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.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Skepticism and the j-blogosphere revisited
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I'm glad you posted this, since I was planning a post about your first post. Now I will have to read this one and revisit the issue anew. : )ReplyDelete
Please indulge me in a quote from Keats. In his faamous letter to his brothers in Dec. 1817, he formulated his concept of Negative Capability.ReplyDelete
"I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subject; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespear possessed so enormously -- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of begin in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritatble reaching after fact & reason . . . "
I think the issue of women learning has very little to do with this topic. What happens to the sort of women who are interested in high level learning is that instead, they go into academic or professional fields, and sometimes gradually drift away. They may develop doubts - about God, about revelation, about moral issues in torah - but biblical criticism is not what drives the sort of woman who would like to learn gemara away.ReplyDelete
On the contrary, one of the most striking thing about the skeptics is that as a group they weren't much attracted to learning. The women who are driven away because they *do* want to learn are a very different group.
The second difference between the women and the men is that the women do study tanach, and have more exposure to hashkafa topics. The exposure for the girls is often through secondary sources, but many topics that come up on blogs that are revelations to the guys are covered in most girls high schools. While there are people who know tanach who buy into biblical criticism (R Breuer being one), not being familiar with tanach is a guarantee that one won't be able to properly critique the field. Knowing tanach well is key to understanding the weaknesses of documentary hypothesis. It's not surprising to me that the guys who aren't interested in gemara and also happen not to know tanach are sitting ducks; their first proper exposure to tanach is through biblical criticism!
Sure, learning gives one an appreciation for the depths of torah, but most of the issues being discussed in the blogosphere require solid knowledge of tanach, and only very secondarily does gemara knowledge speak to the issue. In that sense, learning gemara is not that relevant.
THE TOPIC IS NO INTREST TO ME.BUT I JUST CAME ACROSS SOMTHING BETTER. A PERSON HAS 2 RARE STAMPS EACH WORTH A THOUSAND DOLLARS AND I GO AND DESTROY ONE WHAT AM I RESPONSIBLE TO PAY IF THE FIRST STAMP NOW WENT UP BY A THOUSAND DOLLARS MEANING THERE WAS NO OVERALL LOSS NOW HALACHA WISE I WAS TOLD YOU ARE TOTALY POTUR TO PAY I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS AMERICAN LAW ON THIS ISSUE OR DO I HAVE THE HALACHA WRONG OVERALL.ReplyDelete
I'll admit that I haven't read all the comments from the two posts. I do have one thing that I want to add - they maila of the "Litvishe" approach to learning is that you get into the nitty gritty of a sugya and appreciate the beauty of its mechanics. However, it is too often that people don't try to see the "big picture" of Torah that Mussar and Machshava offer.ReplyDelete
I started learning Derech Hashem with my Partner in Torah - it opened up a new world for him. He obviously can't appreciate a R' Akiva Eger or a Rav Chaim at this point, but he can appreciate the beauty of the Torah's system from a high level.
"Yet such a list is available in R’ Akiva Eiger’s gloss in Mes. Shabbat, seen by talmidei chachamim for generations."ReplyDelete
Where is this RAE?
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