Reb Yudel on Kugel or Kugel #2

Since nobody had any clarifying comments on the Kugel post and it just got 600 hits in a day, let’s try a different approach.
Here was one of the useful comments by Reb Yudel- any thoughts for an Orthodoxy?

1] How much history are you willing to give up to make a usable Torah both critical and as Talmud Torah?

I’m certainly willing to give up the scholarly agnosticism over things that are unknown and cannot be proven. Kugel ignores redactional history, presumably because it’s all hypothetical. I’m willing to assume a redactor, and throw R into the mix. I’m willing to assume that J played a redactorial role, collating and creating etiological folk tales. As a result, I can preach the moral growth of Judah, as cited by Sommers. Talmud Torah, unlike academia, does not require absolute proof.

> 2] How much are you willing to defend an ethical message in the Bible despite historical origins?

That’s really the wrong question. The real question is, when did Modern Orthodoxy decide that Torah was ethical (and then why did it more recently renounce that view)? I don’t want unethical texts taught to my children, regardless of whether they were composed in the Iron Age or the Ipod Age. If Kugel makes it easier to remove Joshua from the 4th grade curriculum, so much the better.

(There’s a related question: When did Modern Orthodoxy abandon Hazal in favor of literary pshat? Why does Rashi’s division of characters into Righteous and Evil (following Hazal, of course) seem less appealing than the grays of literary analysis peshat?)

3] What needs to be added to Sommers to make it useful for Orthodoxy?

I don’t think Orthodoxy — which we can now define as the portion of Judaism which rejects the ordination of women — is impacted by any epistemology of Torah other than that which attributes absolute Divine Revelation to its current leadership. (Sort of like Mormonism, except without the transparency). Grant Daas Torah, and then the whole thing works.

For Conservative Judaism, which took the claims of academic Rabbinic scholarship as a lesson in the plasticity of Rabbinic halacha, the Sommers approach works fine: Torah SheBaal Peh simply goes back to [the putative date of] Sinai, to the tales and ballads that accompanied the evolution of our people.

As you say, Kugel is not a theologian, and his final chapter is weak: It simply peters out. Had he simply said, “I believe that part of my service to God is by following the tradition of my ancestor, and looking to the sacred anthology of Iron Age documents for meaning, knowing that the process of that search will itself create meaning” — he could have opened a door for a certain liberal Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Kugel evinces no awareness of Talmud Torah as practiced around the Shabbos table or in the classroom..

6 responses to “Reb Yudel on Kugel or Kugel #2

  1. Nasim Taleb has a big fat disclaimer on his web site that he puts there only material that is “not good enough to publish”.

    Take the Kugel for example. You published here a list of cryptic questions about his work, links to what someone wrote about Kugel, now someone’s comments to the list of your questions.

    If for professional, commercial, religious or any other reasons you don’t want to highlight your opinion, that’s perfectly understandable. But here is the question you ask almost on every post. What do you think?

    May be you should have a disclaimer that you don’t express your opinions on the blog. But someone said on my blog that you in agreement with Sumners in favoring the theologians approach (another thing why the heck Sumners would publish in the academic baseball magazine that no body get or reads). What did he actually say?

    So my point is what do you think really?

  2. “not good enough to publish”.

    It is assumed that I have the same disclaimer.

    “you in agreement with Sumners”

    No, if so I would not have written my critique.

    “So my point is what do you think really?”

    The critique was my opinion. Everything now is a scratch pad to formulate my actual write up of Kugel over the summer. Since I have other concerns by day – my comments are here for long term percolation before submission elsewhere. Have you started to edit some of your posts for submission to an editor, found likely venues, and contacted editors? I accept standard publishing as the criteria and academic publishing as a good thing. So of course, for me this is a scratch pad and micro comments of others that directly relate to a line that I have written are useful for formulating a final draft.
    If you want to continue a meta-discussion of blogigng or a discussion of getting your stuff published then contact me by regular email or FB.

  3. “I’m willing to assume a redactor, and throw R into the mix. I’m willing to assume that J played a redactorial role, collating and creating etiological folk tales.”

    “The real question is, when did Modern Orthodoxy decide that Torah was ethical (and then why did it more recently renounce that view)?”

    I’d say that the real question is, when did Modern Orthodoxy decide that the Torah was redacted from multiple sources?

    “I don’t think Orthodoxy — which we can now define as the portion of Judaism which rejects the ordination of women…”

    I think the 13 Ikkarim, in one form or another, is also part of the definition of Orthodoxy.

  4. Dr. Brill, thank you for the emailed articles I would read it soon. As far as blogging is concerned I am a purist, therefore there is a bit of an asymmetry. If you ask people to contribute ideas without showing any of your cards, while prepping for a publication, what’s the point of the conversation and is it “ethical” towards the commentators?

  5. “I’d say that the real question is, when did Modern Orthodoxy decide that the Torah was redacted from multiple sources?”

    Gil, you must have missed our most recent meeting. I’m emailing you the most recent “Nimnu V’Gamru: Proceedings of the most Learned Elders of Modern Orthodoxy, Vol XXVII, Issue 3 where you can find the relevant rulings on both the ordination of women (thumbs down) and the redactional history of the Bible (thumbs up.)

  6. Yosef Fajtlowicz

    Gil – I think it started doing that when it found that Modern Orthodoxy’s attempts at dealing with the issues posed by critical biblical scholarship were not satisfactorily answered, references to Plantinga’s ‘foundationalism’ notwithstanding.

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