Belated Open Thread Sunday

In light of Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman’s recent challenge to religious Bible scholars to engage in interdisciplinary mechkar of the Torah to confront (and hopefully bypass) source criticism:

Should Bar-Ilan and/or YU’s Bible Departments lift their unofficial ban on in-depth research of the subject? Can such a thing help, hurt or will it not contribute to such an effort?

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About 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: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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5 Responses to Belated Open Thread Sunday

  1. fred says:

    do i have to listen to the berman lecture to offer an informed opinion?

  2. Hi. As someone who did an MA in Bible at YU, I think your question needs to be refined a bit. On the graduate level there isn’t even a question in the first place: Everything is studied at BRGS, period. How could anyone possibly do graduate work without fully engaging the field? The really amazing thing about BRGS was the human models that it provided, of brilliant, creative people who are at the very top of the field of academic bible studies and at the same time outstanding Torah scholars and God-fearing Jews. That was extremely important to me as a student and it had a major impact on my whole life.

    On the undergraduate level at YU things are quite different. For the most part what this means is required college courses that yeshivah students must take in addition to their major. For many or most of these students it is quite a victory just to get them familiar with Tanakh, to appreciate peshuto shel miqra in a nuanced way, and to understand midrash and parshanut on a deeper level. I highly doubt that adding source-criticism to the very limited menu will achieve anything positive for most of these students.

  3. AIWAC says:

    R. Kadish,

    Read my question carefully, it specifically speaks of research, not teaching. As to the rest of your reply:

    1) Unfortunately, I am not familiar with many O scholars who directly engage the issue of the origins of the Torah who do not just submit to the DH dictat. Most just become what Moshe Bernstein called in another context “orthopractic source critics”. This is not engagement, it is submission.

    There are exceptions, such as Yehuda Elitzur z”l, Uri Simon, Umberto Cassuto z”l &c who challenge and “engage” scholarship, but they are few and far in between. My hope is that YU/BIU can encourage the growth of more such scholars who, along with Dr. Berman, provide a powerful scholarly alternative to the dominant skeptical winds in the field by providing a more ‘friendly’ scholarly home.

    2) I happen to be in favor of teaching, or at least making students aware of, issues of source criticism/historicity at the end of high school or during their year in Israel. Nowadays, practically everyone is exposed to it at some point, and better on our terms than someone else’s.

  4. Regarding research, it’s the very same deal: In my years at Revel, I never encountered the idea that anyone’s research was limited. And there was certainly research done by people that touched upon questions of both higher and lower criticism. Not everyone found safe shelter under the wings of parshanut (not that there is anything wrong with those who chose that field).

    1. I agree with you that there are not “many” such scholars, but there may be more than you think. Rabbi Dr. MJ Bernstein was not just my main teacher at Revel but also my mesader kiddushin :-). However, there were other such role models too, both in the USA and in Israel. And that is just my own very limited experience (BRGS is after all a very small school).

    Regarding engagement versus submission, I agree with both you and MJ, and I would certainly like to see more human models of real engagement along the lines of Joshua Berman. If this hasn’t happened yet, I don’t think it’s because of any sort of official ban at Revel. And if it beginning to happen then that is wonderful, and it would probably have been welcomed at the Revel I remember.

    2. I once tried to make exactly this point in a Jewish education course at Azrieli: That it is better they be exposed to it “on our terms” in a supportive environment, rather than getting totally shocked when they find out about it later in college. Of course the rest of the class shot me down for suggesting such a thing…

    Hag Sameakh

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