The blogosphere is abuzz over a video (below) about two bears arguing over whether the Avos, the biblical Patriarchs, observed all of the commandments. The net result of the video is that the bear who holds that the Avos kept all of the mitzvos looks foolish. I found this video funny but offensive and unproductive. Let me explain why. The mark of a sophisticated thinker is understanding the views of people with whom he disagrees. You do not have the right to reject an opinion until you understand it. The video mocks the bear's position without understanding it, out of ignorance portraying it as foolish. Someone coming to the video without prior understanding will leave it with a sense of condescension toward a view whose complexities he doesn't realize. More importantly, he will reject this view as irrational and unacceptable. He will write out of Judaism a view that has ample precedent among Rishonim and might very well be the majority view among Acharonim.

Bears, Avos and Mitzvos

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I. Disagreeing While Understanding

The blogosphere is abuzz over a video (all the way below) about two bears arguing over whether the Avos, the biblical Patriarchs, observed all of the commandments. The net result of the video is that the bear who holds that the Avos kept all of the mitzvos looks foolish. I found this video funny but offensive and unproductive. Let me explain why.

The mark of a sophisticated thinker is understanding the views of people with whom he disagrees. You do not have the right to reject an opinion until you understand it. The video mocks the bear’s position without understanding it, out of ignorance portraying it as foolish. Someone coming to the video without prior understanding will leave it with a sense of condescension toward a view whose complexities he doesn’t realize. More importantly, he will reject this view as irrational and unacceptable. He will write out of Judaism a view that has ample precedent among Rishonim and might very well be the majority view among Acharonim.

II. Avos and Mitzvos

The view that the Avos observed all of the mitzvos occupies a hallowed place in Jewish tradition, with Rashi in particular adopting it (e.g., see Rashi to Gen. 19:3 that Lot served the angels matzah because it was Pesach). Someone who mock this position, mocks Rashi. Think about what that says about you. However, it is not just Rashi. Ramban (Gen. 26:5) asks questions on the view that the Avos kept the mitzvos — e.g. how could Ya’akov marry two sisters? Unlike the bear in the video, Ramban does not dismiss the view as foolishness. He instead answers it. Only then does he offer an alternative explanation of the text.

The Rashba (1:94) and Radbaz (2:696) both write responsa defending the view that the Avos kept the mitzvos. R. Eliyahu Mizrachi and R. Mordechai Yaffe, in their supercommentaries to Rashi, go to great lengths to explain the logic and mechanics of the patriarchal observance of mitzvos. And the Meshekh Chokhmah consistently explains nuances of patriarchal behavior based on this concept.

Those who believe that the Avos kept all the mitzvos mean it in the same way that we keep all the mitzvos. No single person can keep them all. It is logically impossible for someone to be both a Cohen, a Levi and a Yisrael; a king, a judge and a priest; a man and a woman; etc. He keeps all the mitzvos theoretically possible. Exactly what that entails is debated by the commentaries, with some brilliant and fascinating suggestions along the way.

Shall we cross out all of these commentaries? Shall we throw them into the garbage? The argument on behalf of R. Natan Slifkin was the exact opposite — to keep the canon open to authentic views. Are we now closing our minds and rejecting Rishonim and Acharonim?

III. These and Those

In 1727, not long after R. Yehudah Rosanes’ death, his halakhic-midrashic essays on the Torah were posthumously published in a book titled Parashas Derakhim. In the book, R. Rosanes not only assumed that the Avos kept the mitzvos and applied various talmudic texts to their lives, he argued that biblical characters who quarrelled did so based on their adoption of differing views within the Talmud or Rishonim.

The way I understand his approach is that the Torah encompasses multiple views. Eilu va-eilu, these and those, means that God included multiple approaches within the Torah (this is the Ritva’s approach, quoted by R. Moshe Feinstein in his introduction to Iggeros Moshe). Therefore, when two scholars disagree, we can say that both of their views are part of the Torah. When Rambam and Ra’avad disagree, both are expressing authentic Torah views. Both of their opinions are included in the Torah. Thousands of years earlier, those views were already part of the Torah even if not yet voiced. It is possible, therefore, that prior scholars and even biblical characters intuitively adopted the same stances.

If today, R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv follows the Rambam (and Arukh Ha-Shulchan and Rav Soloveitchik — see here: link) and forbids wearing crocs on Yom Kippur, he is stating an authentic view that was long ago embedded as one of the multiple views in the Torah. If one accepts his stance as the most authoritative, the application of Torah that Ravina and Rav Ashi would have made had they been alive today, then one certainly can say that ancient scholars, even biblical characters, adopted the same position as R. Elyashiv. There is no logical impossibility if this is phrased properly.

IV. Old Controversies Die Hard

From what I have been told — I tried unsuccessfully to find a record of this* — a controversy ensued upon the publication of Parashas Derakhim, with some rabbis denouncing the book as ahistorical and others defending it. The debate is reminiscent of this video’s implications. Except that over 250 years have passed and Parashas Derakhim has attained a respected place in Jewish literature. It is not only quoted in biblical commentaries but also in halakhic treatises. Are we expected to turn back the clock and reject the Parashas Derakhim? And the Meshekh Chokhmah and numerous other respected works?

I cannot speak for Modern Orthodoxy in general but my bookshelf has space for those who assert that the Avos kept the mitzvos and those who do not. If Ramban can quote both views, so can I.


* But I did learn that R. Rosanes never wrote a commentary on the Rambam. His Mishneh La-Melekh was adapted by an editor from long essays into a commentary on the Rambam.

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The original video

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student recently served on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

122 comments

  1. I am happy to see that you oppose the view of R. Hoffman, who wants to discard all those Rishonim (like the Rambam) who interpret the idea of the Avos keeping mitzvos allegorically.

    I wish more people took your common sense perspective that we should embrace the diversity of our sources. The problem is that the video was joking when it made fun of the literalists, but R. Hoffman was serious that we must discard the allegorists. That is the important distinction in this little debate.

  2. Don’t be ridiculous. He doesn’t want to discard them.

  3. Gil, you say “I cannot speak for Modern Orthodoxy in general but my bookshelf has space for those who assert that the Avos kept the mitzvos and those who do not. If Ramban can quote both views, so can I.” Then you say, about R. Hoffman: “Don’t be ridiculous. He doesn’t want to discard them.” But as I understood him, while he doesn’t want to discard them, he wants to minimalize them and only teach them for kiruv purposes. IOW, he doesn’t really want them on your bookshelves. Rather, since “the overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position” [JK: I understand this is not really accurate], “this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions.”

  4. Thank you Rabbi Student. My position does not differ from yours and I do find interesting the mis-characterizations of my post. There is, of course, a difference between teaching fourth grade “vetaryag Mitzvos shamarti” – where it would be incorrect, from a pedagogical perspective, to invoke the lav davka pshat and teaching the Ramban in 11th or 12th grade where he advances an alternative pshat – the latter, of course, is taught and should be taught in Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs. I think perhaps that the mis-characterizations stem from an unfamiliarity with this. If my post was unclear in that respect – I apologize. As far as JK’s understanding – I do challenge him to find a meforash on the Gemorah (or even in a teshuva who explains the Gemorah as a minimalist. I wish him good luck on that. 🙂

  5. Doron Beckerman

    Therefore, when two scholars disagree, we can say that both of their views are part of the Torah. When Rambam and Ra’avad disagree, both are expressing authentic Torah views. Both of their opinions are included in the Torah. Thousands of years earlier, those views were already part of the Torah even if not yet voiced. It is possible, therefore, that prior scholars and even biblical characters intuitively adopted the same stances.

    See here – first paragraph:

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=21622&st=&pgnum=3

  6. Yair Hoffman:
    Prepare for the onslaught.

  7. What bothered me is the “missing vort” – i.e., did Yaakov Avinu say zecher or zeicher! 🙂 So I wrote a suggestion:

    http://rygb.blogspot.com/2010/11/follow-up-on-krumbagels-yeshiva-guy.html

  8. A source sheet (with presenter’s comments)on the avot keeping all the mitzvot can be found at :
    https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0BwgoR9DvCEi_NDNlYmM0ZjgtMDBlNy00MjY5LTk3NWItZDIwZjUzOGRlMzcz&hl=en

    My general take was it was a really fascinating topic to research and I was blown away at the diversity of opinion. It also made me believe more than ever that more than we often admit (I’m not sure why) , chazal and rishonim were extremely intelligent men who did not always have a mesorah on an issue and used the “R’YBS proof”(= a clear and logical mind (or something like that) when faced with contradictions et al

    KT

  9. “chazal and rishonim were extremely intelligent men who did not always have a mesorah on an issue ”

    Joel-if it is straight logic why should earlier authorities be required to be followed as opposed to the idea if they are representing a mesorah from Sinai?

  10. The author missed the point of the video. The Yeshivish world considers all opinions which are out of the box as kefira. They do not believe that ayloo v’ayloo divrei Elokim chaim.

  11. Mycroft:
    1) Sometimes they DID have a mesorah, and we don’t always know when they did and when they didn’t.
    2) Often they paskened like one approach, though there’s no way of knowing if it’s more correct than the alternative (example: Beit Hillel/Shammai). Once the psak is finalized we are required to follow it, regardless of why they chose to pasken that way.

  12. I think Rabbis Student and Hoffman misunderstood the point of the video and what was being mocked. It was not the view that the Avot kept mitzvot. It was both the extreme literalism that extended this to worrying about Eisav’s safek bracha and the and the fact that the brown bear in the video accepted this extreme literalism uncritically without thinking about it seriously, and assumed it was the only possible view. Likewise, it was not R. Elyashiv’s p’sak about Croc’s that was being mocked, it was that the bear answered with R. Elyashiv’s p’sak rather than accepting that neither Croc’s nor Converse sneakers were around in the time of the Avot.

  13. When faced with some of the rather incredible applications of later halakhic disputes to explain exchanges between Biblical personalities, such as R’Rosenes’ work, I sometimes wonder whether those who wrote such explanations meant them as historical facts, or possibly something else altogether: an attempt to animate the later disputes by allegorically dressing the Biblical personages with later discussions. That would mean that the authors of such explanations were not engaging in Tanakh parshanut, but in pedagogy on Torah shebe’al Peh, which is totally legitimate.

    Thoughts?

  14. Gil & Rabbi Hoffman –
    I am not aware of any serious attempt to remove the ‘maximalist’ view from authentic Torah views. The success of the video and the severe reaction to Rabbi H’s article is the rejection of the attempt to remove the ‘minimalist’ approach from acceptability. The issue of which view is correct is completely irrelevant to this discussion. What is important is the attempt by some to marginalize other valid Torah opinions, and to further narrow the path of acceptability within the Torah community. Even in Rabbi H’s response above, he challenges us to locate a Gemara which espouses a minimalist view. That is not the point. Are all the Rishonim on the page of the Mikroas Gedolos Chumash irrelevant because of that? I’m glad to see that the common people are rejecting the attempt to split Klal Yisrael.

  15. “(example: Beit Hillel/Shammai). Once the psak is finalized we are required to follow it, regardless of why they chose to pasken that way.”

    Agreed-except of course its OK to not sit in the Succah chutz laaretz on Shmeinei Atzeret, and of course no one does business with lo yehudim 3 days lifnei eideihem etc etc.
    I agree “Once the psak is finalized”-if it is a psak we are dealing with.

  16. It is clear to me that the video was not mocking Rashi’s position, but those who close their minds to the spectrum of opinions on this matter. The fact that this simple video has garnered 40,000 views in just over a week and thousands of blog words is a testament to the effectiveness of both the medium and the message.

    People, including you R. Student, are playing fast and loose with a very important word: “all”. There is monumental difference in dealing with this subject if the literalists are saying that the Avos kept “the” Mitzvot or saying they kept “ALL” the mitzvot.

    If one, anyone, is going to say that they kept ALL the mitzvot (obviously meaning all the mitzvot that are possible for them to keep) then you run into a whole host of logical issues which were merely touched upon in the video. And, frankly, such a position would make a mockery of Judaism in the eyes of many.

    So which is it? All or the?

  17. As I asked on C-C
    BTW how do you understand the Ramban – Yaakov was not metzuveh in the 613 aiui according to anyone. So is the Ramban saying that rachel had to die because yaakov decided to be michayev himself as an eino metzuveh voseh??

    KT

  18. My earlier try doesn’t seem to be here so forgive me if this ends up a duplicate.

    I think Rabbis Student and Hoffman have misunderstood what view the video is mocking. It is not mocking the view that the Avot kept the Torah. It is mocking:

    Taking that view to such extreme literalism without thinking about the implications thoroughly. And assuming, like the brown bear in the video, that it doesn’t mean: ” He keeps all the mitzvos theoretically possible,” but that the Avot acted like modern yeshiva bochurs.

    And that the brown bear answered that Ya’akov didn’t wear Crocs on YK because of a p’sak rather than because neither they nor Converse sneakers had been invented.

    And the habit of thinking of Chumash as a series of vertlach devoid of context and offering little meaning. This approach may be suitable for young children but far too many adults seem to share it.

    And most of all, the assumption that the opinion of the Sefardic Rishonim is not part or our Mesorah (or, forgive me, R Hoffman) should be relegated to kiruv work.

    I do not imagine you will find the author of the video mocking, for example, the drasha of the Beis Halevi on matan Torah for analysing the gemara in Shabbos about mattan Torah in terms of labor contracts, because he does so in context and for the purpose of describing the relationship between Klal Yisrael and HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

  19. The “yeshivish” world believes that kids should be taught the avos kept taryag and only later should metzuyanim be allowed to know the truth, that this is a machlokes rishonim.

    I would think we should support not teaching a controversial problematic view until kids are far enough along to absorb the complexities and problems with this view.

  20. Michael Feldstein

    I think Rabbis Student and Hoffman misunderstood the point of the video and what was being mocked. It was not the view that the Avot kept mitzvot. It was both the extreme literalism that extended this to worrying about Eisav’s safek bracha and the and the fact that the brown bear in the video accepted this extreme literalism uncritically without thinking about it seriously, and assumed it was the only possible view. Likewise, it was not R. Elyashiv’s p’sak about Croc’s that was being mocked, it was that the bear answered with R. Elyashiv’s p’sak rather than accepting that neither Croc’s nor Converse sneakers were around in the time of the Avot.
    —————-

    What Mike S. said.

    He got it right.

    Gil, look at the video in this light and I think you may be less concerned about the scriptwriter’s position on the specific issue itself. (By the way, who wrote the text?)

  21. “As far as JK’s understanding – I do challenge him to find a meforash on the Gemorah (or even in a teshuva who explains the Gemorah as a minimalist. I wish him good luck on that. :)”

    This is the sort of arrogance that should be excluded from our children’s classrooms and any serious discussion. Is R. Hoffman joking? Or he is really not familiar with the majority of sources that understand the gemara as allegorical? For goodness sakes, the Rambam writes that the Avos “didn’t keep the mitzvos at all(!)”

  22. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Rambam (introduction to Chelek) says that those people who read troubling aggadic portions of the Gemara to the masses with just translation, no other explanation whatsoever, and say “that’s exactly the way it is” would cause even the lowest-IQ member of the audience to say “this makes no sense!”

  23. I would think we should support not teaching a controversial problematic view until kids are far enough along to absorb the complexities and problems with this view.

    I don’t know about you but I think it’s way more controversial to teach kids that the Avot kept a Torah that wasn’t given yet, than to say that they kept the few mitzvot that they were able to figure out on their own.

  24. For most of the video, I think it does, in fact limit itself, to criticising those who would reject the minimalist view as kefira.

    The video is at it’s best in this regard when it makes the simple factual statement of the presence of rishonim who support the minimalist view.

    However, the video crosses the line, right near the end where the “rational” bear questions whether the “mesorah” only has room for the most “fantastical and irrational” points of view. It is is this one sentence that the video changes colors from a defense of alternative viewpoints to an attack on the maximalist position (and by extension, it’s proponents) as irrational.

    “Irrational” is a very striong word. It connotes more than just a polemic position in opposed to the rationalist school. It suggest the utter inability to think clearly.

    If the viedograher had left out that one sentence, I think the overall impact would have been much different, and the offense taken by many would not have registered.

  25. Rabbis Student & Hoffman,
    I think the you are taking this video way out of its intended context. You criticize the video for lacking a carefully nuanced philosophical explication of a complex subject that divided our sages. But that’s entirely the point!

    Most Jews are not scholars. Most Jews are not well learned on this subject. But that does not stop many Jews from having very passionate opinions about those who disagree with them about this (any many other topics). This video mocks people who were taught one side of an issue, blindly accepted it without thinking about it, then call anyone who doesn’t agree with them an apostate.

    It’s an accurate re-creation of many a frustrated conversation. It’s venting some spleen. It is NOT a philosophical tract. Why are you treating it as one?

    KT,
    Hillel

  26. I am with Mike S. on this one, and with those urging a distinction between “keeping the mitzvot” and “keeping ALL the mitzvot”.

    The video is pointing out the absurdity of trying to fit “taryag mitzvot shamarti” around (relatively) minor issues of Torah, like a safek beracha and whether Yaakov read “zecher” or “zeicher”. It’s not a philosophical screed.

    If the author wanted to make a deeply philosophical point, he probably wouldn’t have used talking cartoon characters to do it.

  27. The midrash stands on its own. One who makes fun of midrashim reveals more about themselves than about chazal. What R Hoffman apparantly means is that when teaching elemntary school age children it is apprporiate to teach them the midrash and Rashi simply and as stated. I doubt that many would find a problem with that. As students grow and mature they then need to LEARN what the midrash/Rashi are coming to TEACH us.
    The relevant point of the midrash is NOT to determine if the Avot historically kept all the mitzvos or not. The point of learning is to understand the various positions espoused in interpreting the midrash and to derive their implications. Thus the rishonim/achronim took the maximalist/minimalist and in between interpretations and deduced that various questions arise or can be answered if one accepts a particular approach. There is no need to conclude either way. Losing sight of what the midrash and the mefarshim want us to learn is the error.

  28. What R Hoffman apparantly means is that when teaching elemntary school age children it is apprporiate to teach them the midrash and Rashi simply and as stated. I doubt that many would find a problem with that.

    Ah, but you’re wrong. MANY people find a problem with teaching kids midrash as if they are to be taken literally. Or are you suggesting that MO do not act “appropriately”?

  29. SHMUEL:

    “when teaching elemntary school age children it is apprporiate to teach them the midrash and Rashi simply and as stated”

    how about starting out by teaching them the chumash simply and as stated.

    “As students grow and mature they then need to LEARN what the midrash/Rashi are coming to TEACH us.”

    the problem is that most little kids are taught the same midrash/rashi (over and over) but then never get to revisit it in a different context.

  30. SHMUEL:

    or what about when there is a different (often cleaner and easier) explanation that may even be preferred by the majority of parshanim, but it is contrary to midrash/rashi. what is the didactic value here of teaching kids the midrash/rashi?

  31. >What R Hoffman apparantly means is that when teaching elemntary school age children it is apprporiate to teach them the midrash and Rashi simply and as stated. I doubt that many would find a problem with that. As students grow and mature they then need to LEARN what the midrash/Rashi are coming to TEACH us.

    But he does not say this at all. He says that outside of certain kiruv scenarios where all three approaches should be taught, only the one he called maximalist should be taught. We’re talking about yeshiva bochurim, not 7 year olds. Since Rabbi Hoffman himself as a grown up talmid chochom is aware of the other approaches, obviously he recognizes that as people mature and learn they will come to know the other approaches. But that still leaves 18 year olds (and 25 year olds) being treated the same way as 7 year olds. Rabbi Hoffman never says that anything else should be taught, ever. He doesn’t say that the three approaches should be taught in a shiur for adults. He doesn’t even say they should be discovered by talmidei chachomim, although I infer that he expects it will.

    But frankly it’s really not about how to approach the Avos, but about how many people believe they’ve had such a conversation as the one spoofed in the video.

  32. May I suggest that the interested reader see my posts on this issue from last night on the news link? The botton line is that this issue is easily capable of being viewed from many POVs within the Mesorah as well as the companion issue of the Halachic status of the Avos prior to Matan Torah. OTOH, to view either Medrash or Pshat oriented Parshanut as the only legitimate means of Parshanut to the extreme tnat one is valid at the expense of the other is a POV that strikes me as simply mistaken inasmuch such an approach is contrary to Elu v Elu Divrei Elokim Chaim.

  33. “Steve Brizel on November 26, 2010 at 11:53 am
    May I suggest that the interested reader see my posts on this issue from last night on the news link? ”
    It is worthwhile reading-one can find the posts easily by reading a copy of my agreement from last night.

    “mycroft on November 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm
    I agree with Steves 3 posts 0f 817, 840 and 916”

  34. I share the concenrs of many here that children are taught to confuse the text and midrash, and that the literal midrash is all there is. This bothers me to no end. All I’m saying is that we should not overreact and throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  35. The video follows the tradition of the Rambam who mocked people who take midrashim literally. To mock this view is simply to be a student of the Rambam. Or is one not allowed to be a student of the Rambam?

  36. I’ve also never had a conversation like that in the video, perhaps because I believe in letting people be and feel no need to proselytize. Let the yeshivish be yeshivish.

  37. GS

    “I’ve also never had a conversation like that in the video, perhaps because I believe in letting people be and feel no need to proselytize. Let the yeshivish be yeshivish.”

    So when someone waits for a reaction to a bad vort you always smile and tell them it was great? Even when they want to engage you in conversation about it?

    Also, in a push and pull world, sometimes you have to proselytize the proselytizers as one strategy for merely preserving your status quo.

  38. So when someone waits for a reaction to a bad vort you always smile and tell them it was great? Even when they want to engage you in conversation about it?

    I try to be polite and if someone pushes I dismiss them. Just last Shabbos, someone tried to argue with me about the Kuzari Argument (that I reject and he accepts). I spoke with him briefly and then told him that it isn’t the time or the place for it. He didn’t like that but I insisted. It’s not my role to undermine someone’s beliefs.

  39. “I’ve also never had a conversation like that in the video, perhaps because I believe in letting people be and feel no need to proselytize.”

    Also because you’re a better person than me. When I was younger I was much more of a kanai about these things because of how much they bothered me. They still do, but (thanks to conversations like those in the video) I’ve given up (mostly) on talking to people who aren’t interested in actually having an adult, intellectually honest discussion. That being said, I still don’t get how transcribing such a conversation is problematic.

    KT,
    Hillel

  40. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Hoffman: “If my post was unclear in that respect I apologize.” If??? You clearly said that the minimalist position (a misnomer, but that’s another story) should be taught only in kiruv work or to the occasional questioner. Now you are saying that the maximalist approach should be taught in Elementary school, but BOTH approaches should be taught in High School. Do you really think that had you said that to begin with your article would have aroused so much controversy?

  41. “Now you are saying that the maximalist approach should be taught in Elementary school, but BOTH approaches should be taught in High School. Do you really think that had you said that to begin with your article would have aroused so much controversy?”

    For whatever minimal value my opinion has I don’t believe thatthe Maximalist position should be taught in elementary school. Teach the stories as pshat-they are good enough. Later on one can introduce -drash. Introducing drash at a younger age will more likely cause teenagersto believe they’ve been lied to-which arguably they have if one teaches the maximalist approach as “THE TORAH APPROACH”.
    I was lucky in elementary school I was not taught the maximalist midrashim.

  42. Lot had Matzot and Abraham had cakes, according to the Midrash both were on Nissan 15th. Hmmm!
    Perhaps Rashi had something else in mind than just a simple “it was Pesach”?

  43. It seems that everyone is ignoring the biggest problem with the entire blogosphere discussion of this video: THEY’RE DOGS!!

    They have spots on their eyes and little ears that fold over! DOGS!! Can’t we all agree?

  44. My friend had a great vort on Friday: Chazal say that if Reuven had known what the Torah would write about him concerning the little he did, he would have put Yosef on his shoulders and carried him home.

    Ergo, Reuven did not know what the Torah said. QED.

  45. nachum,
    see my maareh mkomot-I also wondered about the intermediate value theorom – if the avot/kept all the 613 but bnai yisrael in mitzrayim at the time of the geulah didn’t, where did the mesorah drop off?
    KT

  46. Let me introduce another line of questioning – Is it possible that given bechira chofshit that the avot already knew whiat enactments would be made bu later generations of Rabbis? If yes, was the bechira of later generations constrained by this foreknowledge if they passed it on?(I don’t think the HKB”H exists outside of time answer works for this once he gives it over to humans- so in efffect aiui bechira was constrained by telling avraham that his descendants would go into galut if avraham passed this knowledge on) If they knew the mitzvot were the ratzon hashem, why wouldn’t they pass them on?
    KT

  47. “You do not have the right to reject an opinion until you understand it. The video mocks the bear’s position without understanding it, out of ignorance portraying it as foolish.” -Gil

    I see no evidence that you, or anyone else, understands the position. Giving a list of people who hold a position is not the same as understanding it! As far as any of us can tell, the position is bizarre and nonsensical. It seems that the most pressing question is not whether the position is true. But rather, how could so many people, with acknowledged accomplishments in other areas of Torah study, not see the position’s weaknesses.

    (And the answer to the latter question may be: ein makshin al aggadta.)

  48. “They have spots on their eyes and little ears that fold over! DOGS!! Can’t we all agree?”

    Clever, but they’re fuzzy and cute and stand on two legs, like teddy bears. There’s no such thing as teddy dogs.

    “Ergo, Reuven did not know what the Torah said. QED.”

    Who says that Reuven learned Torah? And even if he did, maybe he momentarily forgot it? Surely the mourning over his lost status or Yosef’s fate would cause him to forget some Torah, similar to the thousands of laws that were forgotten after Moshe’s death? You see, you can find an explanation for anything.

  49. There’s a vast gulf that separates us from the Rishonim – it’s called modernity. I’d be surprised if anyone believes that Dovid Hamelech wrote Tehilim 137 ‘Al naharos Bavel’, despite what Chazal say. Why – because we now have developed historical senses that those who came ealrier clearly did not have. Or were the rishonim and Chazal just as good (better) at history than we are? It’s a shame they didn’t pass on their knowledge to their contemporaries and saved the world a couple of thousand years.
    If you believe Dovid Hamelech did write it, what do you think happened to the scroll in the meantime – and why did the Jews not know what to expect? Where was the bechira if it was already written in a divinely sanctioned scroll – or were there alternate passaged depending on how history worked out? These questions bother us in ways they wouldn’t have bothered the ancients (or at least they should). If we are prepared to reject Chazal when their views contrast with how we now understand history to work, then why not Rishonim?

  50. Nachum: R. Menachem Kasher suggests, either himself or from a commentary, that the Avos wrote scrolls which had the status of a Sefer Torah. They obviously did not have complete sifrei Torah but when Moshe instituted the weekly Torah reading, it was of these scrolls and not a complete Sefer Torah.

    Shlomo: “bizarre and nonsensical”??? I could tolerate calling it anachronistic or ahistorical but not bizarre and nonsensical.

    Anonymous: I believe that David wrote “Al Naharos Bavel”. The chapter does not give a year for the destruction of the Temple or mention any details. How were his contemporaries or successors supposed to know what it meant?

  51. Lawrence Kaplan

    Anonymous: Obviously there are many people, aside from Gil, believe that King David wrote al Naharot Bavel. If you mean to say that no modern person would believe it, you are in danger of commiting the No True Scotsman Fallacy.

    I do not believe that King David wrote the Psalm, and think that what the Ranak wrote about this in the beginning of Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman is still of great value.

    My comment about R. Hoffman was le-shitato: That is, had he said that the maximalist position should be taught in elementary school and both positions in High School his article would not have aroused controversy. I personally beleive both positions should be taught even in elementary school. Obviously though, on that level the matter can only be treated superficially.

  52. R. Gil,
    Please be accurate:
    does the vort about the lentils and hamotzi have a room on your book shelf? or would you sling it into the trash?
    I have reason to believe that would someone have told this vort to Rashi he would have been thrown out of the beit-midrash.

  53. If I may ask a few simple questions:

    1) How can one attribute the authorship of ALL the psalms to David when many of them are specifically attributed to others (the sons of Korach, Asaf, Moshe Rabeinnu &c)?

    2) Why is the question of authorship of the psalms a zero-sum game (i.e. either David wrote all or none of them?)? This isn’t the Chumash we’re talking about here.

    I think this lecture by Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes on the subject is apt:

    http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3765600,00.html

  54. I suspect that many who view the so called “maximalist” POV also susbscribe to the view that Avraham Avinu accepted Malchus HaShem at age 3, despite the fact that there are other views that state that Avraham Avinu was either in this 30s or 40s when he accepted Malchus HaShem. Once again, as RAL has pointed out, these views point to whether the same was emotional and/or intellectual in nature. There is no Nafkeh Minah LMaaseh from subscribing to any view on these issues, but as R Gil pointed out, tolerance for those who subscribe to either view should be encouraged simply because the same boil down to one of the more classic illustrations of Elu vElu Divrei Elokim Chaim.

  55. 1) How can one attribute the authorship of ALL the psalms to David when many of them are specifically attributed to others (the sons of Korach, Asaf, Moshe Rabeinnu &c)?

    How about Tehillim 72-20
    kalu tfillot david ben ishai

  56. “There is no Nafkeh Minah LMaaseh from subscribing to any view on these issues, but as R Gil pointed out, tolerance for those who subscribe to either view should be encouraged simply because the same boil down to one of the more classic illustrations of Elu vElu Divrei Elokim Chaim.”

    Agree in general-there is a very wide latitude in acceptance of legitimate viewpoints in parshanut-as opposed to halacha lemaaseh.

  57. >1) How can one attribute the authorship of ALL the psalms to David when many of them are specifically attributed to others (the sons of Korach, Asaf, Moshe Rabeinnu &c)?

    No one does this; or at least no one who thought about it and knows that the Gemara attributes it to 10 people, does. However, the traditional view is certainly that the bulk of the Psalms were written by him, including the ones like 137 which are patently written after the exile, and the only reason anyone would think otherwise is because of the tradition that David wrote it.

  58. I don’t have much to add to what commenters such as S., Dr. Kaplan and others have said, although I would like to reiterate the following points:

    – My target was not the maximalist position but rather accepting it uncritically, taking it to an absurd extreme (i.e., crocs on tisha b’av) and relating to it as the only legitimate derech.

    – By far, the most distressing point in Rabbi Hoffman’s article was not his attacks on my video, but his blanket statement that the minimalist position should have no room in our “Torah Institutions” (his phrase). One of the most negative religious experiences I had in high school (and I think I am speaking on the behalf of others as well) was being told that a particular statement of Chazal (including the one that is the subject of the video) that seemed to defy logic had to be accepted literally and if I problems with that answer there was something wrong with my hashkafah. That fact that Rabbi Hoffman affirms this approach to teaching teenage boys and girls — even those growing up in acculturated Orthodox communities such as the Five Towns/Far Rockaway (as I understand it Rabbi Hoffman teaches in TAG) — is a bit frightening and I am shocked at Gil’s almost flippant approach to this objection at the top of this thread. If Rabbi Hoffman’s view is more nuanced than that (as one of his comments in the thread suggests), I would greatly appreciate if he could clarify it and correct the article. “Torah Institutions” would seem to include educational institutions of any level, including beis midrash.

    – As others have noted, the video does not mock Rav Elyashiv chas v’shalom. It merely referred to a psak of his to demonstrate how far the yeshiva guy is taking the “maximalist” position. I am not sure how it can be construed as mocking him.

    – There is a certain genre of d’var torah referred to as “shalosh seudos torah” and I think the dvar torah in question (which is a genuine dvar torah that can be found via google) is of that genre. Such divrei torah are a form of pilpul designed to show the sharpness of he who said it rather than to be taken as p’shat in any sense of the word. The yeshiva guy, however, doesn’t realize this.

  59. Charles B. Hall

    ” how many people believe they’ve had such a conversation as the one spoofed in the video”

    I certainly have.

    I think it may be time to go back to the essay by Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam that is printed at the front of the Ein Yaakov collection of aggadata.

  60. Aren’t they dogs?

  61. Dear Reb K,

    The approach I advocate is clearly more nuanced and is grossly mis-characterized here and on other blogs. It was obvious to Rabbi Student and hundreds of others who have emailed me on it. The very fact that my essay identified three different approaches including Rav Tzaddok’s should have clued anyone in. What perhaps is most frightening is that the repercussions of the negative experiences you had in high school (which were clearly wrong of your Rebbeim in not cluing you into the maharal’s approach and the other approaches mentioned in the essay) resulted in your targeting the maximalist position of Rashi, Maharsha and others. True – you claim that you weren’t targeting them, but the expressions, tone, and content clearly show otherwise.

  62. Yair Hoffman

    The approach I advocate is clearly more nuanced and is grossly mis-characterized here and on other blogs.

    It was not clear at all. You either did not express yourself correctly in the original article on this topic or retrenched yourself. As Lawrence Kaplan noted, your article called for only the maximalist view to be taught except that the others could serve as a kiruv tool. S noted this previously as did I. In the comments here, you have called for a 4th grader to be be taught the maximialist view and the greater variety of views in high school. Any “mischaracterization” originates in your own lack of clarity. FWIW, I don’t agree with your restated view either though it has greater logic then your initial one.

  63. Dear HAGTBG
    I originally wrote: None of the positions, however, should ever be mocked or derided. You and others ignored this.

    I originally wrote that the maximalist position “is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions.”
    You and others mischaracterized that as “only the maximalist view should be taught”, “no room in our Torah institutions” etc.

    We can discuss the pedagogical implications of what to teach at what point in the educational system ad infinitum, or we can agree to disagree. However mocking or deriding Torah points of view expressed by great Torah luminaries (any of the three) is clearly wrong and that was my point. One that has been lost in the overall discussion.

  64. Joel: There’s certainly lots of references to Masorah dropping in Chazal, for example the Bnei Yisrael in Egypt descending 49 levels of Tumah. Later, there are all sorts of references to how many halachot were forgotten after the death of Moshe, Yehoshua, etc. There are many others. Of course, what implication this has for Biblical criticism or the development of Torah SheBeAL Peh is a much bigger story. (See, for example, the works of Weiss HaLivni.)

    Shlomo and Gil: As Krum says, it’s the bochur (who holds actual widely held views) that’s being mocked, not the “maximalist” view. Once you start saying “not Reuven” or “not the whole Torah” or whatever, you’re already going to be pasul in these people’s eyes, and possibly that of the “maximalist view” as well.

    As to Psalm 137:

    -Bavel had not been a world player for hundreds of years by the time of David, and would not be again for hundreds of years.

    -The Mikdash had not yet been built by David’s time.

    So you can see why people would have a problem with it. The idea that it (and others) are post exilic is already established in Chazal.

  65. nachum
    yes, but my question was when did the drop occur and how-e.g. did yosef keep all 613.
    kt

  66. You and others mischaracterized that as “only the maximalist view should be taught”, “no room in our Torah institutions” etc.

    The logical application of your words is generally not to be termed mischaracterization though evidently you did not say what you meant. To state a person mischaracterized is to sate they either were interpreting in bad faith or there was a more logical interpretation. The former possibility is unworthy of comment. The later is untrue absent, again, your later qualifications.

    However mocking or deriding Torah points of view expressed by great Torah luminaries (any of the three) is clearly wrong and that was my point.

    A left winger could just as easily make such an accusation against the right on a plethora of topics. The narrowing of viewpoints on all sides is indeed worthy of discussion.

  67. LongTimeReader

    Rabbi Hoffman –

    if your goal here is to simply defend Torah luminaries from internet ridicule, doesn’t your cheap shot at YU undermine your message?

  68. Joel: I’m only willing to go so far. You’d better ask someone who believes that Avraham did.

    Of course, Yosef is said to have given Osnat (who didn’t require conversion) a ketuba, so there’s that.

  69. LongTimeReader

    Osnat didn’t require conversion because she was Dina’s daughter.

  70. That’s what I meant.

    Never matter that the pasuk says she was the daughter of Poti Phera.

  71. Rabbi Hoffman, in your essay you wrote as follows:

    “The overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. When one is involved in Kiruv or deals with people that have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented.”

    You are now claiming that this was only referring to elementary and junior high school, but you meant that all three views should be equally taught to seniors in high school and yeshivah gedolah? Sorry, but that’s just not what this paragraph says – nor what you told me in our email correspondence.

    I just re-watched the video. The “YU” bear clearly says that he is not mocking or disputing the Gemara, just following different Rishonim. The yeshivah bear says that they are not part of the mesorah, and must be of YU affiliation. Isn’t this an exact portrayal of your position in your essay and in your correspondence with me?

  72. What also really bothers me about this is the statements by Gil and Rabbi Hoffman equating the video with attacking Rashi, when that clearly -whatever one feels about the matter at hand – is not the case. Rashi, who obviously long preceded the Scientific Revolution, lived in a world where where the line between “science”/ the physically testable and the untestable was not where it is today. His whole sense of history would have been drastically different then one of a person raised today in the US with access to what is now considered a decent education in history and the theories he posited would all have been made in his own context; it could not be otherwise (for him as well as for us). The video was clearly looking at the current context. To state that the maker of the video was attacking/mocking Rashi for lack of critical thought is simply absurd.

    Are we going to say that if someone mocks a person today for believing the world is flat or the center of the solar system that he therefore mocks each generation that had no basis to know one way or the other and concluded otherwise? Are we going to say that each view is as an a priori matter equally valid today as it was before we had a reason to know one way or the other? This does not go to logical viability but a consideration of reasonable likelihood. Clearly the burden should have shifted more against views that do not comport with what we now know of the natural world, that pose problems with the biblical narrative and are, to boot, unnecessary for Torah and halachic Judaism.

  73. Maybe it’s a case of projection, but I assumed on reading R. Yair’s article that he was somewhat imprecise in his language about teaching the maximalist position. I assumed he was talking about elementary school and below average high schoolers. I don’t agree with it but based on what I know about R. Yair and where he fits into the communal spectrum, that’s what I expected him to say. He’s not on the far right by any means and is not anti-YU, even if he might not be a fan of it.

  74. “however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. When one is involved in Kiruv or deals with people that have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented”

    Is it the authors position that kiruv should engage in falsehood-teach one thing to kiruv potentials and teach another thing to those who are FFB?

  75. “Maybe it’s a case of projection, but I assumed on reading R. Yair’s article that he was somewhat imprecise in his language about teaching the maximalist position.”

    I wonder if R. Hoffman has submitted a follow up piece to be published by the 5towns Jewish Press clarifying what Gil generously calls his imprecision. BTW, whatever my thoughts about R. Hoffman’s article, I give him a great deal of credit for participating in this discussion.

  76. Seriously guys, these characters are called “Pawz” and are a combination of dogs and cats, NOT bears.

  77. I still say you’re misrepresenting the whole debate. We’re not arguing about whether or not the avos kept mitzvos and we’re not mocking chazal. The target is a certain sub-phylum of the yeshiva world, whose members learn Rashi in an unsophisticated manner and bristle (or worse) when you ask questions, or point out what other authorities said. Call it brown bear thinking. That’s what is being derided.

    And as I’ve noted, the defenders of brown bear style thinking like Yair Hoffman are only proving the point by suggesting that Rishonim ought to be banned from the yeshivahs, and reserved for people with weak backgrounds.

  78. The view that the Avos observed all of the mitzvos occupies a hallowed place in Jewish tradition, with Rashi in particular adopting it (e.g., see Rashi to Gen. 19:3 that Lot served the angels matzah because it was Pesach). Someone who mock this position, mocks Rashi. Think about what that says about you

    1) This is an appeal to consequences, and a fallacious argument.
    2) The view that the Avos observed all of the mitzvos does NOT occupy a hallowed place in Jewish tradition, and Rashi does not adopt this.

    Why do I say this?

    Simple because unless its your position that Yaakov was a androgynous gazlan who kept his own family as slaves Rashi could not have possibly thought Yaakov kept “all” mitzvos

    In Vayikra 5:23 there is a mitzva deorayta leashiv gzela asher gazal… So to keep this mitzva he had to steal first. Also to keep all mitzvot for isha ki tihiye zava, he had to mensturate, and there are many mitzvot that only man can keep, such as brit mila. So he had to have an uterus and male organ. And, to keep mitzvot of eved ivri, he had to keep Jews as slaves, and only “Jews” around were his family.

    So is it your position that Rashi held Yaakov was an androgynous gazlan who kept his own family as slaves? Or are you ready to concede that anyone who says that “The view that the Avos observed all of the mitzvos occupies a hallowed place in Jewish tradition” is, in fact, misrepresenting Rashi and the tradition?

  79. 1) It is an appeal to authority, not consequences.
    2) Yes, he does.

    Your argument is fallacious because it adopts an overly literal meaning that no one intends. Rashi’s view is that the Avos kept the mitzvos just like Moshe Rabbeinu, David Ha-Melekh and R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi.

    According to your logic, no one has ever kept the Torah’s mitzvos. That, I suggest, is misrepresenting Rashi and the tradition.

  80. Rambam writes: “and there is no doubt that the Avot and Noach and Adam who did not keep the words of the Torah at all will not be Bnei Gehinnom”

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/vl/rambamuvno/rambamuvno17.pdf
    1st column, 1st paragraph

  81. Rambam, on Perek Cheilek (translation by Fred Rosner):
    There are three classes of thinkers… The first class … understand the words of the Sages literally and do not interpret them at all. To them, all impossibilities are necessary occurrences. They only do this because of their ignorance of the sciences and their being distant from various fields of knowledge. …. And this, in spite of the fact that in their literal sense, some of the words of the sages would seem to be so slanderous and absurd…. This class of thinkers is poor in understanding and one should pity their folly. In their own minds, they think they are honoring and exalting the sages, but they are actually degrading them to the lowest depths. And they do not perceive that. As God lives, it is this class of thinkers that destroys the splendor of the Torah and darkens its brilliance. And they pervert the Torah of God into saying the opposite of what it intends to convey. For God said in his perfect Torah “For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations which shall hear all these statutes and say: Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people”. But this category of thinkers expounds the words of the Sages in their literal sense, so that when the nations hear them, they will say: “Surely, this small nation is a foolish and degenerate people”.

  82. Gil,

    Is there room on your bookshelf for this class of thinkers?

  83. ” BTW, whatever my thoughts about R. Hoffman’s article, I give him a great deal of credit for participating in this discussion.”
    Agreed

  84. GIL:

    “He’s . . . not anti-YU”

    So how did you understand his dismissal of YU at the end of the article as “left-of-center”?

    And for that matter, what is so wrong with “push[ing] some of the left-of-center Hashkafa and to undermine the lessons taught in more Yeshivesh circles”? As if the “Gedolei HaPoskim” mentioned in the prefatory note don’t “push some right-of-center Hashkafa to undermine the lessons taught in more modernish circles”?

  85. He meant LWMO.

  86. R. Gil, why don’t you ask some of the YU Roshei Yeshivah whether they believe in teaching the maximalist approach, the minimalist approach, or both equally?

  87. I already spoke with one who strongly believes in teaching peshat as peshat and midrash as midrash. But I’m pretty sure others will have different opinions. I’ve heard well over a hundred chumash shiurim from R. Hershel Schachter and he teaches the halakhic-midrashic approach that they kept the mitzvos, although he also likes the Maharal’s middle position (they kept mitzvos aseh as einam metzuvim ve-osim).

  88. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Hoffmn: Does not the sentence following your sentence that the maximalsit position is the “general position that shuold be taught in our Torah institutions,” the sentence which you did NOT quote in your reply, namely, “When one is involved in kiruv work or deals with people who have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented,” imply that otherwise only the maximalist position should be pressnted? This is aside from the fact that you insinuate that a position advocated by the Rambam, Ramban, ibn Ezra, Rashmbam, Radak, Seforno, etc, is fit only for –nebech– Baalei Teshuvah and people with a weak background.

    The real underlying point of this debate has not been mentioned here– and it may acount for the vehemnence of the “maximalists.” Can we, if only theoretically, conceive of a path to God not through the Taryag mitzvot. After all, the Avot are our models. What would it mean to say that their form of Avodat ha-Shem, of Hesed, Tzedakah, and Mishpat did not encompass the taryag mitzvot? Perhaps we could say– a la Philo– that the Taryag mitzvot concretize for the Jewish people as a whole the values and ideals exmplifed in the lives of the Avot. But such questions require much thought and reflection, qualities, it would seem, not much in evidence in many of our “Torah institutions.”

  89. GIL:

    “He meant LWMO.”

    i know that “left of center” here means LWMO
    but what was the purpose of referring to YU as left of center in his conclusion? whether or not this is even accurate, YU then becomes the institution that actively seeks to undermine yeshivish hashkafah (as per the introduction). not that i understand why he or the gedolei poskim cited in the preface would have a problem YU returning the favor, if that’s really what it’s doing anyway.

  90. In his most recent parsha shiur R’HS did not like the Ramban’s take.
    kt

  91. How does the idea the Dovid kept the mitzvos correspond with the story of Avishag Hashunamis – not exactly shomer negia. I can’t imagine R. Chaim Kanievsky (or Rav Lichtenstein) for that matter going for that.
    In general, try going through Nach and seeing if the people described sound like Rabbinic Jews. It’s interesting that there is absolutely no hint of them keeping anything the medrashim ascribe to them, or any distinctly rabbinic mitzvos (tefillin anyone?). No mention of gittin, halacha in general, mass Torah learning etc. etc.

  92. LongTimeReader

    I don’t see how you can take the YU reference as anything but a cheap shot. I know there is a version of the column without it – I hope he (you) thought better of it & removed it, but he should say so explicitly if that’s the case. If not, he should defend why it is a good idea to poke fun at gedolei Torah while giving mussar about poking fun at gedolei Torah.

  93. Lawrence Kaplan: “The real underlying point of this debate has not been mentioned here…Can we, if only theoretically, conceive of a path to God not through the Taryag mitzvot. After all, the Avot are our models. What would it mean to say that their form of Avodat ha-Shem, of Hesed, Tzedakah, and Mishpat did not encompass the taryag mitzvot?”

    Bingo.

    What is significant – and this may be further evidence of your point – is that the “maximalist” position doesn’t actually rely on any evidence. Zero.

    Interesting, no?

    Instead, it consists of a single external assumption that is applied across an entire corpus of texts. Such an inductive assumption in fact encounters many important contradictions within the very texts it presumes to explain, and those who share this assumption have therefore had to perform fantastic feats of exegetical legerdemain (with varying degrees of plausibility) aimed at preserving the validity of the assumption.

    This should indicate that the assumption stems not from any convictions about textual evidence, historical evidence, etc., but rather from an independent philosophical inclination to see mitzva-observance [as interpreted by Chazal] as the ideal path to God for all people at all times. (And at different times throughout history, this has sometimes been mixed, however awkwardly, with a separate inclination towards valuing pshuto shel mikra; but this is a separate issue).

    That being the case, I don’t much see the point of arguing on textual or historical grounds whether or not the Rishonim did or did not accept the historical truth of any specific factoid generated by reliance upon this assumption. This sort of debate misses the point. Obviously there is absolutely no convincing argument for the “maximalists” to make on this score (which is presumably why Gil doesn’t make much of any, instead contenting himself with providing a laundry list of authorities whom he considers to have adopted variations of the maximalist position).

    Let us all therefore be clear: this is a PHILOSOPHICAL argument MASQUERADING as a TEXTUAL/HISTORICAL argument. Once that has been worked out, I think we can have an easier time separating textual/historical fact from textual/historical fiction, and thus teach the “maximalist” position within the context of discussing legitimate and important differences in the realm of hashkafah…Of course, by the same token that also means that the “minimalist” position (I’m still a bit unclear as to the parameters of this position, by the way) must take on a MUCH greater role in curricula that do, in fact, value learning what the Torah actually says, and what our Avos (and other ancestors) actually did.

  94. R Hoffman, you wrote: “The approach I advocate is clearly more nuanced and is grossly mis-characterized here and on other blogs. It was obvious to Rabbi Student and hundreds of others who have emailed me on it.”

    Based on Gil’s comment above, your meaning certainly wasn’t “obvious” to him so perhaps the “gross mischaracterization” of your position is due to a straightfoward reading of your words rather than a failure on the part of your readers. As Prof Kaplan noted above, your article strongly implies that the “maximalist” position (at least “generally”) should be taught in our Torah institutions without regard to grade level, and all three should only be presented in the kiruv context. While i appreciate your willingness to engage in this forum, frankly, I don’t see why we should have to slave over your words as if we were trying to unlock the meaning of a difficult Ramban. Rather than asserting that you are bein mischaracterized and your intent is obvious as you did in response to my prior comment, perhaps you can just clarify what you think is the appropriate policy for yeshivas to follow.

    Thanks.

  95. Jerry,
    Would the result be changed if instead of “independent philosophical..” we substituted a “mesorah from sinai (or so)” to interpret in this way?
    KT

  96. joel – are you saying that midrashim are now to be understood as being from moshe misinai like halachot and are binding in nature? would you kindly define the term “mesorah” what it is or isn’t – it seems the folks in the recent jewish action had a hard time with it.

  97. jerry – that’s why they call it lomdus – he has nothing to do with reality. just logical constructs brilliantly derived. evidence just gets in the way.

  98. There are many midrashic sources that seem to clearly indicate that the Avos did NOT keep the whole Torah. (See M.M. Kasher, Torah Shelema Ber. 26:5). Don’t these pre-date the Gemara in Yoma, which indicate that the Ovos did not keep all of the mitzvos?

    My question is: why are these sources usually ignored, dismissed, or treated with less respect than the Yoma position? Are they somehow less authoritative, or just less well-known?

  99. it strikes me strange that no one has commented about the time – period in history – that these midrashim were written. what was going on at the time in jewish history and whether these were polemics to other sects within and out of judaism.

    the reference to lot eating matzos because it was pesach – if you look at the language in beresheit with lot and the angels and compare it to shenot – you will find similiar words that chazal points to in this midrash to connect the two situations. t’ yoel bin nun has wriiten on this subject.

  100. OK, perhaps we can agree that Krum intended to mock only the maximalist, unthinking acceptance of the maximalist position (not the maximalist position itself) and go home?

    Just one more thing, are both bears male or is one female?

  101. Joel Rich: “Would the result be changed if instead of “independent philosophical..” we substituted a “mesorah from sinai (or so)” to interpret in this way?”

    Well is there a maximalist mesorah mi’Sinai [Sally sells seashells…] or not? If there is, the many minimalist Rishonim are in big theological trouble!

    You might, of course, say that whatever common ground all the Rishonim share is what the mesorah was, and the Rishonim simply disagree as to the (many, many) details. But then again, one can always distill any series of disputes and positions down to their lowest common denominator and call that “mesorah.”

    Besides, Chazal (at least in the Bavli) were not shy about indicating when something was a mesorah mi’Sinai. Absent any such indications, we have to look for other evidence that the assumption is correct. The number one place to look would be the Chumash (and Nach) itself, and not only is there ZERO explicit evidence there, but there are actually numerous places in which negative evidence exists.

  102. no, I meant that perhaps chazal had a mesorah to interpret positively and then applied it using their own insight and logic.
    KT

  103. Joel Rich: “no, I meant that perhaps chazal had a mesorah to interpret positively and then applied it using their own insight and logic.”

    Okay, but as I point out above, ikkar chaser min hasefer. Chazal – when they adopt this approach (not consistent) – don’t mention any such mesorah, they just do it. I don’t know if we can just make up mesoros…

  104. “I’ve heard well over a hundred chumash shiurim from R. Hershel Schachter and he teaches the halakhic-midrashic approach that they kept the mitzvos, although he also likes the Maharal’s middle position (they kept mitzvos aseh as einam metzuvim ve-osim).”

    Now I understand.

  105. Jon_ In at least one shiur relating to this issue,( IIRC when the YIFH shiur learned R Eliezer D/Milah) RHS has also discussed the related issue of whether the Avos were on the same spiritual level as Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisrael after Matan Torah.

  106. Lawrence Kaplan

    Interestingly enoughj, the earliest version of the maximalist position, to my knowledge, is to be found in the sectarian work, the Bnok of Jubilees, where not not only Avraham, but also Noah, IIRC, kept the entire Torah. The ideological basis of this position emerges there clearly.

    As to whether there may have been a polemical motif in this view of Hazal: some have suggested that Hazal may, in part, be reacting to the Pauline view (see Letter to the Romans) that Abraham was ssved through faith alone.

    I discusss someif of thees issues in my articles “Maimonides on ths Singularity of the Jewish People” and “Maimonides and Mendelsiohn on the Origins of Idolatry the Election of Israel, and the Oral Law.

  107. Jon_Brooklyn: Now I understand.

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean but R. Schachter is no alone. The Acharonim are full of this approach, particularly but not exclusively Briskers.

  108. You are quite wrong that one who mocks the “maximalist” view, mocks Rashi. In the first place, we dont know what Rashi personally believed. Rashi was citing from chazal verbatim. He may have beleived it, he many not have. Just like I told my son the tooth fairy might visit him tonight, without believing it. Citing something in a book does not mean one personally believes it.

    Now to argue in the alternative. Even if rashi (or any other rishon) did beleive that Yitzchak blew the shofar on rosh hashanah, that is entirely meaningless to us today in 2010. The premises and assumptions of today are not those of a 1000 years ago, just like the standards used for various halachos and sensibilities are not the same. I can say its 100% ludicrous to think Yakov separated masser for a tribe of leveim that had not yet come into existence, and that in no way impugns Rashi. Not in any way at all. When you say that it impugns Rashi, it’s just a thuggish way of intimidating people from speaking their minds. “Are you calling me a liar” Are you saying Rashi was a fool”? Mere thuggery, and not a true argument.

    Last, I see some of the true beleivers, forced as they are into defending a patently absurd proposition, claim that the avos had a “different” torah that they kept. How does this not contradict the 13 supposed articles of faith of Rambam. Surely someone has raised this obvious point elsewhere, and so I apologize for not seeing it.

  109. DF, I think the issue is that once you make a concession like that, you’re no longer in the “maximalist” camp, at least as represented by the brown bear.

    The Dead Sea Sectarians seemed to have the same belief- there is a theory that Esther is not among their books because under their calendar (see the MMT scroll), Purim is always Shabbat, and since Biblical characters kept kol haTorah kula (they didn’t have pikuach nefesh), Purim couldn’t have happened, etc.

  110. Jerry,
    I agree -ikkar chaser min hasefer has bothered me for a long time in the sense of what underlying message was being transmitted by presenting it this way.
    KT

  111. Joel Rich:

    Underlying messages are always chaser min hasefer, otherwise they wouldn’t be “underlying” 🙂

    I think all we can do is eliminate theories that would have had to be explicit, and the rest is speculation.

  112. At this point, it might be pertinent to draw attention to Gary Anderson’s article “The Status of the Torah Before Sinai” in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries (1994). Anderson is, as far as I can tell, an EXTREMELY “frum” academic (although interestingly, if I understand correctly the subtext of some of his early footnotes, he is probably Christian), so there should be no one on this thread uncomfortable with this article.

    He says that “the canonical problem of locating all revelation at the moment of Sinai [J: i.e. as opposed to earlier, when the patriarchs could have had access to it] was felt by all early Jewish readers of the Bible, even Paul.”

    For the knee-jerk mesorah-niks, however, I should point out that Anderson also is quite clear in establishing the ideological basis for this phenomenon [although note his discussion of patriarchal korbanos!], and also makes clear that “No single model for expressing this concept in early Judaism exists.”

    Most interesting is Philo’s view: “Philo seems to rely on the idea that the Patriarchs knew the law by nature. The fact that they kept many of the commandments later to be revealed at Sinai shows that they are hardly irrational and arbitrary in nature.”

    In any case, Anderson identifies the earliest known versions of this interpretive strategy as responding to the problem of, on the one hand, the moral concern of certain pre-Sinaitic figures failing to be punished for sins that would have been punishable after Har Sinai, and on the other hand, the logical concern of other pre-Sinaitic figures receiving punishments prior to the establishment of the Law at Har Sinai.

  113. Congratulations to Krum for more successfully highlighting an issue with his animated parody than all the more learned posts and comments that preceded it. It’s telling that R’ Gil and R’ Hoffman chose to attack a strawman that they set up. It’s as if the parody came too close to poking fun at their own beliefs or those whom they respect. One aspect of the video that has not been noted is the fact that “brown bear” invariably mispronounces any Hebrew or yeshivish expression. Clearly, we have a poorly educated “brown bear” (probably a newcomer) who has latched on to some yeshivish propaganda which he proceeds to parrot.

    I believe that Jerry has focused correctly on the underlying issue as to whether it can be said that those luminaries prior to matan torah kept it anyway. The point of the midrashei chazal on this issue appears to be that keeping the mitzvot of the torah was always the only way to cleave to GOD, or, to put it another way, the only road to salvation. While that point of view is appropriate now that we have the torah, it becomes more problematic to project it before matan torah. R’ Rich has kindly posted a link to an annotated source sheet that reveals the differences among Rishonim and Acharonim on this matter.

  114. Gil – I understand why you seem to be getting personally offended by the video, and trying really hard to defend the maximalist position.

  115. Larry Kaplan wrote in part:

    “As to whether there may have been a polemical motif in this view of Hazal: some have suggested that Hazal may, in part, be reacting to the Pauline view (see Letter to the Romans) that Abraham was ssved through faith alone.

    I discusss someif of thees issues in my articles “Maimonides on ths Singularity of the Jewish People” and “Maimonides and Mendelsiohn on the Origins of Idolatry the Election of Israel, and the Oral Law.”

    Would you mind sending me a PDF of that paper? Normally, the term “poletical motif” strikes me as apologetical in nature, especially given the well documented record of supercessionism and open anti Semitism among the fathers of the RCC, and the fact that Chazal may have been merely restating the obvious as stated in the Torah as to such concepts as Bchiras Yisrael, Am Segulah, Kabalas HaTorah, and TSBP etc, which the fathers of the RCC not only denied, but whose opposition thereto and hatred of the Jewish People for their rejection of Oso HaIsh became the cornerstone of some of the worst forms of anti Semitism.

  116. “Shlomo: “bizarre and nonsensical”??? I could tolerate calling it anachronistic or ahistorical but not bizarre and nonsensical.” -Gil

    “Nonsensical” means that we can’t make sense of it. That is undoubtedly true. In this case, you are suspending your normal desire to make sense of things. Other people are not. I’m not even implying that the interpretation is false – just that we can’t make sense of it.

    A similar justification could be made for the word “bizarre”.

    I must admit that in the past few comments Jerry has done a good deal to make the interpretation “sensical”.

    “I can say its 100% ludicrous to think Yakov separated masser for a tribe of leveim” -DF

    That one actually has a strong basis, since Avraham gave maaser to Malkitzedek, and after the dream Yaakov promised to give maaser.

  117. I think the point of the whole video was to set up the absurd line about how the Rishonim who disagreed with what Rashi said were affiliated with YU.

    Yeshiva guy doesn’t understand what he’s saying, always a position that invites mockery. He needs to be able to say why Rashi said what he did, and why the Rishonim who disagree did so. He can’t and is reduced to ad hominem attacks on the latter Rishonim.

    Krum’s giving him the line that dismisses these Rishonim for their YU affiliation (the regurgitation of a poorly digested concept of the Avot keeping all the mitzvot) is brilliant satire — not of Rashi, but of someone who smugly assumes he knows what Rashi is talking about because he heard it in a vort.

  118. On reflection, I’d rephrase one thing: Instead of “He can’t and is reduced to ad hominem attacks on the latter Rishonim” I’d say: “He’s as unable to refute the other Rishonim as he is to support Rashi, but instead of honestly saying ‘I don’t know,’ he resorts to an ad hominem attack — on the Rishonim who don’t hold like Rashi!”

  119. Ye’yasher kochakhem to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student and distinguished respondents.
    To answer the excellent question presented by the first excellent video why (according to the Midrash that he observed the Tarya”g Mitzvot) did Jacob not simply look at his own Sefer Torah that had written and immediately realize that Joseph was still alive, I believe we can invoke the Vilna Ga’on’s explanation to the gemara in Bava Batra 15a regarded “be-dema”. There the gemara presents a tannaitic opinion that the last eight verses of the Torah were written “be-dema”, meaning (according to Vilna Ga’on) in a manner that was incomprehensible to any human reader. For Vilna Ga’on, the Sefer Torah always existed even before the events it describes actually unfolded, but any observer who “read the future verses” was unable to discern what they meant (until those events actually unfolded within the space-time continuum of our universe). Thus, Abraham and Jacob could indeed have written kosher Sifrei Torah, but Abraham and Jacob (as well as any other contemporary) would have only understood the verses describing events until their time.

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