Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Strength to Admit Error
Franz Rosenzweig, author of The Star of Redemption, was the philosopher-theologian of this crisis moment. In Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson (Columbia University Press), his densely brilliant new study of the Rebbe’s mystical thought, Elliot R. Wolfson aptly quotes Rosenzweig on the function of the false Messiah: “The false Messiah is as old as the hope of the genuine one. He is the changing form of the enduring hope [certainty?]. Every Jewish generation is divided by him into those who have the strength of hope not to be deceived [about this, our Jewish certainty - can we be relatively certain? - could this, our generation, this religion/worldview manifest contain a certainty that proves Certainty is Jewish - Chabad Jewish to be specific?]. Those having faith are better, those having hope are stronger.” Those having faith are better: Rosenzweig outrages reason in that phrase, deliberately so. It takes strength to resist the temptation of believing in a false Messiah, but to risk belief, he suggests, takes something even rarer—the willingness to be wounded and disappointed, the willingness to be made a fool of."
Adam Kirsch, American Messiah, The Tablet.

Strong is a quantity, "better" a quality, a "certain something" - what the F is "rarer"? No really! Arguments for the truth and relative certainty of Judaism are based on such ill-defined 'rareness', such self-referential "specialness". They can always appeal to Western modes of thought and philosophy and sub-foundations of science (that were influenced by Biblical suppositions, etc), but that's because like the ancient Jewish defenders of studying Greek wisdom, they claim the yardstick to be originally Jewish (the Classic Philosophers ultimately had a Mesorah from Avraham for example). In ethics, they similarly claim "without God, all is permitted", therefore only through revelation, through Divine Command Morality - specifically in Torah, does ethics have a foundation. And of course their 'traditionalism' is refuted by THE Tradition itself - which challenges the exclusivity of this option (essay above). But Tradition itself has no exclusive claim to either - among many things, many reasonable, sound foundations of belief shared by other faiths, other worldviews.

There are, however, claims that Tradition does have claims that are exclusively "Jewish" - and yet again a many of them can be challenged by other facets of the Tradition itself, for its silence regarding those very claims on its behalf - R. Mordechai Breuer's parshanut, the "New Pashtanim", R Joshua Berman's research in "Created Equal", the evidence of archaeology of the region for Tanach for example. I would also suggest (I, II), that even the Kuzari "Argument from Sinai" is not exclusive where it matters for most of the "Tradition" held by Orthodoxy today - I think it is even amenable to the radically non-exclusive claims of Biblical Criticism, given the "competing" narratives about the Sinai revelation (as claimed by BibCrit), if one assumes multiple sources, the Kuzari argument could be like lhvdl like the Catholic church teaches about the conflicting gospels - they're attempts at describing an indescribable series of events - as with certain 'conflicting' accounts of events in Divrei HaYamim and Melachim 1&2 - are a similar attempt at "memory" of facts over a history of facts. One could even claim what is claimed by some Orthodox about the Zohar - that it is oral and written traditions held by a certain school, checked against an oral tradition, and passed down until it was written, however many times.

But - as can be expected by now, the Tradition - or should I say the contemporary Orthodox 'tradition' about the Tradition - cannot account any of this at least not publicly, nor accept views of our text of the Torah/TSBP as "the fruits of the larger Tradition" - even if it were to strengthen belief in the doctrines and practices (however they were passed on). As James Kugel claims as an "Orthodox" Bible Critic...scholarship can only stand apart from 'faith' - scholarship is not to be marshaled in it's defense of regnant Orthodoxy (but not "Torah Judaism", per se) - even in justification of observance and belief.


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