Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox

Dr. Marc Shapiro recently published a short book titled "Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox" on the fascinating topic of how various figures in the Orthodox community related to Prof. Saul Lieberman after he joined the faculty of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary, eventually becoming the dean of its rabbinic school. Shapiro applies his characteristic encyclopedic bibliographic skills to this topic and presents an amazingly broad survey of letters, articles and books from that time that are relevant to this topic. The Hebrew section of this book contains letters (many published for the first time) to and from Prof. Lieberman that shed light on this topic, including Lieberman's harsh criticisms of the non-traditionalism of historian Solomon Zeitlin (formerly of Yeshiva University).

The book is full of interesting information and references, including a discussion of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's relationship with Prof. Lieberman and the allegedly proposed joint Conservative and Orthodox beis din, the incident in which R. Meshulam Roth refused to accept the Kook Prize together with Prof. Lieberman, R. Ovadiah Yosef's non-existent relationship with Lieberman, and the Jose Faur controversy (he taught in JTS and therefore was publicly blacklisted in the Syrian community). It also has some amazing references to citations of Conservative scholars in Orthodox literature, such as the many citations of Prof. Louis Ginzberg and a very interesting responsum from R. Eliezer Waldenberg that consists almost entirely of a letter from a prominent (right wing) Conservative rabbi (Shapiro suggests that R. Waldenberg did not know the denominational affiliation of this rabbi which, in truth, has been somewhat in flux for a long time).

Interestingly, four bloggers are mentioned in the book. This blog is quoted on p. 40 n. 153 in regard to the series of posts titled "Citation of Non-Orthodox Scholars." I believe this marks the first citation of Hirhurim in an academic publication. Menachem Butler, Dan Rabinowitz, and Steven I. Weiss are also quoted.

As is my custom, allow me to add a few comments:

1. On p. 3, Shapiro notes that Ibn Ezra quoted interpretations of Karaites. On this, see R. Menahem Kasher's Torah Shelemah vol. 8 (Shemos) addenda ch. 17 who suggests that they are later interpolations. I don't know enough about this subject to be able to evaluate this view.

2. Shapiro notes a number of times when Lieberman was called Reform and attributed that to the lack of knowledge in Israel about the American denominations. While I don't doubt that this is true, it is important to keep in mind that some might have used it to emphasize their belief that Conservative is equivalent to Reform as a deviation from tradition or might simply have intended it as an insult.

3. Shapiro found a number of the letters sent to Lieberman that address him in very complimentary terms. I suspect that some were written by people who always used those terms and would have had to consciously refrain from using them. That does not make the letters irrelevant, but requires a little more care in inferring from them. Additionally, some seem to have been written to him requesting favors. Who would intentionally refrain from using standard introductory compliments when asking for something?

4. Shapiro discusses the Jastrow talmudic dictionary, Marcus Jastrow having been aligned with the Conservative movement. However, I think Shapiro overestimates the dictionary's popularity. I think it is no longer as ubiquitous as it once was. Two interesting references on this: There was an anti-Jastrow article by R. Salomon Alter Halpern in the April 1970 Jewish Observer; R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky is quoted in Emes Le-Ya'akov on Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 246 n. 121) as permitting the use of the Jastrow dictionary.

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