The Darker Side of Academic Jewish Studies for Orthodox Jews

[Note: I’ll be writing my thoughts on the interview itself sometime next week. I just thought this comment on the post was worth mentioning. – AIWAC]

Well, I expected my interview with Dr. Secunda to cause discussion. What I didn’t expect was getting one of the most dismissive and arrogant statements of superiority towards Orthodoxy and perhaps Judaism as a whole that I’ve seen in a while in the comments section. Folks, if you want to understand why I’m so cagey about academia, it’s because of attitudes like this:

I think what he’s saying is that in certain circles there is too much of an emphasis on understanding things from an intellectual point of view, without understanding that maybe our goal is to understand what Chazal meant at the time. There’s also a lack of understanding that Gd is really the goal, no? This is problematic for so many reasons because if we’re going to be honest, we have to admit that the math problem doesn’t add up: If there’s a Hebrew Gd who did all these things, why is the historical evidence so spotty? Why is the text itself so filled with holes? Why is it clear from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there were a lot of different versions of the later prophets? Hmmmm….

The anti-intellectual movement he mentions is the people who dislike the above because it removes Gd from the equation. They are looking for the “ruchniat” that Judaism provides. When it says “Love your Gd with everything you have.”, they want to LOVE Gd, even though the word “V’Ahavata” might actually mean Devote yourself. Putting words in the contextual environment of the day is too scary for them (the idea of V’Ahavta as devotion comes from ancient Ugaritic), as it brings up all the other questions that Dr. Secunda referenced. Most people want to believe that people stood around a mountain and Gd handed them the parchment scroll they see in shul every Shabbat. The idea that the scroll has been “developed” over time is scary, especially when you’re not touching your spouse for 2 weeks every month, bankrupting yourself for tuition and enslaving yet another generation to a possibly meaningless religion. It’s too scary to contemplate that this doesn’t really mean anything at all, and so critical examination is rejected because the questions come way faster than the answers.


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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