Orthodoxy and the Oral Law

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Recent discussions give me the impression that the dissolution of the right wing of the Conservative movement has led to many forgetting what distinguishes Conservative and Orthodox approaches. I think we need a refresher course. Here is one issue, as described by R. Walter Wurzburger in a review of Prof. Boaz Cohen’s Law and Tradition in Judaism (“The Oral Law and the Conservative Dillema” in Tradition 3:1, Fall 1960, p. 85):

Unless one is prepared to accept the traditional view which establishes an organic connection between the Written and the Oral Law, regarding the latter not as a subsequent modification but a concomitant elucidation of the former, one cannot help but impugn either the intellectual honesty or competence of the framers of the Oral Law.

It cannot be argued that these unpleasant alternatives are the necessary price we must pay for an approach to Jewish law that reckons with its dynamic, evolutionary character… [A]ny data (in contradistinction to mere theories and constructions) adduced by the champions of “Historical” Judaism can easily fit into the conceptual framework of the traditionalist… The real issue is this: were the changes and developments that occurred during the talmudic period the result of a creation of an Oral Law that was superimposed upon biblical Judaism, or did the Rabbis, employing principles that ultimately derived from divine revelation on Mt. Sinai, interpret both the Written and the Oral Torah in the light of the historic conditions of their time?

This particular issue is as follows: Rabbinic Judaism is not the creation of rabbis in the Second Temple era and/or beyond. It is not rabbis making up laws and forcing them into the biblical text. It is a continuation of biblical Judaism, at most changed based on Sinaitic principles with the additional accumulation of customs and rabbinic fences to the biblical laws.

This is just one of many conceptual issues that differ between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox approaches.

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, 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 serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as 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.

146 comments

  1. >Recent discussions give me the impression that the dissolution of the right wing of the Conservative movement has led to many forgetting what distinguishes Conservative and Orthodox approaches.

    I don’t think that’s it. I think the approach strikes many as reasonable and heading toward truth, and every day people’s views evolve toward it as a result of their drisha and chakira.

  2. Anonymous wrote:
    “I don’t think that’s it. I think the approach strikes many as reasonable and heading toward truth, and every day people’s views evolve toward it as a result of their drisha and chakira:

    This comment of what RYBS viewed and strongly decried as the common sense approach to TSBP and Halacha, as opposed to working from with the premises and constructs of Halacha and TSBP.

  3. Anonymous: People gravitate in all sorts of directions — left, right, away from religion and even toward other religions. That’s nothing new. What’s new is the misunderstandings about what Orthodox Judaism stands for. If you it is “truth”, well for some people that means Atheism and for others it is Christianity or Islam. One person’s conclusion of a search for truth does not redefine traditional Judaism.

  4. An excellent idea. A short while ago I commented there seems to be some confusion about what exactly is heretical about JTS; and, that my memory was that it was about a view that Conservative Judaism doctrinally did not accept Torah mi’Sinai as literally the word of God. But, you disagreed and thought it was about their halachic process.

    And now you seem to be suggesting it’s about a 1960 view of the dangers of “Historical” Judaism. Would that include, for example, YU’s new Vice-Provost of Undergraduate Education’s “From Text to Tradition: A History of 2nd Temple & Rabbinic Judaism” as well as his Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship?

  5. Good point. Having read through “From Text to Tradition” last semester, that’d probably make Prof. Schiffman somewhat Conservative.

  6. > What’s new is the misunderstandings about what Orthodox Judaism stands for.

    I don’t think so. I think there’s been this push and pull tension for 200 years, and the “to’im” don’t need a reminder from a self-appointed defender of the faith that they’re not being Orthodox. They didn’t “forget.”

  7. So Biblical Judaism said that you can kill lice on Shabbos because they spontaneously generate? Certainly there are those who do indeed say that (or say that the halachah was from Sinai, for a different reason), but Rav Yitzchak Lampronti didn’t. And did Biblical Judaism say that seven month fetuses are more viable than eight month fetuses?

    There’s nothing technically wrong with what R. Wurzberger writes; the problem is that it’s too vague to apply to all situations.

  8. Whoops, I missed the best one: Did Biblical Judaism say that you can eat worms found inside fish?

    (For the record – I personally follow Rav Herzog that such halachos of Chazal still apply, and I believe that those Poskim who overrule Chazal are playing a very dangerous game.)

  9. I think this makes the Ramabam a Conservative rabbi!

  10. On re-reading, it seems that R. Wurtzbuger is trying to make a distinction between the Rambam and the Historicists.
    But the distinction is far more subtle than Gil is making it out to be.

    I would also note that this is the same Boaz Cohen whose Gitten and I believe conversions the Rav accepted.

  11. I think R. Zadok, and other Chassidic thinkers would also be quite conservative. Rabbi Wurzburger’s comments maybe correct- generally- but somewhat oversimplified.

    I think nowadays- the question isn’t “who is Conservative”- because the vast majority of Conservative Jews (I would imagine over 99% ) don’t aspire to keep the mitzvot (yes, I know some keep kosher in the home, etc.)- but rather- when has the “left” of Orthodoxy crossed lines that the rest of Orthodoxy can’t agree with- much more subtle and difficult.

  12. Does the “right” of Orthodoxy ever cross lines that the rest of Orthodoxy can’t agree with?

  13. All the time.

  14. Jonathan Berger

    I am a Conservative rabbi (and therefore, I acknowledge, noge’a ba-davar); I do not consider myself post-denominational. If I were forced to choose between what is characterized here as “the Orthodox and non-Orthodox approaches,” I know what I would choose; in fact, I guess I have already chosen. So in a sense, I have no quarrel with this post; its tone is matter-of-fact, and its focus is ideological and not polemical. It is a nice attempt to draw neat lines between ideologies that are admittedly distinct.

    But those lines… why must they be so neat? I find myself discouraged when contemplating what is essentially an ultimatum, a variation on “You’re either with us or against us.” It’s so limiting—for both sides! A middle-ground position is certainly conceivable to me—something like “There is usually an ‘organic connection between the Written and the Oral Law’; the rabbis generally operated using ‘principles that ultimately derived from divine revelation on Mt. Sinai,’ but there are also (exceptional) cases when the rabbis modified the Written Law or even ‘made up laws.'” I’m not saying we all have to adopt this middle ground—but it is a conceivable position. However, once we insist on identifying litmus tests, strong and clear boundaries, we exclude the possibility of any such moderate position.

    I get the appeal of being able to say, “You are not authentic; only I am.” It feels good, reassuring, pure. But if, as previous commenters have noted, Orthodoxy would thus have to write Rambam, Lampronti, and others out of its roster of accepted authorities, who wins? It becomes a witch-hunt (Muggle-hunt?) like any other. I think that when we find ourselves saying “You’re either with us or against us,” we are in big trouble.

  15. R’ Zadok was already mentioned, we should also mention R’ Kook who argued for an historiosophy which included a source for historical halachic development.

    The problem with what is written above is that it is too vague. One person’s organic developement is anothers invention from whole cloth. And this gets much more complicated when you bring in various forms of dialectic models where the very encounter with another culture produces something new which come to the inside from the outside.

    The real issue is this. In the past, people felt that historical contingency or for that matter the idea that parts of the oral law are not organic to the biblical text would cause people to call into question the “intellectual honesty or competence of the framers of the Oral Law”

    Of course, this is not how most intelectuals today view the process of the developoment of ideas. People are seen as existing within history and therefore are subject to the common attitudes and categories and patterns of their time. For them to opperate under such conditions is neither dishonet or incompetent. It is in fact, to the religious student of history, extremely edifying to see how such spiritual giants reacted and operated within the challenges of their day – bringing everything into a never ending dialectic with the Divine. One ends up wishing that todays leaders were as brave and creative as the leaders of old. This idea has now trickled down to the masses. The greats of old can be reviered without taking them out of their historical context. The dillema posted above has been shown to be a false dillema and the polemics of old against historical Judaism ring hollow in the age where every Jewish studies department has many self-describing orthodox members.

  16. >Anonymous wrote:
    “I don’t think that’s it. I think the approach strikes many as reasonable and heading toward truth, and every day people’s views evolve toward it as a result of their drisha and chakira:

    This comment of what RYBS viewed and strongly decried as the common sense approach to TSBP and Halacha, as opposed to working from with the premises and constructs of Halacha and TSBP.<

    We are not talking about a "common sense" approach but rather an historical approach. And it is ironic since we can trace the birth of the ultra-categorical brisk system to which RYBS adhered to a particlar historical period. Obviously, many on the historicist side of the debate share the S'ridei Eish's critic of brisk's categorical model – that it simply does not correspond to the textual truth and that it creates an unnecessary disconnect between halacha and the world.

    This whole discussion to some extent reminds me of the breakdown of categorical neo-kantian thought at the beginning of the previous century. Why are we Jews always a century late? 🙂

  17. regarding the question of whether the right wing ever overstep boundaries:
    the “heresy police” indeed find it in both directions – (in Lubavitch, certain Breslovers etc.).
    The centrists are usually not adoptive of the witchhunt mode in any direction (they neither joined the Slifkin ban, nor adopted Berger’s anti Chabad crusade).
    Although they may be “too polite” for some – (like slifkin himself, who would have appreciated a counter-attack) – Those who tread peacefully do so always: they do not join the ban of others, nor do they sign counter-bans , but rather “Shom’im Cherpatam V’einam Meishivim”, “Osim B’ahava U’smeichim B’yisurim”.

  18. The problem with what is written above is that it is too vague. One person’s organic developement is anothers invention from whole cloth.
    ===============================
    Which gets us back to what imho is the root of the debate on many issues(transplants, women’s participatiohn…), who/what process arbitrates lmaaseh.

    KT

  19. This is a distinction that, in principle, I could accept. It’s not impossible.

    But I fear that it hasn’t been arrived at through an examination of evidence. Rather, as the title and tone of the post suggest, it has been conjured up as a post-hoc analysis to explain the incidence of two 19th-21st century phenomena. The concept of “rabbinic Judaism” is extremely complex, but if all data must be shoehorned into this thoroughly modern, denominational context, one risks reducing our history to a mere caricature.

  20. Of course the oral law was an organic evolution of Biblical law. And Biblical law was an evolution of the code of Hammurabi.

  21. Natan Slifkin: I have no idea why you are bringing science into this. Do you think rabbis never paskened on new questions? Did Rabbi Wurzburger claim they had a tradition for every single thing they said?

    Does the right ever cross theological lines? Yes but rarely because they tend to follow their rebbeim.

    Moshe Shoshan: Both Rabbi Wurzburger (and my summary) allow for change by rabbis but only through Sinaitic principles. Although note that some hold the Rambam was more conservative on these issues than he is often portrayed. See this post: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2004/11/midrash-halakhah.html

    R. Zadok: I am no expert on R. Zadok’s writings but please make sure to distinguish what R. Zadok actually said and how others extrapolate from his writings.

    Chardal: Rabbi Wurzburger explicitly allows for halachic development.

  22. So the question remains, what are the boundaries of “kosher” halachic development? The post itself is fairly vague. Is the developement only kosher within a worldview that sees the meta-halachic forces which shape the developement of halacha as being from sinai? Can new way of halachic development be integrated at a later stage. Do we allow for any idea of gradual revelation?

    This are the real questions. Not the definitions of terms like orthodox and conservative.

  23. “I am no expert on R. Zadok’s writings but please make sure to distinguish what R. Zadok actually said and how others extrapolate from his writings.”

    If I”m not mistaken Yaakov Elman at YU is an expert on Reb Tzadok. Guest post anyone?

    By the way, Gil, the more I read your summary the more I’m surprised by your either/or attitude. EITHER the whole of rabbinic Judaism is Rabbi Wurzburger’s “concomitant elucidation” of the Biblical tradition that from the start followed the same strict set of systematic rules, OR the whole of rabbinic Judaism is some malicious power-grab by the rabbinic elite, complete with phoney-baloney legislative tactics.

    If I make a list of frum professional historians worldwide, either in Israel, America or Europe, who are in the fields of rabbinic Judaism, or the Second Temple period (or the Biblical or medieval periods, for that matter) – and are therefore the experts on Jewish History during the relevant era(s) – I doubt that a single one could be found who would buy into this either/or proposition. Even setting aside that many would likely disagree with you on specific major/minor details, I think you’d find zero support for such a black and white general view.

  24. Two more points:

    1. I am sure there are those who would protest that Jewish historians are not the only experts in Jewish history. All I can say is that if poskim want the ability (rightfully theirs to my mind) to insist that historians stay out of psak, then poskim also need to acknowledge that they themselves do not really have a place doing history.

    2. Gil, your sense of absolute, black and white certitude on this issue gives me pause. You are very quick to criticize this attitude when manifested by others.

  25. Chardal: “So the question remains, what are the boundaries of “kosher” halachic development? The post itself is fairly vague. Is the developement only kosher within a worldview that sees the meta-halachic forces which shape the developement of halacha as being from sinai? Can new way of halachic development be integrated at a later stage. Do we allow for any idea of gradual revelation?”

    This is a good point, and it also raises the issue of the tension between hashkafa and history. The former PREscribes what “should” happen, the latter DEscribes what “did” happen.

    So the potential issue one might raise with a post like this is that it attempts to impose the rules of one onto the other – forcing the narrative of ancient history to conform to the way that we hope the ongoing process of modern history will eventually resolve.

    Is it possible to find a productive way in which hashkafa and history could interact without compromising on the integrity of either one? I think that would make for a great panel discussion/Orthodox Forum topic/Tradition symposium.

  26. I have a threshold question. What are “Sinaitic principles”? Is there some list? Some detailed definition?

  27. “Is it possible to find a productive way in which hashkafa and history could interact without compromising on the integrity of either one?”

    Probably not, and I’m saying this as someone who wishes it were indeed an option. Maintaining a balance between two “greedy principles” (in the sense that they are total) is emotionally and intellectually taxing, not to say thankless (because both sides bash you for being their enemy, e.g. Shadal).

    It’s much easier to be extreme one way or the other, and in my experience that’s where most people who struggle with this end up. They either end up, attitude-wise, as wholesale historicists/relativists or fundamentalists. Whether they are personally observant or not is immaterial to where they are intellectually and spiritually. There’s a reason why Leibowitz was so popular among the religious academia – he allowed them ostensibly to submit to both.

    However, to avoid ending on a wholly pessimistic note, I refer here to a brief essay I wrote on the subject which proposes principles for a fruitful interplay between hashkafa/halacha and history:

    http://aiwac.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/a-debate-between-me-and-myself-on-orthodoxy-and-academic-jewish-studies-first-round/

    See also here for the links to the rest of the debate:

    http://aiwac.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/a-debate-between-me-and-myself-on-academic-jewish-studies-final-response/

    Hope that’s of some use.

  28. Who cares what distinguishes Orthodoxy and the old-style right-wing Conservative movement if you have not established that it is a core/schismatic distinction. Maybe they also like to eat on orange tablecloths and we don’t, but so what?

    Its not that I disagree with this post but that you have not set forward the basis to make it relevant (though I believe you can).

  29. “I have a threshold question. What are “Sinaitic principles”? Is there some list? Some detailed definition?”

    Joseph,

    I don’t think we’re just talking about “principles”, rules or “logical statements” – clearly defined or not. This is not a mathematical/exact business.

    At play here is also what Prof. Jacob Katz called “the religious instinct” or what Rav Dr. Michael Avraham would call “synthetic” concepts – ideas and rules about Judaism – both faith and practice – that are born of intuition and common sense rather than spelled out exactly. Think of it as kind of a “sixth sense” or axiomatic understanding of how Judaism should develop and be, irrespective of evidence or argument.

    What I think R. Gil is trying to say is that Orthodox Judaism, like any other movement or religion, has a set of axioms – both factual and value-laden statements – that are immutable. Call them “sinaitic principles” or something else, but without those ground rules, it is impossible to prove that Orthodox Judaism stands, in principle, for anything. This is the “historicist” or “analytical” danger. Based on the historicist argument we could, to take an extreme example, argue that it’s OK to worship idols (after all there is both textual and archaeological evidence for this).

    What we need to do is discuss what the “ground rules” are. Even if they are not completely clear-cut, they are there. Before we talk about any interplay or change, we need to understand that there are limits and rules and not everything goes. The only other option is anarchy and an empty formalistic shell arbitrarily adopted for social convenience.

    The only question that remains is: what are those axioms?

  30. Chardal: I appreciate your desire for a Development of Halakhah KeHilkhatah but I can’t give it to you. If I were to write that Judaism believe you must keep Shabbos, you could correctly come back and ask about all sorts of questions such as what does it mean to keep Shabbos, when does Shabbos begin and end, and what about health- or job-related emergencies. Those are all good questions but they are details.

    Jerry: Yes, I am certain. And I am also certain that God exists and gave us the Torah. Do you have a problem with those certainties?

    Ancient history isn’t a science. There is a lot of data but when you take into account how long the period was, it isn’t that much information. Historians have the job of piecing together the puzzle and a lot of what they do is speculation. I happen to enjoy it but I don’t take it as historical fact. Just fun, educated guesses that may very well be disputed in a few years (or days).

  31. “I get the appeal of being able to say, “You are not authentic; only I am.” It feels good, reassuring, pure. But if, as previous commenters have noted, Orthodoxy would thus have to write Rambam, Lampronti, and others out of its roster of accepted authorities, who wins?”

    Rabbi Berger, you are right in theory but not in practice. In practice the positions of those older commenters are whitewashed so that they become “orthodox” positions. The plain English and facts about their worldviews are edit out or reinterpreted. So for giyur for example, the position becomes that Rambam couldn’t have possibly meant what he said when he stated in clear language that once converted a person cannot be unconverted. Since he could not have meant something that goes against the grain of Orthodox thought, its also clear that he could not have meant what he said.

    He is appropriated therefore, not studied.

    “In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was a great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment of the kind that occurs only once or twice a millennium.
    Gottwald was flanked by his comrades with Clementis standing close to him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took of his fur hat and set it on Gottwald’s head.
    The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.
    Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history and, of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald’s head. ”

    Milan Kundera – The book of laughter and forgetting.

  32. David S: I think the objection from the views of Rambam and R. Lampronti are based on a misunderstanding of this post. See my comment above at 7:33 am. There is no need to whitewash their views.

  33. >Does the right ever cross theological lines? Yes but rarely because they tend to follow their rebbeim.

    The other day R Moshe Shternbuch said that palm reading is okay. He crossed no line?

  34. Depends on his justification.

  35. I think that this whole topic is precisely the sort of thing that the Rishonim had ferocious arguments about, with Rambam minimizing the Sinaitic component of the Gemara, and others maximizing it.

  36. “David S: I think the objection from the views of Rambam and R. Lampronti are based on a misunderstanding of this post. See my comment above at 7:33 am. There is no need to whitewash their views.”

    I agree that this post is not about misrepresentation of their positions but the idea of an organic link is rather a mushy one and highly subjective. Orthodox belief is clear that there is a direct connection from Sinai to now. However, the portrayal of that connection is often presented as a straight line. However, I would suggest that the connection from generation to generation is a tenuous one…much like a game of telephone where fundamental insights are left behind along the way and new ones are forged. Since more people now have access to the original works of this chain of people, they can see for themselves the opinions that these earlier sages and the twists and turns that the road took.

  37. Natan Slifkin: I think that this whole topic is precisely the sort of thing that the Rishonim had ferocious arguments about, with Rambam minimizing the Sinaitic component of the Gemara, and others maximizing it.

    Not at all. The Rishonim all agreed that the 13 hermeneutic principles were from Sinai. The debate was about how much it was used.

  38. Speaking plainly, many of the big ideas of Conservative Judaism have dribbled into Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy; whilst others have become as anachronistic as the stilted academic writing style of 1960 featured in the posting.

    As an example of a big idea that is increasingly irrelevant to theological difference, see this quotation from Robert Alter’s introduction to his 2004 translation of the Chumash:

    “This rapid summary may make matters sound pat, but it fact all the details of the Documentary Hypothesis are continually, and often quite vehemently debated. […] (I should add that efforts to distinguish between J and E on stylistic grounds have been quite unconvincing.) It is small wonder that the Documentary Hypothesis, whatever its general validity, has begun to look at though it has reached a point of diminishing returns, and many young scholars, showing signs of restlessness with source criticism, have begin exploring other approaches – literary, anthropological, sociological, and so forth – to the Bible.”

    Coming back to the confusion about why Conservative Judaism is “famous for being famous” (as heretics) these days, the culture wars of the 20th century very little resonance in today’s world of Halahic Judaism irrespective of denominational (or not) affiliation. The sine qua non in today’s world is a commitment to halacha (where different people hold by different poskim).

    That the Centrist Orthodox establishment wants to retain its power; and the Conservative establishment wants to retain its is a political consideration rather than a theological one.

  39. Gil, if you want to proceed down that route I can understand that, but please understand in turn that one cannot just use the “be more open-minded” argument whenever it suits one’s purposes, but not when it’s inconvenient. This is not, obviously, the main thrust of my difference of opinion here, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the force of your charge of close-mindedness in other contexts loses some of its potency.

  40. Jerry: I absolutely believe that there are theological red lines in Judaism about which we must be, to use your terminology, “close-minded” and only within Orthodox Judaism can we be “open-minded”. This is something I have been saying for years. The Slifkin debate was significant because it was about beliefs that have long been part of Orthodox Judaism and advocated by Gedolei Torah through today. That people with non-Orthodox beliefs were some fellow travelers in the Slifkin controversy does not mean that suddenly all beliefs are acceptable as long as you observe halakhah.

  41. IH: Speaking plainly, many of the big ideas of Conservative Judaism have dribbled into Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy

    Yes, that is precisely the problem.

  42. As far as ancient history goes, you are right that it’s not as precise as something like chemistry. That does not mean, however, that anything goes. I’m sure I don’t need to explain further.

    Ultimately this is not as much about intellectual honesty as it is the APPEARANCE of intellectual honesty (which is also very important, just like maris ayin in other contexts). I have no doubt that there are people who genuinely believe that history can be reconstructed largely on the basis of hashkafa (or that the study of history is a bunch of “fun, educated guesses”). There are also people who dispute things like evolution that, while of the “hard sciences” genre, are still technically theories.

    These people are entitled to their opinions, but I think that in the fight for the hearts and minds of MO Jews, people instinctively perceive a difference between a search that is conducted on the basis of an earnest search for emes, and a search that is conducted with an attitude of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” I think that in a world where baalabusim more and more have the opportunity to learn and study both lomdus and history, the former approach is destined to win out. It may take some time, but I am pretty optimistic about this.

    I think the wonderful thing about many of the frum historians I have had the chance to meet – both Israeli, American and European – is that they manage to live and project that sense of searching for emes, while at the same time remaining true to the crucial demands of hashkafa.

  43. “does not mean that suddenly all beliefs are acceptable as long as you observe halakhah”.

    So what are the beliefs that demarcate the red-lines of Orthodoxy — on both “left” and “right” — in your view?

  44. “The other day R Moshe Shternbuch said that palm reading is okay. He crossed no line?”

    First of all, you took an entire article and psak and condensed it down to 1 soundbite that is totally off the wall. He did not say it’s ok as if anyone can do it haphazardly, but your statement makes it sound like that. Go back to Matzav and see what he really said in totality. He limited it to only the most learned, highest level mekubalim, and even then warned against it. It is a real kabbala-dikke thing, not mumbo-jumbo black magic like you make it sound. It’s not a “Reading Palms for Dummies” handbook practice.
    This is another example of how the olam causes confusion and dissention against heilige Rabbanim. They hear or read something and all of a sudden its a major rumor that ends in an uproar. Like the recent false rumor about Rabbi Sacks and the organ donation thing, saying he supposedly paskened against it, when nothing of the sort ever happened.

  45. IH: So what are the beliefs that demarcate the red-lines of Orthodoxy — on both “left” and “right” — in your view?

    That’s what this post is about, or at least the beginning of.

  46. Gil, do you really think you can put the genie back in the bottle?

    “IH: Speaking plainly, many of the big ideas of Conservative Judaism have dribbled into Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy

    Hirhurim: Yes, that is precisely the problem.”

    You seem to be advocating a sharpening of lines between Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy, such that a schism can be effected.

    “IH: So what are the beliefs that demarcate the red-lines of Orthodoxy — on both “left” and “right” — in your view?

    IH: So what are the beliefs that demarcate the red-lines of Orthodoxy — on both “left” and “right” — in your view?

    Hirhurim: That’s what this post is about, or at least the beginning of.”

    I think the feedback is mostly ~”not really”~ as I read it. When do you expect to have something substantive?

  47. IH: do you really think you can put the genie back in the bottle?

    Did that stop Rabbi Wurzburger and Orthodox thinkers from delineating what is and is not acceptalbe?

    You seem to be advocating a sharpening of lines between Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy, such that a schism can be effected.

    I am not advocating it *here*. I think women’s issues will be the real cause for schism. We can be polite and pretend we don’t care about issues of belief. But I can’t pretend you don’t have a woman rabbi and cantor.

    I think the feedback is mostly ~”not really”~ as I read it. When do you expect to have something substantive?

    I think you mistake the commenters here as a representative slice of the Orthodox population. The feedback I get outside of the comments section is: “absolutely, thank you for saying it”

  48. As an Orthodox Jew, I’d like to hear from another OJ what “our” understanding is of the differences between the various “sects” of Judaism. I think it might shed some light on how we as OJ’s view the others for all.
    My understanding (Not Wikipedia) has always been the following:

    O – Torah from Sinai, every word, letter, pshat, midrash, etc is all Divine (text was written by God Himself with no human involvement at all, across the board)or via Ruach haKodesh or nevuah for midrash, Rashi, etc. Not a single word of any of these are human thought by themselves or merely opinion.

    MO – Same as O, except they wear knitted yarmulkes, more relaxed clothing (as opposed to black & white), no hats, women not as makpid on tznius, go to movies, concerts, longer hair, & have a heter for all of it, Israel is a top priority

    C – Torah was written by man, possibly many men, inspired by God, subject to change at will with the times, no tznius, hair uncovered, kashrus not really required, more interested in tikkun olam than strict adherence to halacha, ok to drive to shul (“at least he goes to shul” is a common theme), save the whales & hug a tree, female rabbis ok

    R – Torah has no Divine connection at all & was completely written by men, therefore all laws are subject to change or nullification, no kashrus, no Shabbos, big bucks to Federation, intermarriage is ok, homosexuality is ok, women & gay rabbis ok, gentiles welcome to temple service, choirs, basically Jewish for 2 days a year

    Recon – about as close to Xtianity as a Jew can get without converting

    Please note, none of what I said is meant to be cynical or provocative in any way. It is what many of us OJ’s have come to believe as the definition of these “sects” or factions.

  49. “A]ny data (in contradistinction to mere theories and constructions) adduced by the champions of “Historical” Judaism can easily fit into the conceptual framework of the traditionalist…”

    I’m not quite sure how to interpret this. Should I take this quote to mean that there is no evidence that could sway a true Orthodox Jew away from his position on Rabbinic Judaism, or that none of the current evidence is sufficient?

    In other words, is the Orthodox stance a historical claim–one that is capable of being strengthened or weakened by historical evidence–or is this a strong, assumed commitment that an Orthodox Jew is expected to bring to the table?

    I ask, because it seems to me that there is historical evidence that suggests that Rabbinic Judaism evolved. By historical evidence, I mean empirical considerations that give one a reason to believe that Rabbinic Judaism didn’t originate at Sinai, as long as one is not committed to the assumption that Rabbinic Judaism did originate at Sinai. (In other words, it seems to me that if you brought in an alien and explained to him the situation, the alien would conclude that Rabbinic Judaism didn’t originate at Sinai.)

  50. R’ Nate,
    I think you need to add NO – None of the above. (simple example – how can all O “believe” every letter was from Sinai and yet the eidot hamizrach sefer torah has a few different letters than the one ashkenazim use? or that the gemara records 3 different texts in the beit hamikdash?)
    KT

  51. Oh sorry, forgot to add to the O part, especially in view of the main post by Hirhurim:

    most of us believe in the concept of Gedolim, ie learned sages who are basically placed in a class by themselves, considered to be part of the mesora of Hashem’s Divine will, perhaps not given ruach hakodesh but as close as one can get to having it; there may be tons of factions within OJ, but all are shomrei Torah & mitzvos, be they Hasidic or Misnagid, and learning Torah is the basis & goal of Jews, regardless of the cost; follow Torah regardless of any basic or deep understanding of the whats and why’s, and for the most part, save for the new rationalist approach (though they will tell you it is not new), dont really care about reasons. We believe in lishma, but lo lishma is ok too. if we are told the reason or logic, thats nice, but is not required. we do what we do becuz God said to do it, and any other reason is superfluous at best.

  52. R’MBP,
    Just because something is a lower probability answer doesn’t make it wrong and remember “all facts are theory based”.

    IMHO the answer to your question is there is no evidence that wouod change someone’s mind, it would just force a revaluation/reinterpretation – much as the Rambam said about yesh mayin
    KT

  53. Joel Rich: Im not referring to a specific scroll text we have at the moment, I’m referring to “Torah” as a concept and the accompanying text that goes with it. Changing a letter that has no effect on the text is not really a change. A word ending in an aleph as opposed to a he’ is not significant enuf to warrant a change in meaning or belief that goes with it. Those that would question the reliability or Divinity of Torah based on a letter are most definitely “None of the Above” though.

  54. R’Nate,
    Isn’t the logical conclusion of the letter differential that there was a transmission error? If your whole philosophy is tied to the chain of mesorah being unerring (again one could use a workaround-it doesn’t matter if there was an error, HKB”H wanted it that way), I would think this would create a major slippery slope for a philosophy of black and white.

    I also think your MO description is MO-LITE (more sociological than philosophical)
    KT

  55. Gil, I think you can flesh this out with less “noise” if you come back to the definitional issue Rabbi Brill started to flesh out in his 2005 Edah article:

    “… the shift from Modern Orthodoxy to Centrist Orthodoxy that has occurred over the last thirty years. This transformation involved the transfer of authority to roshei yeshivah from pulpit rabbis, the adoption of a pan-halakhic approach to Judaism, an effacing of a self-conscious need to deal with modernity, an increased emphasis on Torah study, especially in the fashionable conceptual manner, and a shifting of the focus of Judaism to the life of a yeshiva student. As an ideology, Centrist Orthodoxy is a clearly defined separate philosophy from Modern Orthodoxy, with clear lines of demarcation delineating who is in the mesorah. These changes from Modern Orthodoxy to Centrist Orthodoxy deserve their own separate study. However I must state categorically at the outset that it is not a question of a change from left to right or from acculturated to sectarian. Each period and group of thinkers develops its own centripetal and centrifugal forces.”

    The problem you have introduced in this posting is by setting up a strawman of Conservative theology when your real issue is with the remains of 1970s Modern Orthodoxy. I find it hard to believe that your overall thinking stops at the part of the spectrum starting with Rabbi Weiss and continuing to Rabbi Sperber and then Rabbi Tucker (using your example of the role of women; and as recently discussed).

    Speaking plainly, within the limits of your lack of specificity, I infer you want to complete the Yeshivish takeover of what was Modern Orthodoxy.

  56. IH: I think you are mixing issues here. Was Rabbi Wurzburger arguing against Modern Orthodoxy or Conservative Judaism? And was he a rosh yeshiva who represented Centrist Orthodoxy or a pulpit rabbi?

  57. Joseph Kaplan wrote:
    “I have a threshold question. What are “Sinaitic principles”? Is there some list? Some detailed definition”

    Let me suggest some bases for inquiry into this question. First, begin with the basic Mfarshim HaRishonim on the Aseres HaDibros and Parshas Mishpatim, then see how Rambam and Ramban debate the nature of TSBP and Rabbinic enactments in the their discussion of Shoresh Sheni of the Sefer HaMitzvos, and the many Acharonim who have contributed to that discussion and then check out as many of the Midos SheHaTorah Nidrashes Bahen as well as the concept of Halacha LMoshe MiSinai that are in the ET and a fairly good introduction to at least some “Sinaitic principles.” Another fairly easy means of access to some, if not all, is the Sefer HaChinuch.

  58. Joel Rich: I wouldnt go so far as to say He wanted it that way. Check here for a good answer to your question, as mI posed the same question myself to this Rabbi.
    http://www.baltimorejewishlife.com/torah/ask-the-rabbi.php

  59. Jerry wrote:

    “Two more points:

    1. I am sure there are those who would protest that Jewish historians are not the only experts in Jewish history. All I can say is that if poskim want the ability (rightfully theirs to my mind) to insist that historians stay out of psak, then poskim also need to acknowledge that they themselves do not really have a place doing history.

    2. Gil, your sense of absolute, black and white certitude on this issue gives me pause. You are very quick to criticize this attitude when manifested by others”

    I think that as long as the reigning intellectual approach is that Mesorah is a process that historians can’t verify or trust, there is bound to be a conflict between Poskim, who view Mesorah as an absolute certainty, and the academy. The writings of historians are fascinating,but can never be used as a sword to demolish Mesorah, which remains the unwritten objective and endgoal of any historian, because of his or her orientation, who views that which is either documented or verifiable, superior to that which can’t be documented or verified, and which requires that a person recognize that there are lines of demarcation which require every Jew to acknowledge, surrendur or realize that living in doubt is far superior to either proposing an answer of tragic proportions, regardless of whether the same overly simplifies the Mesorah of TSBP as if the latest seforim were seen by Moshe Rabbeinu or posits a view that posits that R”L the same was merely a matter of rabbinic invention.

  60. Gil, you are ducking the issue. Centrist Orthodoxy didn’t exist in 1960. And Modern Orthodoxy looked very different.

    If my inference is incorrect, please correct it in plan English.

  61. Nate, regarding your posting of 11:14 on defining demominations, I would refer you to the somewhat dated (1992) summary that can be found on pages 90-124 from Feingold’s history of Jews in America that you can read online on Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/4t5pvjv.

  62. Gil, since you raised both the role of women and Rabbi Wurzburger’s 1960 quotation in this thread, I must observe that in 1960 there was no clear line of demarcation between mixed seating across Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism on this issue: both rejected it for the elite and tolerated it for the masses. Women Rabbis was not even a side-discussion at JTS until the 1970s.

  63. R N Slifkin wrote:

    “(For the record – I personally follow Rav Herzog that such halachos of Chazal still apply, and I believe that those Poskim who overrule Chazal are playing a very dangerous game.)”

    I would argue with respect to the somewhat related issues of Hashkafa and Parshanut, are far more horizontal and open to inquiry as long as a view, even if controversial, has a source somewhere in the Mesorah, as opposed to Halacha, which I would argue is vertical in nature, and which has traditionally depended on tracing Halacha either from Sinai thru TSBP , Rishonim and Acharonim to a Psak or backwards from the SA ( RFS once compared the different views of RYBS and the Techiber Rav ZL in their tracing the same halachic issue from the Talmud forward or the KSA backward!). In Halacha, there are concepts and boundary lines such as Lchatchilah, Bdieved, Shas Hadchak, Shas Hadchak Gadol Meod and Kdai R Ploni Lsmoch Alav and being Yotzei Yidei Kol Hashitos as well as examining new technological phenomena within the framework of Halacha, as opposed to explaining away halachic statements as being based on an insufficient base of knowledge. In some areas, such a conclusion may be utilized, but I would argue that a Posek doing so must have the sufficiently broad shoulders to do so and that the same must remain a case by case inquiry. The cases of insects cited by R Slifkin may be a good example, but I have my doubts as to whether brain death or even more theoretical discussions about the nature of the prohibition against turning on lights on Shabbos can be viewed as merely attempting to avoid long stated halachic principles merely because technology and science , both in the theoretical and real worlds have changed.

  64. IH: If my inference is incorrect, please correct it in plan English.

    Yes, your inference is incorrect because you are mixing issues, as I wrote above. This particular issue is not about Centrist vs. Modern Orthodoxy because I am quoting figures of Modern Orthodoxy against Conservative.

    Gil, since you raised both the role of women and Rabbi Wurzburger’s 1960 quotation in this thread, I must observe that in 1960 there was no clear line of demarcation between mixed seating across Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism on this issue: both rejected it for the elite and tolerated it for the masses.

    Irrelevant, so I won’t respond.

  65. “I think that as long as the reigning intellectual approach is that Mesorah is a process that historians can’t verify or trust, there is bound to be a conflict between Poskim, who view Mesorah as an absolute certainty, and the academy.”

    Steve, so what is the appropriate Orthodox reaction to things we discover in The Dead Sea Scrolls? From p. 133 of (now YU) Prof. Schiffman’s book “From Text to Tradition”:

    “The contribution of the biblical scrolls to our understanding of the history of the biblical text and versions cannot be overstated. We now know of the fluid state of the Scriptures in the last years of the Second Temple. With the help of the biblical scrolls from Masada and the Bar Kochba caves, it is possible to trace the early stages of the standardization process that ultimately led to the final acceptance of the Masoretic (received) Hebrew text as authoritative by the first-century rabbis.”

    A “nest of atheism and apikursus” at YU, indeed?

  66. IH-FWIW, I note that the author has been hired as a provost for undergraduate studies, as opposed to a RY or Professor in BRGS. The reaction is that such findings are fascinating and interesting, but ultimately are providing interest to a person who needs and craves verifiable and documented proof of events that remain and must be ultimately beyond man’s limits to know the absolute truth of. Such findings can supplement, but never supplant the Mesorah.

  67. IH wrote:

    “Gil, since you raised both the role of women and Rabbi Wurzburger’s 1960 quotation in this thread, I must observe that in 1960 there was no clear line of demarcation between mixed seating across Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism on this issue: both rejected it for the elite and tolerated it for the masses”

    I think that this reflects an improper statement as to RYBS’s views on the subject as well as that of CJ as of 1960.

  68. IH:
    I was hoping for a more up to date definition from the “type” of folks that read these blogs, moreso how they perceive the different factions as opposed to an actual definition of theology.

  69. Nat, I was taught something more along the lines of this:

    O – [Grade School:] Torah from Sinai, every word, letter is direct from Hashem. Text is from G-d with Moshe as secretary. [College period:] Torah comes from period beginning at Sinai to directly after Moshe’s death, precise period of writing within subject to debate, every word, letter is direct from Hashem. Text is from G-d with Moshe and, possibly, Yehoshua as secretary.
    Rest of Tanach is Divine but not every word or letter. Pshat, midrash is Divinely inspired.

    MO – Same as O, except they wear knitted yarmulkes, more relaxed clothing (as opposed to black & white), no hats, women not as makpid on tznius, go to movies, concerts, longer hair, & have a psak for all of it, Israel is a top priority

    C – Amongst their committed: For Written Law, same as Orthodox. For Oral law, that it was Divinely inspired developed later. Laity more interested in tikkun olam than strict adherence to halacha, ok to drive to shul (“at least he goes to shul” is a common theme), female rabbis ok

    R – Both Oral and Written Torah is Divinely inspired but written by men. Laws are subject to change based on our own understandings of what is morally right. Most of the ritual laws are disregarded and, often, viewed as more primitive then the present. Tribalism is also usually viewed negatively.

    Recon – Cultural Judaism.

  70. “Such findings can supplement, but never supplant the Mesorah.”

    That sounds very similar to this Historian’s view:

    “the historian’s method is limited to working out historical knowledge, not religious truth. And religious truth depends on criteria other than historical verifiability, even in a historical religion like Judaism. It is here that the historian bows to the criteria employed by theologians and religious philosophers”.

    Source is the essay “The Jewish Historian and the Believer” by Prof. Ivan G Marcus in “The Seminary at 100: Reflections on the JTS and The Conservative Movement” from 1987.

  71. IH: That sounds very similar to this Historian’s view

    I enjoy your persistence in accepting Conservative teachings but I don’t see any similarity at all. Prof. Marcus is saying that religion can be historically inaccurate. Orthodoxy accepts the historical accuracy of religion.

  72. Gil, why do you persist in personalizing? This book has been on my shelf untouched for years — I started to look at it during our first exchanges when you thought I was Conservative. The more I have access it, the more I concluse the strawman argument you present is not serious.

    Put some details in so we can have a meaningful discussiom. Our (non)denominational world bears negligible relationship to the state of Conservative vs. Orthodox(ies) in 1960.

    BTW. I don’t think you are fairly summarizing the difference between the two quoted statements, but Hirurim readers are smart enough to make up their own minds.

  73. Oops. Too many typos; and, it should be “unfairly summarizing the difference”. Shabbat Shalom.

  74. IH: When you keep quoting Conservative thinkers, you open yourself up for criticism.

    I’m not sure where you got this strawman argument that our world is the same as that in 1960. Of course it is different! But the theological statements and red lines drawn then are still valid. The parameters of Judaism haven’t changed in 50 years.

    I spelled out above the important difference. Based on your quote, Prof. Marcus is splitting religion away from history. It doesn’t have to be actually true as long as we accept it and it is spiritually true. That is an unacceptable approach because after all is said and done, he is saying that religion is factually incorrect.

    But even that is irrelevant. Conservative thinkers have said many things that are true and perfectly acceptable. And thinkers within the Conservative movement have disagreed on just about everything, many of them being fairly Orthodox in most or even all of their beliefs. This post is not about labeling every Conservative thinker as treif. It’s about which ideas, not which people, are acceptable.

  75. IH-I am sure that Wikipedia has an entry on R W Wurzburger ZL, who was not only a prominent rav with Smicha from RYBS and a PhD from Harvard, but an editor of Tradition , a philosopher, a writer and a Talmid Chacham who RYBS trusted with faithfully representing his views on Mesorah and many other issues for decades.

  76. >Go back to Matzav and see what he really said in totality.

    I know what it said. The entire context doesn’t change it – he permits divination in the name of diversity.

    >It is a real kabbala-dikke thing, not mumbo-jumbo black magic like you make it sound.

    And that’s how he thinks it’s okay and how you think it’s okay. But it’s still nichush (and nonsense).

  77. It’s not nonsense if the Torah discusses it. There is no argument that the divinations and magic practices such as conjuring up demons, making voices speak from your armpit, Ov & Yedoni, etc, are all valid and real. Torah doesn’t mention things that are made up. Palm reading IS absolutely ok, and this is undisputed. Who may do it is whats up for debate, and since the Rav in question is undeniably one of the Gedolim, it is even less debateable.

  78. >It’s not nonsense if the Torah discusses it.

    You believe anything ever written in a sefer, don’t you?

  79. >There is no argument that the divinations and magic practices such as conjuring up demons, making voices speak from your armpit, Ov & Yedoni, etc, are all valid and real.

    It’s a famous argument. Rambam (and others) hold it was all fake and Ramban (and others) hold it was all real (just wrong). So don’t say there’s no argument.

    The question here is what I just said, do you believe anything written in a sefer? Frankly, even if you hold like the Ramban (and can justify it somehow) palm reading is still divination – real, yet wrong. I’d like to see R. Moshe Shternbuch justify, you know, teaching math to 14 year old boys. He wouldn’t do it. Remember the context of my original comment – Gil said that the right only “rarely” crosses theological lines *because* they follow their rabbeim. It is unimportant if *you* agree that this crosses a theological line. I imagine many, many readers of this blog will agree 100% that palm reading crosses a theological line, and yet here we have one of their rabbeim justifying it. Ergo, following your rabbeim, even on the right, will not always save you from crossing the theological line.

  80. I believe every letter of Torah is true. I am not going to debate you about this here. If a Sefer Kabbala discusses palm reading or creating a Golem or a calf erev Shabbos as depicted in the Gemara, or flying saucers, ipso facto they are real.

  81. I dont even understand the math to 14 yr old boys comment at all.

  82. >I believe every letter of Torah is true. I am not going to debate you about this here. If a Sefer Kabbala discusses palm reading or creating a Golem or a calf erev Shabbos as depicted in the Gemara, or flying saucers, ipso facto they are real.

    Still, it’s truth or lack is a sideshow. If a Sefer Kabbala discusses eating chazir, then it’s mutar? Divination doesn’t become permitted because a sefer discusses it.

  83. >I dont even understand the math to 14 yr old boys comment at all.

    Do the edah chareidis permit teaching secular studies to their children? -and that’s something which is clearly mutar. Yet divination, which is clearly ossur, is not only not strenuously opposed, but essentially allowed by RMS.

  84. It not only discusses it, silly, it tells one HOW to do it! Would it say how to do it if it wasnt permitted. Dont be so argumentative, troll.

  85. YOU say its assur. HE says not. He outranks you. Obviously palm reading does NOT meet the Torah definition of divination.

  86. Re Prof. Schiffman, it isn’t polite to discuss whether he is or is not a heretic and I certainly don’t want such a discussion to take place here. Let me just state for the record that I do not believe he is but you have to read his book From Text to Tradition very, very carefully. This isn’t the place for it but I believe I can explain every potentially controversial passage in the book (including IH’s quote re the Masoretic Text). Again, please accept my decision that this isn’t the place for such a discussion.

  87. Gil,
    Have you ever discussed your close reading of From Text to Tradition with Prof. Schiffman? Is your reading what he means to say, or what you want his to be saying?

  88. No, I haven’t. Maybe I should but the ambiguities seem to me intentional.

  89. >YOU say its assur. HE says not. He outranks you. Obviously palm reading does NOT meet the Torah definition of divination.

    Then why doesn’t he love it, if it’s so heilige? You yourself pointed out that he’s not so crazy about it.

    In any event, you can say the same thing about rabbonim on the left. They say it’s okay, so it’s Torah. End of story.

  90. The fact remains, what you said and what R. Wurzburger said are definitely not the same thing. He’s more left-wing than you.

    R. Wurzburger: “Rabbis, employing principles that ultimately derived from divine revelation on Mt. Sinai, interpret both the Written and the Oral Torah in the light of the historic conditions of their time?

    You: “It is a continuation of biblical Judaism, at most changed based on Sinaitic principles with the additional accumulation of customs and rabbinic fences to the biblical laws.

    I think it should be clear that the accumulation of customs and takanot are not the same thing as “interpretation in light of historical conditions.” And in fact, this is exactly what IH has been saying all along. The MO of today – what Prof. Brill calls “Centrist Orthodoxy” – has adopted the position that Hazal had no external influences, and were able to apply Sinaitic principles in an almost mathematical way. The MO of 30 years ago, on the other hand, was open to the possibility of Hazal interpreting within a certain historical context; and what Prof. Brill calls “Modern Orthodoxy” is, according to him, the authentic yorshim.

    I (think I) disagree with IH, in that I really liked yeshiva, I like that Centrist Orthodoxy as he’s calling it had the influence it had on Modern Orthodoxy, and all that. Fact remains, you’re misinterpreting R. Wurzburger if you think he’s on the same side as you against “Conservative theology” and not in the middle. (Though yes, I think if he had to choose, he’d say he’s closer to your side.)

  91. Then why doesn’t he love it, if it’s so heilige? You yourself pointed out that he’s not so crazy about it.

    You make the assumption that everything in Torah is on an equal footing. It’s not. Kabbalah-dikke things are reserved for 1 class of people, the rest is for everyone else. He doesnt “love it” because too many laymen misuse it or misunderstand it. Not everything is open for everyone, thats a secular notion, which is silly. Do you have access to the Oval Office? Why not? Because you’re not the President. Same here.

  92. Not everything is open for everyone, thats a secular notion, which is silly.

    Followed by,

    Do you have access to the Oval Office? Why not? Because you’re not the President.

    I take it the irony is lost on you? Regardless, your faith in the authenticity of Kabbala magic is touching.

  93. The biggest challenge to Gil’s reading of Rabbi Wurzburger’s words from 1960 is neither “Historical” Judaism per the second quoted paragraph, nor the Documentary Hypothesis, nor Conservative theology. It is the emergence since of written evidence in The Dead Sea Scrolls. Two examples:

    1. Haftarah Yitro, last week, for Ashkenazim includes Isaiah 9:6 that is famously explained in Sanhedrin 94a:

    דרש בר קפרא בציפורי מפני מה כל מ”ם שבאמצע תיבה פתוח וזה סתום וכו

    But, the Qumran “Great Isaiah” scroll has the mem patuach — you can see for yourself at http://mordochai.tripod.com/qumran_isaiah.html#top (column 8, end of line 24).

    2. At the beginning of Parshat Bo (as summarized by Geza Vermes):

    “In Exodus 10:5, both the traditional Hebrew Masoretic text (MT) and the Greek Septuagint (LXX) offer a succinct statement regarding the plague of locusts:

    ‘And they (the locusts) shall eat every tree of yours which grows in the field’ (MT, LXX)

    By contrast, the Samaritan version has a longer account which we find also in a Hebrew fragment of Exodus from Qumran Cave 4.

    ‘And they (the locusts) shall eat every grass of the land and every fruit of the tree of yours which grows in the field’ (4Q12, Sam)

    Source: “The Story of the Scrolls” by Geza Vermes (2010, Penguin) pp. 104-5

    Both of these examples, it seems to me, appear to refute the assertion:

    “Rabbinic Judaism is not the creation of rabbis in the Second Temple era and/or beyond. It is not rabbis making up laws and forcing them into the biblical text. It is a continuation of biblical Judaism, at most changed based on Sinaitic principles with the additional accumulation of customs and rabbinic fences to the biblical laws.”

    That there were multiple mesorot is now established as fact by The Dead Sea Scrolls. The when, how and why of Rabbinic standardization and interpretation are debatable hypotheses.

    —–

    Thanks, Jon. My issue is the tactic of threatening “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy” to intimidate halachic Jews. Once one starts to mix beliefs into the sine qua non of eilu-ve’eilu halacha, the desirable illusion of “Orthodoxy” we have had in the US for the past 100 years fragments into small pieces, which will benefit no one. But, if that is Gil’s motivation, then let’s have an honest discussion about it rather than hiding behind “Conservative” as an epithet.

    —–

    With full respect to Prof. Schiffman, his book is not Moreh Nevuchim that it requires reading “very, very carefully” 🙂

  94. “Thanks, Jon. My issue is the tactic of threatening “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy” to intimidate halachic Jews. Once one starts to mix beliefs into the sine qua non of eilu-ve’eilu halacha, the desirable illusion of “Orthodoxy” we have had in the US for the past 100 years fragments into small pieces, which will benefit no one.”

    1) I don’t think “eilu va-eilu” means what you think it means. See the following article to see a good dissection thereof (in Hebrew):

    http://shaalvim.co.il/pub/maayan2/07-b-3%2041-56.pdf

    2) Like it or not, beliefs play a part of the system of obligations we accept as religious Jews, and that includes “halachic Jews”. Or do you think that an atheist Orthoprax Jew is no less an “halachic” Jew than anyone else (in which case what does “halacha” mean besides being ethnic tradition and custom?)?

    3) Just to spice up the debate with a position with which I don’t really agree (ain’t I a stinker?), I will add here a quote from R. Eliezer Berkowitz’s article in Tradition 7:2 from 1965, “Orthodox Judaism in a World of Revolutionaery Transformations”:

    “Orthodoxy must answer the call of Judaism’s present-day destiny. First of all we have to return to a wholehearted acceptance
    of the relationship between Torah and Israel as it is originally
    inherent in Judaism. Accordingly, Judaism is not a religious sect
    but the religious way of life of a people. A sect is clearly defied
    by its dogmas. And indeed the more definite and the more narrow
    the dogmas the more distinguishable the sect. It is of the very
    nature of a sect that those who do not adhere to the dogmas are
    eo ipso excluded. A people- cannot afford the luxury of exclusiveness. A people claims all its children. Judaism that strives to become the possession of all Israel does indeed claim every Jew, no matter what he believes at anyone moment. Because of this it is most unwise-and hardly in keeping with the intentions of
    Judaism-to allow narrowly defined dogmatics to become the
    basis of solid ideological divisions withi Israel. According to
    Jewish teaching, God keeps “the gates always open to receive anyone who wishes to enter.” Similarly, the Ikkarim (principles) that
    should determine ideological divisions in Israel, should be so
    formulated as to leave the gates wide open for communication
    with the broadest possible sections of Kelal Yisrael. We suggest
    that the recognition of three principles are suffcient to become
    the foundations of ideological unity. They are the belief in a personal God, in Torah Min Hashamayim (that the Torah was revealed by God to Israel) and Torah shebaal peh, the inseparable
    connection between the written Torah and the oral tradition.
    Jews who acknowledge these principles, even though they may
    disagree with each other in matters of interpretation and application, should be looked upon as belonging to the same ideological grouping. Once the basic principles are affirmed, differences in interpretation should not be permitted to become dividing walls between Jew and Jew. This does not mean that all interpretations should be considered equally valid. It does, however, mean that the wrong interpretation from anyone’s point of view is not to be allowed to become a different “branch” within Judaism.

    There is an old and respectable tradition to which such an
    approach may refer. Rabbi Josef Alba, a disciple of Rabbi Hasdai
    Crescas, who in his turn was a distinguished disciple of the Great
    Alfasi commentator, Rabbenu Nissim, in the opening part of his
    Sefer Haikkarim struggles with the task of defing the term Kafer
    be’l kkar (a heretic). The problem was most pressing for hi, since
    his own teacher had disagreed with Maimonides’ listing of the
    fundamental principles of faith. He had before him the disagreement on the subject of the lkkarim between Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Crescas. Was it conceivable that each one of these
    giants of tradition and Halakhah would call the other two koferim
    be’ikkar because they did not agree wíth his own definition of.
    ikkarim? Alba’s solution of the problem is that a kofer be’ikkar
    is a person who is fully aware that a priciple is fundamental to
    Judaism and yet rejects it. He, however, who acknowledges the
    principle, but interprets it in a manner, which from the point of
    view of valid tradition or Halakhah is inacceptable, would be a
    chote beshogeg, one who sins inadvertently, but not a kofer
    be’ikkar.

    What we suggest here is not a matter of tolerance, but a vital
    feature of our understanding of the relationship between the people
    of Israel and the Torah. The reduction of Judaism to an exclusive
    sect or “church,” however strict otherwise such a sect may be in
    religious observance, however devoted to JewIsh learning and
    scholarship, represents a falsification of Judaism itself.”

  95. >Chardal: I appreciate your desire for a Development of Halakhah KeHilkhatah but I can’t give it to you. If I were to write that Judaism believe you must keep Shabbos, you could correctly come back and ask about all sorts of questions such as what does it mean to keep Shabbos, when does Shabbos begin and end, and what about health- or job-related emergencies. Those are all good questions but they are details.

    I trully appreciate that, but I was not in any way asking about those kind of details. Somewhere in between the ultra-vague statement above and hilchos-shabbos like details are the actual issues that are at play between historicism and halacha. And since you will not spell out what is meant by sianitic principles than we can not have a discussion. Are we talking about very general values such as hashgacha and chemla a-la Shadal? Are we talking about a generic Divine geist a-la Ranak? Are we talking about the 13 middot? Until the discussion gets into SOME greater level of details, it is a non-discussion.

    >Not at all. The Rishonim all agreed that the 13 hermeneutic principles were from Sinai. The debate was about how much it was used.

    ?? Is this true? I always understood that both the Rambam and the Ramban saw them as a restorative apparatus – that is used to eitehr re-discover or to establish a normative approach in those very cases where the sianitic tradition is forgotten. I would have to review the topic, but is this trully a universal view?

    Further, working under the assumption that you are right and I am remembering incorrectly, is this really relevant to our historical conciousness today? Is it really a rational and tennable historical position to hold that 13 principles which only appear in the rabbinic era, which the rabbis themselves argued about, and which have several substitude systems in rabbinic litarature come from Sinai!?! If we simply apply the Rambam’s very meta-principles that anything regarding which there is an argument in the gemara is NOT tracable to Sinai to the very 13 principles themselves. The implications of what you are saying is that anyone who has an historical conciousness can not be orthodox (unless the historical vintage of the 13 principles is not what you had in mind in the post). This is something that I very much hope you are wrong on.

  96. Unbelievable. Gil writes that he thinks that history is basically guesswork – but he is absolutely certain that HIS version of history is “true”, yet he need bring no evidence for his claim, because anyone who disagreees with him has crossed the bounds of “orthodoxy”. Gil brings no evidence that the 13 midos were used in the time of tanach, nor does he feel the need to relate to any of the evidence against his claims (e.g. development of early halacha). So Gil, do you honestly believe that Dovid Hamelech was ‘learning’ in the rabbinic jewish sense? Darshening pesukim using some version of the 13 midos? If yes, do you have any evidence? (Unfortunate that the Tanach forgot to mention it). If no, why do you feel that your version of the story is better than anyone els’es? Do you not think it is wrong to form certainties based on no evidence whatsoever, and then go about writing everyone who does not conform to them out of your community?

  97. >? Is it really a rational and tennable historical position to hold that 13 principles which only appear in the rabbinic era, which the rabbis themselves argued about, and which have several substitude systems in rabbinic litarature come from Sinai!?!

    No, and maybe this is why it is a perfect litmus test for Orthodoxy. Assuming you are not the type who just knows nothing about these things and doesn’t understand the issue, will you (whoever you are) take the leap of faith and say “Nevertheless I believe it’s from Sinai,” or not? I think we found the perfect are-you-really-Orthodox test. See the polemics around Frankel circa 150 years ago.

  98. FWIW I think R. Gil is right about From Text to Tradition. The only way it was going to be used as a textbook in secular universities, is if it had those ambiguities.

  99. J: it’s not “my” version of history. I accept the traditional Jewish historians like Seder HaKabbalah, Meiri, Seder HaDoros, Toldos Tanna’im VaAmora’im, etc. They have all the sources and I have no desire to restate what is perfectly available elsewhere.

  100. Is it really a rational and tennable historical position to hold that 13 principles which only appear in the rabbinic era, which the rabbis themselves argued about, and which have several substitude systems in rabbinic litarature come from Sinai!?!

    I’m not aware of any significant debate about the 13 hermeneutic principles. See the Ra’avad at the beginning of Toras Kohanim where he says as much.

    Why would you expect a list of the 13 principles in Tanakh? I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation.

    The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?

  101. I can’t find it now but someone left the astute comment that I omitted from my summary that Chazal interpreted the Torah in light of “the historic conditions of their time.” You are correct but that does not mean that they bended the Torah to fit their needs. Rather, when needs arose, they interpreted the Torah to determine how to apply it. Rav Soloveitchik gave the following example. When (if) there was a wood shortage in Tannaitic times, as a JTS professor had claimed, the Tanna’im used the hermeneutic principles to determine the minimal requirements for a sukkah. They isn’t simply make up the laws but because of their historic conditions, they delved into those laws and developed them further using traditional techniques.

  102. IH: Using the DSS to show that there were multiple mesorot is like saying that today the definition of a Jew (patrilineal or matrilineal) is under debate. It is under debate. But those who are putting it into debate are entirely outside of the tradition.

    No one denies that there were plenty of deviants in the Second Temple era, and even before. But we are saying that they are irrelevant. Even if they were the majority, like Reform and Conservative today, they do not shed any doubt on the tradition. And if they had different versions of the Bible, all it shows is that they were accepting of deviations.

  103. “Chazal interpreted the Torah in light of “the historic conditions of their time.” You are correct but that does not mean that they bended the Torah to fit their needs. ”

    The difference between then and now is one of self-awareness. we are aware that in between “just reading the text” and “making stuff up” there are many, much more common ways in which historical situations influence thought.

    Relatedly, do you believe that rabbinic judaism is a necessary outgrowth of the sinaitic revelation, or just that it is the outgrowth that organically occurred?

  104. Another way: the claim seems to be that “orthodoxy” means accepting that when halacha approaches historical reality it does so via neutral, pre-existing principles. but it seems undeniable that the rabbis themselves were the ones who defined what at least some of the principles were, or at the very least what they meant. if so, i find it hard to accept that that “meta-” analysis of the principles themselves could be neutral of historical influence. i mean, how could it be, given the way contemporary people understand human psychology, and why does it “impugn” anyone to say so?

  105. >FWIW I think R. Gil is right about From Text to Tradition. The only way it was going to be used as a textbook in secular universities, is if it had those ambiguities.

    To quote Steve Brizel, “intellectual Marranism.”

    If you read Schiffman’s essay in the Printing the Talmud you see more of it.

    In truth, Schiffman employs scholarship in an amenable way to tradition, for example, his thesis that the Dead Sea sectarians can be identified as (separatist) Zadokim on the basis of their halachos matching positions mentioned in the Mishnah. Still, let’s be realistic. His books can and will (and did) corrupt the Orthodoxy of many an Orthodox Jew. Maybe they’re like the parah adumah.

    Gil

    > Did they make up the religion or continue it?

    How is this different from Zecharia Frankel? (And if it isn’t, fair enough.) He never said the rabbis made up Judaism.

  106. >IH: Using the DSS to show that there were multiple mesorot is like saying that today the definition of a Jew (patrilineal or matrilineal) is under debate. It is under debate. But those who are putting it into debate are entirely outside of the tradition.

    All this means is that Orthodox rabbis chose to ignore the Dead Sea Scrolls. Maybe a smart move, but that didn’t make them go away, nor does it stop many modern Orthodox sources from referring to them selectively when they’ve been amenable to our tradition. If I had a dollar for every time someone said that Dead Sea tefillin are Rashi and Rabbenu Tam…

  107. Far too many posters on this thread illustrate what happens when one separates what they perceive as Halacha from a Mesorah of TSBP.Without even realizing it, they are stating that they are Orthoprax and reject major elements, either in part, either out of ignorance or deliberate intent, of major Ikarei HaDaas.

  108. I would argue that it takes great strength of character and even a measure of special righteousness to be Orthoprax. It’s no great shakes to practice halacha with meticulousness if you’re Orthodox. But if you’re not? Talk about discipline, subsuming one’s own desires and even doing it all for no reward (in the view of those who assume that they know how an Orthoprax Jew is to be judged by the Almighty).

  109. Reminds me of the rhetorical question about God. When it says Moshe saw the knot of God’s shel rosh as He passed by, so does He wear Rashi or R’ Tam?

  110. Daniel Weltman

    Gil: I’m not aware of any significant debate about the 13 hermeneutic principles. See the Ra’avad at the beginning of Toras Kohanim where he says as much.

    In terms of competing (or co-existing) sets of hermeneutic principles, I believe Hillel had 7, and another amora (I forget who) had 32 (used for drash). Rabbi David Kohen discusses this as a historical issue in Kol Hanevu’ah.

    For what it is worth, there is value in learning Rav Kook’s view on historical consciousness in halacha. Rav Kook and the Nazir held that the very historical process is divinely inspired. They embrace the idea of human development of halachik principles as a continued revelation. The acceptance of Klal Yisrael has prophetic status in the establishment of halacha. Instead of viewing halachik authority as something that existed once and is now essentially frozen, they see halacha as constantly evolving, from Sinai, but in the hands of humans. That in and of itself is a divine process. (This is not why I subscribe to this type of philosophy, but I appreciate the fundamental flexibility of such a view, and its ability to handle questions and issues that would shatter more proscriptive ones.)

    The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?

    Stating as you do that the question that defines “orthodox” is if the halacha is derived from “rules and methods” or based on “political and sociological” principles is a false choice. There is a spectrum of possibilities between these two extremes, and no matter how right-wing, no one would say that halacha never take political and sociological reasons into account. (Consider heter iska, prosbol, R’ Gershon’s takanot and a host of other halachot.) No matter how left-wing, no one would say that there exists no methodology to halacha, and that it is purely based on social need.

    Indeed, the distinguishing factor between Conservative and Orthodox is not philosophy so much as application. Do we have as an aim to cherish and nurture halacha, to apply it to our lives and live as halachik Jews, or do we try as best we can to legislate it out of existence? (See the Conservative Bet Din’s teshuva regarding Nidda for a prime example IMO of people knowing halacha, and yet choosing to do away with it as opposed to applying it.) I believe this is the main thing that set the two groups apart (I am ignoring the more recent theological liberalities of the C movement with basic tenets of faith such as belief in a God etc).

  111. Daniel Weltman

    Gil, in your original post you said: This particular issue is as follows: Rabbinic Judaism is not the creation of rabbis in the Second Temple era and/or beyond. It is not rabbis making up laws and forcing them into the biblical text. It is a continuation of biblical Judaism, at most changed based on Sinaitic principles with the additional accumulation of customs and rabbinic fences to the biblical laws.

    In a comment, you said: The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?

    You seem to be changing what you hold to define your point of view. First, the principles must be Sinaitic. Then, in your comment, you admit that that is not the “real issue”, rather the issue is what motivates (or at least, if the law is decided based on methodology or practical concerns). As I said above, no one hold exclusively of one side in that question. So, to discuss this really, you have to choose exactly what amount of sociological concerns or political motivation you view to be unacceptable (“unorthodox”), and defend your statement. Until you do this, your statements will be too vague.

  112. “The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?”

    These are false dichotomies based on simplistic understandings of hermeneutics and the complexity and subtlety of the halachic process.

    I dont think the folks in the LWMO have put much thought into these questions either.

  113. “The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?”

    These are false dichotomies based on simplistic understandings of hermeneutics and the complexity and subtlety of the halachic process.

    I dont think the folks in the LWMO have put much thought into these questions either.

  114. >it’s not “my” version of history. I accept the traditional Jewish historians like Seder HaKabbalah, Meiri, Seder HaDoros, Toldos Tanna’im VaAmora’im, etc. They have all the sources and I have no desire to restate what is perfectly available elsewhere.

    This were not historians in the way we are using the word. In other words, they did not use critical historical method to arrive at their chronologies (which is a better word for their genre than history)

    >I’m not aware of any significant debate about the 13 hermeneutic principles. See the Ra’avad at the beginning of Toras Kohanim where he says as much.

    Again, I am willing to concede that most rishonim held that the 13 principles were Sianitic, but why would this be binding on us? They were not critical historians and from a modern perspective, this opinion of theirs seems as almost as untennable as their geocentric model of the universe.

    >Why would you expect a list of the 13 principles in Tanakh? I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation.

    Not just in tanach and not just the 13 principles … I would expect SOMETHING that looks remotely like rabbinic Judaism in earlier sources if their midrashic system of interpertation was trully that ancient.

    >The real issue, though, is not whether they are Sinaitic but whether Chazal used rules and methods in deriving and determining the law or did so based on political and sociological reasons. Did they make up the religion or continue it?

    Now you are backing down from the 13 as the system in question. This is a complete straw man. Everyone agreed that they opperated in a system and were NOT willi-nilli macheavellean con men who invented a religion out of whole cloth. Almost all contemporary literary and legal theories discuss an interplay between power structures and conceptual frameworks – no one is trying to say that its either hazal were either con men/incompetent interperters OR they were faithful applicators of an ancient and static meta-system to historical conditions. There are many opinions in between and the question is, at which boundary in between the two poles are you trying to put the the line between orthodox and heterodox? As long as you continue being vague and continue to keep us guessing regarding what you mean, this discussion will continue having little value.

    >No one denies that there were plenty of deviants in the Second Temple era, and even before. But we are saying that they are irrelevant. Even if they were the majority, like Reform and Conservative today, they do not shed any doubt on the tradition. And if they had different versions of the Bible, all it shows is that they were accepting of deviations.

    Based on which historical principles are their deviations less historically valid than ours? Especially in cases where a reading has support in chazal and not in the massoretic text! Let us say a variant exists in DDS, LXX, V and rabbinic literature but not in the massora, then is it still irrelevant? But lets not even talk about scripture. We have strata of halacha the precede the sects, for example the hasmonean period which is pretty well documented and which all sects in one way or another grew from. Their halacha, while being a firm basis for later rabbinic writing, is not identical in any way to the system of chazal. Are we to ignore this as well? You are effectively writing out of the community anyone who is interested in or educated about history. The ramifications of this postion are immense. You are saying that every orthodox historian has to basically quite his job or be laughed off the academic stage.

    >I would argue that it takes great strength of character and even a measure of special righteousness to be Orthoprax. It’s no great shakes to practice halacha with meticulousness if you’re Orthodox. But if you’re not? Talk about discipline, subsuming one’s own desires and even doing it all for no reward (in the view of those who assume that they know how an Orthoprax Jew is to be judged by the Almighty).

    Beyond the use of orthoprax as a pjorative, there are those of us who are a bit surprized to be categorized in such a way. There are actualy people out there who see their halachic praxis as a sincere and meaningful avodat Hashem which in no way is contradicted by their critical historical conciousness. We are a bit surprized by the constant creep of new dogmas which try to write us out of our communities.

  115. Lawrence Kaplan

    Almost all rishonim believe the 13 priciples were Sinaitc. This is also the view of the Rambam in his Hakdamh le-Peirush ha-Mishnah. Interstingly though, he does not state this anywhere in in his later writings, SHM and MT. My view is that he came to take an agnostic view on the subject.

  116. Lawrence Kaplan

    To continue: Indeed, if Hazal were granted the authority to derive laws from Scripture via interpretive principles, why can we not assume that they were granted the authority to decide for themslves what were the best interpretive principles for so doing.

  117. Aiwac, with the help of the ever brilliant Berkovits summed up what I believe in my heart of hearts. All this drawing of redlines seems to me to contradict a number of key Mitzvot while claiming to protect the Mesorah. When teaching your children or living your own life it is entirely possible to set up rules for what is right and what is wrong. However, for the Klal, we are admonished not to gash ourselves and indeed, the everyday fact of the diversity of opinion is the best proof possible of God’s intention that people have freedom of thought. Judaism should be defined as large as halachically possible without delving too much into worldviews and heresy. Leave that for other religions.

  118. Hirhurim
    Jerry: I absolutely believe that there are theological red lines in Judaism about which we must be, to use your terminology, “close-minded” and only within Orthodox Judaism can we be “open-minded”.

    The question, of course, the basis for that belief in red lines, and whether such a belief is an intrinsic part of Orthodoxy. There is a great difference between what we think to be true, and what puts someone out of the camp – and Gil seems too eager to partake of the blood sport of heresy hunting (one of the few permissible recreations in some communities…)

    Perhaps a more Orthodox (or halachic approach is that of the radvaz (4:187) that wrong beliefs – even about ikkarim – do not remove one from the community – if the wrong beliefs are due to intellectual error rather than deliberate rebellion..He goes on that if the teacher of wrong beliefs continues and is viewed as harming the community, stronger action may be apropriate

    This points out one of the major differences between the context and meaning of Rav Wurtzburger’s article, and the use Gil puts it to.
    In 1960, the common view was of Orthodoxy under attack and in decline while CJ was ascendant – and within CJ there were clear strands of rebellion (Mordechai Kaplan) – and much of it did not view itself as part of the greater Orthodox community. This is the time of the mechitza debates, of O shuls becoming conservative – and the need to differentiate Orthodoxy from a community that claimed to be halachic (and which had members who did have fealty to halacha..)

    However, today, the LWMO views itself as part of the broader Orthodox community – and the RW is hardly threatened by it. (Of course, putting a historical context on any halachic issue seems anathema to some, but ..) The question seems more of an insistence of ideological purity for its own sake – and one is reminded of rav kook’s pshat on the mishna haomer yevarchucha tovim – hare ze midarche haminut…. – that the desire to exclude those with imperfect beliefs or practice is itself a form of heresy…

  119. >This were not historians in the way we are using the word.

    I would argue that in a certain sense they *were*, or were trying to be. Not one of them thought he was imparting anything historically dubious, and the fact that all of them felt they had something additional to contribute. In this sense a sincere seeker of historical truth with a critical instinct today has more in common with them than those who believe that the end of historiography are books written in the 18th century. Not them, but the Gra wanted to know what was in Josephus (not Yosiphon)? Why, if its outside our tradition and therefore irrelevant? Why did the Ramban take the apocryphal book the Wisdom of Solomon seriously?

    Why do people whom Gil admires, whether Leiman or Schiffman somehow not see these sources as irrelevant? Are they all playing secular historian for their career?

  120. Chardal: This were not historians in the way we are using the word. In other words, they did not use critical historical method to arrive at their chronologies (which is a better word for their genre than history)

    Not all critical methods are inherently valid. Considering that they work with the assumption that Gemara is not a source for history, I don’t see how we can use their conclusions.

    Not just in tanach and not just the 13 principles … I would expect SOMETHING that looks remotely like rabbinic Judaism in earlier sources if their midrashic system of interpertation was trully that ancient.

    Earlier than what? I don’t know what you are thinking of, where your starting point is. Because there is rabbinic Judaism in the Second Temple era. Prior to that, all we have is Tanakh.

    Now you are backing down from the 13 as the system in question.

    I started with Sinaitic principles. I am backing down from calling them Sinaitic because that debate isn’t worth having right now, although it is what got Zechariah Frankel in trouble. But the main point, that they had principles, remains.

    Everyone agreed that they opperated in a system and were NOT willi-nilli macheavellean con men who invented a religion out of whole cloth. Almost all contemporary literary and legal theories discuss an interplay between power structures and conceptual frameworks – no one is trying to say that its either hazal were either con men/incompetent interperters OR they were faithful applicators of an ancient and static meta-system to historical conditions. There are many opinions in between and the question is, at which boundary in between the two poles are you trying to put the the line between orthodox and heterodox? As long as you continue being vague and continue to keep us guessing regarding what you mean, this discussion will continue having little value.

    It seems like you are being vague by just saying that the views a in between. Define in between.

    I reject all suggestions that Chazal changed biblical laws due to political or historical conditions.

    Based on which historical principles are their deviations less historically valid than ours?

    Based on which historical principles should we reject the status quo?

    We have strata of halacha the precede the sects, for example the hasmonean period which is pretty well documented and which all sects in one way or another grew from.

    Can you be more specific? Are you talking about Qumran sources, apocryphal, Greek, early layers within Tannaitic texts? Something else?

  121. Doron Beckerman

    I concede up front I’m out of my depth here, but I have to ask – how do you think Chazal thought of themselves – as innovators of “Rabbinic Judaism” or part of the Sinaitic tradition?

    For example:

    חגי פרק ב

    כה אמר יקוק צבאות שאל נא את הכהנים תורה לאמר הן ישא איש בשר קדש בכנף בגדו ונגע בכנפו אל הלחם ואל הנזיד ואל היין ואל שמן ואל כל מאכל היקדש ויענו הכהנים ויאמרו לא ויאמר חגי אם יגע טמא נפש בכל אלה היטמא ויענו הכהנים ויאמרו יטמא:

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף יז עמוד א

    גופא; רב אמר: אישתבש כהני, ושמואל אמר: לא אישתבש כהני. רב אמר: אישתבש כהני, רביעי בקדש בעא מינייהו, ואמרו ליה טהור. ושמואל אמר: לא אישתבש כהני, חמישי בקדש בעא מינייהו ואמרו ליה טהור. בשלמא לרב – היינו דכתיב ארבעה: לחם ונזיד ויין ושמן. אלא לשמואל, חמשה מנא ליה? – מי כתיב ונגע כנפו? ונגע בכנפו כתיב – במה שנגע בכנפו. תא שמע: ויאמר חגי אם יגע טמא נפש בכל אלה היטמא ויענו הכהנים ויאמרו יטמא. בשלמא לשמואל – מדהכא לא אישתבש – התם נמי לא אישתבש. אלא לרב, מאי שנא הכא דאישתבש ומאי שנא התם דלא אישתבש? – אמר רב נחמן אמר רבה בר אבוה: בקיאין הן בטומאת מת, ואין בקיאין הן בטומאת שרץ. רבינא אמר: התם רביעי, הכא שלישי.

    Or:

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף ס עמוד ב

    ויתאוה דוד ויאמר מי ישקני מים מבור בית לחם אשר בשער, ויבקעו שלשת הגבורים במחנה פלשתים וישאבו מים מבור בית לחם אשר בשער וגו’ – מאי קא מיבעיא ליה? אמר רבא אמר ר”נ: טמון באש קמיבעיא ליה, אי כר’ יהודה אי כרבנן, ופשטו ליה מאי דפשטו ליה. רב הונא אמר: גדישים דשעורים דישראל הוו דהוו מטמרי פלשתים בהו, וקא מיבעיא ליה: מהו להציל עצמו בממון חבירו? שלחו ליה: אסור להציל עצמו בממון חבירו, אבל אתה מלך אתה, ]ומלך[ פורץ לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו. ורבנן, ואיתימא רבה בר מרי אמרו: גדישים דשעורין דישראל הוו וגדישין דעדשים דפלשתים, וקא מיבעיא להו: מהו ליטול גדישין של שעורין דישראל ליתן לפני בהמתו, על מנת לשלם גדישין של עדשים דפלשתים? שלחו ליה: +יחזקאל ל”ג+ חבול ישיב רשע גזילה ישלם, אף על פי שגזילה משלם – רשע הוא, אבל אתה מלך אתה, ומלך פורץ לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו.

    And other examples.

    If Chazal saw themselves as continuing in a Sinaitic tradition, and you think that is not so – is it that they were under a false impression (who propagated it?) or they intentionally misled us?

  122. AIWACS, with assistance from R ELiezer Berkovitz ZL poses a hashkafic option or conflict betweeen Rambam and R Y Albo’s Sefer HaIkarim. In fact, one can argue that the Nusach HaTefilah of Musaf of RH is a great source in support of the Ikarim that are viewed as such as by the author of Sefer HaIkarim.

  123. S wrote :

    “I would argue that it takes great strength of character and even a measure of special righteousness to be Orthoprax. It’s no great shakes to practice halacha with meticulousness if you’re Orthodox. But if you’re not? Talk about discipline, subsuming one’s own desires and even doing it all for no reward (in the view of those who assume that they know how an Orthoprax Jew is to be judged by the Almighty)”

    I would dissagree, Mitzvos Anashim Mlumadah has hardly ever been viewed as a commendable path, even if one is meticulously observant, which are two phenomena which have not always been associated with each other.

  124. Meir Shinnar wrote in part:

    “The question, of course, the basis for that belief in red lines, and whether such a belief is an intrinsic part of Orthodoxy. Perhaps a more Orthodox (or halachic approach is that of the radvaz (4:187) that wrong beliefs – even about ikkarim – do not remove one from the community – if the wrong beliefs are due to intellectual error rather than deliberate rebellion

    One wonders how the Radvaz would view some of the works in question that by the views of their own authors constitute their own deliberate walking away from Halacha and Mesorah, as opposed to a mere “intellectual error.”

  125. >Not all critical methods are inherently valid. Considering that they work with the assumption that Gemara is not a source for history, I don’t see how we can use their conclusions.

    Not all are equally valid, but critical analysis generally produces better results than analysis that starts from dogma and ends in dogma. I don’t think that anyone completely discounts the gemara as a historical source – the question is what is it an historical source for? For example, if the gemara claims that David never did sin – is this historical fact? Many rishonim had no problem disagreeing with this as a historical/interperative statement. That is where critical analysis comes in – it helps way the data that exists and try and come up with a reasonable solution.

    >Earlier than what? I don’t know what you are thinking of, where your starting point is. Because there is rabbinic Judaism in the Second Temple era. Prior to that, all we have is Tanakh.

    Rabbinic Judaism as we know it starts at the tail end of the hasmonean era – before then we have strata that are a foundation for rabbinic Judaism but which all sects tried to claim as their own. By rabbinic – I mean chazal of the midrashei halacha, mishna, and gemara.

    >I started with Sinaitic principles. I am backing down from calling them Sinaitic because that debate isn’t worth having right now, although it is what got Zechariah Frankel in trouble. But the main point, that they had principles, remains.

    But this is a horrible distinguishing criteria. Most conservative rabbis would easily agree that they “had principles” as would any 19th proponent of historical-positive Judaism. It is too vague to mean anything as has been pointed out countless times.

    >It seems like you are being vague by just saying that the views a in between. Define in between.

    I think that this has been hinted at several places above. I am not going to go into an entire overview of contemporary literary theory – but since you are the one that presented the two extremes neither of which anyone actually advocates in practice, why should it be on me to list all the possibilities in between.

    >I reject all suggestions that Chazal changed biblical laws due to political or historical conditions.

    The question is, is this someting you are doing based on your own modern sensibilities or is it based on historical analysis. I would argue that pruzbul, ketuba, writing of the oral law, etc are all examples of changes that occured explicitly due to political/historical conditions. I am guessing that you are thinking of interpertations of scripture – and there as well – I can not imagine that chazal were able to COMPLETELY seperate their interperative faculties from their historical context. They were people, great people, but still subject to the same forces as everyone else.

    >Based on which historical principles should we reject the status quo?

    Depends on the situation – in the issue that was the spark for this quote – I think that not taking into account medical history in trying to recreate the physical worldview under which chazal paskened about time of death – will lead to conclutions whose only “merit” is their conservative/right wing halachic result.

    >Can you be more specific? Are you talking about Qumran sources, apocryphal, Greek, early layers within Tannaitic texts? Something else?

    All of the above.

    >If Chazal saw themselves as continuing in a Sinaitic tradition, and you think that is not so – is it that they were under a false impression (who propagated it?) or they intentionally misled us?

    Its hard to say how concious they were of it (although the aggada about moshe not understanding what is going on in the beit midrash of R’ Akiva is telling) but I don’t imagine that they were ever out to mislead c”V! They engaged in the type of interpertations that were standard for their era. Today we would never do something like attributing a pasuk from Yirmiyahu or Yechezkiel to dialog taking place in David’s court – but chazal did and would.

  126. R Gil, let’s take a classic example: women’s issues. You present us with two options: either Hazal made up Hilkhot Kiddushin/Gittin from scratch and imposed it on pesukim, or they applied a logical algorithm called “the 13 Midot” to the pesukim and out came the Halakha as we have it today. But do you not see how there is a vast middle ground between these options? That perhaps, in applying the logical algorithm, they took certain “historical conditions” for granted, like the historical reality of women being subservient to men? In this case, they did not make up the Halakha from scratch, but the Halakha was influences by the historical realities they were a part of.

    This doesn’t imply the slightest moral failure on Hazal’s part. This does not mean that the Halakha they discovered/created is any better or worse. But it remains in the grey area between the two black/white alternatives you proposed. Moreover, I would argue that this is a lot closer to what R Wurzburger meant than what you’re saying.

  127. Sof davar, perhaps it is a mistake to nitpick Gil like this. His basic point is that unless you accept the divine nature of Torah She baal peh, in one form or another, you cant consider yourself Orthodox. Valid point, not irrelevant to contemporary discuss

  128. Hirhurim: “I absolutely believe that there are theological red lines in Judaism.”

    I haven’t had time to read most of the comments in this discussion, so I apologize if someone already expressed the following sentiment. Gil, I don’t dispute this proposition. What I do dispute is your sense of absolute certainty that your lines are the right ones.

    This is somewhat tangential, but I think it’s important to point out the difference between theological red lines that ask too much and those that do not. In other words, I don’t think it makes strict logical sense to create a theological red line about metzius (with one exception, which I’ll explain). Halacha also accepts that we don’t attempt to legislate metzius – we can create “halachic reality,” but halacha will not mandate that the sky is green).

    The reason is obvious (although I’m putting it really balebatishly): either something happened, or it didn’t happen. If it DID happen, nothing is accomplished by forcing people to believe that. It’s simply a fact. Someone (or even a majority of humanity) may believe the sky is green, but that won’t change a single thing. If it DIDN’T happen, then you obviously cannot very well mandate that a person believe it did happen. That would be false.

    Theological red lines are better suited for things that are not – even theoretically – subject to proof. Belief in one God, that God is the God of Israel, that God gave us the Torah, that mashiach will come, etc.

    I think theological red lines that reach too far – i.e. are about things that ARE subject to proof – are dangerous. This is not a judgment about those who promulgated them in the first place, because they may not have been able to foresee modern advances. For a particularly embarrassing example: the Catholic Church in the 17th century saw heliocentrism as heretical and contrary to the Bible. The resulting conflict with Galileo is now seen a major bit of egg on the Church’s face, and is the parade example of religion making a joke out of itself. The reason is that the church tried to draw a theological red line around something that doesn’t play by the rules of theology, namely, physical fact (in this case heliocentrism).

    As much as you unfairly disparage the discipline of history, the fact remains that historical fact is theoretically recoverable in exactly the same sense as a fact about the physical world. It is simply more difficult to prove. Because of this, I think that mandating belief in an historical event is ultimately futile and possibly dangerous (after all, who knows what manner of proof or disproof will eventually be available to us?).

  129. The one exception to this (mentioned above) is belief in events that appear in Chumash. I don’t object to these in principle because I think they are really just poorly phrased corollaries to an ultimately acceptable theological red line, namely, that God gave us the Torah and dictated its contents.

    After all, if the Chumash is direct from God to Moshe, then its contents have been, so to speak, vouched for. I believe what God instructs me to believe. Therefore, if for some reason one feels compelled not only to mandate belief in the divinity of Shemos, let’s say, but also belief in the historicity of keri’as yam susf, I accept that – even though I don’t understand why the former was not sufficient.

    It is important, however, to distinguish between relying on Chumash for history and relying upon Chazal or Rishonim or Acharonim for history. The authorities of TSBP may have, within the confines of TSBK, unsurpassed authority, but that authority is within the realm of halacha. Chazal do not have the authority to say that gravity does not exist or that the sun is blue. Hashem, however, can make gravity or the color of the sun change at Will. There is indeed a difference between the authority of TSBK and TSBP when it comes to physical facts.

    This is why it is completely acceptable to question whether or not the Gemara is a valid source of history (to my mind there’s no reason to insist that the Gemara be a middle school history textbook, but that’s a separate discussion), while concomitantly accepting that the Gemara is the unquestionably valid source of halacha.

  130. Jerry,

    All well and good, but that’s exactly the debate we’re having – where does the “absolute authority over psak” stem from? From Sinaitic oral revelation? The use of (then) contemporary hermeneutic principles to uncover the different layers in the Torah? From the passuk of “Lo Tassur”?

    The answer to these questions has ramifications regarding the possibilities of halachic legislation and authority today.

    PS The Torah itself mandates belief in yetzi’at miztrayim and sinaitic revelation, as is seen in the many admonitions to “remember what happened”, treating the convert with respect since we were once strangers in a strange land &c.

    There are many historical events which may or may not be allegorized, but yetzi’at mitzrayim and sinai are not among them, according to the Torah itself. We can quibble over details (e.g. how many left &c), but not the event itself.

  131. Aiwac: “All well and good, but that’s exactly the debate we’re having – where does the “absolute authority over psak” stem from? From Sinaitic oral revelation? The use of (then) contemporary hermeneutic principles to uncover the different layers in the Torah? From the passuk of “Lo Tassur”?”

    I don’t think it’s the same debate. It’s related, but slightly different. All I intended to point out is the difference between mandating one or another answer to a factual question, and mandating belief in a non-rational (as distinct from irrational) concept, like belief in God, etc.

    Aiwac: “The Torah itself mandates belief in yetzi’at miztrayim and sinaitic revelation”

    Exactly, which is why I always found it extraneous, perhaps even detrimental, to maintain theological mandates to believe in these things SEPARATELY from the mandate to believe that God gave us the Torah at Sinai (and Arvos Moav, but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll call that “Sinai”).

  132. “All I intended to point out is the difference between mandating one or another answer to a factual question, and mandating belief in a non-rational (as distinct from irrational) concept, like belief in God, etc.”

    1) I don’t like the term “irrational” for things like belief in God. It very much feels like an inherent adoption of the idea that any not-by-pure-reason belief is inherently inferior, even laughable.

    I prefer the terms “non-analytical” or “synthetic-a priori” (in the philosophical sense), along the lines of what Rav Dr. Michael Avraham wrote about in his book (in Hebrew) – “Two Carraiges and a Hot Air Balloon”.

    2) “I don’t think it’s the same debate.”

    That may be, but I think that such a debate (on the foundations of the authority of TSBP; it doesn’t have to be any one reason, BTW) would be a great deal more productive and fruitful than the present bash-fest.

  133. Aiwac: “I don’t like the term “irrational” for things like belief in God.”

    That’s why I used the term “non-rational” and SPECIFICALLY SAID “as distinct from irrational.”

  134. I’m terribly sorry that I haven’t been able to keep up with these comments. There are some exciting things forthcoming on the blog that have taken up a lot of time.

  135. Without having read the earlier comments, I have to thank Gil for this post. It validates what I have long considered the dividing point between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism: the divine origin of the Oral Law. One can be an Oral Law minimalist, like REBerkovits z”l, or perhaps David Hartman, a position which is justified by a close reading of the Rambam’s introduction to the Mishnah Commentary, and still be within the Orthodox realm. But cross that line, posit the Oral Law as a purely human (if Divinely inspired) construct, and that’s it, respect for precedent becomes too minimized.

    Elliott Dorff published a book for Conservative HS students some years ago, which contains a chart laying out four main schools of Conservative thought. I went over the chart (which some wag on SCJ labeled the Arba Minim), and that is the common thread – whatever they believe about the Written Torah, the Oral Torah is a human construct.

    In my own life, I did not consider myself Orthodox until I had managed to convince myself that a Divine origin of the Oral Law was plausible, despite telephone games, massive machlokot all through legal history, etc. The Rambam’s intro to the PhM, and R’ Zvi Lampel’s book “The Dynamics of Dispute”, were instrumental in convincing myself.

  136. Thanbo-I would argue that R D D Hartman,by his own actions and writings, long ago walked away from the RCA, MO and now is heavily involved in what can best described as a “post denominational” think tank, which presents a POV on TSBP that goes well beyond even being a TSBP minimist in orientation. After all, one of his school’s graduates afficiated at the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding, which R Rakkafet noted was Glatt Treife and involved Chillul Shabbos on a mass scale.

  137. >After all, one of his school’s graduates afficiated at the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding, which R Rakkafet noted was Glatt Treife and involved Chillul Shabbos on a mass scale.

    Isn’t that like completely irrelevant? Everyone, the Chasam Sofer, Rav Hutner – had talmidim who went off. Maybe Hartman is all those things, but how does “one of his graduates” prove anything? Half the semichas RYBS signed served in family seating shuls. Oh, not half? A significant number.

  138. Anonymous wrote in part:

    “Isn’t that like completely irrelevant? Everyone, the Chasam Sofer, Rav Hutner – had talmidim who went off. Maybe Hartman is all those things, but how does “one of his graduates” prove anything?

    Take a look at the Shalom Hartman Institute website. I wouldn’t compare it with Pressburg during the time of the CS, RIETS or Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in terms of its mission statement and objectives.

  139. Steve: which is why I said “perhaps”. I’ve heard conflicting stories – from RW people, that he’s OTD, from LW people, that’s he’s an Oral Torah Minimalist.

    Do you have a pointer to an article or a book chapter that indicates that he has given up on the Divine origin of TSBP? Like I can generally point to articles that indicate that R Yitz Greenberg holds a quasi-Reconstructionist theology.

  140. Thanbo-R D Hartman long ago walked out of the RCA, when he was confronted with his views on such passages in the Torah as the war against Midyan. I think that in more than one interview, such as in Thomas Friedman’s profile in his book on Israel, he clearly described himself as post denominalionist with respect to his own views and how he views Judaism in comparison to other faiths.

  141. Rabbi David Hartman had the integrity to resign from the RCA when he felt he no longer believed in what Orthodox Rabbis believe in.

  142. mycroft,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the issue at hand here is not Hartman’s undoubted integrity. Rather, it is whether his positions on Oral Torah are within the Orthodox orbit.

  143. “Rather, it is whether his positions on Oral Torah are within the Orthodox orbit”

    How about his positions on written Torah-will he accept an aliyah dealing with sarror et hamidyanim-he has his own ethical system-which makes perfect sense as long as one is not inconvenienced with laws such as sarror et hamidyanim. oRTHODOX jEWS ACCEPT THE TOTALITY OF tORAH.

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