Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What does maskilic mean?

An interesting comment thread developed around this post at Dan's Seforim blog, regarding a ban of R. Dov Eliach's iii volume biography of the Vilna Ga'on, הגאון, particularly the wording which considers the book to contain דברי המשכילים, so that it is maskilic in nature.

Since the book does nothing more than reproduce authentic texts I whimsically commented that as far as I can tell "maskilic" means the systematic use of primary sources critically examined, when they produce undesirable results. There isn't any falsehood in the book (barring, possibly, interpretation, which after all is a matter of interpetation). It compiles information that, presumably, produced an undesireable result.

With that in mind I thought of an interesting letter which appeared in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society vol XV, pg. 120 (New York: 1988) (having read it recently).

The letter is from R. Dovid Cohen, who is well known and needs no introduction. It seems that he was responding to an article which appeared in vol XIV by R. Israel Poleyeff. In fairness I have not read that article, nor is the title of the article specified either by R. Cohen or R. Poleyeff in his response. After pointing out a few slight corrections in the nature of typos affecting footnotes and interesting info about an uncensored text, R. Cohen writes that
Historical and cultural context is Haskalic. Since one does not want to be Haskalic, R. Poleyeff replies that R. Cohen is right in surmising what the author intended to indicate, which is to say that "there was no intent to suggest that rabbinic views and halakhic decisions are influenced by environmental factors."

Of course R. Poleyeff does say that they he does not agree that this is the case, and R. Cohen calls it a mistaken impression, implying it is to make a Haskalic comment. Interestingly enough, later in the letter R. Cohen cites Jacob Katz's Exclusiveness and Toleration on the Me'iri.

This brings me back full circle: haskalah is a dirty word because it produces unwanted results.

(As I prepared to push the PUBLISH POST button it occurred to me that there is irony here in that this post does not give any historical context as to why words deriving from the root s-k-l are dirty. In my defense, I linked to Wikipedia. Do your own research. ;-) )

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