Monday, January 16, 2006

Imitate Richard Elliott Friedman, Not the Skeptics Amongst Us

There is an interview with Professor Shalom Carmy which appeared in Hamevaser (Vol. 38 No. 1) called Imitate the Ramban, Not the Professors.
SC: What truth-seeking person would close his, or her, eyes to a newly discovered inscription clarifying the geography or vocabulary of a pasuk that baffled the Rishonim? The Ramban's delight when, upon his arrival in Eretz Israel, he was able to revise some of his perushim in the light of the realia, should put to shame the kind of piety that disdains such knowledge. Interesting realia should never overshadow the study of devar Hashem; yet I would rather model myself on the Ramban than on the professors of Ramban.
It is a shame that I need to mention this, but I feel that I do. A comment on Godol Hador's blog reads "The skeptics amongst us care little for similarly nazi-like gemarahs, of which there are many more examples." In truth, the commenter who said this does not normally say things like this, so I don't want to be too harsh on him. I also am willing to believe he said it as a polemical point, but to "the skeptics amongst us" who are beginning to regard our own heritage, both intellectual and spiritual, as "nazi-like gemarahs" I would suggest not to be like the Ramban, but to be like Richard Elliott Friedman:
Studying the Torah with Rashi's commentary is a joy....What Rashi and the other commentators taught us to do was to look at a text critically. They were teaching us to do philology: the art of reading well, reading with care, and thinking about what the words of the text mean. ( read)
It is entirely possible to be a "skeptic among us" without the unabiding disdain for and frankly anachronistic views of the great teachers and teachings of Judaism.

It is as if "the skeptics amongst us" have chosen to regard the most extreme naive fundamentalist views as normative in Judaism in order to vehemently reject them. Said skeptics will not regard various types of midrash aggadah as something besides modern narrative texts and then they make genre mistakes, the same mistakes that fundamentalists make with them.

Of course maybe it's no coincidence that the nevuchey ha-Orthodox don't tend to become lay Richard Elliott Friedmans.

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