Thursday, July 11, 2013

Where Yeshivah Learning and Academia Meet

As I've written in the past, I am fascinated by the differences between the yeshivish/ traditionalist approach to Torah and the academic/ rationalist approach. I do not feel that one or the other is better in absolute terms - rather, each has its advantages and disadvantages. The academic/ rationalist approach is superior in terms of ascertaining the historical reality of what is actually going on in the Chumash/ Nach/ Talmud/ Rishonim/ Acharonim. But the yeshivish/ traditionalist approach is generally superior in terms of imparting religious devotion. Of course, in some cases, and for some people, the yeshivish approach is a major turn-off from Judaism. But in general, it is a more inspirational and motivational approach.

This dichotomy is unavoidable. Reaching truth requires intellectual honesty and objectivity; this requires a detached, critical analysis, which harms the reverential experience required for religious inspiration. And the academic approach acknowledges that everyone is a product of their environment, and contextualizes all writings, whereas the traditionalist approach sees religious writings as transcending the time and place in which it was written and thus being equally relevant to us. In fact, one way of summarizing the difference between the two approaches is simply with one word: context. (See this post for examples of how it plays out.)

The two systems of study normally remain worlds apart. But there is one field in which they often meet, and that just happens to be my own specialty: Biblical and Talmudic zoology.

Consider this: ArtScroll, which serves as an excellent barometer of yeshivish/ traditionalist norms and sensitivities, never quotes from academic works. But there does appear to be one, single exception: Professor Yehuda Feliks’ Plants and Animals of the Mishna, which is quoted in a number of ArtScroll works. Why? Someone at ArtScroll once explained to me that this book "somehow found its way into the Beis HaMidrash." But this merely begs the question: Why, of all academic works, did only this one become "acceptable" in the yeshivah world?

I think that there are two reasons. One is that there was simply no alternative. Every student of Tenach and Talmud at some point wants to know the identity of the shafan  or the bardelas. For a long time, Feliks' book was the only such work available.

The second reason is that Biblical and Talmudic zoology appears to be an entirely non-threatening topic. It's not like archeology, where an Orthodox Jew instantly has his guard up. What could be religiously problematic in using modern zoology to assist in identifying the obscure animals of the Torah and Talmud? It's perceived as pareve.

Yet the truth is that this latter point is far from accurate. Contextualization is extremely relevant to identifying the animals of the Torah. Many recent traditional identifications of animals in the Torah come from the great Torah scholars of medieval Europe. But the flora and fauna of Europe is very different from that of the Land of Israel.

Anyone trying to seriously make sense of the identities of animals in Torah and Talmud simply cannot help but notice that the medieval European Torah scholars give very different identifications from those given by Rav Saadiah Gaon and from academic works of Biblical zoology. Furthermore, following the medieval European tradition gives rise to all sorts of difficult problems, which do not exist if one follows the approach of Rav Saadiah and academic Biblical zoology. If the tzvi is the deer, why does the Gemara say that it doesn't have antlers? If the shafan is the rabbit, why is described as habitually hiding in rocks? If the nesher is the eagle, why is it described as being bald? If the shu'al is a fox, which is a solitary animal living far from other members of its kind, how did Samson collect three hundred of them? If the bardelas is a polecat, why is it described as dangerous to man? And so on. You can contrive explanations for each of these - or you can solve them all in one fell swoop by acknowledging that people were only familiar with animals in their own locale. In my forthcoming Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, I saw no way around pointing this out, albeit delicately.

Of course, as discussed in my post "Sugar for Elephants" and in a follow-up post, even many Rishonim and Acharonim acknowledged that European Rishonim were often hampered by a lack of knowledge regarding Eretz Yisrael. Still, this itself strengthens my point - Biblical and Talmudic zoology (and botany) is a field in which the academic approach of contextualization inevitably makes inroads into traditional approaches to Torah.

But is this a good thing or a bad thing? I honestly don't know.

45 comments:

  1. Regarding why the Torah world quote from Felik and not others is probably due to a simple explanation.
    Eventhough the mishna states "kabel es ho'emess m'mi sheomro" but for halachic purposes we follow the ruling of "sefer torah sh'kosvo min, yisoref"
    So anyone who knows jewish history will be familiar that traditionally the Gedolim of each generation have decided when a book should be banned regardless of what it contains. Moses Mendelsohn's translation of chumash as an example eventhough it did not contain anything controversial.
    In this generation the Gedolim saw a shmetz psul from certain authors which in their view (their view on how to define shmetz psul)it turned out they were spot on.
    As a footnote: you will probably respond by asking why the Gedolim with their insight did not smell out Tropper. The answer is no one is saying the Gedolim can never be fooled. Even Yitzchak was fooled by Esav. Does that mean we cannot trust Yitzhak anymore?

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  2. That's funny. Do you think that Felik's views are any less "heretical" than mine? He also believed in evolution and in the fallibility of Talmudic science!

    Besides, it's not as though the Gedolim ever "kashered" Feliks; they simply have no knowledge of books, unless kannoim bring them to their attention.

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  3. Now you've gone and piqued my curiosity--what is a shu'al in reality?

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  4. It's a generic term for the fox and also another canid that is very similar but lives in large packs, and is unknown in Europe - the jackal. For more details, check out my forthcoming encyclopedia!

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  5. Consider this: ArtScroll, which serves as an excellent barometer of yeshivish/ traditionalist norms and sensitivities, never quotes from academic works. But there does appear to be one, single exception: Professor Yehuda Feliks’ Plants and Animals of the Mishna, which is quoted in a number of ArtScroll works.
    This is an exaggeration. Other academic works are indeed quoted. I am aware of at least on other instance (there are probably more, but I haven't used Artscroll works extensively): The Schottenstein translation to Avodah Zarah 9a, footnote 4 (Hebrew edition), quotes Shraga Abramson's introduction to his edition of Avodah Zarah (based on "כתב יד ביהמ"ל"; I'm sure very few Artscroll readers know what this stands for and implies). If you look at the footnotes there in Avodah Zarah, it is clear that they are using academic works extensively, but without quoting them. I plan on writing something on this in the future.
    In regards to the difference between academic study of sources and the traditional study, this has indeed been discussed extensively. See the footnote at the beginning of Daniel Sperber's נתיבות פסיקה, among other places. The best work that discusses the differences is Menachem Kahana's piece "מחקר התלמוד באוניברסיטה והלימוד המסורתי בישיבה", in בחבלי מסורת ותמורה (תשן) 113-142. I highly recommend it.

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  6. Very interesting! But it still remains true that Feliks' book is the only that they explicitly use.

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  7. ' But is this a good thing or a bad thing? I
    honestly don't know.'

    Isn't the truth a good thing?

    ' But in general, it is a more inspirational and
    motivational approach.'

    Which often leads to false beliefs and evil actions as you have been demonstrating in your posts.

    So I'm for rationalism and I don't know of any other approach that makes sense.

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  8. In fact, one way of summarizing the difference between the two approaches is simply with one word: context.
    Commenters on previous posts have already taken you to task for this exaggeration. There are many other advantages that academia has besides for understanding the context, such as understanding the ensuing manuscript tradition. But I agree that context is one of the most important differences. However not "What societal, cultural, intellectual, political factors could have been involved", as you put it in a previous post, but looking at the work as a unique document, and not trying to harmonize it with the present state of Judaism. This to me is the most important difference. (This is especially important with works such as the Mishnah and the Yerushalmi, which are traditionally almost exclusively understood in light of the Bavli.)
    (Also, you misunderstood my previous comment. I realize now that I wasn't clear enough. Shraga Abramson is explicitly quoted: "ראה הרב שרגא אברמסון במבוא למהדורתו של מסכת עבודה זרה, כתב-יד ביהמ"ל, עמודים 12-13". my point in the parentheses was a side point.

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  9. Doesn't the Artscroll Rishonim use Aurebach's Baalei HaTosafot?

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  10. Regarding the claim that Artscroll never quotes from academic works, you mean *explicitly*. I remember when I took Qohelet at YU, the prof pointed out some uncanny similarities between a number of the comments in the Artscroll perush and academic commentaries...and the academic commentaries were older ;)

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  11. If you look in recent Artscroll publications you will see increasing number of references to academic works.

    Demai 6:1 - Jastrow (OK this has definitely been kashered by the English speaking yeshiva world but still by no means a traditionalist author)

    Introductions to Yerushalmi on tractates in Zera'im - many works of Professor Feliks including his commentaries on Sheviit and Maasrot
    Also a doctorate from Dr. Oelbaum at Bar Ilan on plant identification is referenced
    Yerushalmi Beitza - the introduction mentions the Francus edition from JTS and thanks them for use of the commentary of "Haredim"

    Devarim Rabbah - the Lieberman edition is referenced in the introduction and text as well as his contention that the manuscript he published was the one used by Sefaric Rishonim

    Page 21 - Scholarly articles regarding the Warder Cresson conversion are cited

    I agree that it is rare but Feliks' work is not alone.

    It seems likely that Artscroll editors and writers (didn't you used to be one?) are consulting such works and using them for locating sources or other approaches without attribution

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  12. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)July 11, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Shu‘al includes jackals? Then what's tan, a hyena?

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  13. Of course it's a good thing. The purpose of learning is to reach the truth. If academia can help me understand Torah better then my religious experience is enhanced and I come closer to the goal

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  14. Eli - you're right. Of course, the Artscroll Rishonim is by far the most maskilic of all their works.

    Steg - tan may be an alternate name for the jackal, or it may refer to a type of owl, or possibly even a different animal such as a caracal.

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  15. R' Slifkin: it seems you are assuming that the choice is binary: academic/rationalist vs. "yeshivish/traditionalist." Why can't one be a traditional rationalist? I ask the question because I tend toward a rationalist outlook myself, and while I appreciate certain insights that academic study of Jewish topics might give us, my outlook and approach to study is very, very far from that of a university professor of "Judaic Studies." I am far from the only one who thinks this way.

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  16. Natan - great post!

    Rabbi Moshe Eisenmann quotes Professor Feliks as well, regarding "nesher" meaning "vulture". (Incidentally, RME is a good example of someone who has managed to introduce lesser-known or controversial ideas into traditional discourse through tactful phrasing and the judicious use of footnotes.)

    I would add that the traditionalist/rationalist taxonomy more accurate on the surface (i.e. public) level. As I'm sure you know, the deeper you research, the more examples you find of traditionalist rishonim and acharonim making use of scientific knowledge.

    Who knows, maybe the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom will "make it to the bais medrash" as well!

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  17. Who knows, maybe the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom will "make it to the bais medrash" as well!

    Maybe if I publish it under a pseudonym...

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  18. The Rishonim were all "Maskilim" in that sense, they were all doing what Felix did, maybe that's why he is quoted.

    We must differentiate between empirical academics and and it's subjective secular assumptions. (I don't mean to say that G-d won't test us with some of the suggestions arising from empirical evidence, Devarim 13,4 implies He will).

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  19. Artscroll's Tzena Ureena explicitly thanks JTS for use of its manuscript. Of course, that was years ago.

    The second Artscroll Tanach volume was Ruth. A review in Tradition back then pointed out that the translation was basically a "kashered" version of the new JPS. I'm not sure if this has continued, but I've definitely seen passages in the Schottenstein that were lifted directly from Soncino.

    It's been pointed out that the Hebrew Schottenstein is more "open" than the English.

    R' Seth Mandel, in a lecture, once pointed out that Felix is quoted in the Kehati regarding the identity of the five grains, but he was ignored in the charedi world (even though Kehati isn't) because he was from the wrong camp. R' Elyashiv, for example, insisted that oats had to be one because that's the mesorah.

    The Artscroll Rishonim includes the Me'or Enayim. Some have suggested that this is one reason they never went past the Early Acharonim...

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  20. The Rashbam uses context in his commentary on the Chumash. Does this make him academic?

    Can't academic tools be used to generate greater understanding of the Torah, and doesn't that in and of itself create a spiritual, religious experience?

    (full disclosure: just came back from the Ymei Iyun in Tanach at the Gush. I would say that it was at exactly the cross-section between the academic and the religious - where the goal was always leshem shamaim, lahavin ulehaskil, but the tools - whatever works!)

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  21. The only problem I have with the academic approach is that sometimes academics contexalize certain statements and ideas so much that they forget to examine (or are uninterested in examining) the idea itself.

    (Susanna Heschel [AJHeschel's daughter] actually makes the same complaint about biblical scholars on some YouTube clip I saw.)

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  22. It is not an either-or situation. One can be both, albeit, neither a thoroughgoing traditionalist nor rationalist. From a strictly rational perspective, the torah appears to contain some contradictions - not to mention stylistic differences between the chumashim, which could lead one to conclude that different authors were involved. The traditional view is certainly that all the chumashim have the same author. A rational traditionalist could contend that differences do occur even with a single author, depending on circumstances and the intended audience. He would, furthermore, seek to rationalize and minimize the apparent contradictions. He would also be prepared to discard assumptions if they contradicted established facts (admittedly easier to do for statements in midrashim or talmud as opposed to torah). It is certainly a hard task to be a thinking traditionalist Jew, but what is the alternative? Surrendering one's ability to think independently or basic traditional ideology?

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  23. "Who knows, maybe the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom will "make it to the bais medrash" as well!

    Maybe if I publish it under a pseudonym... "

    Reb nosson please don't give up on us in the charidie B"M so fast, you have a lot of fans in there, the fact that you were treated in such a repulsive way definitely makes it understandable why you would never want to venture in there again, however try to understand it in the context of our society (together with a little ein tova in honor of the nine days) i think you will realize that all is not black and white in the black and white camp. there are many that support you and in there own quiet way will continue to learn your torah and appreciate the dimension's that your chidushim add to the sugyos, with the passage of time as the heat of this controversy dies down and it is just forgotten history, the ranks of those who learn your stuff will continue to swell as it proves itself to have some of the most compelling peshatim out there. i am fully convinced that in the long run your seforim will become popularly excepted and widely used and quoted, as there is nothing that is more sought after in the B"M than getting it right, therefor anything this good will eventually find its way in. this has happened many times in the history of torah (think the rambam or ramchal as easy examples) please don't hold it against your supporters the fact that they didn't come to your defense against the "gedolim" as to engage in that kind of debate is not part of the b"m (the board ppl in the coffee room hock about the slifkin controversy but those really learning in the b"m are to busy with whats important to argue with those beyond logic, so we just draw our own conclusion and act in accordance with that and ignore all the noise and ridiculous proclamations). it would be a loss for us and also for yourself if you would stop writing in a way that will engage the advanced talmidie chachmim in the B"M this would also give the very victory that those who opposed to your work are seeking

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  24. Interesting post, but zoology is far from the only field in which academia and yeshivia meet up. Nor is it the only example of an acadmeic work that appears pareve on the surface, but in reality presents problems.

    For example, someone mentioned Jastrow, which is what I was thinking. Philology. The Gemara gives all sorts of interesting derivations for Greek words like Afikomen, Apotekai, etc. Yet in Jastrow we find what everyone here knows, that they are simply Greek words. Although - as is the case with the animal questions you mentioned - although one can say the amoraim in Bavel were merely engaging in humurous attempts to put a Jewish "spin" on these words, the truth is they simply werent familiar with these words. IF you extend this to its logical conclusions, one runs into some serious problems.

    This is true with almost any field you can think of, including medicine, astronomy, and more. In every case, invariably it leads to problems. The solution is the same solution we've had since time immemorial: take the good, and leave - and try to ignore - the bad.

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  25. "This dichotomy is unavoidable. Reaching truth requires intellectual honesty and objectivity; this requires a detached, critical analysis, which harms the reverential experience required for religious inspiration."
    What you describe as an either/or is actually a both/and. If one wants to understand the Torah, one must have the reverence to recognize that there is something there worth struggling to understand. If you take an "academic" approach, you are ready to, e.g., dismiss the Rambam/Gemara/Chumash as a mistake instead of struggling to understand it. On the other hand, if you just take a blind faith approach, you will not ask the questions that lead to greater insight in the first place. This is the dialectic of emunat hakhamim/pilpul chaverim, as R. Nachum Rabinovich explains (and as he cites from the Seridei Eish). See http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%205%20Rabinovitch.pdf

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  26. If the tzvi is the deer, why does the Gemara say that it doesn't have antlers?

    Maybe the Tzvi is a doe.

    If the shafan is the rabbit, why is described as habitually hiding in rocks?

    Because the translation was lost sometime between the time of Moses and the time of David.

    If the nesher is the eagle, why is it described as being bald?

    Maybe it is the bald eagle. :-)

    If the shu'al is a fox, which is a solitary animal living far from other members of its kind, how did Samson collect three hundred of them?

    super-human strength, or he raided a shual farm.

    If the bardelas is a polecat, why is it described as dangerous to man?

    OK, so it is not the polecat.

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  27. The academic/ rationalist approach is superior in terms of ascertaining the historical reality of what is actually going on in the Chumash/ Nach/ Talmud/ Rishonim/ Acharonim. But the yeshivish/ traditionalist approach is generally superior in terms of imparting religious devotion.

    That's a rather blanket statement, and seems condescending of all traditional approaches to Torah study, which believes there are truths in the texts that stand regardless of claimed historical context.

    Say two groups were studying Shakespeare, and Group A wanted to understand it based on the context of Shakespeare's supposed childhood traumas and Group B wanted to understand the actual ideas that arise in the text. Is Group A automatically "superior in ascertaining the historical reality" (STAHR) while Group B is just "superior in terms of imparting Shakespearian devotion"? Maybe Group B is also ascertaining an actual reality?

    In addition, with regard to Torah, there are certain differences between secular academia and traditional Jews that do not depend on empirical evidence, but on different philosophical frameworks. For example, academics do not believe in prophecy, but have no empirical evidence against it. This will obviously affect their approach to a biblical text without making them more STAHR for someone who does believe in prophecy.

    Perhaps instead of discussing the substance of the above paragraph, one should instead try to understand them in the context of your books being banned and you joining academia...

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  28. > You can contrive explanations for each of these - or you can solve them all in one fell swoop…

    I’ve found this to be true of lots of things related to Yiddishkeit – not just animals. The frum approach is hampered by having to fit explanations into the religious framework. Often if you approach a “problem” without religious preconceptions, the answer is simple(r).

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  29. To address your religious/academic dichotomy - the primary experiential difference (imho) is that the religious engagement of the texts (Torah/Nach/Talmud/R&A) assumes that the discussion is taking place now. My learning is not just with my chavrutah/rebbe, but with the rishonim, achronim, tanaim, and amoraim. In that context, I need to assume reverence for my predecessors and subrogate my thoughts to theirs unless there are extenuating circumstances.
    By contrast, in the academic approach, I get to take control of the analytics. I can apply 20/20 hindsight to question prior generations' knowledge and, I can marshall "new" archeological/biological data to upend the previous, less well-informed scholars. It is more than just different - it is indeed anti-religious as our generation has experienced religion.

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  30. Y. Aharon, the other alternative and the only truly rational one is the stop being a "traditional Jew"...

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  31. While you have focused on Talmud, in the field of Tanach approaches have emerged which combine literature and archeology with religious perspectives. Even in Talmud, I studied many years ago with Rav Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik, the Rav's son. He insisted we come to shiur armed with knowledge of the realia and alternative texts, but we focused on classic lamdanut. In all these areas use of the fruits of academia serves the ultimate religious goals.

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  32. It's a good thing if only to shake things up.

    I promise you what you see in yeshivot today does not resemble what went on even 100 years ago. There's no way the people of Europe was as closed minded and disinterested in truth as are the people today. And as for me, the approach today does not inspire me religiously at all. It's all dogma. Might as well be Medieval Xinity.

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  33. PMEM said " There is no way the jews of europe were as close minded as they are today"
    How do you define close minded?
    When a charedi will not accept Rabbi Hoffmans views thats close minded.
    But when a rationalist does not accept certain mystical ideas, or perhaps even the views of the Gedolim that Torah brings protection - hence yeshiva bochurim are doing their share of the burden, for some reason that makes you guys broad minded & intellectual???
    In summary: we are all close minded to the ideas and schools of thought we dont want to associate ourseklves with

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  34. "The academic/ rationalist approach is superior in terms of ascertaining the historical reality of what is actually going on in the Chumash/ Nach/ Talmud/ Rishonim/ Acharonim. " -- I think it would be fruitful to provide a couple of counter-examples, if you have any.

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  35. Natan -

    Another reason why the academic approach meets such resistance in the traditionalist world is because the academic method can contextualize and historicize meaning out of something completely, which is of course what secular academia does to the Torah. Academia almost by definition doesn't believe in eternal truths and permanent things.(I experienced this first hand in college as well.)

    As religious Jews, we believe that through the Torah, Hashem communicates eternal truths to the Jews and Mankind. Needless to say, modern academia does not take this approach. All orthodox Jews - not just the chareidim - should see the great danger in taking the academic approach to its logical conclusion.

    Now, SOME parts of the Torah, especially N"ACH, can be illuminated through contextual or historicist analysis. (Many rishonim actually do this, but is not formally described as such.)

    The all-important question is knowing what to contextualize, and what to acknowledge as the eternal dvar Hashem.

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  36. You seem to imply that Torah study is some form of an exercise of the imagination to impart religious devotion. Was that your intent.

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  37. IMO, the primary importance of the traditionalist approach is in the area of practical halacha. A legal system needs stability. This is recognized even within the "traditionalist" tradition: the Rishonim will give novel interpretations in Chumash that contradict "Chazal", but not novel interpretations of practical Halacha. The Rambam gives interpretations in the Moreh which contradict his P'sak in the Yad.

    So if Maror didn't originally include horseradish, that is fine, but you can still use horseradish if it is part of your "tradition". If Oats were really not one of the five grains, you can still make "Al Hamichya" on it if that is your tradition.

    The academic approach has nothing much to say about this, since it is focused on understanding rather than on practice and, in fact, has to divorce itself from the current practice and experience to some degree to obtain objectivity.

    Of course, a traditionalist might consider this comment an "academic" one and reject it :). In fact the banners of your books seem to have missed or rejected this distinction.

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  38. PMEM said " There is no way the jews of europe were as close minded as they are today"
    How do you define close minded?


    The answer is quite simple. Whoever drives slower than me is an idiot; whoever faster, a maniac. To my right are the Fascists; to my left, Bolshevists :).

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  39. Weaver said:

    "The all-important question is knowing what to contextualize, and what to acknowledge as the eternal dvar Hashem."

    What happens when you try to answer that question rationally?...

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  40. I once saw in the Jewish Observer a paraphrase of David Ohsie's comment: "Whoever does more than me is a fanatic, whoever does less than me is an epikoros."

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  41. It would be interesting to check if there is a difference between the English and Hebrew Artscroll editions on this issue

    On other issues I have noticed that the English edition quotes some scientific facts which are not brought in the Hebrew version

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  42. I think that David Ohsie has come closest to my discomfort with this piece when he said "IMO, the primary importance of the traditionalist approach is in the area of practical halacha. A legal system needs stability."

    The issue is not just about inspiring devotion, but about the nature of a legal system.

    In, for example, the English common law system, it is far less relevant what judge X in the nineteenth century actually meant or understood (although to the academic historians that might be critical) but how judge Y in the early 21st century understands judge X, and utilises his precedent in the formulation of his own judgment.

    When I was studying for my LLM, postmodernism was highly fashionable in the legal academic world (it may still be), I think partly because it mirrors so much better the way lawyers understand the texts they deal with, as oppose to the modernist approach. That is, you can never really get oneself into the mindset of others, especially others from different historical eras, all you can really do is layer your own interpretation on top of their words, to generate your explanation of the world. That far more accurately describes what judge Y actually does when he uses the precedent of judge X's words. But law is a fully recognised academic subject, in the sense that it is considered one of the more prestigious subjects to be found in the universities. And yet here you have a completely different mindset to what is going on in the more modernest of history departments, one far more akin to what is found in the yeshiva.

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  43. I think that David Ohsie has come closest to my discomfort with this piece when he said "IMO, the primary importance of the traditionalist approach is in the area of practical halacha. A legal system needs stability."

    The issue is not just about inspiring devotion, but about the nature of a legal system.

    In, for example, the English common law system, it is far less relevant what judge X in the nineteenth century actually meant or understood (although to the academic historians that might be critical) but how judge Y in the early 21st century understands judge X, and utilises his precedent in the formulation of his own judgment.

    When I was studying for my LLM, postmodernism was highly fashionable in the legal academic world (it may still be), I think partly because it mirrors so much better the way lawyers understand the texts they deal with, as oppose to the modernist approach. That is, you can never really get oneself into the mindset of others, especially others from different historical eras, all you can really do is layer your own interpretation on top of their words, to generate your explanation of the world. That far more accurately describes what judge Y actually does when he uses the precedent of judge X's words. But law is a fully recognised academic subject, in the sense that it is considered one of the more prestigious subjects to be found in the universities. And yet here you have a completely different mindset to what is going on in the more modernest of history departments, one far more akin to what is found in the yeshiva.

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  44. I think that David Ohsie has come closest to my discomfort with this piece when he said "IMO, the primary importance of the traditionalist approach is in the area of practical halacha. A legal system needs stability."

    The issue is not just about inspiring devotion, but about the nature of a legal system.

    In, for example, the English common law system, it is far less relevant what judge X in the nineteenth century actually meant or understood (although to the academic historians that might be critical) but how judge Y in the early 21st century understands judge X, and utilises his precedent in the formulation of his own judgment.

    When I was studying for my LLM, postmodernism was highly fashionable in the legal academic world (it may still be), I think partly because it mirrors so much better the way lawyers understand the texts they deal with, as oppose to the modernist approach. That is, you can never really get oneself into the mindset of others, especially others from different historical eras, all you can really do is layer your own interpretation on top of their words, to generate your explanation of the world. That far more accurately describes what judge Y actually does when he uses the precedent of judge X's words. But law is a fully recognised academic subject, in the sense that it is considered one of the more prestigious subjects to be found in the universities. And yet here you have a completely different mindset to what is going on in the more modernest of history departments, one far more akin to what is found in the yeshiva.

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  45. "Of course, the Artscroll Rishonim is by far the most maskilic of all their works."
    The author of Artscroll Rishonim, Rabbi Shmuel Teich related to me that there was an additional volume that was to be published that would bring the series up to modern times, but the idea was retracted by Artscroll as the "period is too controversial". Apparently they feared they can not give a history of the last centuries without stepping on someone's toes.
    I think within Artscroll's publications there is a good range from right to left within the Haredi world, depending on who is the one writing that specific work

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