March 29th, 2012
March 29th, 2012
Samuel Moyn (Columbia University) has posted an interesting take on religious freedom and secular intolerance on site The Immanent Frame. From the article:
- In the last issue of First Things, a self-described coalition of “Catholics and Evangelicals together” defends religious freedom. The coalition includes a number of notable Americans, like Charles Colson and George Weigel, with endorsements from the archbishops of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, along with many others. According to the statement, the situation is unexpectedly urgent. After the fall of the Soviet Union, “throughout the world, a new era of religious freedom seemed at hand.” But, now it is blatantly clear that the scourge of intolerance—especially secularist intolerance—persists.
March 29th, 2012
March 25th, 2012
Oren Gross (University of Minnesota Law School) has posted Violating Divine Law: Emergency Measures in Jewish Law on SSRN. From the abstract:
- Judaism is a thoroughly legal culture. Structured around the concept of mitzvot (commandments), Jewish law regulates both the public sphere of social and political interactions and the private sphere of human conduct. Jewish law is founded on a single source of legal authority, i.e., divine will as it is expressed in the Torah that was revealed to Moses at Sinai and transmitted down the generations. Yet, applying the Torah’s principles and rules to everyday life requires further decision-making in the processes of interpretation, application and administration of the law. Jewish law embraces the principle of human decision-making responsibility by recognizing the exclusive competence of halakhic authorities to determine the meaning of the Torah by way of interpretation and exegesis.While laws and regulations that are put in place by halakhic authorities without having a direct basis in the biblical text are binding they cannot contradict or overturn primary (divine) legislation. To the extent that they purport to do so, they would be “unconstitutional” and invalid.
- Yet, the paper argues that this has not always been the case. The first argument is that dealing with such questions as could rules promulgated by the halakhic authorities go so far as to practically “overrule” the divinely ordained law of the Torah and could the sages permit or even command that which the Torah forbids, or prohibit that which under the Torah had been allowed, Jewish law has always given these questions a qualified affirmative answer despite the divine source of the Torah law. The second claim is that the legal basis for the sages’ ability to make emergency decisions and adopt emergency measures is not entirely clear. In fact, the paper argues that the ambiguity about the legal foundation of such radical authority or power is purposeful. While some halakhic authorities identify the source of their authority as present within the framework of the law, others seem to recognize that their actions had been lacking legal authority. Rather than invoking their widely-recognized broad interpretative powers and attempt to make the claim that their actions and decisions had been in accordance with the dictates of the Torah they accept, albeit tacitly, the need to act in contravention of the Torah.
March 25th, 2012
March 20th, 2012
Per the APJ's announcement: The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is pleased to invite all interested parties to its forthcoming online symposium on halakha (Jewish law) and the philosophy of law (21-28 March), which will take place on its new site http://www.theapj.com/blog. The symposium is entitled “Authority, Halakha, and the Official Vigilante,” and will center around a discussion of the problems of authority and law in relation to Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, in particular the rule that zealots may attack the Jewish man who is having sexual relations with a Gentile woman. On March 20th materials will be posted on the new website which will contain some discussion of the issues by the symposium participants Sari Kisilevsky (CUNY), Ken Ehrenberg (SUNY), and Laliv Clenman (Leo Baeck). Of particular relevance will be the following texts: Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 81b-82b, and Palestinian Talmud Sanhedrin 27b.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
March 20th, 2012
March 14th, 2012
Review of: Norman Solomon, Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization,2012) 412 pages. By Dan Baras I, like many of the readers of this review, have long been waiting for an up to date, well-informed and scholarly book on the belief in ‘Torah from heaven’ particularly in light of accumulating contemporary critiques of traditional belief. Solomon, a retired pulpit rabbi and Jewish studies professor at the University of Oxford, begins and ends his book with his own personal experience, giving a personal touch that frames the academic content at the center of the book. This content consists of 26 (coincidence?) chapters divided into five parts. The first part traces the evolution of the rabbinic belief in ‘Torah from heaven’ culminating in the idea of a dictated text and an oral legal tradition emanating directly from God. The second part presents counter-traditions and objections to the rabbinic belief, new and old, which stem from clashes with contemporary moral intuitions, science and the various strands of textual biblical criticism. The third part briefly portrays the responses to biblical criticism of nearly twenty orthodox bible commentators, from the beginning of the Enlightenment through the first half of the 20th century, from the Vilna Gaon and Moses Mendelsohn, to Umberto Cassuto and Yehiel Weinberg. The fourth part is titled “New Foundations”, although it is not entirely clear how the line is drawn between the approaches discussed here and those discussed in part three. Its first chapter briefly reviews the opinions of some non-orthodox theologians such as Franz Rosenzweig, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emanuel Levinas. R. Joseph Dov Soloveitchik receives a chapter of his own, and another chapter is dedicated to feminist critiques (why here and not with the attacks on traditional belief in the second part?). Finally, in the fifth part, especially in chapter 24, Solomon suggests, as opposed to orthodox beliefs surveyed thus far, that we understand ‘Torah from heaven’ as a myth of origin of the Jewish religion, rather than a descriptive historical fact. Myth, as opposed to history, can be a value expressing deep truth about human culture even without correspondence to actual occurrences. Solomon intends that his book appeal to both popular and academic readership (p. v), a task he rather successfully fulfills. His literary style is characterized by the art of brevity, his proclaimed strategy is to “describe the wood as a whole rather than the individual trees” (p. vi). Footnotes are concise and not burdened with endless bibliographic citations. For the interested reader, references throughout the book lead to sources for further reading. Each chapter and each part ends with a short conclusion, making the book conveniently easier to follow. Four of the five parts of the book focus on the long history of the debate, making the reader aware that contemporary discussions do not stand devoid of history . For lecturers interested in creating a course on the topic of this book, it undoubtedly serves as a useful starting point. The table of contents generally fits the subject matter, albeit with occasional variances. Yishayahu Leibowitz and Abraham Yitzhak Kook, for instance, both of whom confronted biblical criticism explicitly, are absent from Solomon’s discussion. Theologians will benefit from a plentitude of thought provoking critique and insight. It is for these reasons that I recommend the book, despite the flaws that will be pointed out in what follows. The main flaw of the book is a frequent inattentiveness to important details. The knowledgeable reader will get the sense that the book was released too early, and that careful revision would have been quite beneficial. The following are some examples from the third and fourth parts of the book: The book purports to encompass a tremendous area of scholarship, primarily from the fields of Jewish history and philosophy. No book is exhaustive; nevertheless, at times Solomon’s brevity is excessive. A section dedicated to Leo Baeck (p. 224) consists of only two paragraphs, the first of which is a short biography. Similarly, in a section dedicated to Benno Jacob and A.S. Yahuda (pp. 206-207), Solomon offers only a quote from the Encyclopedia Judaica for Benno Jacob and a short paragraph, including mostly biographical information and an unsubstantiated judgment of his contribution to the debate. Since the book is not comprehensive anyway, one wonders why the author decided to include figures he was not going to discuss in a serious way. Even in longer sections there are some noticeable omissions. A full chapter is devoted to Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik (pp. 237-247), even though, according to the author “Soloveitchik…never engages with historical criticism” (p. 243). Soloveitchik himself would probably agree: in his famous essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” he wrote, “I have never been seriously troubled by the problem of the Biblical doctrine of creation vis-à-vis the scientific story of evolution…Moreover, I have not even been troubled by the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest” (Soloveitchik, 1965: 8-9). But why has Solomon not engaged with “The Lonely Man of Faith” even in a footnote? And how can one discuss Soloveitchik in this context without any mention of existentialism and the role of religious experience as a basis for belief? (see, for example, Soloveitchik, 1979: 3-4 and footnote 3). These components are essential to understanding “Halakhic Man,” which serves as a central source in Solomon’s analysis. In the 20th chapter, Solomon reviews, as he puts it, four books defending traditional belief. But the inclusion of Menachem Kellner’s ‘Must a Jew Believe Anything?’ (Kellner, 2006) seems inappropriate. Kellner posits that pre-Maimonidean Judaism was not defined by dogma and therefore he argues that people of varied, even false, beliefs should be included within the boundaries of Judaism. But the “who is a Jew?” debate is very different from the ‘Torah from heaven’ debate. Kellner’s readers will not find any mention of biblical criticism in his book, nor will they find any theology of the sort Solomon is after. Tamar Ross’s ‘Expanding the Palace of Torah’, on the other hand, explicitly addresses the issue of ‘Torah from heaven’ and is justly discussed. But in Solomon’s discussion of Ross’s theory of cumulative revelation, no mention is made of non-foundationalism, Wittgenstinian belief or post-modernism, concepts so essential to Ross’s thought (Ross, 2004: 194). Solomon’s complaint that “it would have been helpful had Ross been clearer on where she thinks the boundaries should be drawn”, suggests Solomon’s failure to discern Ross’s radical stance, as she rejects the possibility of boundaries in this context (Ross, 2004: 182). Finally I turn to Solomon’s proposed theory of, ‘Torah from heaven as myth of origin’. The subtitle of the book creates an expectation for a justification and account of religious commitment. ‘Torah from heaven’ is troublesome to religious Jews to the extent that their religious commitment relies on belief in its divine origin. A myth of origin, while maybe “vital to create a sense of identity” (p. 314), will not suffice as a basis for halakhic commitment. Disappointingly, the reader will find only the quick observation that “people follow laws…for…complex reasons…such as identification with a particular social group, habit (inertia), a sense of joy, a sense of guilt, or because the law conforms with their own attitudes and aspiration” (p. 323). While some may identify with the observation, this is far from being a “reconstruction of faith”. Despite these (serious) shortcomings, the book is interesting, and successful in giving a broad historical prospective as well as provoking thought. Works Cited: Kellner, M. M. (2006). Must a Jew believe Anything? Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Ross, T. (2004). Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism. Brandeis University Press. Soloveitchik, J. B. (1965). The Lonely Man of Faith. Tradition, 5-67. Soloveitchik, J. B. (1979). Uvikashtem Misham (heb.). Hadarom, 47, 1-83. Dan Baras is a doctoral student in philosophy (metaethics and philosophy of religion) at Ben Gurion University. He holds an M.A in philosophy from the Hebrew University and serves as the coordinator for the CJL Israeli Fellows program.
March 14th, 2012
March 6th, 2012