New Periodical: Hakirah vol. 11 (Spring 2011)

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A new issue of Hakirah is out, volume 11 (Spring 2011 – link). It continues to be one of the most interesting reads in the Jewish community.

  • Letters – Yitzchak Kasdan and R. Yehuda Warburg debate an article on non-halakhic wills. R. Ron Eisenman raises a historical question regarding who persuaded Rav Kook to refrain from attending R. Sonnenfeld’s funeral and Chaim Landerer responds that this was a typo in the original edition of the source text.
  • Women Rabbis? by R. Hershel Schachter – Opposes the ordination of women because of serarah, tzeni’us and following the rules of traditional semikhah (quoting “Rabbi Shaul Lieberman” on this last point). See this post: link
  • Orthodox Women Rabbis? Tentative Thoughts that Distinguish Between the Timely and the Timeless by R. Michael J. Broyde and R. Shlomo Brody – Can an halakhic case be made for the ordination of women? It isn’t always clear but this article seems not to set as its goal issuing a ruling (like R. Schachter’s article) but determining whether someone could legitimately support the ordination of women, and therefore whether such a position can be considered Orthodox. If I understand correctly, the conclusion is “no” because of non-technical reasons.
  • Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza by Prof. Yaakov Elman – This respected historian and talmid chakham, who evidently has overcome his concerns about this journal (see his letter in the second issue – link – PDF), deduces from a wide variety of Rava’s talmudic statements that Mechoza was a suburb facing many of the religious and social problems we confront today. His deductions remind me of the best of le-shitaso-style pilpul: always enjoyable, brilliant and overwhelming but sometimes a little too clever (e.g. the deduction from Shabbos 23a on pp. 68-70 seems far from obvious but the prior two are clearly on target). Overall, a massively impressive show of breadth of knowledge and creative interpretations.
  • Reconciling Divergent Estimates in Property Assessment Cases by Sheldon Epstein, Bernard Drickman and Yonah Wilamowsky – Tries to explain a complex baraisa in Bava Basra 107a against the Gemara’s explanation. Not for me.
  • Completing Creation by Asher Benzion Buchman – Maimonidean and similar interpretations of the ten things created during twilight of the final day of Creation.
  • The Mystical Spirituality of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik by Heshy Zelcer – A collection and discussion of passages showing the spiritual side of R. Soloveitchik. I was pleasantly surprised to find some observations that were new to me.
  • Chimeras and the Limits of Casuistry in Jewish Bioethics by Dr. Alan Jotkowitz – What do you do when face a question that has no legal precedent? Derive principles from halakhic and aggadic texts and then apply them.
  • Clarifying Why the Muscovy Duck is Kosher: A Factually Accurate Response by R. Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Zohar Amar – A convincing case that the animal is kosher (although I had been previously convinced). The fact that R. Shmuel Salant, after being asked the question, personally oversaw the slaughter and eating of a Muscovy Duck to show his opinion seems fairly conclusive. Except for a hint in the final footnote, the authors shy away from the Satmar politics that hang over all these issues today. Probably wise but in fifty years people will wonder why all of these issues suddenly arose and won’t know about the warring Satmar factions attempting to delegitimize each other’s slaughtering practices.
  • Aleinu: Obligation to Fix the World or the Text? by Mitchell First – Does the text say לתקן עולם (to fix the world) or לתכן עולם (to establish the world)? He shows that both texts are well attested and theorizes that the latter is correct. Perhaps it is his humble and unassuming tone but I am left unconvinced.
  • A Proposal to Improve Rabbinic Decision-Making for Serious Medical Problems by Dr. Brenda Breuer, Dr. Fred Rosner and R. Dr. Aaron Glatt – Medicine has recently moved away from the relying on expert opinion to study-based findings. Only experts in these studies can offer informed advice. Therefore, rabbis need to stop relying on their favorite experts and instead ask epidemiologists.
  • Responses by various rabbis and doctors – Combinations of outrage and perplexity. Rabbis should not be giving medical advice (and much more). Personally, I think rabbis should speak to the questioner’s doctor to understand the circumstances and not go around speaking with other doctors who may have very different opinions that are not necessarily any better.
  • On Reading Rambam in Brooklyn and in Haifa by Prof. Menachem Kellner – In response to a short and somewhat dismissive mention in the prior issue, Prof. Kellner bizarrely responds with a lengthy letter dripping with condescension to Buchman, the author of the article, saying he is ignorant of the Rambam’s philosophical work and tries to make the Rambam “frum” despite historical opposition to the Rambam’s view.
  • A Response by Asher Benzion Buchman – Basically, who do you think you are? Pointing out that he is familiar with the philosophical and philological issues. His views still seem like a farfetched interpretation but he is correct that many academics read Rambam more conservatively than Kellner.
  • בענין מצות פדיון שבויים ע״י דוד ליכטנשטיין – There is no mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim for a convicted criminal but leaves some open questions in his conclusion section. And we should not release terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s release.
  • שיקולים בעריכת המתווה לקביעת הלכה בסוגיות מסכת עירובין והשפעתם על הפוסקים ע״י פרופ׳ אורי צור – Form criticism of the Talmud.

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.

24 comments

  1. Buchman does not respond at all to Kellner’s citations of Rishonim who learned Rambam the same way. And he misunderstands the academics that he quotes. Kellner’s critique is spot-on: Buchman is trying to rewrite Rambam such that he never said anything controversial and was not at all influenced by Greek thought.

  2. Gil,

    What did you think of R. Broyde’s & R. Brody’s very overt call to Sara H. to relinquish her Rabba title?

  3. N: I didn’t get Kellner’s point with that. Yes, there were Rishonim who understood Rambam as an ultra-rationalist and others who didn’t. Interpreting Rambam is an ancient debate. Not that I agree with Buchman.

    Alex: She can’t do it, not after the hero’s treatment she got from JOFA.

  4. Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza by Prof. Yaakov Elman
    =========================
    but of course no impact on the beis medrash learning of rava’s shitot?
    KT

  5. . If I understand correctly, the conclusion is “no” because of non-technical reasons.
    ==========================
    I agree with your conclusion, how do you define “non-technical reasons.”
    KT

  6. •Chimeras and the Limits of Casuistry in Jewish Bioethics by Dr. Alan Jotkowitz – What do you do when face a question that has no legal precedent? Derive principles from halakhic and aggadic texts and then apply them.
    ======================
    Would anyone disagree in theory? In practice imho this becomes a “lev shel torah” discussion.
    KT

  7. by Dr. Brenda Breuer, Dr. Fred Rosner and R. Dr. Aaron Glatt – Medicine has recently moved away from the relying on expert opinion to study-based findings. Only experts in these studies can offer informed advice. Therefore, rabbis need to stop relying on their favorite experts and instead ask epidemiologists
    ==================================
    iirc 2 of these 3 are epidemiologists (anyway reading the article I thought they were leading up to asking actuaries). in general I wonder if some people need someone else to make their decisions, and whether this is preferred by hkb”h.
    KT

    )

  8. “by Dr. Brenda Breuer, Dr. Fred Rosner and R. Dr. Aaron Glatt – Medicine has recently moved away from the relying on expert opinion to study-based findings. Only experts in these studies can offer informed advice. Therefore, rabbis need to stop relying on their favorite experts and instead ask epidemiologists
    ==================================
    iirc 2 of these 3 are epidemiologists (anyway reading the article I thought they were leading up to asking actuaries). in general I wonder if some people need someone else to make their decisions, and whether this is preferred by hkb”h.
    KT”

    Probably more accurate asking actuaries-personal story there are obviously many who read hirhurim who are much more at home with statistics than I am-but fundamental statistical logic mistakes are not rare in medical literature-a personal example a while back a physician friend of mine showed me an article that the physicain was a coauthor in JAMA. I noticed right away that they were assuming a normal distribution in their analysis when the dsitribution was not normal. There was biostatistician as a coauthor on the paper. I went through the paper and Chebyshev’s inequality would have applied with a less confidence than was implied by using a normal distribution.

  9. There seems to be a funny misunderstand here. Menachem Kellner *is* a conservative reader of the Rambam. Such conservative reading is mainstream in academia today, whereas a “radical Maimonides” was mainstream a generation ago (and there are still some scholars who read him that way today).

    The issue isn’t that Buchman is reading Maimonides conservatively, but what an intelligent, conservative reading is in the first place.

  10. If you think that the Rambam thought only the first five of his Thirteen Principles were about what he claimed they were, and that all of his statements about who has a share in the world to come are false, then Kellner is indeed a conservative interpreter of Maimonides. If you think interpreting Maimonides should involve, say, addressing what Maimonides actually says, you may wish to look elsewhere.

  11. I would say that Profs. Isador Twersky and Marvin Fox were conservative interpreters of the Rambam. For example, see this post: https://www.torahmusings.com/2008/03/rav-soloveitchiks-confrontation-with/

  12. Um,

    As someone who is not familiar with the subject, and who doesn’t have subscribe to Hakirah, may I ask the discussants of the Kellner-Buchman debate explain what exactly they mean by “radical” and conservative” readings of Rambam?

    I mean, how does one determine what’s radical and what’s conservative? And does conservative mean by academic standards? yeshiva standards? &c

  13. >This respected historian and talmid chakham, who evidently has overcome his concerns about this journal

    Eaten humble pie is more like it.

  14. >>I would say that Profs. Isador Twersky and Marvin Fox were conservative interpreters of the Rambam. For example, see this post: https://www.torahmusings.com/2008/03/rav-soloveitchiks-confrontation-with/

    Gil, Kellner is generally in the same school as Twersky and Fox. Others with the same bent today are Gerald Blidstein and Kenneth Seeskin.

    An example on a contemporary scholar who sees a radical in the Rambam is Haim Kreisel, who thinks that Rambam’s “true” opinion was that the world is eternal, prophecy is entirely naturalistic, and God has no will.

  15. Indeed, it is Buchman who makes the radical claim that according to the Rambam denying the existence, unity or incorporiality of the Creator or any of the other 13 ikkarim are not grounds for losing ones share of olam haba per se. Rather they “forfeit their portion in olam haba only when they openly state their denial” (hakira 10 p.135)
    This “don’t ask, don’t” approach to kfirah opens Buchman up to the accusation that he supports a Straussian orthopraxy. This should be of concern to all traditionalist readers of the Rambam, especially contemporary heresiologists such as Gil.

  16. “in general I wonder if some people need someone else to make their decisions, and whether this is preferred by hkb”h.”

    A Rav is needed for halachik sheilahs-what is the halachik expertise in choosing most effective medical care.

  17. Lawrence Kaplan

    wb: Speaking of what Maimonides actually writes, it would be nice if Buchman would adress Maimonides’ explicit statement in Guide 3:27 that only perfection of the soul (which is distinct from welfare of the soul; cf.Guide 1:33) gives one permanent preservation.

    I have much to say and, indeed, have said much about conservative and radical readings of Maimonides, but do not have the time or energy right now tprsue the matter. My own take on Maiminides is more radical than that of Tewersky and Fox, more conservative than that of Kreisel. For the meanwhile, see my article in Edah Journal, Summer 2002 for a critique of Fox on Maimonides’ ethics.

  18. Lawrence Kaplan: If you are referring to the penultimate sentence of the Guide 3:27, although relevant, it is hardly an “explicit statement that only perfection of the soul gives one permanent preservation.” Do you agree with Kellner’s interpretation in which only the first five of the Thirteen Principles are of any consequence? Regardless of whether you agree with Buchman (I don’t), he does not blatantly “write off” as rhetoric all statements of the Rambam that don’t fit into a preconceived philosophy. The problem with Kellner is that he presents himself as a “moderate” interpreter, who will reconcile the Mishneh Torah and the Guide, but whenever it suits him adopts the methodology that the Rambam here was writing for the masses–at least Strauss had the virtue of consistency.

  19. Lawrence Kaplan

    wb: No, I am not referring to the penultimate sentence.

    However, earlier in the chapter Maimonides states (in the Pines translation it is the sentence at the end of the first paragraph) “But only after one has achieved the first perfection(perfection of the body) is it possible to achieve the ultimate perfection (perfection of the soul) which is indubitably more valuable, and it– and nothing else– is the cause of permanent preservation. (I do not have the Pines tranalton at hand, and I am translating from Schwartz.)

  20. Professor Kaplan and wb:

    Reading Rambam the way you suggest, there is no one that can have Olam Haba. Even Moshe did not reach the ultimate perfection of the soul as he could not understand the essence of God. Clearly perfection is a range not a point. The question then is what are the boundaries of that range. Rambam seems to point there being a derech hashem based on God’s statement about Avraham “ki Yeda’ativ…” Someone who embarks on that path, by the mere intent, has taken the first step towards perfection and is thus a ben olam haba. That insight that helped him make that decision is already a level of perfection of the soul. One who “says”, denies the list of things Rambam enumerates which are the goals set by this path, has not embarked on this path and has thus not entered the range of perfection. Indeed,as Rambam writes in 3:27 once one has achieved the first perfection, the perfection of the body, can he enter the path that leads to the ultimate perfection, which is the only path that allows for permanent preservation.

    This is how I understand Rabbi Buchman’s position. I also believe that it is the approach that fits Rambam in his many varied statements on this issue in his writings.

  21. Lawrence Kaplan

    David Guttman: Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Maimonides defines perfection of the soul as “knowing everything concerning all the beings that is within capacity of man to know.” Knowledge of God is not within man’s capacity. I agree that perfection of the soul is a range, and only Moses achieved ultimate perfection of the soul.(See Guide 1:54). However, even as a range perfection of the soul for Maimonides “consists of opinoons towards which spsculation has led and that investigation has rendered compulsory.” Accepting true opinions on the basis of tradition is welfare of the soul NOT perfection of the soul. Cf. Guide 1:33.

  22. Professor Kaplan: As you point out so well, I overreached when I used Moshe as an example. The point however remains that anyone other than Moshe would not be worthy of Olam Haba (as per 1:54)unless we accept a range of perfection, and you agree. I also accept your differentiation between ‘perfection” and “welfare” of the soul (though I do not see it in 1:33). I see “welfare” being the result of the kind of knowledge – acceptance without demonstration – but the decision to accept either because that person wants to join the congregation of believers or the congregation of seekers, that decision requires a certain amount of “perfection” of the mind based on speculation and investigation, minimal though it may be (cf letter to Ovadyah the Proselyte). The exception would possibly be one who joins as “mitzvat Anashim Melumada” (though I don’t know if Rambam addresses this distinction) .

    I say that based on MT Hil Teshuvah 7

    אמש היה זה שנוי לפני המקום, משוקץ ומרוחק ותועבה; והיום הוא אהוב ונחמד, קרוב וידיד

    The radical transformation and the language used in describing its consequences, is of a Ben Olam Haba. That transformation is however only a decision. Perfection of the mind is not accomplished overnight.

    My point is that once we accept that perfection is a range, the difference of opinion is limited to delineating that range – a fruitful discussion – but the differences are no longer that radical.

  23. Lawrence Kaplan

    David Guttman: In Guide 1:33 the Rambam, to be sure, does not refer to welfare or perfection of the soul. However his distinction there between the simple person, who accepts true opinions on the basis of tradition (taqlid) and who does not understand them in their true essence but only on the basis of imaginings and parables, and the perfect person, who understands true opinions in their essence and believes them on the basis of reasoned argumentation, corresponds to his distinction in 3:27 between welfare and perfection of the soul.

    Re Teshuvah 7:4, 7: I believe they are referring to the baal teshuvah who has transformed his moral vices into moral virtues (7:3) See Eight Chapters, Chapter 7. Note the use of Isaiah 59:2 in both contexts.

  24. a few remaining points: in hilkhot teshuva 3:6:
    ואלו שאין להן חלק לעולם הבא, אלא נכרתין ואובדין, ונידונין על גודל רשעם וחטאתם, לעולם ולעולמי עולמים: המינים, והאפיקורוסים, והכופרים בתורה, והכופרים בתחיית המתים, והכופרים בביאת הגואל, והמשומדים, ומחטיאי הרבים, והפורשים מדרכי ציבור, והעושה עבירות ביד רמה בפרהסיה כיהויקים, והמוסרים, ומטילי אימה על הציבור שלא לשם שמיים, ושופכי דמים, ובעלי לשון הרע, והמושך עורלתו
    As R. Buchman points out, there is a heavy emphasis in this list on people who have removed themselves from the Jewish people–i.e., there is a connection between olam ha-ba and identification with the Jewish people. This is also the explanation for the “controversial” statement of the Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Biah 14:4: ואומרים לו, הוי יודע שהעולם הבא אינו צפון אלא לצדיקים, והם ישראל–see R. Y. Blass, מנפת צוף who notes that the hasid ha-umot parallels the halakha of ger toshav: Just like the ger toshav is allowed to reside in eretz yisrael, but eretz yisrael is still the land of the Jewish people, so too the hasid umot ha-olam has a place in olam ha-ba but it is still the “promised land” (צפון) for the Jewish people. This text has caused Menachem Kellner much distress (Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism 243-247) because it would leave the Rambam insufficiently liberal. Although his work is a prime example of tendentious scholarship, Kellner is not alone–much of the scholarship on such issues is often little more than apologetics with footnotes.

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