Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Torah Among the Gentiles II

(continued from here)

There is a spirited debate going on in the comments section to an earlier post about the use of Christian and Non-Orthodox Bible comments. Rather than offering my own thoughts, let me share with you what R. Chaim Navon and R. Amnon Bazak, ramim (senior Talmud instructors) at the Har Etzion Yeshiva, wrote on the subject.

R. Chaim Navon:

My friend, Rabbi Amnon Bazak, has raised two weighty arguments against this mode of thinking. Firstly, even people who lack all fear of God, and even gentiles, may have the capacity to propose meaningful interpretations of the Torah. God Himself testifies in the Torah: "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nations is a wise and understanding people" (Devarim 4:6). Rambam, in his introduction to chapter "Chelek," objects to a certain position, arguing that it contradicts reason, and will therefore not bring the gentiles to recognize the greatness of the Torah, but rather to scorn it. Hence, that position cannot possibly be correct. If gentiles have no understanding whatsoever when it comes to the Torah, why should we consider their opinions? We see then that we cannot simply reject what the gentiles have to say, without hearing them out and giving their words serious consideration. And furthermore, even if we categorically assume that gentiles are totally void of wisdom and understanding when it comes to understanding Scripture, how are we to relate to the problems that they raise? How are we to answer the questions that they ask? Rabbi Bazak argues that it is wrong to assume that a non-believer cannot suggest persuasive interpretations of the Torah; hence, he cannot be disregarded."
R. Amnon Bazak's essay can be found here.

And, finally, R. Aharon Lichtenstein in Judaism's Encounter With Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration?, pp. 226-228:
Madda's elucidation of Torah is not confined, however, to minutiae. At its best, it affords not only information but insight. Our understanding of Tanakh may be enhanced by criticism as well as by philology; and that relates not just to phrases but to entire texts, events, epochs, and personalities. "Biblical criticism" is, of course, for us anathema; and, by and large, rightly so. If the term denotes, as to many it predominantly does, a school which denies the transcendental truth of Torah; if it signifies a fusion of heresy and blasphemy whose advocates alternately gut and grade kitvei ha-kodesh as they pass judgment upon Torah and the Ribbono Shel 'Olam--then, clearly, we shall have no truck with it. But there can be biblical criticism of a very different order--one which wholeheartedly accepts the integrity of Torah and, precisely for that reason, strives maximally to divine its message... From criticism geared to apprehending texts and contexts in their multiplanar complexity, the Torah world's reading of Scripture can profit considerably...

Above all, criticism accentuates awareness of the human element. Toward its appreciation, a literary sensibility, trained to observe perceptively and to respond empathetically, its imagination honed to grasp a scene or a moment as the focus of complex interaction, its imagination honed to grasp a scene or a moment as the focus of complex interaction, is inestimable. Criticism sensitizes to both what is said and--what the Ramban so acutely perceived--unsaid...

The potential contribution of madda to our understanding of Torah is thus not merely technical or exegetical--important as that would be in its own right--but, in a broader and deeper sense, thoroughly substantive...
[Let me give a shout-out to Jordan Hirsch and the band playing with him tonight, especially the leibedik drum player. Sorry I left without saying goodbye, but your were busy pretending that the Mazinka is an ancient Jewish custom. My wife was able to identify music from The Last of the Mohicans and Robin Hood. All I was able to identify was the soup as mushroom barley.]

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