Q. What is meant by pilpul?
A. The word comes from a root that means spicy or peppery. Applied to methods of argumentation or debate it indicates that the reasoning is very sharp. It is recommended as a method of Torah study in Pirkei Avot (6:5) where one of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is pilpul hatalmidim, i.e. argumentation with students. While originally the word had a positive connotation, in later centuries, after pilpul as a method of Talmud study was popularised in Eastern Europe in the 15th century in the time of Rabbi Jacob Pollack, it came to mean such highly complicated reasoning that its detractors regarded it as mere hair-splitting.