Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Be curious about "a R. Akiva Eger" AND "R. Akiva Eger"

An interesting discussion ensued in the comments here.

Someone chided Chareidim for lacking curiosity; someone else responded that he should "be curious about a R' Akiva Eiger!"

To which I responded:

Also be curious about R' Akiva Eiger and not only a R' Akiva Eiger.

If you were, for example, you'd learn that he gave a haskamah to a reprinting of Mendelssohn's Bi'ur in 1832 and bought a copy himself. Should this rock your world? Not necessarily, but it should allow you to begin to realize that R' Akiva Eiger may not have precisely been who you think he was. Recall that this is the same Mendelssohn whom the Yated appends sheim reshoim yirkav to. If that is their opinion, fine. But it was not R' Akiva Eger's opinon.

You have no idea about R' Akiva Eiger because all you were exposed to is a narrow snapshot of him, and in fact, of almost all gedolei Yisrael. There is no doubt that some gedolei Yisrael of all ages were hashkafically very much like contemporary charedi gedolim, but by the same token there are many differences as well.

My other comments cite Meir Hildesheimer's article on the image of Mendelssohn in 19th c. rabbinic literature in PAAJR, where he writes:

In 1831-33, the M'Kor Hayyim Pentateuch was published in Berlin...The Book of Exodus contained the haskamah of Rabbi 'Akiba Eger, the celebrated rabbi of Posen and father-in-law of Rabbi Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer). His approbation, written in 1832, praised the elegant edition containing translations, Rashi's commentary, Tikkun Soferim and Bi'ur la-Talmid. Rabbi Eger expressed his hope that the work would be completed, and noted that he had subscribed to purchase it.

The note there reads:

In 1815 Rabbi 'Akiba Eger came out against prayers in foreign languages. In support of his view he cited the translation by the 'head scribe,' Rabbi M. Dessau, of the verse, 'Hear O Israel' [Deut. 6:4]: 'Der Ewige unser G-tt ist ein einzig[es] ewiges Wesen.' He substituted the word Elokim with the word Hashem (Liqqut Teshuvot ve-Hiddushim mi-Rabenu 'Akiba Eger, Bnei Brak, 1968, para. 2).

Finally, I note

The point is that the issue about the Bi'ur in its time was about German. When that issue faded away, so did the objection--except in circles where the vernacular remained an issue, which is why among 19th century Chassidim the Bi'ur remained an issue.

The question is why today in circles where the vernacular does not remain an issue that it is still an issue. I will tentatively speculate that it is because of ahistoricity. The Chasam Sofer didn't like it, and various rebbes didn't like it, and for goodness sake, the Noda Be-yehuda didn't like it--and that is enough.

But, as I pointed out in these comments, R' Akiva Eger had no problem with it, because the Noda Be-yehuda's problem wasn't his problem and the Chassidim's problem wasn't his problem and, well, he was a bar plugta with the Chasam Sofer, of course. This is not the same as saying that the historical RAE wasn't very, very close in outlook to the historical CS or even that the historical RAE wasn't very, very close in outlook to many of today's contemporary chareidi gedolim--only that this whole discussion was precipated by the suggestion that no sources, precedents and great people existed who offer justification for an Orthodox Judaism which isn't chareidi. And that is why someone could suggest that curiosity should only be satisfied by knowing *A* Rabbi Akiva Eger, when ironically, also knowing *Rabbi* Akiva Eger would lead one to discover that he just might not be a "Maran" in Bnei Brak. Perhaps he might--but that remains to be discovered through curiosity, not axioms.

The conversation is still ongoing.



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