Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 22 February 2009

Remembering a Gedolah

The Chareidi community has become very proficient in recent decades in turning out hagiographies of their leading luminaries. These books generally push a specific agenda, giving a selective history of the subject in question while carefully omitting any details that might contradict modern dogma as to how "perfect" the person in question must have been.
To a large extent, these books have been a tremendous success. I'm willing to bet more people are aware of Artscroll's version of Rav Moshe Feinstein's life than of Rav Tendler's. And don't even get me started on The Making of a Gadol. These books have created a pantheon for the Chareidi world, great figures who exemplified the values they believe have always been mainstream Jewish ones and who therefore justify and support their ongoing culture.
To a lesser extent, the Religious Zionist world has jumped on the bandwagon as well, but they've been limited by the fact that the majority of our community lives in Israel and therefore the books are in Hebrew, essentially shutting them out of the all-important North American market.
One of the great weakness of Modern Orthodoxy has been its failure to appreciate the importance of the creation of such a pantheon. Yes, everyone knows about the Rav and how important he was. But is there anyone else out there? Anyone who spent their time defending the authenticity of the mesorah and looking deeply into the Torah for applicable lessons in hashkafah, whose work mattered and will continue to matter for generations?
I can think of one: Nechama Leibowitz.
Her Studies in the Torah exemplify everything that Modern Orthodox scholarship should be. For her, there is no need for apologetics. She does not need to reconcile science and Torah. She does not need to understand the so-called documentary hypothesis. For her, truth mattered and she sought it wherever she could, as long as it brought more meaning to the Torah. Her agenda was not to narrowly present Torah along rigid ideological straits but to investigate and delve into Torah's true meaning.
As this article referenced above notes:
In her rejection of biblical criticism, Nehama turned almost exclusively to comparing and contrasting medieval and modern commentators. Her question "What's bothering Rashi?" still reverberates throughout classrooms, her method now mainstream in the religious school system. When Yoel Bin-Nun tried to introduce historical, geographical and philosophical approaches to the study of Bible, Nehama and her students adamantly rejected them, and his proposals were ousted from the Israeli religious curriculum. Consistent with this conservatism, she refused to write her own systematic commentary, because she saw "herself not as a commentator but as a teacher of commentaries," declaring, "I do not innovate."
Years ago I was reading one of her seforim in shul and one of the kollel guys who lived in our community at the time came over to see what I was reading. When I showed him, he gave it a dismissive shrug. She was a woman, what could she know about Torah? I asked him if he'd ever read it and he shook his head. "Then how can you so easily dismiss it based on loshon horo you've obviously heaerd from others?
Nechama Leibowitz's importance comes from her putting the lie to two great assertions: that true lomdus is found only in the Chareidi community, and that Modern Orthodoxy must be about reconciliation between secular culture and Torah. She proved that it could be as strong as its competition without compromising on Jewish values.

9 comments:

Off the Derech said...

>For her truth mattered, and she sought it wherever she could as long as it brought more meaning to the Torah.

How about truth mattered no matter where it took her?

You're really arrogant, btw.

Garnel Ironheart said...

What you don't understand is that from our perspective, the Torah is the ultimate truth. Therefore, external truth must lead toward it and that's what she was looking for.

Off the Derech said...

I do understand that but I think it's highly dishonest. Truth is truth no matter where it takes you. Everything else is just propaganda.

Garnel Ironheart said...

It's not dishonest. It's a different perspective.
One could ask a simple question: is there an objective truth out there somewhere?
If the answer is no, then there is no real truth outside of simple facts that can be tested or recalled. No greater meaning to life, no "this is right" because nothing is really true. It's all a matter of personal perspective. You don't think there's a God, chas v'shalom? Then that's your personal truth. I think there is? Fine, that's mine. Who's right? Who knows? I'll live with my truth and you live with yours.
But if you accept there's an external truth, one which is objective and unalterable by personal desires or beliefs, then the whole paradigm changes. Now when I try to decide whether something is true or not, I must judge it by the standards of this external truth, not my own personal wishes or feelings.
Your persepective is there is no external, objective truth. That's your reality. Mine, and Nechama Leibowitz' is different.

Off the Derech said...

It's amazing how dishonest you are.

Garnel Ironheart said...

How? Exactly what is dishonest about what I've written?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

That's what I thought.

It's either that calling someone dishonest is a verbal tic you've developed or you really don't know what the word means.

You seem to very much want to believe that everything you were taught in your youth is a lie. That way you don't have to feel guilty about leaving it behind, hating it and doing what you can to malign people who still believe in it. At least, that's the impression I get.

But that does make me dishonest. Sorry. I have a right to my own perspective based on my own investigation of life's big issues. If you want to have a right to disagree with me, then you must grant me the right to disagree with you.

Off the Derech said...

You're a study in dishonesty.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

When Yoel Bin-Nun tried to introduce historical, geographical and philosophical approaches to the study of Bible, Nehama and her students adamantly rejected them, and his proposals were ousted from the Israeli religious curriculum.

That has nothing to do with MNL's sidestepping the documentary hypothesis or "reconciilation" between "secular culture" and Torah. What R' Bin-Nun was proposing was greater understanding of Torah itself, from whatever source can shed light on it. History, geography, and philosophy are all traditional tools for learning Tanakh, as can be seen from the comments of classical mefarshim.