Gil (of Hirhurim blog fame) was nice enough to link to a post of mine from some 2 months ago on skepticism and the j-blogosphere here , and I’ve been swamped trying to deal with criticisms on a one-off basis. Much of the debate seemed to focus on Documentary Hypotheses (DH) and Torah m’Simai (TMS). I thank everyone for their thoughts (even if you diagree with me). Here are some overall comments:
Some criticisms that I thought were on the mark: (1) My suggestion of intensive limud haTorah did not address whether the same could be applied to women. My wife deals with these type issues on her blog, so take a look. The problem is real, and a lack of rigorous learning programs for women (barring a few noteworthy exceptions) is something that should indeed be remedied. (2) I also did not address myself to someone who just is not inspired by learning. I can only say that such a person probably is deluding him/herself in thinking it is possible to weigh the evidence for/against DH without the scholarly rigor that learning demands.
Some misunderstandings: (3) I never meant to suggest learning enough R’ Chaim Briskers would answer the claims of DH. My thesis was that the claims of DH (or evolution, etc.) are no more troubling than other issues of faith that a person who lives in modern society must grapple with. Exposure to intensive learning gives one the perspective and appreciation of limud haTorah necessary to keep those challenges in perspective without losing faith. For example, I think that if a blog listed 50 places where the text of our Tanach differs from the mesorah of Chazal, there would be a free-for-all questioning of ikkarey emunah, TMS, etc. Yet such a list is available in R’ Akiva Eiger’s gloss in Mes. Shabbat, seen by talmidei chachamim for generations. Obviously it did not turn R’ Akiva Eiger into a skeptic, lead him to revise the ikkarei emunah, and no one to date has excised the gloss from the page. Perspective is key. (5) There is a difference between asking questions to seek meaningful answers and asking simply to sow the seeds of doubt. I never suggested ignoring or not exploring questions, if the attitude is the former; the latter approach has no place in either religious or serious academic discourse. I also think that there are role models of scholars who have bridged the worlds of Torah and academia, and their reflections on their struggles and answers is where we should look for guidence in this area.
Criticism that I thought was off the mark: (6) Throwing the evidence out there for the public to debate is as ludicrous as saying a layperson should pick up a medical journal and debate his physician as to the best modalities of care. Excuse my cynicism, but the average reader has not gone through shas once sans artscroll or tanach in the original with meforshim. Most info out there is an accumulation of second hand wisdom gleaned from books and articles with no context, no appreciation of the scope and depth of original traditional sources, and no perspective on the process of limud haTorah. One cannot take the sugya of DH/TMS in isolation of the rest of Torah any more than one can take a few notes of a symphony and judge the work as a whole. (7) The suggestion that there are ‘no answers’ and therefore Judaism is wrong is as absurd as saying since no one could solve Fermat’s last theorem, the field of mathematics must be wrong. A kashe with no teirutz is not indicative of a failure of the system as a whole – once again, perspective and context give the ability to make that discrimination.
Additional notes: (8) For some reason people seem able to accept that there is a process of growth in academic study, e.g. at age 10 you can learn perek hamafkid easily, but at age 25 you get stuck on issues of davar shelo ba l’olam and difficult rambams and suddenly the whole sugya is a jumble – that is considered a good thing. Yet, people seem to get hung up if at age 25 they do not have easy answers to questions of faith like they did at age 10. I never suggested there are easy answers or no struggles - quite the contrary, I think inquiry and struggling with what's 'out there' is inevitable for anyone who desires to grow intellectually, but it must be done balanced with a sincere committment to the dvar Hashem. Is there room for that delicate balance in the j-blogosphere? That remains to be seen.