Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Textuality; Oral and Written becomes Text, becomes Torah
[links to hopefully be added in over the next week]
There is account of Sifre Avot, of writings of the Forefathers that were passed down until they reached the person of Moshe and the place of Sinai, where in the forge of Nevuah they were recast and refined through Moshe's Nevuah, into a singular, unified Torah ( I agree with [sources] that this was completed at the end of the years in the Midbar). Supposing this, were the only oral accounts and laws those that were Sheh Ba'al Peh from Sinai? (I would emphasise the "Oral Torah as the setting of the text", with R. Hirsch) What of that which was done by the Avot and known of by their descendants before Sinai, and treated within the Torah as 'mitzvot'? Did people simply cease discussing, cease recounting what was clearly held to be of great significance before? Was only narrative from before written down, and only in Bereshit? Or were things continued orally, perhaps melded to TSBP from Sinai, as with the Sifrei Avot?

Writing down (in a specific "folked" language particularly) - while adding potential for errors, amendation and expurgation - can also help checkmate competing accounts ("Versions") as well as ensure a "failsafe" of crossreferencing between oral/written, multimedia, multidimensional material from which gross errors/interpolations and meanings, will stand out. One aspect of "multi-dimensional" may be in something going from a human origin to becoming Divine when HKBH puts his haskamah on it (I'm not speaking of Sefer Devarim or something, but of statements, words by people; was Pharoah a Navi for his statements in Torah? Alexander, from Gemara?). If every bit of Torah and Mitzvot were conceptually alien to Israel, how could they efficiently accept it? It seems a not unreasonable possibility to suppose that "Laws of the people Israel", tribal laws, became sanctioned as many of the new Mitzvot from Sinai, much of which could have been previously shared with their neighbors, but now had new, Divine-oriented 'spins' on them, more refinement, no longer the laws of a tribe common to others - but now Mitzvot, Chukim, Mishpatim. Thus the time spent learning in the Midbar indeed was a clarification of new connections, new meanings to the precedent case material. IOW, it was not totally "news" to them. A new generation becomes a new nation from what had been before, genetically and materially. Provided this, it is not unreasonable to then see the previous diverse laws, which now apply as a unified specific system, as having certain affectations that would evidence this earlier nature. One example would be quite revealing - as it is not unlike Torah views on differing halachot and the psak as it manifests in TSBP.

If anything was continued that preceded Sinai, it was now measured by what was Sanctioned from Sinai (Nevuah and maps metaphors from my earlier piece, strong/weak signals, non-exhaustive history in Tanakh from previous posts). From a rabbi I've been in coorespondence with;

"Ancient legal codes were compilations of case precedents and that they did not seek a comprehensive clarification of the underlying principles, rather expecting that each particular judge will specifically apply the precedents to his particular situation. A comprehensive reconciliation of underlying Law did not happen until the Justinian's code in Byzantium and until early 12th century in Western Europe."

Thus, Pre-Sinaitic legal material (for which "coresponding Mesopotamian texts abound", as the critics like to say) - "the Torah the Avot kept" - could very well have been recast as such a specifically-Jewish network of "compilations of case precedents", bound to an oral setting, with the goal of fluidity and eternal relevance in mind (hallmarks of true Darche Torah, and definitely a substantive stream in Sephardic halacha and lifeways). This sounds a bit like Parshat Yitro. Yet each law explicates a different facet of the singular law (though not "clarified" without intertextuality/orality; only those who do it, i.e., Jews, could unpack it, could make the connections) through the TSBP. Perhaps after Sinai, by the time of Ezra, clarifications under Nevuah (this might be w/ R. Bonfils on Ibn Ezra, but I seem to recall laws specifically not being altered), of certain specific terms could be made that would be accounted for in the cumulative give-and-take of application of TSBP and fixed text, but soully for clarifications sake?

I'm not stating these things, just setting them out while I look for basis and check with others (I've written this largely in isolation from the views of the Documentary Hypothesis, as I have no idea how the uncited posukim to which I refer are divided and dated; as it is as the heart of the challenges I'm writing about in this piece, I hope to do so later). Some of it is already normative and/or reasonably supposed, but I want to put it together to a certain end. A position taking into account the above might answer the following; there are (1) seemingly 'competing' and divergent halachot that have (2) 'different' origins which (3) presume multiple interpretive contexts. (4) Posukim that have 'symptoms' of 'postdating' Moshe Rabbenu could be that which was narrative potentially specific terms within specific halachot), susceptible to later Nevuah clarification (Bonfils et al), under Ezra and the Anshe Knesset haGedolah, etc.

All this would apply only to the period ending with Ezra - not simply out of some faith commitment on my part, but also out of the general consensus in academia that there existed a unified Torah text and some solid indications of a Rabbinic Tradition from this period; this does not deny the existence of ever-present 'competitors', for which I offer a suggestion above ("competing accounts").

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dear Frau Frobe,
There can be no resolution, only patient endurance of the opposites which ultimately spring from your own nature. You yourself are a conflict that rages in itself and against itself in order to melt its incompatible substances - the male and the female - in the fire of suffering, and thus create that form which is the goal of life. Everyone goes through this mill, consciously or unconsciously, voluntarily or forcibly. We are crucified between the opposites and delivered up to the torture until the reconciling third takes shape. Do not doubt the rightness of the two sides within you, and let whatever may happen - happen.

The apparently unendurable conflict is proof of the rightness of your life. A life without inner contradiction is either only half a life or else a life in the Beyond, which is destined only for angels. But God loves human beings more than the angels.

With kindest regards,

C. G. Jung

C.G. Jung Letters, vol. 1, p. 375

That we were Made human beings is a profoundly powerful concept to me;

"Let your holiness be human - God has plenty of angels." - The Kotzker

"Contrary to Kant, Judaism teaches that man's ,true service of God, must be human. It should be invisible, as man's soul is invisible; and it should be visible too, because man is visible. It must be 'service of the heart, in spirit and in truth' as well as of the body. It must be service through the mitzva, the deed in which man's spiritual and material nature have unified. It is a much higher service than that of the spirit alone. It is the religion of the whole man...It is comparably easy to relate the spiritual to God; it is as easy as it is ineffective in history. The real task is to orient the whole world of man, matter and spirit, toward God."
R. Prof. Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History, p.126

Torah - mitzvot, history and memory, a past and a future - was Given to man, not to angels. For us to be unified or transformed from without is one thing; to emerge the unification, the transformation, from within is this "much higher service". And the abstention from it or the transgression of it matches this power. God help me, this is powerful and scary stuff!...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Critical Scholarship, Talmud and Psak Halacha

...would not [{Chief R.}Dünner’s] Hagahot in the present form be utilized, against his will, to undermine the whole structure of the Shulhan Arukh?…But one may answer that critical research comes only to delineate lines of growth and development of the halakha in a scientific fashion,but is not intended to refute the halakha and its conclusions in its dogmatic and mature form…[The scientific approach] recognizes stages of development and the strange vicissitudes of evolution which at times bring about changes in interpretation and mutation of forms. But in practice we accept the psak as it is derived from the sugya, and as it evolved into its final form…"
[Footnote 44 from Section 1 of R. Prof. Daniel Sperber's "Legitimacy and Necessity; Scientific Disciplines and the Learning of The Talmud" available here.]

But when is the final form? If it is lived, it lives as its final form, when it "is", and is so before us, the vantage point on the continuum (and the continuum of lived zachor, 'memory'), from which we survey its travels through lived-time and lived-place to our Now. And though it may continue to evolve, it is not by "Intelligent [mortal] Design", by the social engineering of "the reformists" - whether of the Reform or Charedi varieties. As we are on a globe, the horizon changes as we revolve; beyond a certain point, we cannot ourselves view the paths we have traveled, let alone the course of the tradition by which we have done so; Mesorah and Tanach combine as our map of where we've been and are going (nevuah, at one point was the compass; of course thats exactly how most Haredim describe Daas Torah b'zman ha zeh). There is value in diverse, even divergent 'weak' signals for navigation; greater flexibility in changing environments and situations that forever present themselves on the globe, etc. (I,II,III). This has been suggested regarding the attempts to claim Tanach should be read as historical from 21st Century expectations; we are navigating in a multi-dimensional Creation of quality and not mere quantity - modern expectations have no 'place' for spiritual value or moral council in their navigations. Science, to be such, offers no 'world'view, because the picture of the world changes and is never treated as 'determined'.

Related only in the metaphor; R. David Novak in elucidating Zecharias Frankel, mentions in an old essay that certain instances of "Halacha l'Moshe M'Sinai" aren't meant literally, but mean laws of great antiquity without asmachta, i.e., undelineated origins; if such may be so, are there other horizons of knowing, that also move as we revolve and time passes?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Madoff's Shul Connections
Granted, Madoff is not a member of Fifth Avenue Synagogue - but Merkin is shul president. Here is an interactive map of the connections Merkin made and their ensuing connections to Madoff, etc, etc.

Haredi Hooliganism
It's a popular Jblog topic, so I'll cast my lot. Ramat Beit Shemesh is a real locus point for this kind of madness. I don't doubt it's occurance, yet it still seemed sort of remote and 'sensational', enough that I could wonder "does it really happen that much? much of it is just a few incidents repackaged into many in the retelling?"...until I read in passing on a DC-area listserv;

My daughter-in-law in Israel had to take a small child to her doctor, who on that day was located in an ultra orthodox area of Ramat Beit Shemesh at a clinic. She was dressed with her hair covered (as she normally does), with long sleeves and skirt, but with open sandals. She was chased after, jeered, and spat upon, and had to run with the child, in fear of their safety.

A mother with her child?...For God's Sake, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? Haredim; If you honestly do not condone this behavior AT ALL - do not apply "dan l'kaf zechoys" to it by calling them "overzealous"! Why try to 'think the best' of such horrific, indefensible behavior?..unless, "at the end of the day" (as was so frequently quipped at Aish), you do believe it is ultimately in the category of the defensible?...

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