R. Rosenthal's point is that children should know that midrashim are homiletic and non-literal and that this is the only correct way to approach midrash. However, Josh points out that as the only way, it is a distortion of tradition.
An excerpt from the article:
The other day, the student was an eager young lady named Leah. I asked her the following question: If you were able to go back in time to the moment when Pharaoh’s daughter saw baby Moshe in his basket, what would you see? Would you see Pharaoh’s daughter requesting her maidservant to fetch the basket—as the pasuk tells us—or would you see her arm grow 25 feet long (like Mister Fantastic) and rope in the basket—as the Midrash says?An exceprt from Josh:
I felt at that moment as if I had asked Leah to choose between her two parents at a divorce proceeding. She knew that the Torah was an authority and correct and the Midrash was an authority and correct. Her mind was telling her both versions could not be simultaneously true! Therefore, she was frozen and unable to respond.
Let me fast-forward to an anthropology class at Queens College. The professor is discussing ancient Egypt. He mentions there is a legend among the Jews about the daughter of Pharaoh concerning her arm stretching out to retrieve baby Moses. Leah raises her hand. She says that it was a miracle and the daughter of Pharaoh had her arm stretched out to save Moshe. Suddenly, all 53 members of her class turn to her and stare. Her face turns crimson. The professor asks her, “Do you believe that actually happened?” Leah feels the temperature rising. She knows that her beliefs are under attack, and that she has been publicly put on the spot. She desperately wants to explain the Torah position in a cogent way, and yet she finds that despite 15 years of yeshiva education, she is unable to do so.
Let me fast-forward to an anthropology class at Queens College. The professor is discussing ancient Egypt. He mentions there is a legend among the Jews about the Nile turning to blood. Leah raises her hand. She says that it was a miracle and Aaron stretched his hand over the waters and they turned to blood. Suddenly, all 53 members of her class turn to her and stare. Her face turns crimson. The professor asks her, “Do you believe that actually happened?” Leah feels the temperature rising. She knows that her beliefs are under attack, and that she has been publicly put on the spot. She desperately wants to explain the Torah position in a cogent way, and yet she finds that despite 15 years of yeshiva education, she is unable to do so.The gist of Josh's point is that there is definitely not one monolithic way to teach and to approach derash and that R. Rosenthal is correct that students are ill-equipped to deal with serious Bible scholarship (whether traditional or not) because they aren't being taught and enabled to.
Yes, Rabbi Rosenthal, not only midrashim speak of miracles. This I think is your real trouble, as evident by your earlier jibe "like Mr. Fantastic." Will Leah have an easier time explaining the many miracles written in the actual text of the Torah than the miracles mentioned in midrashim? What about all of the plagues? What of the splitting of the reed sea? The destruction of Sodom? The angels blinding the residents of Sodom? The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai? The manna falling every day? The clouds of Glory and the Heavenly fire leading the Israelites in the desert? The widow pouring oil from one vessels into many other vessels? Eliyahu ascending in a chariot of fire? The list goes on. To all these, the anthropology professor can ask, "Do you believe that actually happened?" Jewish beliefs are not determined by anthropology professors at Queens College.
His post is long, and like most posts on his excellent Parsha Blog is, well, excellent. And like most posts at Parsha Blog if people are reading, they aren't talking. Read this post, read the original article. Good points all around!
I can't really add more except to say that both analyses are a real sign of the times. R. Rosenthal is reacting to the fact that no one seems to know what to do with midrash, but so is Josh.
One thing to think about is that while not all midrashim are of the same antiquity or authority or reliability, without midrash aggadah we would know very little about what Chazal in various periods believed and how they approached Torah. Every bit of teaching that we have offers keys to unlocking hitherto unknowns, and neither glib dismissal nor a superficial, uncritical approach does the Jewish understanding of Torah and, indeed, Judaism justice.
Edit: Having thought about it more, I would say that R. Rosenthal is also addressing an effect that I once blogged about, the "lucky midrash." Basically, it isn't only that children and then adults believe that all midrash aggadah is literal and exchangeable with the peshat, but that there exists a selection of midrashic explanations that "everyone knows," midrashim like כפה עליהם הר כגיגית or רבקה בת שלשה or the about the pharaoh's daughter's arm. And then there is the rest of the midrashic literature, which average people are unfamiliar with.
In effect, the Torah becomes rewoven with some midrashim. If there are three midrashic views, often one will be the "lucky" one, the one which fills in the cracks in the text. In effect, many people are educated to view the Torah as if it were a page of Artscroll Talmud, where the main text is the words in bold and a predictable selection from the vast body of midrashic material supplements and makes it intelligible (see an example of this technique in Artscroll's Talmud--by the way, in the case of this Talmud the technique is praiseworthy since it clearly distinguishes between the text and Artscroll's interpretation of the text).
All in all, R. Rosenthal is decrying a consequence of a very superficial approach to derash, while Josh (R. Josh, really :) ) is asking some very sophisticated questions that suppose a sophisticated approach. I guess if one had to ask which is preferable, I'd say without a doubt Josh's is. But what if it isn't between superficial one way and sophisticated, but between superficial one way and superficial another way?