Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book review: Asaf Yedidya, Criticized Criticism – Orthodox Alternatives to Wissenschaft des Judentums 1873 – 1956

אסף ידידיה, ביקורת מבוקרת: אלטרנטיבות אורתודוקסיות ל'מדע היהדות' 1956-1873, 415 עמודים, ירושלים תשע"ג
Asaf Yedidya, Criticized Criticism – Orthodox Alternatives to Wissenschaft des Judentums 1873 – 1956
By Ezra Brand
Criticized Criticism is a book which I think would greatly interest any reader of the Seforim Blog. It deals with the history of the Orthodox “alternatives” to secular Jewish Studies, as well as many important issues that religious Jewish Studies scholars face.[1]  In this, it fills a definitely felt lack in Jewish historiography.  It follows a trend of recent works devoted to the history of specific aspects of Jewish Studies.[2]  The book is especially important since we do not yet have a complete history of Jewish Studies, but rather many works that focus only on slices of it.  For example, there are a number of works on the history of research into the Cairo Genizah, as well as numerous books and articles on individual researchers and institutions.[3] This is part of a larger trend in academia – the study of the history of academic disciplines themselves. Given its scholarship and readability, Criticized Criticism is likely to take a deserved place with other important works on the history of Jewish Studies.
The book does not try to encompass the entire history of the phenomenon it studies. As stated on the cover, it covers an 83-year period, from 1873 until 1956. The significance of the year 1873 is that this is the year that the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin was opened by R’ Ezriel Hildesheimer. With the establishment of the Seminary, an “alternative,” Orthodox, Jewish Studies had an institutional home.  1956 is the year that Bar-Ilan University was opened. As Yedidya explains, Bar-Ilan was intended by its founders to continue the tradition of providing an “alternative” form of Jewish Studies, but ended up producing scholarship with essentially the same assumptions as mainstream Jewish Studies, for various reasons. The Orthodox alternative tradition no longer had an institutional home.[4]
The book begins with a general overview of the early development of Jewish Studies, starting from the early nineteenth century in Berlin (including a description of what Jewish Studies then entailed, and how it was different from traditional Jewish scholarship), and its subsequent spread to Eastern Europe. In Chapter Two, a short history of early Orthodox reactions to Jewish Studies is given.[5] At the end of this chapter, the program of the book is stated: To analyze Orthodox reactions to secular Jewish Studies, which on the one hand accept the scientific method, and on the other hand accept Orthodox principles of faith as a given. Yedidya states (pg. 72): “The first real attempt in this direction was the establishment of the Rabbinical Seminary headed by R’ Ezriel Hildesheimer in Berlin, which devoted itself among other things to Jewish Studies.” [6] In Chapter Three, the book begins its discussion of the Seminary.
The book discusses many other major figures, such as R’ Yitchak Isaac Halevi and Ze’ev Ya’avetz. Yedidya carefully analyzes their methodology and their underlying ideology.
A major portion of the book is devoted to discussing Orthodox Jewish Studies in Eretz Yisrael in the early twentieth century. Many of the scholars in this group were greatly influenced by R’ Kook, and his influence is discussed extensively. R’ Kook supported studying texts scientifically, and expanding the range of texts studied. However, R’ Kook is portrayed by Yedidya as doing so only in order to counter heretical scholarship: “R’ Kook supported the Orthodox study of ‘Jewish Studies’, as an alternative to the non-Orthodox study” (pg. 273, my italics). Again: “R’ Kook sought to widen the scope of limmud hatorah […] and to add additional Torah subjects, which would prepare Talmidei Chachamim for intellectual creativity which would allow them to confront with the litereature of Haskalah and secular nationalism” (pg. 282, my italics). However, it appears that in fact R’ Kook believed that scientific Jewish Studies is important for its own sake. R’ Ari Shvat, in a series of articles, shows that R’ Kook had great respect for Jewish Studies, and felt that it inherently had great religious worth.[7] R’ Kook writes: “Subjecting the intellect and causing it to slumber […] is the destruction of the world […] therefore, when the attempt to cause the intellect to sleep comes in the name of ‘faith’, in the name of ‘fear of Heaven’, in the name of ‘diligence in Torah study’ and ‘doing mitzvos’, it is a terrible falsehood […] the hatred of haskalah[8] because of a faith-based bias (הנטיה האמונית) comes from the poison of heresy, which divides the domains (המחלקת את הרשויות)”.[9]
At the end of the book, Yedidya summarizes the common denominator among all the scholars attempting to defend their beliefs and create an “Orthodox alternative.” In the beginning of the book, we are told that the book will discuss scholars who are between two opposite extremes: On one side, traditional Orthodox scholars who refuse to accept the legitimacy, or usefulness, of the scientific method, and on the other side, scholars who look at the discipline of Jewish Studies as they would any other subject. Yedidya explains very nicely how the scholars about whom he writes are different from both of these extremes. Three differences – numbered – are listed for differences from the former, and six for differences from the latter. I’d like to make two observations.
In the enumeration of differences from traditional Orthodox scholars, the second difference listed is the following (pg. 372): “Secondly, from a thematic perspective, they dealt with a wide range of disciplines – Tanach, literature of Chazal, Jewish history, and Jewish philosophy, and did not focus only on specific debates with ‘problematic’ works or with introspective inner-gazing at the roots of the specific movement they are part of.” This may be meant to be implied by Yedidya, but it is important enough that it should have been mentioned explicitly: The scholars discussed by Yedidya wrote almost exclusively on Jewish history, the history of Torah Sheba’al Peh; and Tanach. (These are the titles in Critized Criticism of chapters four, five, and six, respectively. Of course, these scholars also researched traditional Jewish literature, such as R’ Chaim Heller’s edition of Sefer HaMitzvos.) Which of these scholars researched Kabbalah as did Graetz, Shadal, Jellenick, Franck, and later Scholem? Which of these scholars wrote on Jewish philosophy and science in the Middle Ages, as did Steinschneider? Which of them researched piyyutim (Zunz, Shadal, Brody), Karaism (Poznanski), or magic (Blau and Trachtenberg)? It would appear that, in fact, these scholars did not write on any subject that touched on Jews, except in one of three cases: one, if they felt they had to defend something; two, if it was important for educational purposes; three, if it was part of Talmud Torah.
The attempt at creating religious “alternatives” to secular Jewish Studies mostly ended in the 1950s, as pointed out by Yedidya. However, this is not true for the study of Tanach. Defense of the traditional understanding of Revelation, against academic Bible Studies, was relaunched with full force by R’ Mordechai Breuer in 1960. Breuer’s idea of “Bechinot” caused great controversy, but he continued to publish and teach his ideas. The yeshiva that he became associated with, Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, or “The Gush” as it is colloquially known, is now synonymous with an entire method of Biblical hermeneutics, known as the “The Gush method.” R’ Amnon Bazak’s pioneering book, Ad Hayom Hazeh (Tel Aviv 2013), systematically lays out for the first time possible flexibility in the traditional understanding of the Bible. “Orthodox alternatives” are alive and well.[10]
That Criticized Criticism can prompt such lively discussion is a tribute to its author and his presentation of his subject.  The book is an enjoyable and informative read, and I heartily recommend it.



[1] “Jewish Studies” meaning the critical, historical research into Jewish sources, using all tools and methods available, whether history, philology, realia, or comparison to non-Jewish sources. Recently, a number of religious Jewish Studies scholars have discussed the differences between traditional methods of study and the scientific method. See, for example, the important article by Menachem Kahana (מנחם כהנא, "מחקר התלמוד באוניברסיטה והלימוד המסורתי בישיבה", בחבלי מסורת ותמורה, רחובות תש"ן, עמ' 113-142), and the articles mentioned in the introduction to Sperber’s Neitvot Pesikah (דניאל שפרבר, נתיבות פסיקה, ירושלים תשס"ח). See also further, footnote 10.
[2] One of the first to study at length the history of research in Jewish Studies is the great Jewish historian Salo Baron. His essays on this topic are collected in History and Jewish Historians, Philadelphia 1964.
[3] Some of the researchers have full-length academic monographs devoted to them, usually including both a biography as well as an analysis of their works and methods.  Examples are the following (authors of the biographies in parenthesis; more information can easily be found in online catalogs): Nachman Krochmal (Jay Harris), Shlomo Yehuda Rapoport (Isaac Barzilay), Heinrich Graetz (ראובן מיכאל), Gershom Scholem (David Biale). Others have only non-academic, popular biographies: Isaac Halevy (O. Asher Reichel), Louis Ginzberg (Eli Ginzberg), Saul Lieberman (Schochet and Spiro). Articles on individual scholars can be found in all the Jewish enyclopedias (Jewish Encyclopedia, both editions of Encyclopedia Judaica, and in the Hebrew Encyclopedia Ha’Ivrit), as well as in the following works: Getzel Kressel, Lexicon Hasifrut Ha’ivrit Bedorot Ha’achronim,  Tidhar, Encyclopedia Lechalutzei Hayishuv Ovonav, S. Federbush, Chochmat Yisrael B’Ma’arav Eiropa, 1–3, Jerusalem 5719-5725; Encyclopedia shel HaTziyonut Hadatit, 1-5, Jerusalem 5718-5743. These last two works are the ones usually used in the work under review for biographies of people mentioned in the book; numerous other works can be found in the bibliography. Another important resource is of course Jubilee volumes, memorial volumes, and tribute articles.
[4] This is no longer completely true. The Gush Yeshiva can currently be considered an institution that offers a consistent alternative methodology, at least in regards to Tanach. See later.
[5] For some reason, Maharatz Chajes is not mentioned at all in this section.
[6] My translation of the book’s Hebrew.
[8]  This can be translated either as “Haskalah” (as in the movement) or as “education.”  R’ Kook may have been intentionally ambiguous.
[9] Orot Haemunah, ed. 5745, pg. 98. Quoted by Shvat, “Chochmat Yisrael”, near footnote 88.
[10] There is also a nascent interest in yeshivos in the academic study of Talmud and Rambam. The academic study of Talmud was experimented with by R’ Shagar, and continued in the yeshiva of Otniel, especially by R’ Yakov Nagen (Genack) and R’ Meir Lichtenstein. However, as far as I know it has not produced any “school” of methodology. R’ Shagar ultimately rejected the academic method. See the collection of his essays, B’toraso Yehege (הרב שמעון גרשון רוזנברג - שג"ר, בתורתו יהגה : לימוד גמרא כבקשת אלוקים, בעריכת זוהר מאור, אלון שבות תשס"ט). R’ Nagen discusses the religious advantages and disadvantages of the academic method in his fine article, “Scholarship Needs Spirituality, Spirituality Needs Scholarship: Challenges for Emerging Talmudic Methodologies”, Torah u-Madda Journal 16 (2012-2013), pg. 101-133 . The academic study of Rambam was pioneered by R’ Rabinowitz and R’ Sheilat in Ma’aleh Adumim. R’ Rabinowitz’s commentary on Rambam is in the same tradition as the works described by Yedidya, but is not properly an alternative, as it is not guided by a reaction to the secular, scientific study of Rambam. (The main “secular” academic expositors of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah are David Henshke and Yaakov Blidstein. Henshke used to teach in Ma’aleh Adumim.) An extension of Yedidya’s research past 1956 is desideratum. In addition, it would be interesting to analyze the relationship of the traditional Orthodox (i.e., those who not consider themselves to be participating in scientific study of texts), and especially Chareidim, to academic scholarship. In the past few decades, we have seen a phenomenon of traditional scholars being aware of academic scholarship, and even using it, but not acknowledging it. (For those interested in examples, please contact me.) For a similar phenomenon in regards to popular Chareidi literature, see the fascinating study by Yoel Finkelman, Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy, Boston 2011. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The second section appears in a different font and is rather unclear. Was it supposed to be the footnotes?
Shaul Stampfer

Y. Rosenes said...

In addition, it would be interesting to analyze the relationship of the traditional Orthodox (i.e., those who not consider themselves to be participating in scientific study of texts), and especially Chareidim, to academic scholarship. In the past few decades, we have seen a phenomenon of traditional scholars being aware of academic scholarship, and even using it, but not acknowledging it.

Either the author or reviewer skipped the whole history of Scientific editions from Mekitzei Nerdamim through Machon Yerushalayim + Mossad HaRav Kook. To my knowledge these publishers acknowledge their sources openly.

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