Michael Moss

Michael Maoz is the editorial secretary at the Yad Ben Zvi. He studied at CWRU and Harvard Divinity School. Michael is interested in the philosophy of language, the culture-cognition matrix, and theological perspectives on language as a moral and mystical concept, source of social ontology, and reasoning tool.

He is currently working on a book about the cultural history of retraction and other theories of utterance cancellation.

How the Talmud Takes Back Words: The Rabbinic Pragmatics of Toch K'dei Dibur

The linguistic practice of people “taking back” what they said through negation, cancellation, or retraction is probably a necessary component of any language system based on classical logic. The Talmudic mechanism of תוך כדי דיבור (“within [time] sufficient for speech") discussed in tractate Nazir focuses on the permissibility of cancelling certain utterances based on the immediacy of their expression. This halachic principle is relevant to aspects of oath-making, verbal transactions, and the nature of intentionality among other legal and moral parameters of correct speech.
The modern scholarly fields of lexical semantics, speech act theory, and Gricean pragmatics enhance our understanding of תוך כדי דיבור. These perspectives stem from an analytic philosophical tradition concerned with displays of so-called “ordinary language.” As with many tasks that speakers treat as natural and everyday occurrences in normal interaction, they conceal startling conceptual richness. This paper explores the cognitive, pragmatic, and moral dimensions of rabbinic utterance cancellation.