Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Yesh chokhma bagoyim ta'amin and what it means to us.

R. Aharon Lichtenstein famously wrote
The explicit systematic discussions of Gentile thinkers often reveal for us the hidden wealth implicit in our own writings. They have, furthermore, their own wisdom, even of a moral and philosophic nature....There is chokhmah begoyim, and we ignore it at our loss. Many of the issues which concern us have faced Gentile writers as well....To deny that many fields have been better cultivated by non-Jewish writers, is to be stubbornly--and unnecessarily chauvanistic. There is nothing in our medieval poetry to rival Dante and nothing in our modern literature to compare with Kant, and we would do well to admit it. We have our own genius, and we have bent it in the noblest of pursuits, the development of Torah. But we cannot be expected to do everything.

and R. Simcha Zissl Ziv, the Alter of Kelm and talmid of R. Yisrael Salanter less famously said
See how wonderfully experience confirms this. We observe that many words, when one says them in Hebrew, fail to make any kind of impression. When he translates them into German, they make more of an impression. At first I thought the reason is that Hebrew is not, for us, the mutter sprach (mother tongue). But now it seems more plausible according to our approach: the Hebrew word we received in childhood without a distinctive flavor and aroma [italics mine]. For example, the word Torah spoken in Hebrew does not make the same impression that it does when we translate it into German as Bildung. Why? Because we associate the word Bildung (education) with the savor of wisdom. The word Torah we do not associate with the savor of wisdom, because as children we knew nothing of the savor of wisdom....

Taken from R. Shalom Carmy's excellent essay "
An Apology for Yirat Shamayim in Academic Jewish Studies".

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