Friday, November 16, 2007

An Interview with Rav Hershel Schachter

If you have not yet read the interview by Ari Lamm with R. Hershel Schachter in the most recent issue of The Commentator, then I highly recommend you do so. The interview is full of humor, insight, and important views (link). What follows is a funny story (with a point) and a viewpoint that is relevant to this blog:

Rabbi Soloveitchik was a Misnaged, and would often tell jokes about Hassidim. Once, he told a joke about a Hassidishe Rebbe who got up to speak on Shabbos of parashas Lekh Lekha, and asked the following question: why is “Lekh Lekha” spelled with two big letter hets? There was a skeptical Misnaged in the crowd, and he protested that, first of all, it is spelled with two letter kafs, and second of all, the letters are not larger than the other letters. So the Rebbe says, “that’s one good teretz, but I have a better teretz…”

Is there room for non-traditional scholarship? A lot of the non-traditional commentary works on peirush ha-milot, and on peshuto shel mikra, which is very important. We’re not sure about the meaning of a great deal of Biblical words, and we follow the principle, “kabel es haemes mimi sheomro.” If someone has a suggestion, we would be happy to listen – and some of the suggestions of the non-traditional scholars are gevaldig! But as far as the overall picture of Tanakh is concerned, Chazal had their own tradition of interpretation. Why should we assume that someone living centuries later is going to have a better interpretation?

But there is certainly room for this. For instance, archaeology is discovering practices that existed years ago in the days of the Tanakh, and based on these findings, we can understand problematic verses in Tanakh. It is certainly a mitzvah to understand the peshuto shel mikra, and to know what the verse is talking about.

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