So What Would You Respond, Dear Reader?

[Previous Posts: Intro, First Round, Second Round]

[Today, I’m going to make this debate interactive. This post will include only AIWAC’s challenge, and will remain unanswered until next week. I invite readers to think of ways to respond in the comments section. Kol Tuv, Avi/AIWAC]

Dear Avi,

Look, I agree that it is necessary to do everything possible to prepare answers and responses to the challenges of modern scholarship, if only to try and head off or at least slow down the rate of Jews going OTD because of it. Indeed, the previous policy of extremely controlled to no exposure (i.e. “don’t ask, don’t tell”) to scholarly and philosophical problems no longer works. Rabbi Dr. Michael Avraham mentioned once that many of the people who approach him with questions are precisely from the more intellectually closed yeshivot.

But it’s worse than that. The internet has pretty much destroyed any remaining barriers. If in earlier times an inquisitive Jew had to at least shlep to a library and seek out forbidden tomes, now anyone with an internet connection can do so. All the most difficult challenges to Orthodox Judaism are available to anyone at the click of a mouse. In his response to Rabbi Breuer regarding Bible study, Rabbi Dr. Shneyur Leiman admonished that the issue needs to be carefully controlled for different audiences, depending on age, background and experience. That policy is now pointless, if not outright harmful.

Nevertheless, while I agree that the challenges need to be met, my original point still stands: little to no good can come from academic Jewish studies for Orthodoxy. For every positive benefit, there are dozens of problems and dilemmas. One who enters this field or learns its teachings will only be mekayem the passuk “He who increases knowledge, increases pain” (Kohelet 1:8). The only purpose to expose Orthodox Jews to this must be to help them cope with the problems.

No religious good can come from integrating academic Jewish Studies and Judaism. No spiritual or religious growth, no benefit for limmud Torah or kiyum Mitzvot. The people who advocated such a synthesis in the 19th and early 20th can at least be forgiven their naivete for thinking the integration could be done. Surely, at the beginning of the 21st, we know better. 

Yours, AIWAC


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:
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10 Responses to So What Would You Respond, Dear Reader?

  1. fred says:

    yeh, im with leiman on this. no reason to raise questions where none may exist to begin with, and just because questions may arise does not mean that the person will turn some form of otd. hey, many of the questions are readily apparent to anyone who learns chumash with a careful eye, so a lot of the questions have been around for millenia.
    and for those who have questions? im not sure tradition really has good enough answers for them in any case.

    of course, for those who are true maaminim and have a desire to pursue this line of research, the avenue should be open to them.

  2. fred says:

    i actually wonder what your position is. is it so far from mine? are you really as divided on the issue as you make yourself out to be?

  3. fred says:

    another thought occurred to me: the rav was entirely unbothered by the issue of biblical criticism. any thoughts about this, as to why this was the case? does this impact on you at all?

    • AIWAC says:

      Dear Fred,

      I find it very comforting, and I find his existential methods with the Bible very effective and powerful.

      I should note that I am not so much bothered personally by the issue as I am worried about its impact on the broader O public. I had my struggles with this a while back, and I’ve long since calmed down.

      I very much appreciate your concern, though.


  4. gest says:

    I would look at the parsha series on by Rabbi Yitz Etshalom.
    I think he does a wonderful job of using the benefits of Academic Bible Scholars while removing the chaff.

    Personally I think the best way to deal with it is the way my highschool did. Show the conflicts, and show the rare rishonim, achronim that dealt with the conflicts, and teach the tools to resolve new conflicts that one finds. This can all be done without quoting Wellhausen or Dr. Friedman.

    Literary criticism is great, and there is much to be learned from it. And as long as you phrase the questions as “What was G-d doing here.” instead of “Which author did this come from.” the answers are not only more interesting, but also creates a good defense against those who would see those challenges as proofs.

  5. AIWAC says:


    I wish everyone would emulate your high school :). Much better to give people the tools to deal with questions (not just re: Bible Criticism, but also regarding Torah Shebe’al Peh, philosophy etc), than leave them to wade through the problems on their own and feel resentful or cheated.

    I myself learned the rigors of pshat study from Rav Elchanan Samet and Rav Shimon Klein (Bar-Ilan kollel, highly recommended). Not only did my faith not diminish from this “pure” study, I felt a much more powerful and personal connection to the Tanach and the ability to study it on its terms. I hope to expound on this in my final response to myself later this week.

    PS Who’s Dr. Friedman?

  6. gest says:

    Dr. Friedman is the author of the book “Who wrote the bible.”

  7. Pingback: A Debate Between Me and Myself on Academic Jewish Studies: Final Response | QED

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