הוו יהבי ליה כל חללי דעלמא לא הוה משני בדבוריה זימנא חדא איקלעי לההוא אתרא וקושטא שמיה ולא הוו משני בדיבורייהו ולא הוה מיית איניש מהתם בלא זימניה נסיבי איתתא מינהון והוו לי תרתין בנין מינה יומא חד הוה יתבא דביתהו וקא חייפא רישה אתאי שיבבתה טרפא אדשא סבר לאו אורח ארעא אמר לה ליתא הכא שכיבו ליה תרתין בנין אתו אינשי דאתרא לקמיה אמרו ליה מאי האי אמר להו הכי הוה מעשה א"ל במטותא מינך פוק מאתרין ולא תגרי בהו מותנא בהנך אינשי

§ Concerning the lack of truth, Rava says: Initially I would say that there is no truth anywhere in the world. There was a certain one of the Sages, and Rav Tavut is his name, and some say Rav Tavyomei is his name, who was so honest that if they were to give him the entire world, he would not deviate from the truth in his statement. He said to me: One time I happened to come to a certain place, and Truth is its name, and its residents would not deviate from the truth in their statements, and no person from there would die prematurely. I married a woman from among them, and I had two sons from her. One day his wife was sitting and washing the hair on her head. Her neighbor came and knocked on the door. He thought: It is not proper conduct to tell the neighbor that his wife is bathing. He said to her: She is not here. Since he deviated from the truth his two sons died. The people residing in that place came before him and said to him: What is the meaning of this? He said to them: This was the nature of the incident, and told them what happened. They said to him: Please leave our place and do not provoke premature death upon these people.

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(ה) אמר רבי סימון: בשעה שבא הקב"ה לבראת את אדם הראשון, נעשו מלאכי השרת כיתים כיתים, וחבורות חבורות, מהם אומרים: אל יברא, ומהם אומרים: יברא, הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים פה): חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו.

חסד אומר: יברא, שהוא גומל חסדים.

ואמת אומר: אל יברא, שכולו שקרים.

צדק אומר: יברא, שהוא עושה צדקות.

שלום אומר: אל יברא, דכוליה קטטה.

מה עשה הקדוש ברוך הוא? נטל אמת והשליכו לארץ, הדא הוא דכתיב (דניאל ח): ותשלך אמת ארצה.

אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקב"ה: רבון העולמים! מה אתה מבזה תכסיס אלטיכסייה שלך? תעלה אמת מן הארץ, הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים פה): אמת מארץ תצמח. ​​​​​​​

ר' הונא רבה של צפורין אמר: עד שמלאכי השרת מדיינין אלו עם אלו, ומתעסקין אלו עם אלו, בראו הקדוש ברוך הוא. אמר להן: מה אתם מדיינין, כבר נעשה אדם:

Rabbi Simon said: "When the time came for the Holy One Blessed Be God to create the first human being, the angels of (Divine) service broke up into opposing groups. Some among them say: 'S/he should be created.' Some among them say: 'S/he should not be created.' This is what is written: 'Kindness and truth met; righteousness and peace kissed.' (Psalms 85:11)

Kindness says: 'Let humans be created because they will bestow kindnesses.'

Truth says: "Let humans not be created because they are entirely (made of) lies.'

Righteousness says: 'Let humans be created because they will do righteous acts.'

And peace says; 'Let humans not be created because they are entirely dissension.'

What did the Holy One Blessed be God do? God took truth and flung him to the ground. Thus it is written: 'You will cast truth to the ground.' (Daniel 8:12)

The angels of (Divine) service said before the Holy One Blessed be God: 'Master of worlds! Why do You despise Your seal of truth? Let truth rise from the ground as it is written: 'Truth will grow from the earth.' (Psalms 85:12)

Rabbi Hunah the rabbi of Tzippori said: "While the angels of (Divine) service were arguing with one another and occupied with one another, the Holy One Blessed be God created the first human."

God said to them: "Why are you debating? The human is already created."

7 ז
רב יוסף אמר זה העובר עבירה בסתר כדר' יצחק דאמר רבי יצחק כל העובר עבירה בסתר כאילו דוחק רגלי שכינה שנא' (ישעיהו סו, א) כה אמר ה' השמים כסאי והארץ הדום רגלי איני והאמר ר' אלעא הזקן אם רואה אדם שיצרו מתגבר עליו ילך למקום שאין מכירין אותו וילבש שחורין ויתעטף שחורין ויעשה מה שלבו חפץ ואל יחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא לא קשיא הא דמצי כייף ליה ליצריה הא דלא מצי כייף ליצריה

Rav Yosef said: This is one who commits a transgression in private, in accordance with Rabbi Yitzḥak, as Rabbi Yitzḥak said: Whoever commits a transgression in private, it is as though he pushed away the feet of the Divine Presence, as it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: The heavens are My seat, and the earth My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1).

The Gemara raises a difficulty: And is that so? But didn’t Rabbi Ela the Elder say: If a person sees that his inclination is overcoming him, he should go to a place where he is unknown, and wear black, and wrap himself in black and do there what his heart desires, but let him not desecrate the Name of Heaven in public. The Gemara answers: This is not difficult. This is when one is capable of overcoming his inclination.

That case, where it is preferable to sin in private, occurs when one is incapable of overcoming his inclination.

8 ח

תמן תנינן רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר על שלשה דברים העולם עומד על הדין ועל האמת והשלום ושלשתן דבר אחד הן נעשה הדין נעשה אמת נעשה שלום

It was taught there: R. Shimon b. Gamaliel said: On three things does the world stand: On justice, and on truth, and on peace. And all three are the same. If justice is done, truth is done and peace is done.

9 ט

We stagger under the daily load of doublethink pouring from Trump, his enablers in the Inner Party, his mouthpieces in the Ministry of Truth, and his fanatical supporters among the proles. Spotting doublethink in ourselves is much harder. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” Orwell wrote. In front of my nose, in the world of enlightened and progressive people where I live and work, a different sort of doublethink has become pervasive. It’s not the claim that true is fake or that two plus two makes five. Progressive doublethink—which has grown worse in reaction to the right-wing kind—creates a more insidious unreality because it operates in the name of all that is good. Its key word is justice—a word no one should want to live without. But today the demand for justice forces you to accept contradictions that are the essence of doublethink.