In a trenchant comment on my posted letter to Prof. Marc Shapiro, Aharon Rose made an interesting observation. In his opinion, the total dominance of some sections of Jewish Studies in Israel by liberal/post-denominational/non-Orthodox Jews (including Bar-Ilan) has led to corruption of scholarly study in these fields. To put not too fine point on it, at least some of their studies are glorified op-eds dressed up as objective research.
Personally, I find this charge to be somewhat exaggerated. Yes, there are scholars in these fields who answer to this description, and whose studies I find exasperating because of it. What’s even more exasperating is their claim to total objectivity and neutrality, a claim which is falsified by virtually every word they write. However, there are many scholars in these fields whose work is valuable, honest and fair, even if there are slants here and there. If you are aware of possible slants, one can learn much from this research, emulating Rav Meir’s adage of “eat the core (of truth) and throw away the (slanted) shell”.
Personally, my problem is not that the dominance leads to corruption of scholarship, but that it leads to an almost uniform front in terms of value positions. Put bluntly, the overwhelming majority of scholars, as part of the scholarly community, are compelled to either be neutral or positive to values and interpretations that are entirely anathema to Orthodox Jewry. Whatever their personal proclivities, simple social pressures dictate that their public positions and scholarship fall in line with the majority.
This is not a good state of affairs, certainly not in academia, where plurality of voices – from the right as well as the left – is necessary for a true exchange of ideas. Also, this state of affairs helps contribute to the extreme fear of the RW from Jewish Studies.
So I ask you, Mr. Rose, and anyone who might answer, what would you suggest?
1) Encourage more RW or at least non-relativist Jews to enter academia. There they can eventually serve as a corrective opposition, and most importantly, make academic study palatable and less threatening to a larger group of adult Orthodox Jews. The voluminous work of Dr. Binyamin Brown is a perfect example of how to do this.
Instead of being viewed as the “forbidden” and necesarily superior world, the world of academia will be seen as just another format for the study of the world – including the Jewish world.
2) Continue the isolation and argue that everything written is apikorsut because of the problems stated above! The idea that Orthodox Jews who enter Jewish Studies will hold fast is strikingly naive. More likely, they will simply “go native” and adopt a reductionist/relativist position and will be a Jew at home and a secular liberal humanist in public.
3) Set up independent fora – perhaps think tanks or groups attached to yeshivot – where advanced yeshiva students can calmly do scholarly work (philosophy, history) without the added social pressure of being in a university faculty where he is a “minority of one (or a few more)”. The Tanach group attached to Yeshivat Har Etzion would seem a good example to emulate.
4) Other (describe)