The news lines are all abuzz with the coming end to Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz’s monumental translation of the Babylonian Talmud, a project which spans 45 years. The usual discussions are being had regarding the usefulness of this innovation, as well as other, more controversial aspects of his persona. Indeed, if ever there was an religious figure deserving of a biography, Rav Steinzaltz would be it.
I would like to regale one particular story I heard about him, the point of which will be explained below:
Rav Steinzaltz was invited to speak before the students of a yeshiva. He got up, in front of teachers and students, and proceeded to give five arguments for the non-existence of God. Afterwards he stepped down and started to walk away. The Rabbis of the yeshiva, horrified that he was letting the speech end on that note, asked him to continue the lecture, obviously hoping he would refute what he had just said. Rav Steinzaltz went back and then made a sixth argument against God’s existence. When asked why he did so, his reply was “Nobody thinks anymore. They need to start.”
Now, you can say what you will about Rav Steinzaltz’s idiosyncratic persona and unorthodox actions. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that he is a devout, believing Jew. So what gives? Here’s my take:
In a discussion on whether (and how) to teach DH in Orthodox high schools, a commenter pointed out that in his experience, more people crash because of science and philosophical questions than the issue of authorship of the Chumash. It is not hard to guess why: if Jewish philosophy is taught at all, it is usually done via the old medieval method of “proofs” of God, a concept which is untenable in the post-Kantian era. The same goes for discussions of science and religion, which are often triumphalist and dismissive in tone.
Anyone who goes out into the real world or college will quickly learn that things are far more complicated than that. If they are unable to think and cope with these challenges, they’ll either collapse or their children will. Hence Rav Steinzaltz’s rattling of the cages.
So what do you say, dear reader?