Post-modern Objections to Academic Jewish Studies

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R. Walter Wurzburger, “Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik as Posek of Post-Modern Orthodoxy” in Tradition (1994:1), p. 7 (link):

The Rav’s objection to the employment of modern historic and textual scholarship to ascertain the meaning of halakha reflects not naive traditionalism but highly sophisticated post-modern critical thought. He insists that halakha operate with its own unique canons of interpretation. According to R. Soloveitchik, scientific methods are appropriate only for the explanation of natural phenomena but have no place in the quest for the understanding of the normative and cognitive concepts of halakha, which imposes its own a priori categories, which differ from those appropriate in the realm of science. It is for this reason that the Rav completely ignores Bible criticism and eschews the “positive historical” approach of the “Science of Judaism.”

But what about using those methods for purely theoretical purposes, such as the establishment of historical layers?

(Repost from seven years ago)

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 and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance 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.

115 comments

  1. I don’t see how the title of the post reflects the content? Academic Jewish studies encompasses much more than psak. Arguably there is no such thing as psak in academic Jewish studies altogether, unless he just means to reject Conservative responsa?

    In any case, a term like “highly critical post-modern thought” seems designed to fool the naive. Chas veshalom we should think the Rav was as benighted as the rest of the poskim. Nein, he was being highly critical and post-modern. Does that impress you?

  2. existentialist

    Obviously, “halakha operate(s) with its own unique canons of interpretation”. For the most part those canons are unknown, unknowable and subject to the judgement of the gadol. That is how power is assumed and maintained by the gedolim, the poskim, the elite, and not shared in any way with the rest of klal yisroel.

  3. I am really interested to hear views from the 20-something Hirhurim readers as to whether this speaks to them.

  4. Those who identify as Modern Orthodox, that is.

  5. Whether or not the above post by R Wurzburger ZL or the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu , Aharon Hakohen, great figure in Tanach any other statement by any Tanna, Amora, Gaon, Rishon, Acharon or contemporary Talmid Chacham speaks to any 20-something MO reader is irrelevant.

    Rather, the issue that such a person understands that such personae are relevant to his or her life, not just because in prior generations they were considered as great spiritual figures in their own generations, but because they are great spiritual personae today.

  6. as s. has pointed it out the title and the post do not match. however, they may match to r’ gil consistent drawing conclusions (aka ideology) and widening to an all encompassing topic which the author probably would disagree with.

    ” It is for this reason that the Rav completely ignores Bible criticism…” i would say that this statement is a little off the mark. The rav didn’t ignore it when he wrote adam I and II. he didn’t speak directly to it – or overtly gave it recognition – but offered other ideas in recognition of what was said by biblical criticism.

  7. Click through to read R. Wurzburger’s (defensive, in my reading) 1994 article. The context is:

    […] I disagree with Moshe Sokol’s and David Singer’s4 contention that the Rav, for all his philosophical brilliance and his extensive scientific knowledge, really cannot be invoked as an authority figure for Modern Orthodoxy, since in his halakhic decision-making he operates exclusively with traditional methods and does not permit philosophical ideas or the findings of modern textual scholarship to impinge upon the formation of his halakhic rulings. They claim that his halakhic positions and methodologies do not differ basically from those of other poskim, who have insulated themselves against modernity. […]

  8. The Sokol/Singer article from Modern Judaism (from 1982!) is available at: http://www.jstor.org/pss/1396137 [I’ll stop by the NYPL sometime this week to download it for reading].

  9. So the Rav was importing external considerations into the masorah. Excellent.

  10. IH, as a 23-year-old reader, who has a degree in archaeology and biblical studies from a secular university and is modern orthodox, I’ll share my opinion.

    In short, I think that any religious Jew should, as did R’ Soloveitchik, reject modern historic and textual scholarship when applied to halakhic and other core Jewish texts. I’ll go even further, though, and tell you that such scholarship is irrelevant both to religious Jews and the wider post-modern world.

    As a whole, while not all of the historic and textual methods are off base, they are generally untested toys of professional guessmakers. The ones that seem not to be highly flawed are the ones that have been around for longest, and have been employed by non-modern scholars, albeit in a less sophisticated form.
    (historical linguistics, or epigraphy for instance.)

    The documentary hypothesis, for instance, once the crowning achievement of ‘modern’ textual scholarship, has become increasingly discarded and discredited. The same PhD’s who once believed in its infallibility have now started exploring other alternatives.
    I’ve met plenty of Jews who have had their emuna encumbered by an undergraduate course in which they are introduced to the documentary hypothesis in the noncritical, nonthinking environment that is today’s university. If they were ever educated more fully on the subject, they may find, though, that the theory they were taught as basic fact is actually little more than a scholarly relic. This is but one example of the flaw of the ‘modern’ world – its great self-confidence causes it to declare ‘mission accomplished’ far before they’ve actually achieved much.

    The modern world had far too much confidence in itself and its abilities to unlock deep secrets and achieve new heights. The post-modern world is one in which the dogmas of the modern world, which were in large part based on the rejection of tradition, are themselves being rejected.

    Excuse the floweriness of my language, but I felt it appropriate in a post related to R’ Soloveitchik.

  11. “IH, as a 23-year-old reader, who has a degree in archaeology and biblical studies from a secular university and is modern orthodox”

    Snore. Wake me up when it’s over.

  12. “The documentary hypothesis, for instance, once the crowning achievement of ‘modern’ textual scholarship, has become increasingly discarded and discredited. The same PhD’s who once believed in its infallibility have now started exploring other alternatives.”

    Is this true?

  13. There may be reasons for us to reject certain conclusions reached by modern scholars, but this has nothing to do with some fictitious notion of the discrediting of higher criticism within the academy.

  14. I mean it’s a nice idea and all, that Halakha has its own, completely insulated standards of interpretation. It’s just more likely wrong than not, unless the Rav could come up with a methodology for determining those standards. Of course, he did not – he just asserted them. It seems as though they were supposed to just be intuited. Given that, the theory rests on how seriously you take the possibility that there are Halakhic Methodology Norms out there waiting to be perceived – or if making social-scientific connections makes more sense to you.

  15. Ouch, Jerry, I was only responding to IH’s request… I’d hate to think I was boring…

    Richard – It’s certainly true at my university, but many scholars employ revised versions of the hypothesis. Many have either abandoned the JEPD scheme in favor of a simpler one (JD is common, but not remarkable, JE is another, but JP seems to be the most popular revision.) or have held on to the idea of multiple authors, but claim the text is so convoluted that it is functionally impossible to tease out the authors, which is tantamount to saying that the Documentary Hypothesis is an article of faith.
    Further complicating things is the disagreement over what the Documentary Hypothesis tells us about the date of the text – estimates range from the 10th to 2nd century BCE.
    In essence, all that anyone can agree on anymore is that the text can’t have one author, and said author(s) couldn’t have lived in Moses’ time, but they can’t really agree on anything beside that.
    My professor quipped – “The only thing less plausible than the documentary hypothesis is divine authorship” – I think that probably encapsulates ‘scholarly consensus,’ at least as I received it.

  16. Jerry, rather than demeaning me and rejecting my assertion out of hand, I’d like to engage in an actual exchange of ideas. Why don’t you tell me why you think my statements were “fictitious?”

    I’d apreciate something more discursive than “Snore. Wake me up when its over.”

    Thanks.

  17. I think in general, the Jewish population suffers from a lack of good education on post-modernism.

    In my own development, I was very dismissive of Midrashim, Rashi and other meforshim until I learned post-modern theory. And it has frustrated me to no end to see people throw around the term on the internet, without truly understanding what it means. Which is hard, because like other difficult concepts, it borrows words and shifts their meaning.

    Post-modern philosophy also helped me understand Rav Solovetchik’s writings better, and also allows one to incorporate the entirety of Jewish thought and it’s differences without creating schism.

    Schism then only stems from actions which one knows to be assur, and not approaches or beliefs.

  18. So does this explain why, for example, the Rav didn’t like hearing what Geonim had to say? (You can hear echoes of this, for example, in R’ Schachter’s occasional references to them as “good fundraisers for their yeshivot.”) Why he had the peculiar notion that the siddur (and the Kinot, etc.) as it existed at the time he was born had been set in place by Chazal and thus untouchable? That he didn’t- this is true- want to use the *Frankel Rambam*? (I won’t bring up, say, the Cairo Geniza. OK, some things I can understand even if I don’t agree.) There’s no need to bring up the bugaboo of Biblical Criticism to explain these.

    I had rebbeim in YU, talmidim of the Rav, completely “frum” and modern, who had no problem with, say, a perush of a Rishon (to be sure, a Rishon who was already known, although perhaps not even that) that was only discovered in the Bodleian Library in the 19th Century, and actually considered it a bracha that we had it. Not even Charedim have problems with them, to a great extent.

  19. Nachum – yeah I’d say it definitely goes a long way. People love to mention that the Rav knew lots of philosophy, but I don’t think they realize that if you look at that philosophy with a critical eye, you get some really weird stuff. Like what I mentioned above. Is there any other instance where we accept this notion of intuiting these Halakhic methodological norms that are somehow unknowable by everyone that isn’t doing Halakha? A lot of this stuff is explored in the Halakhic Mind, but I think there’s a good reason he didn’t publish it – namely, it stopped being tenable at a certain point, and he couldn’t really figure out how to avoid global relativism.

  20. The Rav was not Post Modern.His rejection of historical methods is very different from such rejections of history by post modernists to the extent that they exist. I am sure that R. Wurtzburger z”l only used the term l’saber et haozen. However the Rav did emerge from the same intellectual environment as many of the leading post modern thinkers and there are important similarities between them.

  21. I’m a 20-something modern orthodox reader. I agree that halacha is not meant to be another scientific discipline. Rather it’s an independent system of thought which is internally logical and rooted in mesorah. R’ Wurzberger’s characterization of our movement as “post-modern orthodoxy,” definitely speaks to me.

    As an undergrad at a secular university, I avoided the Religion Department like the plague. Their approach wasn’t relevant to me as an observant Jew (or as a science major). However, I had many friends who did take Jewish studies classes and they seemed to concur with Yehuda’s assessment: “As a whole, while not all of the historic and textual methods are off base, they are generally untested toys of professional guessmakers.”

  22. They’re a lot less untested than random appeals to tradition and/or postmodernism.

  23. see my article in the following book:
    http://www.magnespress.co.il/website/index.asp?id=3362
    it’s in hebrew and deals with the rav and academic study of Torah. and also deals with the above mentioned previous articles
    shlomo

  24. Michael Rogovin

    I must be missing something. If the rules of science are external and irrelevant to Halachic decision making, why do we use sciences methodology in kashrut and Shabbat determinations ( at least sometimes, other times science is used except incorrectly)?

  25. Yehuda,

    Have you ever read this blog before? If you’re interested in having this conversation I suggest you search earlier comment threads (almost any one will do). This issue has been hashed, and rehashed, and re-rehashed about eleventy thousand times. I know you think you’re a real mechadesh, and I’d hate to spoil that feeling, but there it is.

  26. Yehudah
    if your professor have rejected DH broadly defined, what do they believe about the composition of the Torah?

  27. “Have you ever read this blog before? If you’re interested in having this conversation I suggest you search earlier comment threads (almost any one will do). This issue has been hashed, and rehashed, and re-rehashed about eleventy thousand times. I know you think you’re a real mechadesh, and I’d hate to spoil that feeling, but there it is.”

    Kohelet speaks. I, for one, am always interested in new voices. There is always something new to learn.

  28. Another interesting comment in R. Wurzburger’s 1994 article is:

    Because the term “Modern Orthodoxy” has acquired such a pejorative meaning, Rabbi Norman Lamm has proposed that we replace it with “Centrist Orthodoxy.’ In my opinion, “Post-Modern Orthodoxy” would be the most appropriate designation for a movement which stands not for evasion or accommodation but for uncompromising confrontation of modernity.

    Contrast with R. Brill’s comment in 2005:

    […] 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.

  29. Yehuda — in case you haven’t seen it, Robert Alter comments in the introduction to his Chumash translation:

    “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.”

    I have previously shared a comment my Christian Greek Classicist friend made to me: “it is a dead hand which has also laid its chilly touch on branches of classics – particularly Thucydidean scholarship. Its worst feature is the pseudo-certainty its proponents bring to the subject, whereby their ultimately unprovable and methodologically flawed hypotheses are put forward as proven facts. I expect this also infuses NT scholarship. I will be interested to see if the scholarship manages the orality-literary interface well, which is likely the key to it all: probably a very complex interaction in the early Church.”

  30. While I don’t agree with Jerry’s caustic language, I do feel this issue has been done to death. Everyone’s said everything that could be said. Barring some new piece of hard evidence, I predict this discussion will generate a lot of comments and no new insights.

  31. I think there’s some confusion here about the meaning of “modernity.” That last bit IH quoted from R’ Wurzberger sort of gives it away; the “modernism” of the Rav is the movement of that name of the first half of the twentieth century- critical thought, etc.- while the “modernity” R’ Wurzberger comes from the second half of the century- gay rights, to take an example. (Interestingly, R’ Wurzberger was not exactly a political conservative, although that may have been a reflexive big-D Democracy.) R’ Norman Lamm makes much the same point about modern movements encouraging religious conservatives in Torah UMadda, but I’m not sure whether he approves or not (if anything).

    Finally, there’s “post-modernism” in another sense, actually related to the “modernity” R’ Wurzberger is talking about- deconstructionism of texts, etc. etc. He seems to be implying that the Rav was opposed to modern criticism and, somehow, at the same time, say, more accepting of Midrash as some grand view that took from deconstructionism. I can certainly see how it all ties together. Personally, as a rationalist, I think modernism is great, modern culture and beliefs are garbage, and deconstructionism is part of that. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Midrash.

  32. I’ve already learned some new things. And so would Jerry is he is listening (e.g. evidence to the contrary of 1:30am and 1:33am).

  33. IH,

    What exactly have you learned?

  34. aiwac — with respect, that is a good way to de-focus the discussion. See my comments as they come out. Let’s have a conversation and not a meta-conversation.

  35. I’ve already mentioned that, to my reading, the tone of R. Wurzburger’s piece is defensive. It was written the year after the Rav’s death and responds (in large part) to criticisms made a dozen years prior.

    The more times I delve into the piece, the more its desperation strikes me. This is how it concludes:

    One might argue that such a stance, far from constituting a concession to modernity, represents a reaffirmation of classical teachings of Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism, which frequently have been neglected. One therefore might conclude that Orthodoxy would be spiritually far healthier if the Rav would be accepted as a role model not merely by “Modern Orthodoxy” but rather by all halakhically committed Jews of the modern era.

    I can’t help but conclude this article is an appeal to the right to not abandon RYBS.

    In juxtoposition, one can read the New York Times interview with the Rav from 1972 (http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F70B17F63959107B93C1AB178DD85F468785F9) which I found just before Gil’s post last night, as a result of reading Prog. Kaplan’s essay on RNS’s blog.

  36. OK…I’ll admit I did learn that there are many different forms of the DH today (thus far I’ve relied on Dr. Leiman, who said that everyone accepts Wellhausen with what are mostly ‘slight’ modifications).

    Let’s try something else. I’d say most of the people here accept that external forces affected halacha as we know it today. My question is this:

    Does that mean halacha is merely a plaything in the hands of social reality, or is it a system that NEGOTIATES with the outside world, deciding what’s good and what isn’t?

    In my opinion, it’s the latter, but that’s just me. Incidentally, there was a fascinating debate between Achad Ha’am and Micha Yosef Berdichevsky on a similar topic – whether there’s such a thing as an “essential Judaism” or whether “Judaism is whatever Jews do”.

  37. For the avoidance of doubt, (even) I agree that it is the latter.

  38. aiwac – is it a system that NEGOTIATES with the outside world, deciding what’s good and what isn’t?”

    can you indentify who is doing the negotiating? i think its more complicated than that (ala jacob katz et al).

  39. Ruvie,

    I didn’t say how the negotiation takes place. The issue was simply whether halacha has integrity or whether it’s a rubber stamp. If we agree halacha has integrity, the question of “how much” is just so much haggling.

  40. BTW,

    Benny Brown has a fascinating aside on Katz et al in his book on the Chazon Ish. He argued that the claim that “Orthodoxy is a response to modernity” is an argument that is only partially correct and misses a lot of important nuances.

  41. aieac – thanks for the reference. btw, i haven’t found a better answer to the issues of the evolution of halacha (or is it changing of halacha) than those offered by katz and his followers. i believe his approach and analysis have shed more light than any other.

  42. I think the question of who/how the negotiation takes place is the crux of the divide between Gil’s perspective and mine.

    It comes back to the definition R. Brill posited in 2005 (quoted abive in IH on December 12, 2011 at 8:05 am).

    The RW see’s the negotiation in the hands of roshei yeshivah (or Yeshivish/Charedi “poskim”) whereas as I see it as a sociological process in which the amcha and their pulpit rabbis are in control.

  43. IH,

    But who are the amcha? Does it include the openly secular or the traditional who don’t keep Shabbat but say Kiddush? Does it include only the Charedim?

  44. A Little Sanity

    Re the documentary hypothesis:

    The problem for the Orthodox Jew who accepts as an article of faith that the entire Torah must have been written down by Moshe Rabbeinu [except for possibly the very end] is not whether all academic scholars now accept the classic JEPD version of the documentary hypothesis, but rather is the fact that virtually all (if not all) reputable academic scholars, based on the available evidence, reject Mosaic authorship. To ignore his fact, IMHO, whether or not labels such approach “post-modern,” seems to me to be just an instance of someone avoiding an inconvenient fact that cannot be adequately refuted.

    So how does a frum Jew deal with this problem?

    1) Ignore it [including the “Post-Modern” and “One never dies from a question” approaches].

    2)Base one’s Judaism on the possibility that the critics’ certainty could be misplaced, just as the certainty of scientists’ confidence in the accuracy of Newtonian physics was later overturned by the theory of quantum mechanics.

    3) Reject the the dogma of complete Mosaic authorship as binding, based upon, e.g., the prominent Rishonim and other gedolim, who, as Prof. Shapiro has recently demonstrated, did not take same in the literal sense that most frum jews now do.

  45. Ruvie,

    In my opinion, the reason for this is that Katz et al are practically dogma within the academy (this is NEVER a good thing, even when the temporary conclusions are in our favor). Brown’s challenge makes several important corrections to the Katz-Samet paradigm.

  46. Incidentally, from the 1972 NYT interview with the Rav:

    […and he] denied that he was an “authority” in the usual sense of the word. “I have many pupils, I have many disciples, but I never impose my views on anyone,” he said. “Judaism,” he continued, “is a society of free and independent men and women bound by a single commitment and vision.”

    […]

    He said Judaism was also a basically noninstitutional religion. “You don’t need a synagogue to pray. Any cubit of space can be converted into a temple or synagogue. You can pray on the seashore or in Times Square.” He was asked to accept the chief rabbinate of Israel but said he declined because “I didn’t like the idea of an institutionalized rabbinate.”

    —–

    aiwac — there is no one amcha. Never has been. The amcha are the different sociological communities that are created: the different nuschaot so to speak.

  47. So there are communities who have the right to completely abrogate halacha if they so desire?

  48. aiwac – doesn’t mean that all katz is 100% correct and it doesn’t need tweeking as we know more. just remember that katz was the outsider at hebrew u. where e. urbach reigned. ta-smah is also good – imho. can you refer me to any links to brown’s challenges ( i am not really up to date on the scholarship these days)

  49. aiwac — To be halachic, there must be fealty to halacha. How halacha is re-interpreted is, at times, sociological. The role of women (or Gil’s “Nusach Feminism” is the example that comes up most often here. If we were in late 18th century Eastern Europe, it would have been Chassidism.

  50. But, coming back more directly to the post, R. Wurzburger’s piece — and Gil’s quotation of it — is as much part of Rav Revisionism as the dispute with R. Meiselman, in my view.

    See also: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/12/guest-post-revisionism-and-rav.html

  51. Ruvie,

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the book with me and I don’t want to accidentally misrepresent what Dr. Brown said. So I’m afraid you’ll have to wait, or better yet, read the book. IIRC, the relevant remarks are at the end of the chapter on Chumra.

  52. Nachum: Why he had the peculiar notion that the siddur (and the Kinot, etc.) as it existed at the time he was born had been set in place by Chazal and thus untouchable?

    I think you’re exaggerating the claim. Rav Soloveitchik used a siddur based on the approach of the Vilna Gaon and acknowledged different nuschaos.

    That he didn’t- this is true- want to use the *Frankel Rambam*? (I won’t bring up, say, the Cairo Geniza. OK, some things I can understand even if I don’t agree.)

    This is quite strange since he was the one who sent his uncle textual variations that were used in the latter’s commentary on Sefer Mada.

    I had rebbeim in YU, talmidim of the Rav, completely “frum” and modern, who had no problem with, say, a perush of a Rishon (to be sure, a Rishon who was already known, although perhaps not even that) that was only discovered in the Bodleian Library in the 19th Century, and actually considered it a bracha that we had it.

    Rav Soloveitchik was also very close with R. Chaim Heller and occasionally quoted ancient biblical translations. There is a vort in the new siddur using the Peshitta (Nefesh HaRav mistakenly attributes it to the Septuagint). My understanding is that Rav Soloveitchik was OK with using ancient commentaries from manuscript if they said something good but if they said some unusual innovation he gave it no credibility.

    Michael Rogovin: I must be missing something. If the rules of science are external and irrelevant to Halachic decision making, why do we use sciences methodology in kashrut and Shabbat determinations ( at least sometimes, other times science is used except incorrectly)?

    We use science to determine the reality to which halakhah is applied.

    IH: Re R. Wurzburger on Post-Modern Orthodoxy and Dr. Brill on Centrist Orthodoxy — each was defining the terms differently.

    I can’t help but conclude this article is an appeal to the right to not abandon RYBS.

    Very odd conclusion.

  53. IH: But, coming back more directly to the post, R. Wurzburger’s piece — and Gil’s quotation of it — is as much part of Rav Revisionism as the dispute with R. Meiselman, in my view.

    One could just as easily posit that the rejection of R. Wurzburger’s piece is very much a part of Rav Revisionism.

  54. One could just as easily posit that the rejection of R. Wurzburger’s piece is very much a part of Rav Revisionism.

    Of course! But, the 1972 NYT interview is edifying in this regard.

    The bottom line is that the Rav left a legacy of charismatic leadership and teaching, but not a consistent and coherent halachic or hashkafic legacy. It is rather sad that most of the words expended on him since his death seem to be claims to his mantle.

    I am dubious that he will be very relevant to Orthodoxy within another generation.

  55. Further to my point, what is one to make of the following from Prof. Kaplan’s new essay:

    To begin with, it must be admitted that the Rav in the shmuess emphasizes much more strongly the pragmatic significance of the State of Israel than he did in the essays I referred to, though he also refers to its halakhic significance, discussing the view of the Ramban, according to whom (in the Rav’s understanding) it would follow that the establishment of the State constitutes an essential element of the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael. It is not entirely clear to me how or if this shmuess is internally consistent and how or if it coheres with the Rav’s published essays on the subject to which I referred. Perhaps it reflects a development in the Rav’s thought concerning the State of Israel in a more pragmatic direction. Then again, there are places where the shmuess appears to flatly contradict some of the earlier essays.

  56. Sigh….

    Sounds like someone has way too much time on their hands.
    What’s this obsessive overanalyzation of practically everything in life?

  57. Re R. Meiselman: Everyone I knew in the YU orbit, including roshei yeshiva, took issue with the Tradition article that Prof. Kaplan critiqued.

  58. Nachum

    “So does this explain why, for example, the Rav didn’t like hearing what Geonim had to say? ”

    Although people make grandiose claims about what he knew and mastered, I personally have never seen much evidence that he knew a great deal of Chochmas Yisrael. But let’s assume he did, or at least was exposed to it. If that’s the case then he probably knew that you can’t go on being a traditional rosh yeshiva and swim in the sea of Chochmas Yisrael. So, it appears, he made his choice.

    As far as I’m concerned, the consumer should know what he is consuming. If one does swim in that sea, then at the very least one should be informed that the Rav did not, and not mistake fancy words and references for a basic similarity.

  59. S: Nachum is probably referring to the time when Prof. Saul Lieberman told him about an unusual position of a Gaon and R. Soloveitchik responded that he didn’t care because his grandfather could probably learn better than the Gaon. He simply believed that the views of those who were not “ba’alei mesorah” were unimportant.

  60. Gil, I know what he is referring to.

    But it is more than that; it is the eschewal of Chochmas Yisrael entirely. It’s possible that he read it as an interested consumer (I mean, he apparently read Chaim Grade on downtime too) but is Chochmas Yisrael not almost entirely absent in his writings and shiurim?

  61. S: Yes, but was that intentional or incidental? Meaning, did he oppose it and therefore avoid it or did he just avoid it due to lack of interest?

  62. “If that’s the case then he probably knew that you can’t go on being a traditional rosh yeshiva and swim in the sea of Chochmas Yisrael.”

    That’s a pretty bleak prognosis.

  63. Only if you think I meant something negative or insulting about the implication of not being a traditional rosh yeshiva.

    Putting aside affiliations and all that, you don’t think Saul Lieberman’s shiur must have been very different from a traditional rosh yeshiva? And he didn’t deal with or much approve of form criticism of the Talmud. I just have to assume that a Talmud shiur which takes text and philology seriously is very different from the kind that you will hear in most traditional yeshivos.

  64. R Gil wrote:

    “S: Nachum is probably referring to the time when Prof. Saul Lieberman told him about an unusual position of a Gaon and R. Soloveitchik responded that he didn’t care because his grandfather could probably learn better than the Gaon. He simply believed that the views of those who were not “ba’alei mesorah” were unimportant”

    Simple question to all-compare this to the well known view of CI re manuscripts that was the subject of an article and R D Leiman’s rejoinder in Tradition, as well as with the drashos that RHS published in his most recent sefer on RYBS. IMO, there is no doubt that RYBS viewed Mesorah and Baalei Mesorah as paramount considerations in the transmission of TSBP.

  65. What’s the question?

  66. “Only if you think I meant something negative or insulting about the implication of not being a traditional rosh yeshiva.”

    It depends what you think such “swimming” does produce, or dare I say should produce, in your eyes.

  67. S-what if any differences were there between RYBS and the CI on the issue of use of manuscripts, etc?

  68. “It depends what you think such “swimming” does produce, or dare I say should produce, in your eyes.”

    I personally do not think that it should be kept entirely for theory and not for praxis. In fact I have little appreciation for that approach. This means that I think that a posek with a historical sense must not ignore it for psak. A further consequence of this is that a person who has such a sense probably should look for poskim who share it rather than those who don’t. Of course “historical sense” is a bare minimum, and I also mean to include things like philology, appreciation for the necessity of correct texts, etc. If this means that such a posek or rosh yeshiva, as the case may be, isn’t “traditional” then so be it.

    Getting back to Rav Soloveitchik, although as I said I haven’t seen a great deal of evidence that he was thoroughly conversant with it, his biography and some other things suggest that he was at least exposed to it. If so, then I think his failure to make any use of it signals a choice he made, which was to be the traditional rosh yeshiva.

  69. What is the definition of post-modernism in the context of the hashkafa of RYBS. Does this mean post “Science of Judaism” which started with the German Wissenschaft das Judentums”? Are there any Jewish academics who still identify with this? My own very negative experience in Jewish studies at the Hebrew University in the 70’s led me to the conclusion that Academia is ‘alma d’shikra” Truth in the study of Judaism is to be found in the yeshiva-not the university. I remember having a discussion back then with Prof. Moshe Greenberg ZL about the high wire act of using literary criticism in the study of Torah without falling into kefira.
    Another question is how much can science be used in the service of halacha, For instance the use of DNA to determine paternity or even to determine who is a kohen. A case in point is the makhloket about the modern discovery of techelet. AIUI the Brisker view (including RYBS) is that scientific evidence cannot be relied upon where there is no unbroken chain of tradition. Rav Avraham Shapira ZTZL said that scientific evidence could be used in determining the real values of shiurei Torah and Techelet where there is no clear tradition.

  70. Larry Kaplan-why isn’t the shmuess quoted verbatim by R D Holzer entirely consistent with RYBS’s often quoted views on land for peace that RYBS stated in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War? Moreover, WADR, why limit yourself to published essays especially if there are many taped shiurim or shiurim transcribed in a verbatim fashion which available in which RYBS expressed himself on a wide variety of Halachic and Hashkafic issues?

  71. Lawrence Kaplan

    Steve Brizel: Indeed, I do believe that the Rav’s views as stated in the Shmuess fit into his earlier expressed views re land for peace. The shmuess can be consistent with some of the Rav’s earlier expressed views and inconsistent with others.

    As for your second point, I believe that generally one has to give greater weight to articles the Rav prepared for publication. Moreover, this shmuess was a spontaneous performance.

    IH: I’m not sure I understand your question at 10:57am.

  72. Larry Kaplan-would it not be correct to state that RYBS’s view of Zionism was that of RZ with the establishment of the State of Israel having enormous religious significance for Jews and Gentiles, but clearly not of a messianist nature, both before and after 1967? Isn’t that a fair reading of Chamesh Drashos, Kol Dodi Dofek, the post 1967 shiur on land for peace and the shmuess in “Thinking Aloud”?

  73. Larry Kaplan wrote in part:

    “As for your second point, I believe that generally one has to give greater weight to articles the Rav prepared for publication. Moreover, this shmuess was a spontaneous performance”

    How about shiurim that have been transcribed in a verbatim fashion and released to the public even post humously? What about taped shiurim? Would the same not be entitled to greater weight than articles or works “edited by students” aka “MiPi HaShemuah” either in RYBS’s lifetime or posthumously? How would you square your POV with the fact that much of the Torah of Brisk has been published after the lifetimes of RCS, etc and/or is transmitted orally ?

  74. Lawrence Kaplan

    Ruvie and aiwac: See Brown’s book pp. 168-169 and 346-347 for a brief critique of the Katz-Samet view of Orthodoxy as a response to modernity. Interestingly enough, he raises it in connection with his criticisms of my article on the Hazon Ish.

  75. steve:

    “post humously”

    what does publishing it after eating humous have to do with anything? maybe the high calory and fat content gives it more weight?

    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  76. Lawrence Kaplan

    Steve: These are all very good questions. But note I was referring to articles the Rav himself prepared for publication. I certainly, however, do not want to rule out the use of major public lectures of the Rav that he did not himself prepare for publication or his unpublished manuscripts. How much weight should be given to them is complex and no simple answers can be given.

  77. Larry Kaplan-thanks for your response. WADR, if we relied solely on what any Gadol wrote in his lifetime, as opposed to manuscripts released posthumously, perhaps, we would be reading from a Sefer Torah Sheino Mugah.

  78. “Larry Kaplan-thanks for your response. WADR, if we relied solely on what any Gadol wrote in his lifetime, as opposed to manuscripts released posthumously, perhaps, we would be reading from a Sefer Torah Sheino Mugah.”

    That’s not what he said though. He said it’s complex and has no simple answers. That sounds about right.

  79. Lawrence Kaplan

    Steve: Indeed, the Rav’s position in the shmuess is consistent with his earlier writings in NOT attributing any messianic significance to the State of Israel. The shmuess may not have been consistent with the earlier writings re the nature of the signficance it DOES attribute to the State. I note you do not address what seems to me to be the flat outright contradiction between “Brit Avot” and the shmuess re whether Brit Sinai has replaced Brit Avot ot not.

  80. Lawrence Kaplan

    To return to the main subject: I remember clearly in 1967 when the Rav was learning Hilkhot Avel. He was studying the hassagah of the Rabad on Hilkot Avel 6:1. According to the then printed standard texts, the Rabad states “bi-gemara le-mitzvah, rasheichem al tifrau.” This makes no sense.Th Rav discussed for some time what “Bi-Gemara le-mitzvah” could possibly mean. Fast forward to the Frankel Rambam. The text reads The Rabad states “Bigemara limduha” which is obviously correct and as the textual notes indicate is supported by the majority of manuscripts.

  81. Does that mean halacha is merely a plaything in the hands of social reality, or is it a system that NEGOTIATES with the outside world, deciding what’s good and what isn’t?

    The first alternative given here is not coherent. Rather, there are always multiple social “realities”, there is overlap between the set of “realities” of different generations, and people both Jewish and non-Jewish choose to follow one “reality” or another in their lives rather than being forced along a uniform predetermined path.

  82. Does not sound very post modern at all. It sounds very post-Hermann Cohen marburg neo-Kantian which is of course the school of philosophy in which R’ Soloveitchic was schooled. But post modern??? I don’t think so.

  83. “aiwac on December 12, 2011 at 11:34 am
    “If that’s the case then he probably knew that you can’t go on being a traditional rosh yeshiva and swim in the sea of Chochmas Yisrael.”

    That’s a pretty bleak prognosis.

    S. on December 12, 2011 at 11:47 am
    Only if you think I meant something negative or insulting about the implication of not being a traditional rosh yeshiva.”

    I thought it was a bleak prognosis re: being a traditional rosh yeshiva (not not being one).

  84. IH:

    “there must be fealty to halacha”

    I see you didn’t say “claimed fealty,” because, after all, the Conservatives have that, even though they’re being untruthful. Do you leave them out?

    David:

    “Are there any Jewish academics who still identify with this?”

    All of them, including many Orthodox ones?

    “I believe that generally one has to give greater weight to articles the Rav prepared for publication.”

    Like Shakespeare’s quatros vs. folios. 🙂 As regardless the britot, you sure know Steve. 🙂

  85. Gil:

    “I think you’re exaggerating the claim. Rav Soloveitchik used a siddur based on the approach of the Vilna Gaon and acknowledged different nuschaos.”

    I think we’re talking apples and oranges. The nusach HaGra says nothing about Kinot for the Holocaust or Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut. (Although the Gra might elsewhere.)

    “This is quite strange since he was the one who sent his uncle textual variations that were used in the latter’s commentary on Sefer Mada.”

    R’ Rakeffet has cited that contradiction. It is odd. Same for the rest of your comments. R’ Rakeffet suggests that he liked a little Hokhmat Yisrael but not too much, if I can paraphrase.

  86. Nachum: *New* prayers have nothing to do with Academic Jewish Studies.

  87. Lawrence Kaplan

    Quartos vs. Folios: He probably didn’t prepare either for publication. The relationship between the quarto and Folio versions is a hotly debated topic in Shakespearean scholarship. There is even a connection, nn the view of some, with post-modernism!

  88. r’ gil – and why the title ..objections to academic jewish studies – while the post really is about historicism in psak halacha (actually the posek use of) – a very narrow area? do you think r’ wurzburger or the rav would agree?

  89. Ruvie — actually, Gil’s title may be an understatement of RYBS’ position when considering this analysis from the thoughtful 1982 Sokol/Singer article from Modern Judaism to which R. Wurzburger refers:

    Orthodox admirers and critics alike agree that the modern side of Soloveitchik’s religiosity is best expressed in his openness to Western culture. As was pointed out above, Soloveitchik is unique in this regard among contemporary masters of the Talmud, those men who wield ultimate authority within the Orthodox community. At the same time, however, it is crucial to note that Soloveitchik is not an ideologist of secular learning, as was Maimonides in his day or as was Samson Raphael Hirsch in nineteenth century Germany. We do not possess a single essay by Soloveitchik in which he advocates that Orthodox Jews obtain a secular education. Of course, Soloveitchik takes his own knowledge of Western culture for granted, and happily makes use of it to better present his theological views. But that is as far as it goes; he is not in the least interested in convincing others to follow his path. For Soloveitchik, in short, secular learning is a matter of personal preference — or better yet, personal need-but not a religious imperative.

    Even as regards himself, Soloveitchik is not an unqualified enthusiast for Western culture. Mathematics, science, philosophy, theology, literature — these are areas of Western thought which strongly appeal to him. On the other hand, he has not the slightest use for modern historical scholarship. Thus, when Soloveitchik sits down to study a Jewish text, be it Talmud or Bible, his approach is utterly traditional: a talmudic sugya is always examined in terms of the logical categories developed by the classical commentators; a biblical narrative is always seen through the prism of rabbinic (midrashic) interpretation. While Soloveitchik was introduced to the historical-critical method of Talmud study during his student days in Berlin, when he enrolled in the “modern” yeshivah headed by Rabbi Hayyim Heller, he clearly did not find it to his liking. As for modern biblical criticism, which calls into question the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch, Soloveitchik considers it to be nothing less than “heresy.”

    Not only is Soloveitchik highly selective in choosing which elements of the Western intellectual tradition to appropriate, but also in the uses to which he puts them. Since he is such an ardent admirer of Maimonides, one would expect him to be greatly influenced by the latter’s religious rationalism — the attempt to logically demonstrate the truth of what Judaism teaches. In fact, however, Soloveitchik completely eschews any such aim, offering, as Lou Silberman has noted, dogmatics in the place of apologetic theology. When Soloveitchik harnesses his secular learning, Eugene Borowitz adds significantly, it is to “illustrate and amplify . . . ideas, not to demonstrate them.” In part, this rejection of religious rationalism reflects Soloveitchik’s sense that logical proofs are really beside the point when it comes to the fundamental claims of religion.

  90. Gil: Yes, but being open to history and scholarship will lead one to realize that the siddur has changed sufficiently over the years, and that perhaps adding a kinah isn’t such a big deal. (I.e., that the siddur was not written by people with ruach hakodesh.)

    Prof. Kaplan: Oxford argues that the Folio texts represent Shakespeare’s last drafts.

  91. Gil “*New* prayers have nothing to do with Academic Jewish Studies.”

    It sounds like Nachum means the Rav’s expressed attitude toward them seems to rely on a very ahistorical attitude toward the text of our tefillos. This is either deliberate or stems from a lack of knowledge of the textual history of the tefillos, or even that there is a history.

  92. Or, you could just read Nachum’s own clarification of his comment. Apologies for jumping the gun without reading to the end.

  93. Or… R. Soloveitchik saw a distinction in the history of the prayerbook that you do not see. For what it’s worth, he insisted that the Maimonides school teach prayer with Baer’s commentary to Siddur Avodas Yisrael so he clearly knew whatever Baer had to say on the history of the siddur.

  94. larry kaplan (and aiwac) – i assume the critique is only related to the issue rising from traditionalism meeting modernity (and therefore orthodoxy as we know it is a modern phenom) and nothing to do with his methodology and chidushim with regards to changes in halacha in the middle ages into modernity as well as other scholarship.

  95. my apologies previous post at 4:11 is about jacob katz – one of the greatest historians of middle ages/modernity time frame.

  96. Gil “Or… R. Soloveitchik saw a distinction in the history of the prayerbook that you do not see. ”

    And that he didn’t say. Sure, we can posit all sorts of things we do not see.

    I take your point about Baer, but that doesn’t detract from my conjecture, which is that his attitude was deliberate. Actually, all this says is that he preferred his siddur canonized. We know this already.

  97. Lawrence Kaplan

    ruvie: I explicitly said that Brown’s critique is limited to the Katz-Samet thesis of Orthodoxy as a response to modernity.

  98. Lawrence Kaplan

    nachum: Some say that the foloio versions represent more of an acting version.

  99. Lawrence Kaplan

    IIRc, R. Isaiah Wohlgemuth, who taught the course in tefillah at Maimonides, relates that the Rav recommended he read Elbogen on Prayer and was familiar with the work.

  100. I have now finished the 40 page Sokol/Singer article from Modern Judaism to which R. Wurzburger refers (http://www.jstor.org/pss/1396137). It could have been written yesterday and is a positive and respectful, yet penetrating, analysis of the Rav’s oeuvre. Highly recommended.

  101. There was a whole (small) book written as a response to the Sokol/Singer article, called “ne’echaz ba-svach” (no, not the David Assaf book on Hasidism with the same title)

  102. Lawrence Kaplan

    Jon Baker: Are you sure you are not thinkin of R. Yuval Sherlow’s book Ve-hayu le-ahadim be-Yadekha?

  103. Or both: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=105407. But, neither sounds like it is a response.

  104. >Rav Soloveitchik was also very close with R. Chaim Heller

    This probably proves the opposite point – since R’ Heller was not well respected in Wissenschaft circles. See, for example, RYYW’s attitude towards R’ Heller which is cited in Marc Shapiro’s book.

  105. professsor kampla
    I beleive the book Jon Baker is referring to is by R. Chaim Navon

    Also the post should be titled “post-modern Objections to Modernist Academic JEwish studies” obviously a post modernist would have no problem with post modern jewish studies like Boyarin.

  106. The should of course be “Professor Kaplan”

  107. “This probably proves the opposite point – since R’ Heller was not well respected in Wissenschaft circles. See, for example, RYYW’s attitude towards R’ Heller which is cited in Marc Shapiro’s book.”

    I disagree that it proves the opposite point. Whether or not he was respected – and R. Weinberg’s attitude only proves that he didn’t respect him – there can be little doubt that R. Chaim Heller was very Wissenschaft-y.

    However, I don’t know that Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Chaim Heller bonded over the Peshitta. I’ve never seen evidence of that, to say the least.

  108. S:

    ” I don’t know that Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Chaim Heller bonded over the Peshitta. I’ve never seen evidence of that, to say the least.”

    what about over his critical edition of sefer ha-mitvos?

    (there was a copy of his peshitta work in the old brooklyn college library. i still remember the shelf.)

  109. (as an aside on the suject of r. heller, has anyone used his masoret hatorah (or whatever it’s called) fruitfully?)

  110. Lawrence Kaplan

    The Rav in Ish ha-Halakhah (IIRC, note 12, but don’t hold me to it) refers to Rav Hayyim Heller’s note in his edition on the meaning of “itaqad” in positive commandment 1 .

  111. Yehoshua Friedman

    I believe that mori v’rabbi R. Chaim Brovender, a close talmid of the Rav, wrote his doctorate on the Peshitta. He would probably have something interesting to say on the Rav, Rav Heller and the Peshitta if asked.

  112. Lawrence Kaplan

    The reference to Rav Hayyim Heller’s edition of Sefer ha-Mitzvot is in Halakhic Man, note 13, not note 12. But, as I tell my students when referring to the chapter numbers in the Guide, “you have to let me be off by one.”

  113. I know its slightly off-topic, but since the article by R’ Wurzburger is the source of this post, and Dr. Kaplan’s latest essay (quoting R’ Wurzburger) has been cited in the comments, I thought this quote should be noted:

    “The Rav shared with Yitzchak Breuer the conviction that the time had arrived when Torah ideals (especially those relating to Adam I) could best be realized by building a Jewish society in Eretz Yisrael. As opposed to Breuer, who developed and transformed the Hirschian doctrine of Torah im Derekh Eretz into that of Torah im Derekh Eretz Yisrael, the Rav’s approach to the building of a Jewish state was completely devoid of Messianic overtones but focused upon the material and spiritual needs of the Jewish people and the obligation to do whatever is in one’s power to ameliorate their conditions.15 Similarly, the absence of Messianic motifs prevented the Rav from subscribing to the Gush Emunim philosophy, which of late has made such inroads into Mizrachi circles.
    This realistic approach to the State of Israel was responsible for his reluctance to authorize the recital of Hallel on Yom Ha ‘atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. If the chapters of Tehillim which comprised Hallel were to be recited, he recommended saying them some time after Kaddish Titkabel and not immediately following the Shemone Esre as is customary on Yom Tov or Rosh Hodesh.”

    I will also cite footnote 15 which corresponds exactly with Rav Meiselman’s reading of the Rav’s published texts – contra Dr. Kaplan’s.

    15 See R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Hamesh Derashot, translated by David Telzner, Jerusalem, Tal Orot, 1974 and “Kol Dodi Dofek,” in Besod Hayahid Vehayahad, ed. Pinchas H. Peli (Jerusalem: Orot, 1976), pp. 333-400.

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