A Debate Between Me and Myself on Orthodoxy and Academic Jewish Studies: Second Round

[Previous Posts: Intro, First Round]

Dear Avi,

I wish I could share your hope that we can learn to absorb and deal with scholarship; but I doubt it. For all the high-falutin’ rhetoric about the “ideal synthesis” between Torah and Chochma, there sure are a lot of compartmentalizers out there who simply separate between their religious and their professional life. I mean how often have you heard an Orthodox student/professor say or write something along the lines of “I’m from an Orthodox background”, thus dissociating themselves from that world? It doesn’t hold out much hope for a successful integration when the people doing the integration are either split personas or merely “socially Orthodox”. I know, I know, you know plenty of exceptions, but they merely prove the rule.

More importantly, though, I’m worried about what this is doing to you. I’ve seen the kind of struggles you go through, sometimes daily, with all the challenges involved. I don’t know how much more emotional suffering you can go through before you completely collapse. Even assuming that these things need to be dealt with, why do you have to be one of them? Surely you can focus your love for knowledge, in other, less religiously chaotic and overwhelming fields.

Do yourself a favor and quit before it’s too late.

Yours, AIWAC


I appreciate your concern. I will point out that compartmentalization exists in all fields of life outside the yeshiva, even in “safe fields” like accounting and legal work. I know plenty of baalei batim who “compartmentalize” and/or become Orthoprax or RBOs who have probably never attended a Jewish Studies class. I also know many who have left religiosity (or are on the verge of such) who have probably never heard of Julius Wellhausen or even know the difference between Conservative and Reform.

Contrariwise, I know many, many students and professors with a deep commitment to Torah and Mitzvot in all fields of academic Jewish studies – some of whom, like Prof. Zohar Amar and Dr. Josh Berman actually see it as a religious mission (within academic rules, of course). I’ve obviously never done a statistical comparison of these two groups. However, my general lay impression is that with the exception of a select few fields (Bible studies being one of them), academic Jewish studies is most certainly not any more “dangerous” than any general exposure to the real world. If you’ve been sufficiently inoculated and prepared, you should do fine (again, excepting a few areas).

I appreciate your concern for my well-being. I myself am not sure of whether I want to continue torturing myself in my present subject matter, or find something else less nerve-wracking. We’ll see. If it really does feel like it’s getting too hot, I’ll get out of the kitchen into the living room.

Yours, Avi


Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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3 Responses to A Debate Between Me and Myself on Orthodoxy and Academic Jewish Studies: Second Round

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