Monthly Archives: January 2012

Lost Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan part II

This is continued from my perilous post on Aryeh Kaplan. I may combine both posts into one longer post for posterity.

When Rabbi Leonard Kaplan first showed up to the pulpit in Mason City Iowa, he gave a talk to the sisterhood on the process of his receiving ordination in Israel. I wonder how awkward this was, especially with the head of the sisterhood leading the opening prayer and despite his immense learning, his having to shepherd girl scouts and teach once a week Hebrew school.

Ordination of a “Rabbi in Israel” was the topic discussed by Rabbi Leonard Kaplan at the joint meeting of Adas Israel Sisterhood and Hadassah in the synagogue Thursday. Rabbi Kaplan received his theological training at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, New York and Mirrer Yeshiva in New York and in Jerusalem. He was ordained in Israel with ordination both at the seminary and by the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel.

The Opening prayer was given by Mrs. L. IT. Wolf

The girl scout Sabbath was announced at the March services

A purim cantata.. . wil be presented Sunday evening. At 7:30 PM
Mrs. Kaplan was welcomed as a new member.

Rabbi Kaplan was quite active in interfaith events, our reader David Zinner already pointed to one of them. In a church interfaith meeting and potluck meal, which followed a vote by the Episcopalians allowing women to the vestry, Kaplan addressed them with a universal message. Each relgion speaks for God and we should not limit God to our own faith. Back to his mathematical model, knowing only one religion is flat and one dimensional, to truly know God we need the multi-dimensional view. All religions are one part of the infinite depth of God.

Mason City Globe Gazette – • January 17, 1966 – • Page 15
St. John’s Episcopal Church Sunday night became the first Episcopal Church in the state reported as electing two women to its vestry. Elected to the local congregation’s administrative body…

In the general annual meeting which followed a potluck meal, the group heard Rabbi Leonard M Kaplan of Adas Israel Synagogue say:

“ We often spend much effort in making a god out of our particular religion. Shouldn’t we spend just as much effort in making our religion a religion of God?” Rabbi Kaplan called for efforts to appreciate strange and often exotic religions, understanding that each one speaks for God and may even have a message for us.

For many of the world’s people, Rabbi Kaplan said, religion is the most important thing in their lives and understanding them calls for understanding their view of God.

“In a sense, every religion is an open eye upon God, giving us its own flat, one-dimensional view, He said. It is only the totality of them all that can give us a multidimensional view of the Divine and a panorama of infinite depth.…”

Rabbi Kaplan said that many scholars are finding they must study mankind as “a single gigantic organism… spread over the face of the earth.

“If it were God’s purpose in creating this creature that is mankind, to create a being that perceive the divine, then is it not logical that He should have given it many senses?”

“The eye does not hate the ear for not seeing. The ear does not despise the nose for not hearing. The many religions perceive God, each in a different way. But as long as they all look toward God, they are one.“

Here, in this article, he welcomes Sister Mary Josita and her Bible students to the synagogue and explains the Sefer Torah to them.
After explain the Shofar, he quips that the shofar ‘will probably not be the type to be blown by Gabriel at the second coming.” ” G a b r i el would never put the Beatles out of business.” He seems to have done quite a few wedding jointly with Reform and Conservative clergy- here and here. Among his activities, he took the time to write to Dear Abby about cherubs.

DEAR ‘ABBY: You are not likely to find any girl cherubs (or cherubim) since the Hebrew word “cherub” is a noun of masculine gender. According to the Hebrew grammar, a girl cherub would not be a cherub at all, but a “chewbah.” And the plural of “cherubah” is “cheruboth”— not “cherubim,”—which is the plural of “cherub^’

It seems that he did not entirely switch to from Leonard to Aryeh in 72-73. As a Rabbinic consultant for the movie Yentl in 1980, he still used the name Leonard in the stories and byline.

“Rabbi Leonard Kaplan,” the writer reports, “enjoyed advising the cast on ritual and its meaning. He showed them how to sway and bend while they pray, explained what it means to study the Talmud and in general helped the cast understand the outlook of a religious Jew
Rabbi Kaplan was not upset by his association with a play which contains nudity as well as a woman dressed as a man ‘It is an abomination,'” he admitted, “‘But so what?

For those looking for a good introduction to Aryeh Kaplan during the years 73-83, when Kaplan lived and struggled in Kensington, I recommend Perle Besserman, Pilgrimage : adventures of a wandering Jew
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1979.
Perle describes her journeys to India and Israel interspersed with two in-depth visits to Aryeh Kaplan’s living room world. The underemployed Kaplan gave classes in his home on Shabbat and during the week on the deep inner meaning to reality to a variety of seekers including the variety of modern orthodox psychologists listed in the introduction to Jewish meditation, Jews on return from India, those who also hung around Reb Shlomo Carelbach and Reb Zalman, and those who just crashed on his couch. She called Kaplan’s teachings a form of karma yoga, a path of deeds and the deeds that you do cause a perfection of your soul. The book also contains a rare 1970’s interview with Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook. (h/t for Pilgrimage- R. Yosef Blau circa 1991).

Aryeh Kaplan: a lost homily from his Iowa pulpit and outreach at SUNY-Albany

Over at H-Judaica, there is a hunt for Aryeh Kaplan’s physics MA or any evidence to document his work in the field. They did turn up that the Memphis raised southerner went under his birth name Leonard M Kaplan to University of Maryland and had two co-authored articles in 1965 and 1966. Between 1965 and his burst into NCSY tracts and Chassidism in translation in 1973, he did many activities that are usually not discussed such as elementary school teacher in Louisville Kentucky, Conservative rabbi, and abstract artist. By 1965, he had already relinquished physics graduate school and was a rabbi in Mason City Iowa, a congregation that only had a late Friday night service. Here is a lost homily of his that was syndicated as part of a clergy column where he sees modern science including the synthesis of life in a test tube as pointing to God’s greatness. True scientists marvel at the secret of life.

•”Lift lift your eyes on high, and see: Who hath created these? He that bringeth on their host by number, He calleth them all by name (Isaiah 40:26)

Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan
Adas Israel Synagogue
7th N.W. & Adams

From the day that man first appeared on this planet, he has looked on high at the stars and the world around him, and he has stood in awe before the great mystery of creation. He would try to reach up to the stars, and he would climb the highest mountain peaks, but still they would appear far away, blinking steadily in their continued silence, mocking the puny man who would presume to fathom their origin, their nature, and their destiny. But man was not easily discouraged. He continued to climb and probe the mystery of the stars, the riddle of the atom, and even the secret of life itself. Today, mankind finds himself on the threshold of creating life. By duplicating conditions of a primeval earth, scientists have already succeeded in bringing forth the most primitive form of pre – life. This has lead many psuedo-scientists of narrow mental gauge to proclaim that man no longer needs to believe in God, and that science has done away with all mystery and miracle.

But the true thinking scientist knows that the exact opposite is true — that science has enormously increased man’s sense of mystery, and that all of nature is nothing but a huge miracle.

When astronomers explore galaxies billions of light years away, they find that they are made of the same matter as the stuff beneath our feet. Only one kind of matter is found to exi st throughout the entire universe. Yet, this unique material has one exceptional property — it can support life, and under proper conditions, it can even give rise to life. The fact that inert matter carries the potential of life cannot be considered a mere random accident. It can be nothing less than the work of a purposeful Creator. How then can we imagine something as simple as the electron carrying within itself the potential of the human brain, had not humanity been anticipated by the Designer of all creation? Even the Bible does not tell us that God created life, but rather that He said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” (Genesis 1:24). God created matter — the dust of the earth — with the potential of al! life. If scientists are successful in creating true life, our belief in God should be all the stronger, for who else but an omniscient- God could have created the elementary particles of matter with all the inherent potentialities of the human spirit? The handwriting of God is clear — not on the wall — but in the very heart of nature.

Here we have a JTA bulitein about Kaplan in his role as rabbi of Ohav Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Albany where he also serves as as Jewish student adviser at SUNY at Albany. He is working to provide kosher food and is involved in outreach. Notice in the language of the announcement the language of the 1960’s “free university” and “eschews formal leadership.” Aryeh Kaplan’s describes his classes as follows: “Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition. Especially relevant to this quest is Hassidism, which stands unique as the world’s only popular mystic movement.” Three years later, he starts publishing his Hasidism as popular mysticism and having everything that Eastern mysticism contains.

Project to Rediscover Jewish Values Launched by Students at State University of N.Y.
ALBANY, N.Y., Jul. 6 (JTA) –
A group of students at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) is planning to launch a “Jewish Rediscovery Project” on the campus next fall. Its motivation is “a common desire to rediscover Jewish values relevant to current problems and to act upon such problems as a Jewish group,” according to a prospectus released here. The youngsters are working with Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan of Congregation Obav Sholom, the Jewish religious advisor at SUNYA. They estimate the Jewish student population at 2,370 or 19.5 percent of the 12,125 total, and the Jewish faculty at 200 members, 9.2 percent of the total. According to Rabbi Kaplan, Jewish student activists are already largely responsible for the creation of the first full Judaica department in the entire New York State University system, which will open in September under the chairmanship of Prof. Jerome Eckstein. They are also responsible for a Free University of Judaica, offering courses that would not normally come under the Judaica Department; a kosher food plan provided by the University, and a special Passover food plan administered by the University, Rabbi Kaplan reported.

“The Jewish Rediscovery Project” is the tentative name for a series of programs expected to attract large numbers of students who find traditional Jewish organizational hierarchies and programs repellant and irrelevant to their interests and their intellectual and spiritual needs. The series eschews formal leadership structure in favor of what the students call sub-cooperatives without chairman and officers, in which leadership is expected to rise spontaneously according to the project’s needs. The student most responsible for the program, according to Rabbi Kaplan, is Tobi Goldstein a sophomore. The prospectus calls for four sub-cooperatives–a Study Cooperative, an Information Cooperative, an Action Cooperative and a Religion Cooperative. In the latter, students will explore Hassidism as an avenue to mystical experience. “Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition. Especially relevant to this quest is Hassidism, which stands unique as the world’s only popular mystic movement.”

To be Continued in the next post here- Lost Aryeh Kaplan Part II

Rav Soloveitchik speaks to Mental Health Professionals 1978

We owe Rabbi David Etengoff a thank you for recently placing many of the public lectures of Rav Soloveitchik online in cleaned-up mp3 format.

On the list was one public discourse that I had not heard or read called “5122 KNESSETH TISROEL – DIALOGUE 04/25/78.” It was a real winner. It was a discussion with Orthodox mental health professionals and it discussed several hot topics including the meaning of Lonely Man of Faith, Israeli politics, abortion, homosexuality, Chabad, BT’s, and the role of the social worker.

More importantly, it shows how people related to Rav Soloveitchik and his replies to inquiries. Especially in the last 15 minutes of the tape one can see (1) how Rav Soloveitchik gave his students great latitude to solve problems themselves, (2) how he trusted professionals, (3) how did not think that everything needed halakhic or rabbinic answers (4) and how he took his answers to be his own personal formulation, not some binding or definitive understanding. The tape also show Rav Soloveitchik in several moods from impatient to jovial and it especially showed how Rav Soloveitchik dealt with ideas and not with the bottom line.

If you have never heard a full shiur from Rav Soloveitchik or have not heard one in many years or even if you have forgotten why people where once upset about the current revisionism of the Rav, then please listen to this lecture (or at least the last 15 minutes). It has good audio quality. This lecture will remind you why people were attracted to Rav Soloveitchik. I do not intend to mediate your direct encounter with his shiur, and that is why this one is such a good choice.

The setting is 1978, Annie is the wholesome smash hit on Broadway and Billy Joel’s The Stranger is on the pop radio stations. Picture the younger professionals wearing big tortoise-shell eyeglass frames and long side-burns. Deeply colored sweaters and sports jackets were in style that year, colors like wine, cranberry, and olive- on the tape you will hear people referred to by their clothes color. The Rav himself tended to wear light colored sports jackets to events like this.

It was a decade after his Lonely Man of Faith lecture done originally as a mental health lecture and less than a year after a follow-up lecture in Boston 1977 covering much of the same material. The setting this time is NY and the gathering is of Orthodox mental health professionals, mainly MSW’s and psychologists including Paul Kahn, Rivka Danzig, Lester Kaufman, Carmi Schwartz, and Rabbi Avrach, the Director of Community Services Division. In the 1970’s, psychology, therapy, and existential therapy reigned supreme. The Yeshivish answer was still to ban majoring in psychology. It also produced books like Avraham Amsel’s Rational Irational Man – Torah Psychology (1976), which denigrated psychology as not the Torah’s way since the emotions need to be suppressed into a rational and volitional life. Several people in the room whom I did not mention, were graduates of Chaim Berlin or Torah ve Daas who a few years earlier switched from suits to turtlenecks and under the influence of the early 1970’s discovered the humanistic path of psychology based on not repressing emotions; gestalt, transaction, and existential therapies replaced repression. People were reading Erik Erikson, Irwin Yalom, R. D. Laing, and Fritz Perls. The Bob Newhart show about therapy had just ended its six year run that month. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the seeming only Rosh Yeshiva to field the new questions was Rav Soloveitchik. At the same time notice how philosophic and abstract were his answers.

A mere decade later Rabbi Twerski will make the liberalism of self-esteem humanistic psychology and twelve step as a seminal start of the new Yeshivish self-help books and in contrast some of YU’s graduates will start reading the more conservative works by authors like Dobson. There is a switch to asking what causes the individual to be deviant, rather than creating a role for the individual.Now, thirty years later every Rosh Yeshiva and pulpit rabbi is an expert on psychology and social work without the need for professional trained guidance. But in 1978, the burning question is how do we balance the individualism and lack of repression in therapy with commitment to the group, the halakhah community. In the discussion, notice the lack of a role for evil inclination, or any mussar advice to restrain or repress oneself.

When you listen to the tape notice how often Rav Soloveitchik says “ I created” “personal experience” and “my formulation.” Also notice his joke that he took tranquilizers and they didn’t help him as much as Talmud study helped him.

He discusses the Jewish commitment to the Israel. His politics is old time Likkud. We did indeed dislocate the Arabs but that does not matter. We were the ones who started the trouble in Hebron- why did we did it? Because Israel and our connection to it is our insanity. We are willing to go against the whole world. We are willing to defy common sense because of our connection. Defiance and redemptive go together.

In this discussion, he uses the word mesorah to refer to the continuity of the Jewish people and to the chain of scholars of the mesorah. He does not use it as a body of knowledge or a specific teaching. The Mesorah community extends from Avraham to messiah and offers a sense of calming sense of eternity that transcends the individual. Being part of the mesorah offers a deeper reality that unites past and future. We are joined as part of a covenantal community of every Jew who was in the past and those who have yet to appear. Respect for the elders and our antecendents and a commitment for educating future generations.(similar to LMF)

The Rav says that only when his parents died did he find the malakh hamaves confronting him “My Cartesian awareness included a sense of my parents.”

Can we help a homosexual alleviate guilt? “I am not a social worker.” But the goal is not to tell him “sin and be happy.” People have freedom and people can change. There is no need to reject any case. We believe people have the ability to do teshuvah. Don’t encourage sin but there is always hope. But, you may not encourage homosexual practices. (Notice what the discussion looked like before the culture wars- neither condemnation not acceptance, just what is the social worker’s responsibility? Notice how Rav Soloveithcik is mainly concerned with what the observant therapist should do and does not make big statements about society or public policy.)

Can one go against respecting one’s parents kibud av ve am as part of the process of therapy. He answers that the goal is to follow the right way but process may be far from it. So temporary violation is OK as part of a bigger process.

What about college women who are sexually active but not using birth control, therapist cannot pasken birth control questions but it may lead to an abortion? Answer- You are not responsible for events in the future.
What about people having an abortion- it is forbidden but what you should do? Answer- Abortion is completely prohibited as murder, we just do not consider it libel for punishment… What to do? I don’t know.

How do we apply these guidelines when the social worker is orthodox and client is not religious.
Rav Soloveitchik- “It is up to the social worker – I cannot advice – it is hard.” This is the Rav Soloveitchik that many remember who left applications in the hands of professionals.

He praises Chabad and its success because they temporarily display tolerance. They show understanding and lend a helping hand.
One cannot condemn client right away. And to earn respect means professional respect as a skilled and understanding professional. (not respect for sticking to one’s opinions.)

He tells the story of certain girl who became a BT but was not ready for taryag mizvot, all the mizvot. First she went to a known gadol –rosh yeshiva, who said it was an all or nothing package either keep Shabbos or else. She wet to another rabbi who said accept one mizvah with the complete letter of the law. She did and eventually became completely observant. (What lesson do you think his listeners drew from the story?)

In the last five minutes, the Rav was asked “is that [the Rav’s approach in LMF] the only method or the [definitive] halakhic method? Is this the necessary approach toward Keneset Yisrael or is there another method?

The Rav answers that his loneliness is his creative experience and his binding himself to the group cures his loneliness. Being part of the group of keneset yisrael is not his creative time. Rather, his individual loneliness which is an “Awareness of self- not mere introversion or introspection.” But, “Community man is not creative. We have a dialectic back and forth. (Notice he did not consider his approach definitive.)

Certain times I don’t want to give or teach. They say I am a good teacher. A good teacher forms a community in his class. Not technical teaching but to discuss and debate problems – and sometimes they are right and I admit it. One needs to be sincere and consistent. Sometimes the students know as much as I do and I have nothing to teach so I retreat. The need to give is called hesed- to teach is a very volatile activity. (Notice that he defines his teaching an shiur not as offering fixed answers but as discussion and debate. Also notice how impatient Rav Solovetichik was in giving over his prepared précis of LMF, and how relaxed he is in fielding questions.)

Final words on being a social worker. “There is no difference between a social worker or a rabbi concerning their duties as a Jew In fact, a social worker can accomplish more. A social worker is perceived as neutral and objective- and can be more effective.

As a closing comment, the moderator said “Rav Soloveitchik does fancy footwork- he wants idea and we want to drag him down.” (Notice they did not see the Rav as practical guidance or halakhah, rather as ideas and big guidelines. This led to each listener interpreting it for themselves. Unless someone violated the guideline in a major way, they were not reigned in).

[I only listened to the tape once, so if I made any mistakes they were inadvertent, and I will be glad to change what I wrote.] If you cannot find time to listen to the entire tape then just listen to the last 15 minutes to get a taste of his personality.

Part I of the Preface to Peter Tudvad’s book Stages on the Way of Anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews

In the past I linked to Prof. M.G Piety’s blog on Kierkegaard and her coverage of the controversy over Kierkegaard’s antisemitism and it got picked up by JID. So, I assumed that people would keep track of her translation work without my prompting, but it seems from her self-posted hit count numbers that other have not linked to her. But she keeps posting good material. She has recently started translating the preface to Peter Tudvad’s book and his discovery of the Nazi use of Kierkegaard. Here are some selections.

I ran across a couple of articles on Søren Kierkegaard from the beginning of the 1940s while doing research for a book about a Danish nurse in the German Red Cross during the Second World War. To stumble on article on Kierkegaard was in itself not surprising. What was surprising was that they were in National Socialisten [the National Socialist] and Jul i Norden [Jul in the North], two strongly anti-Semitic publications associated with the Nazi party in Scandinavia.

“Søren Kierkegaard is without question the greatest genius the Danish nation has produced” began one of the articles. Moreover, continues the author, “his writings contain the best instructions for the liberation of the Danish people from the spirit of Judaism which has come increasingly to dominate Denmark and which he saw himself as called by providence to fight. One could thus to this extent be justified in asserting that Søren Kierkegaard was the first Danish National Socialist.”

The author would not have been able to support such a claim, even if he had done extensive research, given that Kierkegaard was vehemently opposed to every form of both nationalism and socialism. On the other hand, there is something to the claim that Kierkegaard wanted to free the Danish people–or preferably all of Christendom–from “the Jewish spirit” which he, like the Nazis, viewed as materialistic, and which he increasingly portrayed as essentially in opposition to Christianity.

I realized to my own shame, after reading these two articles, that I had also been all too willing to ignore, or to explain away, Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitism. I thus wrote an article on this topic for the magazine of Jewish culture, Guldberg. I cited Kierkegaard’s references, just as had Geill, to a Jewish editor as a “Jøde Dreng” [Jew-boy] and to “en trællesindet Jøde øvende Herskermagt” [a servile Jew exercising power] as well as his observation concerning this same editor and the distribution of his paper that “only a Jew could be fitted for this most equivocal of all tyrannies, even more equivocal than that of a usurer (to which the Jew, however, is best suited).”
He says first that ‘Kierkegaard’s references to the Jews were much harsher than those of other intellectuals of the period, but then that it is believed that he identified himself with Jews whom he thought were fundamentally unhappy.” He observes later that Kierkegaard emphasized “Judaism was the enemy of Christianity, but most of what he objected to in Judaism was precisely what he criticized contemporary Christianity for.”

Once again, the reader is instructed to appreciate that despite Kierkegaard’s apparent anti-Semitism, he was not anti-Semitic in that his overarching purpose was an attack on the Christianity of his day rather an attack on Judaism, and it is in this light that one must understand his possible identification of himself with Jews as an unhappy people.

So far as I know, no one until now has answered these questions, despite the fact that a Danish scholar touched on aspects of the reciprocal relationship between Judaism and Christianity in Kierkegaard’s authorship in 1999. Read the Rest Here.

Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz on Repugnant Haggadic Texts

I just discovered that the Soncino Talmud has been reformatted by Reuven Brauner as a usable pdf, available here. h/t- On the Main Line.

I took a few moments to look at several of the pages and the introduction by Chief Rabbi Hertz caught my eye. He treats the Talmud as a record of the discussions fo the Rabbis that captured everything they said, good and bad, learned and unlearned, noble and degrading. He is willing to say about parts of the Talmud: “some of the customs depicted or obiter dicta reported, are repugnant to Western taste need not be denied. “ And he concludes that the legends, discussions, science, and folkways “consists of mere individual utterances that possess no general and binding authority.”

Hertz’s approach to the Talmud is similar to that of Shadal who in his letters deals with difficult Talmudic texts by declaring that they are just person opinion. WE lack an article on Western European Orthodox rabbinical attitudes to the Talmud. From Shadal to Steinsaltz; they tended to share Hertz view. In contrast, in Eastern Europe every line of the Talmud was sacrosanct. The Mahara”tz Chayes dealt with the folklore, demons, and unwisdom by declaring that it was not to be taken literally, rather it contained hidden didactic messages. It had to be allegory or hyperbole. But Hertz does not look for allegory and treats these texts in a straight forward manner as objectionable personal opinion and therefore rejects them

But the Gemara is more than a mere commentary. In it are sedulously gathered, without any reference to their connection with the Mishnah, whatever utterances had for centuries dropped from the lips of the Masters; whatever Tradition preserved concerning them or their actions; whatever bears directly, or even distantly, upon the great subjects of religion, life, and conduct. In addition, therefore, to legal discussions and enactments on every aspect of Jewish duty, whether it be ceremonial, civic, or moral, it contains homiletical exegesis of Scripture; moral maxims, popular proverbs, prayers, parables, fables, tales; accounts of manners and customs, Jewish and non-Jewish; facts and fancies of science by the learned; Jewish and heathen folklore, and all the wisdom and unwisdom of the unlearned. This vast and complex material occurs throughout the Gemara, as the name of an author, a casual quotation from Scripture, or some other accident in thought or style started a new association in ideas.

The Talmud itself classifies its component elements either as Halachah or Haggadah. Emanuel Deutsch describes the one as emanating from the brain, the other from the heart; the one prose, the other poetry; the one carrying with it all those mental faculties that manifest themselves in arguing, investigating, comparing, developing: the other springing from the realms of fancy, of imagination, feeling, humour:

Beautiful old stories,
Tales of angels, fairy legends,
Stilly histories of martyrs,
Festal songs and words of wisdom;
Hyperboles, most quaint it may be,
Yet replete with strength and fire
And faith-how they gleam,
And glow and glitter!
as Heine has it.

We have dogmatical Haggadah, treating of God’s attributes and providence, creation, revelation, Messianic times, and the Hereafter. The historical Haggadah brings traditions and legends concerning the heroes and events in national or universal history, from Adam to Alexander of Macedon, Titus and Hadrian. It is legend pure and simple. Its aim is not so much to give the facts concerning the righteous and unrighteous makers of history, as the moral that may be pointed from the tales that adorn their honour or dishonour.

That some of the folklore element in the Haggadah, some of the customs depicted or obiter dicta reported, are repugnant to Western taste need not be denied. ‘The greatest fault to be found with those who wrote down such passages. says Schechter, ‘is that they did not observe the wise rule of Dr Johnson who said to Boswell on a certain occasion, “Let us get serious, for there conies a fool”. And the fools unfortunately did come, in the shape of certain Jewish commentators and Christian controversialists, who took as serious things which were only the expression of a momentary impulse. or represented the opinion of sonic isolated individual, or were meant simply as a piece of humorous by-play, calculated to enliven the interest of a languid audience.’ In spite of the fact that the Haggadah contains parables of infinite beauty and enshrines sayings of eternal worth, it must be remembered that the Haggadah consists of mere individual utterances that possess no general and binding authority.
2 December 1934
Read the Rest Here.

Two and a Half Year Round-up

Many of my readers tell me that they like when I only post one good long post rather than many short ones because they don’t have time for many short posts. Some readers have told me that they flag the posts that they like for later with programs such as read-it-later or they forward it to their e-readers. It worked for me this past season because I spent much of the last three months editing my manuscript and then the proofs. However, I am still weighing how much I should post short notes and clippings.

I still have many un-posted pieces since July. The Oliver Roy post took me half a year to get to it.

Those academics and clergy that want an interview about your books or a guest post, then please let me know. I would be glad to oblige qualified people. Please don’t be shy. Everyone has enjoyed the process.

From the analytics available:
My readership is in the places that one would expect: Boston, Baltimore, Evanston, SF, D.C., LA, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego, Cleveland, Hartford and Atlanta. I have a strong and consistent readership with an IP # in Council Bluffs, IA. If you are from that area and a regular reader, then can you please tell me what Jewish or Christian groups are my readers in IA? I have regular readers in Dallas-Plano, a town that I have not visited the Jewish community and don’t have any personal friends there. Also a solid contingent in Omaha.

I have more readers with Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan IP addresses than Jerusalem.

According to the analytics, my readership for the first two years was mainly people with graduate degrees and good incomes. In the late Fall, I have gained a demographic without degrees. Hmm.

I gained many new readers with the Carr interview. Welcome.

I just got this week a Samsung Tablet- if anyone knows any good apps to download tell me.

I lost the most readers, feed readers, and subscribers with my review of two works of scholarship on Hasidic Tales. I am surprised that about that. Of all the things that I covered, that Hasidic Tales are not real was a breaking point!?

If you are planning on buying my next book Judaism and World Religions , it will be printed in about 4-5 weeks and officially published mid-March. The price will drop greatly for the pre-publication version, but you have price-guarantee from Amazon.

Interview with David M. Carr- Current state of Bible Scholarship

David M. Carr is one of the top scholars of the redaction of the Pentateuch in the world. We can debate if he is in the top five or the top ten, but he is at the top of the field. I was at a social gathering where I heard, over the din of small talk, a conversation at the other end of the room about the state of Biblical studies. Specifically, I heard Professor Carr say that the old documentary hypothesis has given way to new theories. David generously agreed to a blog interview to explain the current state of scholarship to my reader. When I told Rabbi Dr Joshua Berman about the blog interview he emailed: “Wow, David is the best, he is the real thing.”

David M. Carr Ph.D. is professor at Union Theological Seminary in NY. He received his degree in Religion from Claremont Graduate University in 1988. Before coming to Union in August 1999, Dr. Carr served as full professor of Old Testament at Methodist Theological School in Ohio from 1988-1999.

Professor Carr’s book-length publications include From D to Q: A Study of Early Jewish Interpretations of Solomon’s Dream at Gibeon (Scholars Press, 1991); Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches (Westminster, 1996); The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality and the Bible (Oxford, 2003); Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Western Scripture and Literature (Oxford, 2005); In October 2011 his most recent book appeared: The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2011).

The reason for this interview is because if the religious community wants to respond to Biblical criticism, then it should know what it is talking about. It has to stop create homiletics about repetitions and thinking that it answers anything at all. Part of the importance of Prof. Carr is that he thinks we don’t know enough to say much with certainty about the original Mesopotamian origins of the Torah. We cannot separate it into documents and we cannot do etymological origins of texts. Carr uncovers specific evidence that the Hebrew Bible contains texts dating across Israelite history, even the early pre-exilic period (10th-9th centuries).His method is to use parallel documents, many of them works edited only in the last 40 years such as the Ugaritic texts at Ebla & Ras Shamra. Please create a religious response that includes Sinai and can work with the principles of faith, but first know the field.

As a believer, liberal Protestants only need a revelation from heaven or a Divine source, but they don’t need it to be from Sinai or Sinai as the defining moment.

David Carr’s prior book Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) stressed that the ancient world did not think of authors and readers the way most of us do. Instead of reading a text silently, one memorized and placed on the heart the classic scriptures. Scribal authors then drew on this memorized knowledge in creating new texts. Carr compares the Bible and its transmission to scribal guilds and writing in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ugarit, and Greece. Of his many significant observations, the following appear to encapsulate his thought: (1) Students copied texts not only to learn scribal skills but also to become educated and inculturated with the values of the society. (2) Orality and writing were not in tension, but were complementary ways of teaching the culture and recalling the literary traditions. Written texts were shaped for the goal of oral performance, if only by reflex. (3) Literacy was not the ability to read or write, but the ability to master core literature, and that made one part of the social elite. (4) Students sometimes learned texts so archaic that they seemed nonsensical, but that process taught them obedience to their society. (5) Scribes might copy a text before them, but often they generated texts by memory and hence with creativity, like a musician performing a well-known work. Thus, there was no one “original text” for literary works because minor memory variations always existed. (6) Because the Gilgamesh Epic and the Enuma Elish were used to educate students early in the curriculum, they came to be known throughout the ancient world. Thus, biblical narratives reflect the influence of these works because Israelite scribes learned to write with them. (7) In the postexilic era, scribal training increasingly became part of the priestly domain, so that selected texts reflected priestly values. These texts would evolve into the Hebrew Scriptures. (8) The Bible ultimately is an educational-inculturation corpus, not a library of texts.

Here is some praise for his works here.

For my readers looking for a reading list or summary of the state of the field, the blog Hesed we ‘Emet posted his doctoral comprehensive reading list and also posted his summaries of the reading in long and short versions. From his notes you can see the importance of Carr’s work. (One can also see how Kugel and his approach does not play a role- see prior blog post.)

1) What is the innovation of your new book on the Bible? Why is memory important?

A starting point would be that I look to documented examples of scribal revision for models of how scribes preserved or revised texts. And one main thing I find is that even scribes reproducing a virtually identical copy of a given section of text would make the kinds of changes to texts– I call them “memory variants”– that people who have memorized texts do: they would substitute a synonym of a word for another, add or subtract minor grammatical particles, switch from one phrase to a syntactic equivalent. Apparently such scribes often did not visually copy texts they were citing or reproducing, but had memorized them and wrote them out from memory.

This fluid transmission of texts means that many criteria that scholars thought they could use for linguistic dating of texts or source identification are not as firm as we once thought.

Other things these documented examples of transmission teach us are the tendency of scribes to pollute the evidence through harmonizing texts with each other, their tendency to make small additions to texts that would be undetectable without manuscript documentation of different stages, and the way scribe/authors would only preserve parts of texts that they were otherwise appropriating large portions of. Observations like this don’t mean that we can’t continue to make plausible hypotheses about the growth of biblical texts, but it means that we now need to evaluate the evidence in biblical texts differently than we once did.

2) What is the role of historical dating of texts in your approach? And what tools do you use to date a Biblical text (parallels to other texts, Hebrew philology, and archeology)?

My main approach is to start by looking at the characteristics or “profile” of texts that we have good reason to think come from a given period. For example, can we build a profile of texts that seem to date from the Persian period as a way of potentially dating yet more texts to that period. To some extent, that may include linguistic criteria (“philological”) that scholars have used for dating texts to the Persian period before, such as significantly Aramaized Hebrew. But we must remember that the presence of Aramaic characteristics is not necessarily a sufficient criterion for dating a text to the Persian period since scribes easily could accidentally add Aramaic elements to older texts in the process of transmitting them fluidly, often by way of memory. Other important characteristics of many Persian period texts (especially later in the Persian period) are links to Priestly traditions/the temple and the project of rebuilding Jerusalem in general.

3) What historical documents and parallels need to be mastered to date Biblical texts?

I hear you asking about primary text resources, and the first thing I’d urge is immersing oneself in documented examples of scribal revision of ancient texts. I sometimes think that it would be very productive for an advanced graduate student to spend a solid year doing nothing but precisely comparing and analyzing the parallel sections of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, also looking at the major divergences between the 4QSama manuscript and MT/Chronicles/LXX, comparing the Septuagint edition of Jeremiah with Masoretic Jeremiah, looking at the different versions of the Qumran community rule, analyzing the relationship between 3 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah, etc. And that’s only looking at Hebrew and Greek resources! Adding non-biblical resources, especially different editions of Mesopotamian materials adds a whole additional and often informative dimension. The more one does this, the more one gets a gut-level sense of how texts grew. And you get a lot more humility about what we do if you constantly ask the question, “would I have been able to reconstruct this growth if I didn’t have these manuscripts in front of me?”

As for non-biblical, Ancient Near Eastern “parallels,” I’d recommend the helpful overview in Kenton Sparks’ book, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Hendrickson, 2005). It gives a survey of many of the most important texts, brief discussion of them, and some good bibliography.

It takes a lot more than such primary text work, of course, to make sense of all this information. I do believe that hundreds of years of academic, historical research on the Bible has much to teach us. For example, scholars have come up with some interesting and important ideas about how to date some texts to the time of Babylonian exile even though we know very little specific about that period. The challenge is to sort the more helpful ideas from the less helpful ones. I’ve tried to do that some in my recent book on The Formation of the Hebrew Bible, but I’ll be the first to admit that my synthesis has its own strengths and weaknesses.

4) How does your new book lay to rest the older hypothesis?

I don’t think it possible to lay any hypothesis permanently to rest, since hypotheses raised so far all link to different sorts of evidence in the text. That said, some of the terminological criteria most beloved by traditional source critics, e.g. variation in divine designation (YHWH versus Elohim) or terms for maidservant (‘amah versus shiphah) vary a significant amount in manuscripts that we have, let alone the centuries of textual transmission before our existing manuscripts. I still think there is strong enough evidence for distinguishing Priestly and non-Priestly traditions from one another. And I think there likely are very early chunks of material in the Bible, including parts of the Pentateuch. But the case for early, intertwined “J” and “E” sources (within the non-Priestly strand of the Pentateuch) is largely built on sand rather than rock. It pales in comparison to the case for the distinction between Priestly and non-Priestly strands in the Pentateuch.

5) What are your thoughts on American Jewish scholars or scholars in Israel? Why do the Jewish scholars seem to defend the documentary hypothesis more than non-Jewish scholars?

I don’t put a lot of stock in judging the motivations of scholars. We all have reasons, whether conscious or unconscious, for advocating certain hypotheses. That said, I sometimes wonder whether the revival of the source hypothesis among some scholars has been a scientific way of responding to a perceived drift toward widespread late dating of virtually the entire Pentateuch. And I actually share reservations about a push to see virtually the whole Pentateuch as Persian period or later. I think there are very early chunks of material in the Pentateuch, including legal and Priestly texts. I just have a lot more skepticism about being able to identify extended “J” and “E” sources and believe ever more profoundly in the need for what I call “methodological modesty” as we attempt to identify the earliest portions of the Bible (including the Pentateuch).

6) (Questions 6 from Joshua Berman) In a text with multiple layers of editing and redaction – so that there will be a so-called Deuteronomistic core to a text with, say, a priestly level of editing. The inconsistencies are resolved, according to this theory, by attributing the discordant elements to different levels of redaction. It is often asked, why then does the editor of the later level retain the material that does not square with his agenda? The standard answer that is given is that old material attains a certain status, and can only be tampered with but not removed. Do you have another approach?

I do think we need to think through our models for textual growth, especially when we are positing multiple layers which often conflict with another. How often, I wonder, could scribal groups pass a given authoritative text back and forth, each adding to a version of the text previously revised by an opposing group? I don’t know. But I do know that many (not all!) of our documented cases of scribal revision of texts involve only one or a few layers of revision, and often these layers seem to have been done by scribes with the same or a similar theological/ideological orientation.

7) (Questions 7 from Joshua Berman) To what degree can we speak of “authors” in the ancient world? More pointedly, when we see “fractures” (a Carr term) in a text could it be that we need to give more credence to the agent responsible for piecing things together as a creative agent, much as we see with the Gilgamesh epic?

I do think that ancient scribes were highly creative, even as they drew on and somewhat precisely preserved (with memory variants) earlier traditions. In this sense we can think of scribes as “authors,” albeit authors who constantly built on older oral and oral-written traditions. It was only toward the later ends of the transmission process, as scribes increasingly copied certain texts more precisely (such as the Pentateuch within the proto-Masoretic tradition) that at least some scribes just conserved and did not innovate.

8) You write that we can’t theorize from the armchair anymore about how biblical texts came to be. We need to have empirical models about how literary traditions grew in the ancient Near East. How does that inform your work and how does that contrast with prior scholars?

To some extent we still need to theorize from armchairs. I just think that we should learn as much as we can from documented (“empirical”) examples before we do so. And the more we learn from such documented examples, the more we realize the limits of our armchair theorization. We still can do it, but we will only achieve repeatable results that have some plausibility for others outside our ‘school’ if we gather a lot more data for our models than many of us are in the habit of doing.


How is JED + P different from JEPD? What’s the practical difference? Is the work scholars do on the basis of this theory going to be more productive than the work currently done using the older theory? How?

The main debate, as I see it, is between two models for the development of non-P materials: one that distinguishes between D, J and E, and one that distinguishes between D and other non-P materials but does not recognize early J and E sources. Usually the latter model (the one without J and E) invokes other models to explain the features used by older source critics to argue for J and E. In my view, these alternative models do a better job of explaining the evidence. But we all need a bit more humility in our claims of certainty for our hypotheses, especially hypotheses about the earliest stages of the development of the Pentateuch. In that sense, maybe the ultimate result of adopting such additional “methodological modesty” might feel frustratingly less productive!

10 )

How should the average person know who to trust if the field changes so often? What would you tell the simple reader who with their uneducated eyes thinks that scholars are just stating their personal opinions? How is it a scientific field?

This is a fair question. My first answer to stress those aspects of biblical scholarship that have proven to have a long shelf-life because they are built on such strong evidence, such as the distinction between exilic/post-exilic material in the book of Isaiah from a core of pre-exilic material in that book or the previously mentioned distinction between Priestly and non-Priestly strands of the Pentateuch (along with a fair amount of harmonization of each with the other). Though these distinctions have shifted some, they have held in their basic form for around two hundred years. That’s good! My hope is that the kinds of cautions and considerations I raise in my book would help us develop other broad theories about the growth of the Bible that would approach that kind of repeatability/longevity.

11) Do you have any thoughts on revelation? or the separation of history from theology?

One of the many things I appreciate about the Hebrew Bible is the way it depicts God as working through all kinds of human characters (e.g. Jacob, Joseph, King David, etc.), even some characters with base or even evil motives. As Joseph tells his brothers when they are cowering before him in Egypt afraid of his revenge for selling him into slavery, “what you planned as evil toward me, God planned as good” (Gen 50:20; see also 45:7-8). Scribes and the interpreters who shaped and sanctified the Bible may have had all kinds of motives and procedures, but God could–and I believe did–work through them in any case. And in my tradition (Christian-Quaker, originally brought up Methodist), we just pray that God likewise will work through us now as we continue to try to interpret the biblical tradition in a life-giving way. There are no textual guarantees, whether in the origination or ancient revision of the sacred text or in contemporary interpretation. We always are dependent on God making the best of our often mixed motives.

12)One of the reviews of your previous book notes that you have little to say about the attribution of the text to Moses and its sanctity as a product of Sinai. Can you say anything about the topic?

As a scholar, I’m interested in investigating the history of these beliefs about the Pentateuch. For example, we first start seeing the idea that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch in the late Second Temple period, and that idea has its own background in the dynamics of that time. In this respect, I follow the great Jewish scholar Elias Bickerman, who suggests that Jews of that time countered Greek education centered on Homer and his epics with the idea that their Moses had written the whole Torah, a text which Hellenistic-period Jews argued was even earlier and better than the Greek classics.

I understand that others have other beliefs about these issues, but for me it is most important to recognize and stress to my students how the biblical text has come to be a medium of inspiration of Jewish and Christian communities over the centuries. I am constantly impressed and amazed at the ongoing power of these texts to speak to diverse contexts over millenia. That, for me, is what is profoundly powerful about them. In my opinion, attachment to specific authorial theories or assertions of historical accuracy often distracts from the task of seeing how one might responsibly interpret the text today.

13) If a religious scholar said that his goal was to date the core of the Pentateuch to the 13th century BCE to be contemporaneous with the Jewish dating of Moses, what advice would you give?

None of us comes to any such task without presuppositions, but I would have serious doubts about scholarship on dating that started out with the goal to date a biblical text to a particular period, whether the thirteen century BCE or the 2nd century BCE. By now in twenty + years of work, I have found myself changing my mind about dating and other issues based on the evidence before me, often in major ways. For me that is part of what distinguishes an evangelist for a particular perspective from a historian or “thinker” (which I aim to be). It is a curiosity about certain questions that powers a drive to find out more. Sometimes one is led by the evidence to conclusions that might seem odd or surprising to one’s colleagues. I’m ready at this point in my career to risk following such leads and seeing where they take me, and I learn much from the many others who do the same.

© Alan Brill 2012.