Guest Post by Rabbi Dr. Avi Kadish: Orthodoxy and the Humanities, a Response to R. Yitzchak Blau

Orthodoxy and the Humanities: A Response to R. Yitzchak Blau

by Rabbi Dr. Seth Avi Kadish

Rav Yitzchak, without getting into the specifics of how the examples in the first part of your article were chosen, nor the kinds of methodologies needed to deal with them, I think that part of your essay is making a single basic point (with which I agree): Biblical scholarship is ultimately part of the humanities.

In the humanities, the pendulum swings back and forth as the generations go by (in a way unlike the hard sciences): There is always room for an alternative approach, so long as a persuasive argument can be made to justify it, which is then subject to the criticism of peers. Though methodologies are improved, and new evidence may come to light, the currently accepted approach may still have no greater claim on the truth than do its alternatives from the past and in the future. This is the beauty of the humanities, and the source of their value and power, because the ever swinging pendulum is also an essential aspect of humanity.

One need not accept the regnant view in any area of the humanities, neither in biblical scholarship nor for Homer. Furthermore, to enter the humanities with an uncommon outlook or a different set of assumptions, far from being a hindrance, is actually a boon. It can open new doors and uncover new truths, provided that it is honestly acknowledged.

A deep subjective faith, grounded in the national memory of Israel about our core experiences, is as healthy and valid as any other perspective. I stand with you on this, not with Rav Zev. And like you I think those experiences matter for our relationship with God. The essential validity of this subjective approach is, in my opinion, the rich inheritance bequeathed by Rav Hasdai Crescas to thinking Torah Jews in the modern world. (I hope to write about that soon in a different forum, as well as address your point that “sometimes quantity is quality” which is true as far as it goes, but in my opinion fails to take medieval assumptions fully into account). So acknowledge your loyalties openly, and go on with that to participate honestly and respectfully in the humanities and in biblical scholarship.

At the same time, as a Torah Jew, there is no need to debate the “Orthodoxy” of people whose intellectual quests take them where you don’t see a need to go. Despite all the current verbiage to the contrary, there is no mitzvah nor any halakhic need to do so.

To engage in this is the עצת יצר הרע, [counsel of the “evil inclination”], its greatest tool today for creating hatred and stifling thought and discussion in Am Yisrael. The yetzer works to cause evil specifically through Torah scholars and committed Jews, whom it has convinced that doing this is both necessary and right. Of course they sound convincing, and many of them like yourself are not at all malicious, but the very need for this cannot ultimately be justified. It simply isn’t Torah.

The constant effort to define “Orthodoxy” and make decisions about who is “in” and who is “out” has nothing to do with living our covenant with God in today’s reality. The Torah is about loyalty and action out of love and fear of God, not about judging other Jews’ honest intellectual struggles or challenging their self-definitions. So instead please just keep writing what Orthodoxy means to you (and to me), not what you think it needs to mean for others.

Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish earned his Ph.D. at the University of Haifa (2006) in Medieval Jewish Philosophy. He previously studied at Yeshiva University were he received his rabbinic ordination and master’s degrees in Bible and Jewish Education. He currently teaches medieval Jewish philosophy and history at Oranim Teacher’s College, and in the Overseas School at the University of Haifa. He has also taught immigrant soldiers in the Nativ program of the IDF education corps and adult Israeli Jewish education for the Hebrew University’s Melton School. He lives in Karmiel, Israel with his wife and children, where he is involved in building modern Orthodox communities that are meant to be open and welcoming to the entire public. Rabbi Kadish is the author of Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer and The Book of Abraham: Rabbi Shimon ben Zemah Duran and the School of Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi.

55 Responses to Guest Post by Rabbi Dr. Avi Kadish: Orthodoxy and the Humanities, a Response to R. Yitzchak Blau

  1. Our aim should be to embrace the truth instead of engaging in apologetics. There’s absolutely no doubt in the academic community that the Torah emerged over time. It’s about the closest thing to a real consensus that you will ever see in biblical studies. (And no, scholars in biblical studies are not out to destroy faith…)

    If some within our communities have trouble with that, then they need to deal with it, instead of looking for some marginal defense attacking outdated versions of the Documentary Hypothesis written by people who know very little about current Pentateuchal research.

    But let me assure you: there are many of us who are firmly committed to living a life of shomer torah umitzvot, and who are not at all bothered by the historical origins of the Torah and, indeed, have an even deeper awe and reverence for the the Torah because of these historical origins.

    • bentzysu says:

      Jacob: “indeed, have an even deeper awe and reverence for the the Torah because of these historical origins.” How so?

      Nice post rabbi Kadish.

      I would like to point out this post, especially “#4”. I think it’s a critical yet not enough known point of view.

      “Because modern scholarship doesn’t focus on the Bible with its traditions, it should not be considered the objective truth about the Bible. Rather, when the scholarship is good, it is the truth about a certain conception, the “just the words on the page” conception, of the Bible.”

      • Thanks for asking!
        Put most succinctly, when we understand how the biblical authors responded to catastrophic defeat and destruction by developing a very sophisticated road map for the future, by reinventing Israel in many ways, and by creating what we now take for granted as nationhood/peoplehood, we can’t help being in deeper awe of the Torah’s power and potential to keep deeply divided communities on the same “daf” and to offer them a vision of hope for the future. That is, after all, what drives the biblical project: bringing together rival communities to form a common people. And that explains why the biblical authors overcame the elitist temptation of choosing just one law code or one tradition of Israel’s origins, and instead synthesized competing law codes and traditions to form a common law collection and narrative history (even if it meant including many contradictions and tensions between these formerly independent writings).

    • bentzysu says:

      (Replying to your latest comment from August 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm)

      Interesting. Where do you see that?

      Also, according to you, then, where is the Torah’s divinity?

  2. Jacob, what I wrote here is not about the text of the Torah having a history (or not). I intend to touch on that elsewhere not from the perspective of biblical scholarship (to which I have nothing to add), but rather medieval Jewish philosophy (on the history of Jewish dogma).

    I think that someone can respect academia in the humanities, and even be awed by it following study, but at the very same time not be overwhelmed by consensus within the academic community. This is true not just of biblical scholarship, but of many areas that have absolutely nothing to do with it.

    I fully agree that Jewish communities need to deal with this question, and a great many others, rather than sweeping them under the carpet. Not only that, but I think it can only be done right in an environment which allows completely open inquiry and the participation of scholars. I very much hope “thetorah.com” will be able to fulfil that purpose.

    Regarding your final paragraph, you are making exactly my own point! Even though what you and Rav Zev suggest doesn’t work for myself (and I suspect for many other people), that doesn’t mean it cannot work for you. You may be far greater in the eyes of God and his Torah than many of your critics. The habit of labeling and judging people for their intellectual stands is a sickness that has disabled Orthodox Judaism. I accept you for what you say you are.

    • Joebug says:

      For example pretty much all sociologists are convinced that we should think about autism through the social model of disability. Yet many psychologists strongly disagree.
      Or outside the humanities all biologists believe in natural selection as the mechanism of evolution yet Jerry Fodor
      At Rutgers profoundly disagrees and some academics support him.
      Or all academics in women’s studies adopt varieties of feminist critical approaches to social history, yet other academics in other disciplines disagree.
      Academics in a discipline are very prone to group think and to be honest few people outside of the really tiny field of bible studies care enough about biblical scholarship to agree or disagree.
      Having said that no academics at all or anyone else think the second world war was won by Martians and that’s the problem you are close to having with traditional TMS.

      • Not a Skeptic says:

        Not so many years ago you could have compared “belief” in a Davidic kingdom to the Martians and it would have made sense. Not anymore!

        The exodus is the foundational narrative of the bible and of Jewish consciousness, as well as the basis for numerous biblical commandments (“זכר ליציאת מצרים”). So for you, someone who judges the biblical testimony to have a basis in reality is akin to a believer in Martians?

        What hubris…

  3. Sorry R’ Kadish. I meant my comment to be understood in support of your nice post. Kol tuv, Jacob

  4. Jacob says:

    At the same time, as a Torah Jew, there is no need to debate the “Orthodoxy” of people whose intellectual quests take them where you don’t see a need to go. Despite all the current verbiage to the contrary, there is no mitzvah nor any halakhic need to do so.

    To engage in this is the עצת יצר הרע, [counsel of the “evil inclination”], its greatest tool today for creating hatred and stifling thought and discussion in Am Yisrael. The yetzer works to cause evil specifically through Torah scholars and committed Jews, whom it has convinced that doing this is both necessary and right.

    R’ Kadish: I’m pretty sure the Rambam would not agree with that assessment (see his 13 Ikkarim, esp. nos. 7, 8 & 9)

    • To Jacob (the same Jacob as before?):

      You are absolutely correct, it is certain that the Rambam wouldn’t agree. That is part of what I plan to write about. The Rambam’s system of ikkarim derives from an intellectual model that is ultimately incompatible with classical Judaism (Bible and Hazal). His critics (and even some admirers!) have been pointing this out for the past 800 years. I believe that in some ways (but not all) his critics provide a healthier model of avodat Hashem. Stay tuned.

      • Jacob says:

        R’ Kadish:

        I am well aware that there are opinions that disagree with the Rambam. The point I am trying to make is that it is somewhat presumptuous of you to describe someone of the Rambam’s stature as motivated by the “counsel of the evil inclination”.

  5. Paul Ilie, Professor Emeritus of Literature USC says:

    It is simply foolish to attempt to justify faith by means of reason. All research, whether in science or humanities, is based on the best available rational thinking at the time. When the Torah is submitted to such analysis, the resulting findings are incompatible with Orthodox beliefs. Period. Religion is based on faith, which is irrational. Any attempt to rationalize belief seems to be the consequence of one of two motives: an attempt to quell one’s religious doubts, or an effort to belong simultaneously to two separate worlds, the spiritual and the intellectual.

    • David Sher says:

      Paul, I think you are adopting a rather simplistic view of faith. Yes, there are aspects of religion that are not rationally understandable. Indeed Judaism, and its most rationalist members, agree that there are certain aspects to the religion that are beyond human understanding. That said, there are plenty of things that are rational within religion, including dare I say the willingness to accept those irrational and strange element as part of a rational decision to not assume that we can know everything.

      • Paul Ilie, Professor Emeritus of Literature USC says:

        Yes, there may be plenty of things that are rational in religion, such as modern accepted understandings of Halakha and Talmud learning. I had in mind the heart of this discussion, namely, the reason why the Chumash appears to be in narrative disorder. A rational historian along with a Hebrew language scholar can demonstrate that the Torah text was written by different hands. This is the Documentary hypothesis. There is no way an Orthodox believer can accept it. I believe that it is a waste of time to attempt reconciling it with faith.

    • I agree with much of what you write and have nothing to add, except for two points:

      1. “Religion is based on faith, which is irrational.” Classical Judaism (which I’m not entirely sure should be called a religion) has no problem with reason (the tool), but rather with rationalism (the ideology) and its twin sister naturalism. This is the very crux of medieval Jewish philosophy.

      2. “or an effort to belong simultaneously to two separate worlds, the spiritual and the intellectual.” Every human being, religious or not, deals with this on some level. It is a universal paradox inherent in being alive.

  6. David Sher says:

    This is a wonderful post and I hope that it inspires others to look for the good in others as opposed to taking inventory of each others weaknesses.

  7. Anonymous says:

    To Jacob (7:42 pm): I assume it’s not the same Jacob…🙂

    You are absolutely correct that Rambam would not agree, and that is exactly what I plan to write about. Rambam’s system of ikkarim derives from an intellectual approach that is ultimately not compatible with biblical and rabbinic Judaism, and his critics (as well as some admirers!) have been pointing this out for the past 800 years. I believe that in many ways his critics provide a much healthier model of avodat Hashem. Stay tuned.

  8. Adam says:

    Dr. Kaddish, the publicly expressed beliefs of a rabbi have practical halachic ramifications. If an apikores as defined by halacha sits on a bet din for conversion, the conversion is not valid. If he is one of the two witnesses to a wedding, the wedding is not valid. This is precisely the main reason why Conservative conversions and weddings are generally not considered halachicly valid by Orthodox poskim. Your assertion that these matters need not be addressed publicly is simply not tenable as a matter of even practical communal/halachic practice, let alone as a matter of principle.

    • Adam, what you write here is commonly asserted. But think about it: What in the world is “an apikores as defined by halacha”?

      I will be arguing elsewhere that this is at best a vast oversimplification based on ignorance of classical Jewish philosophy, and at worst a distortion of halakhic Judaism at terrible cost to avodat Hashem.

      • David Sher says:

        Rabbi Kadish. Where will you be positing your thoughts on this issue, on Morethodoxy or in another forum?

  9. shaul shapira says:

    R Kaddish: I disagree with

    “At the same time, as a Torah Jew, there is no need to debate the “Orthodoxy” of people whose intellectual quests take them where you don’t see a need to go. Despite all the current verbiage to the contrary, there is no mitzvah nor any halakhic need to do so.”

    Words have meaning. If you’re going to call youself an Orthodox rabbi, people have a right to check whether you’re in fact orthodox. We live in a free country. No one is stopping Dr Farber from expressing his views, but Orthodox Jews who feel he’s leapt past the boundary have a right to point that out. It is useful, e.g. if you’re looking for an Orthodox Rabbi to do a Kiddishin for you or if- for whatever dogmatic reason- you don’t wan’t to read heterodox stuff.
    This point should be obvious and agreeable to even an Atheist.

    To illustrate further: I happen not to to be a Mormon. I think Joseph Smith was … [fill in the blank]. But I would agree that if I WERE a Mormon, and someone claiming to be a Mormon preacher declared Joseph Smith to be [fill in the same blank] , I’d probably want to point out his hetero-mormon beliefs.

    Why can’t Dr Farber call himself Morethodox instead of Orthodox? Is there something wrong with yet another heterodox brand of Judaism?
    Why can’t he be another interdenomanationial member at one one YCT’s programs. Maybe R Avi Weiss will be able to be mekarev him…🙂

    • “If you’re going to call youself an Orthodox rabbi, people have a right to check whether you’re in fact orthodox.”

      People have a right to do whatever they want in a free society. But we’re not talking about rights, we’re talking about avodat Hashem. I’m suggesting that the widely made efforts to decide whether others are “Orthodox” are contrary to avodat Hashem.

      • David Sher says:

        I’d like to know the specifics of your thoughts on this subject. I don’t disagree with you but I would love to understand the basis for your statement that efforts to decide whether others are Orthodox are contrary to avodat Hashem.

      • shaul shapira says:

        R Kaddish-
        And I’m disagreeing. And explaining why.

  10. […] Orthodoxy and the Humanities: A Response to R. Yitzchak Blau […]

  11. RJM says:

    So the Rambam, who inherited and perpetuated the traditions of the Geonim who, in turn, had inherited the traditions of the Amoraim and Tannaim before them, was unschooled in and even at odds with the true nature of “classical Judaism” to which you and R’ Hasdai Crescas alone are privy? Unbelievable.

    • This is similar to Joshua’s point above (which has no “reply” button). The Rambam inherited great traditions in halakhah, but in using philosophy as a tool for understanding the Torah he himself admitted that he was personally recreating a lost tradition (a claim that was fiercly rejected by his critics).

      Joshua, what the Rambam himself did, and his reasons for it, is of course utterly different than the way people casually use (or abuse) his ikkarim.

      The Rambam’s unique place in Jewish philosophy, and especially the reasons he tried to place philosophical positions into halakhic categories, is a wide and nuanced topic that deserves fuller treatment elsewhere. Nothing I’ve claimed here or will claim elsewhere is a hiddush, but rather based upon points that have been made for centuries by Halevi, Ramban, Ran, Duran, Albo, Crescas and others.

      I’m traveling not and will not be able to respond again for a couple of days.

  12. Shlomo says:

    “People have a right to do whatever they want in a free society. But we’re not talking about rights, we’re talking about avodat Hashem. I’m suggesting that the widely made efforts to decide whether others are “Orthodox” are contrary to avodat Hashem.”

    Rabbi Kadish, are you essentially saying that as long as someone is not doing anything that is contrary to “Avodath HaShem,” he is a halachically kosher witness, etc?

    Are there any kinds of actions or beliefs that would place someone outside the realm of “Avodath HaShem”?

    • Found another quick opportunity to comment🙂

      In talmudic halakhah there is little or nothing of the kind of thing you are asking about. Many of the commonly cited examples of this are actually the influence of none other than the Rambam himself.

      And yes, I do think that an honest, sincere, committed Jew should be a kosher witness even if he thinks that God has a nose…🙂 There is no doubt that in the Sanhedrin itself they would have listened to him without hesitation.

    • To clarify: I am talking about beliefs or intellectual positions, not actions. Hazal did take actions quite seriously on a halakhic level.

  13. Joebug says:

    Is this not the crux? Louis Jacobs wanted just that – believe openly in BC and be orthodox, in fact lead British mainstream orthodoxy ? Adler said no. If he had said yes he feared the United Synagogue flock would be led in to error.UK Jews might have found their marriages unrecognised elsewhere, schism would have been introduced in go many extended families, children would have found their status qquestioned, G-d fearing Jews would have had their faith destroyed. Are you so ready to condemn C.R. Adler as wrong ?
    It is to a significant degree because of fear this related to status and identity that you and me want to stay in orthodoxy. To suggest that labels are irrelevant is unrealistic, and I don’t see how recognising that fails to serve G-d.

  14. Shlomo says:

    R’ Kadish:
    “To clarify: I am talking about beliefs or intellectual positions, not actions. Hazal did take actions quite seriously on a halakhic level.”

    So, for instance, Yeshu was OK in Hazal’s eyes and they would have sat him on a Beis Din or the Sanhedrin, given that he never advocated abrogation of the Law?

    What about Paul?

    What about a Jewish Xtian today who is Orthoprax?

    When the discussion is about who should be welcome, I can see your point about being more inclusive.

    However where would you draw the line as to whom you would give Orthodox semikha to?

  15. Noam Stadlan says:

    I think that R/Dr Kadish is articulating a position somewhat similar to Dr M. Kellner in ‘Dogma in Midieval Jewish Thought’ that chazal in the Talmud were more interested in belief/trust IN God as opposed to a specific set of beliefs ABOUT God. Therefore the list of specific positively mandated beliefs is much less than the Rambam’s 13. On the other hand, there are clearly incorrect beliefs that if held, remove one from the group of believers. However these are primarily violations of the prohibition in believing in other gods or multiple gods. As noted, the emphasis is on action or at least acceptance of obligation. So someone who held Christian beliefs and acted as a Christian would not be seen as a member in good standing.

    • Shlomo says:

      Hi.
      I posted this a week ago or so and was wondering whether R’ Kadish would like to respond.

      R’ Kadish:
      “To clarify: I am talking about beliefs or intellectual positions, not actions. Hazal did take actions quite seriously on a halakhic level.”

      So, for instance, Yeshu was OK in Hazal’s eyes and they would have sat him on a Beis Din or the Sanhedrin, given that he never advocated abrogation of the Law?

      What about Paul?

      What about a Jewish Xtian today who is Orthoprax?

      When the discussion is about who should be welcome, I can see your point about being more inclusive.

      However where would you draw the line as to whom you would give Orthodox semikha to?

      • Hi, sorry about earlier, when I responded to as much as I could but not everything.

        I agree with you that the historic break between Judaism and Christianity poses important questions. On the one hand it is an exception to the rule, but on the other hand it is an extremely important exception that is still highly relevant today.

        I don’t have “the” answer, but I would tentatively propose the following. Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak was once confronted with the issue of Jewish Christians who claimed citizenship under the Law of Return, and he argued that a secular, national definition was needed: In practice, the Jewish nation doesn’t see a Jew who accepts Christianity as a Jew any longer. This is not halakhic, nor the definition of the “frum” community, but rather the consensus of the Jewish people as a collective whole.

        Note by the way the complete failure of Orthodoxy to deal with Chabad messianism strongly. I tend to think this is for exactly the same reason: Jews still see Chabadniks as fellow Jews, no matter what dogma or heresy may or may not be involved.

      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        “Note by the way the complete failure of Orthodoxy to deal with Chabad messianism strongly. I tend to think this is for exactly the same reason: Jews still see Chabadniks as fellow Jews, no matter what dogma or heresy may or may not be involved.”

        Rav Hershel Schachter told me that believing the Rebbe is moshiach does not posel one’s shechita but believing the Rebbe is Divine posels one’s shechita.

        To claim anything certain about the Orthodox communitiy’s lack of reaction to Chabad, you first need to demonstrate that the numbers who believe the Rebbe is some sort of Avoda Zara are at least a mi’ut hamatzui. They might be but they might not be.

        “I would tentatively propose the following. Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak was once confronted with the issue of Jewish Christians who claimed citizenship under the Law of Return, and he argued that a secular, national definition was needed”

        Rav Soloveitchik had some extremely harsh criticisms of those who tried to argue secular definitions of the Jewish People. And we see from assimilation rates that Jews also don’t see reasons why they should remain secular or even practicing non-Orthodox Jews. (I know you were not giving a secular definition for yourself but rather for Justice Barak. However, you are attempting to use this to explain why according to your rejection of the Rambam’s Ikkarim, Christianity is still out of the fold. I am questioning your methodology of coming up non-halachic definitions which I think are completely unsuited and irrelevant for the Jewish People.)

        “This is not halakhic, nor the definition of the “frum” community, but rather the consensus of the Jewish people as a collective whole.”

        Non-Orthodox are like tinokos sh’nish’b’u and do not get a vote. Otherwise, one could say that the Jewish People are בני נביאים and are not Shomer Shabbas, taharas hamishpacha, etc.

  16. A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

    Rabbi Dr. Kadish may (or may not, see later) be correct in claiming the Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith and its halachic ramifications are not in consonance with Chazal and many great thinkers such as the Ramban. However, if we reject the Rambam, one MUST be aware that this will mean MANY MORE non-Orthodox marriages are valid marriages and that Reb Moshe would agree they would need a halachic get to get divorced…

    I think Rabbi Dr. Kadish’s points may also be challenged in two directions:

    1. I am not sure the Rambam’s Ikkarim are against classical Judaism. It is true the Rambam may have placed a greater emphasis on intellectual achievements than other thinkers but this does not mean they would necessarily disagree with his demand for certain beliefs. Time does not permit me to elaborate but two observations: First, we see Chazal did require certain beliefs, including about the nature of Torah (see Dr. Ben Elton’s post). Second, a figure none other than Rav Kook puts “יסודות האמונה ועקריה” together with obedience to halachic actions in the part of Judaism which “צריך לעולם להיות נשמר בכל תוקף” (Introduction to Ein Aya page 21). I do not know what Ikarei Emunah Rav Kook is referring to but he clearly thinks Judaism also requires beliefs. (Additionally, since Rav Kook does not elaborate, I think it is reasonable to assume he means the Rambam’s Ikkarim. However, I am no expert in Rav Kook.)
    2. The Rambam may not be as preoccupied with intellectual achievements as academics make him out to be. See his commentary on the last Minshah in Makkos. (I am not claiming the Rambam did not require one to believe certain things, but that he certainly also recognized that intellectual achievements are not the only way to reach Olam HaBah.)

    While Rabbi Dr. Kadish may be correct, the burden of proof is on him and he must clearly prove his claims. And if he is correct, then the there is the possible issue of mamzerus in non-Orthodox marriages who actually need a get.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Regarding Rav Moshe zt”l I agree that this raises questions, but those questions go far beyond anything I’m dealing with. Do note that halakhah and hashkafah are not always consistent, and that there are other ways of dealing with mamzerut issues. Plus that Rav Moshe’s psak may not be contingent on the ikkarim per se, but rather on heterodox rejection of the binding nature of the mitzvot in general.

      1. This needs far more elaboration and I will be dealing with it elsewhere God willing.

      2. It is quite possible to debate what the Rambam’s “true” opinion was, and great men of Torah have been doing so for over 800 years. The issue at hand (when you write that “he certainly also recognized that intellectual achievements are not the only way to reach Olam HaBa”) is called the doctrine of the Acquired Intellect. It is worth pointing out that even though you may be able to argue as you do based on certain passages in the Rambam, many of the rishonim themselves didn’t do so. Rather, they themselves attributed this position to the Rambam and strongly rejected it.

      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        “Regarding Rav Moshe zt”l I agree that this raises questions, but those questions go far beyond anything I’m dealing with.”

        You are OPENLY and L’MAASEH advocating abandoning the binding nature of the Rambam’s Ikkarei Emunah (or you would say there never were binding, that is semantics). Thus, I think that you have a responsibility to fully clarify and address all the issues involved and ramifications your proposal may have.

        “Plus that Rav Moshe’s psak may not be contingent on the ikkarim per se, but rather on heterodox rejection of the binding nature of the mitzvot in general.”

        This will get much more sticky with the Conservative movement. Reb Moshe may have distinguished between Conservative and Reform (though any possible distinction today might no longer be valid). Either way, this is something I think you would need to address.

        I look forward to reading your piece. Please understand my skepticism.

  17. Shlomo says:

    Thank you R’ Kadish for your response to my questions.

    You had written:
    “At the same time, as a Torah Jew, there is no need to debate the “Orthodoxy” of people whose intellectual quests take them where you don’t see a need to go. Despite all the current verbiage to the contrary, there is no mitzvah nor any halakhic need to do so.”

    And you wrote:
    “To clarify: I am talking about beliefs or intellectual positions, not actions. Hazal did take actions quite seriously on a halakhic level.”

    I asked you whether Yeshu would have been accepted by Chazal for the Sanhedrin, given that he presumably fulfilled the mitzvoth and did not preach their abrogation. His errors, if any, were only of belief, a consequence of his sincere struggle in Avodath Hashem.

    You answered that he would not have been accepted, because he did not pass a Justice-Barak-type definition, which you acknowledge is not halachic.

    But is it not halacha that we are talking about here, when considering who is fit for the Sanhedrin, who is fit to sit on a Beis Din for conversion today, and who should be given Orthodox — as opposed to another denomination’s — Semikha?

    Isn’t that how this whole discussion got started?

    • No, it is not halakhah that we are talking about here. I am suggesting that all the discussions (including the mishnah in Perek Helek) about who may sit on a beit din, etc., are not about dogma or “heresy” or even halakhah (olam haba is certainly not halakhic), but rather about sociology.

      And further that the sociology is the self-definition (not the halakhic one) of Am Yisrael, not just of a splinter of Am Yisrael called Orthodoxy. Today you have people saying that a talmid chakham cannot sit on a beit din because he wears a brown suit, which indicates that his ideas are not kosher. That is not just a silly exaggeration, but is fundamentally where the ikkarim approach ultimately goes.

      So Christianity is a red herring: It is not halakhah that puts Jewish Christians outside of the group, but rather the historical self-definition of the people of Israel.

      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        “Today you have people saying that a talmid chakham cannot sit on a beit din because he wears a brown suit, which indicates that his ideas are not kosher. That is not just a silly exaggeration, but is fundamentally where the ikkarim approach ultimately goes.”

        No it does not. The question is if these ideas are against clear and unambiguous primary sources. People can disagree what is a primary source but we can agree that rishonim are primary sources and something written by a Rebbe in the last hundred years is not a primary source.

        And l’maaseh, I may be wrong on this, but I think Satmar accepts the OU hechsher. An RCA dayan also told me that basically everybody in the US will sit on a zabla beis din with an RCA dayan. Thus, even if they may not like some of the RCA dayan’s beliefs, they recognize it is not kefira or that there may even be significant traditional basis for these beliefs, even if they are against the norm in more Yeshivish or Chassidish communities.

        “So Christianity is a red herring: It is not halakhah that puts Jewish Christians outside of the group, but rather the historical self-definition of the people of Israel.”

        What gives this historical self-definition any weight? And whatever gives it weight, why does it not apply to someone who believes the Torah has multiple authors?

  18. […] Personally, I strongly believe in what Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish wrote in his recent post, that our detractors should “please just keep writing what Orthodoxy means to you… not what you […]

  19. Shlomo says:

    (Edited version of above. Please replace it. Thank You.)

    Dr Kadish:
    Although I would tend to be more sympathetic when it comes to who should and should not be considered a part of Am Yisrael, I do think that when it comes to who can rightfully be considered an Orthodox Rabbi is very significant — and I believe that R’ Farber believes that as well.

    How else would you explain why he defends his right to that title — or, more crassly stated, to use that brand? And why else would those who defend him defend his right to use that brand?

    Had R’ Farber presented himself as anything other than as an Orthodox Rabbi, his otherwise unremarkable essay would not have elicited as much as a yawn — from any quarter.

    • As far as I am aware, no one has a patent filed on the brand name. A person like Rabbi Dr. Farber who is a talmid hakham and a dayyan and committed Jew who (taken at his word) sees the Torah as God’s commandment and obeys it can use it if he likes.

      You are free to question his use of “Orthodox”, just like I am free to question its use by some people in Lakewood, Shas, and Satmar.

      • Shlomo says:

        Perhaps you did not understand my point.

        I was saying, as a point of fact, that the controversy regarding R’ Farber’s essay has EVERYTHING to do with his speaking as an Orthodox Rabbi.

        Otherwise, no one would have cared.

        Otherwise, there would be no site called Morethodoxy, which seeks to expand the definition of Orthodox.

        Nor would there be a site TheTorah, which seeks to show that Biblical Scholarship is not a threat to Orthodox Judaism and to show how much Orthodox Jews have to gain from it.

        TheTorah is where Farber’s essay was published and they are the organization that hired him.

        I do realize that definitions like these are unimportant to you, but, when it comes to who can speak as an Orthodox Rabbi (and therefore being able to speak from authority), it does make a great deal of difference to all the players here, both those who seek to restrict that definition and those who seek to expand it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Shlomo, if some say it’s Orthodox and some say it’s not, what to do? Hmmmm.

      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        This entire discussion rests on the veracity of Rabbi Dr. Kadish’s assertion that traditional Orthodoxy does not really require so much in terms of beliefs.

        If Rabbi Dr. Kadish is correct, Rabbi Farber may be within Orthodoxy. If Rabbi Dr. Kadish is incorrect and we work with the Rambam’s Ikkarim, Rabbi Farber is outside of Orthodoxy.

        We await Rabbi Dr. Kadish’s full treatment of the subject (including I hope its halachic ramifications regarding non-Orthodox weddings.)

        Until Rabbi Dr. Kadish has proven and demonstrated his case, making statements like “So instead please just keep writing what Orthodoxy means to you (and to me), not what you think it needs to mean for others” as utter nonsense. Maybe a person can drive to shul on Shabbas because it is Shomer Shabbas for them or maybe we can count women in a minyan for Kedusha because that is tefila b’tzibur for them. The Rav said that religious subjectivisim cannot last.

        “People” in Shas, Satmar, and Lakewood can say what they want. The question is what do the sources say/what has been the traditional understanding.

        And again, despite what “people” say, who doesn’t trust OU kashrus or a Bes Din of America get?

  20. […] Kadish: Orthodoxy and the Humanities, a Response to R. Yitzchak Blau, Fischer: Responses to Biblical Criticism from Everyday Life, Waxman: Judging kefira. From a […]

  21. Regarding what I wrote above about biblical studies as part of the humanities, see the series of articles that Joshua Berman has begun here:
    http://torahmusings.com/2013/09/kippah-and-gown-i/

  22. My first public essay on fundamentals of the Torah has just appeared here (link to the first half):
    http://thetorah.com/discovering-god-rationalistic-1/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: