Monday, April 23, 2007

When a rebbe slaps you for impudent questions, don't get mad--open a museum.

Many people are aware of the Living Torah Museum in Boro Park. On the other hand, many are not.

A couple of years ago Hershel Shanks profiled this museum in his Biblical Archaeology Review (30:06, Nov/ Dec 2004):

I have often lamented that, although there are thousands of museums in the United States devoted to every conceivable topic, there is not a single museum here devoted to Biblical archaeology.

I have recently been challenged on this assertion—and from a most unlikely source. I am wrong, I am told. There is a Biblical archaeology museum above a little shtibl in Boro Park, led by a chasidic rabbi.

The article describes it as the brainchild of its founder, Shaul Deutsch. How did he get interested in Biblical archaeology? Why did he create this museum (which has some impressive artifacts)?

When Rabbi Deutsch was eight years old...Shaul and his teacher were studying the [Mishna] tractate on damages, Baba Kama. The particular passage concerned what would happen if a person left a kad in a public place: What if someone stumbled over it and broke it: Was the man who stumbled over it and broke it liable for damages? What if someone slipped on the water released by the kad and injured himself or was hurt by the broken pieces of the kad? Was the owner of the kad liable to the injured person for his injuries? In English translations, kad is variously translated pitcher, jug or pot. Shaul asked his teacher what a kad looked like. The teacher slapped him twice across the face. His teacher thought he was “acting up,” being a smart aleck, questioning the text. According to traditional study, everything is there in the text—no need to ask a question like this.

As Rabbi Deutsch now puts it, he was never one to take “no” for an answer. So he kept asking. Gradually, he looked at books. And he found answers—in archaeology. And he asked other questions. And he found more answers. And he became fascinated with archaeology. He was not becoming an apikoros (a heretic); he simply wanted to see the realia (although he would not use that word) that the holy texts were describing.

Read the rest of the BAR article.

He says he has had no opposition from the observant, devout community in which he lives. Yeshiva students (a yeshiva is a traditional rabbinic academy) are flocking to the museum, he says. He recalls for them a passage or an episode from the holy texts and then points to the item that is being referred to in the text. That is what he wants to do, he says: to teach Torah (in its broadest sense, all religious learning) through archaeology. Even the heads of leading yeshivot have come to see and admire his museum, he says.

A dissenting view by Freelance Kiruv Maniac (surprised?).

The museum is located at 1601 41st Street in Brooklyn. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Closed Friday afternoon and Saturday until 1 hour after sundown and on Jewish holidays. Telephone: 718–686-8174. Website:

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