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?


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