Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Ari K. post: A Geonic Precursor of Wissenschaft?

Ari posts: A Geonic Precursor of Wissenschaft? -- about an 11th century Ga'on's critical reading of a text.

I commented that the טענה of Wissenschaft pioneers (at least the more pious ones among them) was that many of their methods had noble antecedents in traditional sources.

This of course continues today--with Ari's post, for example (however tongue-in-cheek he meant it). But it also continues with nearly every volume of the Orthodox Forum series, it continued with the writings of Louis Jacobs, it continues all over the place, including my own posts. "Look, Rashi interpreted a passuk against the interpretation of Chazal." "Look, Heidenheim changed the nussach based on grammatical principles." et cetera

These scholarly pioneers often posited a Jewish Dark Age beginning right about the end of the European one and lasting until their own period. Let's say from 1600 to 1800. They pointed to poets and playwrights and physicians and astronomers in the Jewish past; to correct vernacular usage (overstating the case) and reasoned that present state of Jewry around them was not the traditional one.

Of course not only Wissenschafters and Reformers posited this. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch did as well. It was a self-serving claim, but not totally lacking in all merit. (It should be borne in mind that in truth these centuries were very creative ones for Jews. They were just centuries that were diametrically opposed to rationalism and various things which they advocated. They perceived the earlier period as one of liturgical creativity, and the later period as one of liturgical freezing. The earlier period as more conducive to critical study of rabbinic texts, the latter the age of pilpul, etc. Of course the dates were not fixed and figures who flourished in that period--such as the Ga'on of Vilna--were regarded as precursors to their type of thinking.)

In any case, certainly manuscript criticism dates back to the time when all books were ms! Before printing, any literate person would have been puzzled by the idea that all texts don't need correcting.

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