Sunday, December 2, 2007

Shapiro's Limits of Orthodox Theology = Jacobs' Principles of the Jewish Faith?

Is it just me, or is Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology essentially a rehashing of Louis Jacobs' Principles of the Jewish Faith: An Analytical Study?

They have essentially the same goal, namely a discussion of what a modern Jew can believe, and go about it in the same method, by reviewing Rambam's ikkarim and demonstrating that there have been different authoritative views throughout history. Shapiro credits Jacobs with inspiring his work, but it seems a bit sketchy to me... whatever.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kaplan the Bible Critic

From Mordecai Kaplan's Communings of the Spirit, entry from Sunday, April 21, 1929, 12:30PM.

Is it possible that I have made a discovery? I have a hunch that the writings of the "false" prophets have been incorporated into the Bible. I can never find a satisfactory background for Isaiah 13 and 14. Does it not seem plausible to assign these chapters to the so-called "false" prophets whom Jeremiah denounced (Jer. 29, 8)? May this not be the reason for the anonymity of these prophecies? If it should turn out that the "false" prophets were the authors of the anti-Babylonian prophecies, they would have to be credited with the new consolatory trend that we find in Biblical prophecy. It does not seem plausible to ascribe such lofty style and diction to any but the survivors of the great prophetic movement who had been carried captive into Babylon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Orthodoxy and Pluralism

Is a pluralistic Orthodoxy possible, or do you think any attempts at real pluralism will lead to further denominationalism, with "pluralistic orthodoxy" joining the ranks of Open Orthodoxy, Centrist Orthodoxy, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Agudah Orthodoxy, Yeshivish Orthodoxy, Hasidic Orthodoxy, Chabad Orthodoxy, Zionistic Orthodoxy, Messianic Orthodoxy (Kahanism/Gush Emunim type - not J4J), and the billion other Orthodox groups.

Yikes. I didn't even realize we were that splintered. Perhaps we need intra-Orthodox pluralism before Jewish pluralism? And given the results of the Eternal Jewish Family conference, we're certainly not going in that direction. So, what's your take? Can Orthodoxy be pluralistic, or would such an effort be totally counterproductive and devolve into another branch of Orthodoxy?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pet Peeve From An Argument I Had Today

Annoying logic: The existence of multiple opinions implies the existence of multiple truths.

(Related newsflash: Skeptodox is not a post-modernist.)

Does the Biblical View of God Bother You?

James Kugel makes a pretty compelling argument that ancient readers of the Bible viewed God in a completely different manner than we do now. We tend to view God as universal, omnipresent, omniscient, and remote, while early Biblical texts view God as close to this world and to humanity. In Tanach God reveals himself, people literally hear and see God (almost invariably after a “moment of confusion”), and he certainly doesn’t appear to be omniscient or omnipresent. (None of that "daber torah bilshon bnei adam" apologetics, please.)

Kugel suggests that “early is not necessarily better than late” and that perhaps the God of the Bible needs to be revisited in today’s theology. But it kind of bothers me that my religious ancestors believed in a very different deity - forgetting about our early polytheistic history.

Does the idea that we haven’t always viewed God in the same way bother you, particularly when it’s his book that’s describing him in the unconventional way?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why I Like the Etiological Approach to Tanach

Hermann Gunkel was a German Protestant OT scholar in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of his key contributions to the study of the Torah was his analysis of Biblical stories as etiological tales. That is, as tales concerning origins. He argued that many if not most Biblical stories, particularly in Breishit, were composed in order to explain present day realities at the time of composition. They were merely reverse projections of the present.

Examples: Israel and Edom had a close connection, so we come up with a story of common ancestry. Beit El is a holy city, so we come up with a story of how Yaakov started it all. We perform infant circumcision, so we have a story of a covenant with Avraham. Various tribes are being unified, but maintaining northern and southern blocs, so we have another story of common ancestry, just this time with separate mothers based on geography. Etc, etc., etc.

What I like about this approach is that it implies that ancient Israelites didn't necessarily believe the stories when they were composed. I can imagine my ancestors sitting around a fire and inventing these tales, just like the Dybbuk or the Tooth Fairy. They become part of tradition, but as you grow up and realize they are not true you continue passing them on because they also provide meaning and a message and a national history to explain our way of life.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fealty to Gedolim

I've been listening to a lot of kiruv "how-to" lectures during my commute, and the kiruv pros' lack of logic and sheer ga'avah goes far beyond what I could have ever expected.

I don't have unwavering respect for and belief in the utterances of scientists, but I know well enough that I don't have the knowledge or tools to address complicated (and at times, not complicated) scientific issues. The rabbis who I have been listening to all have the same approach: Here is what science says, and I am going to tell you why they are wrong! No credentials, no background, nothing. They are (in this instance) "just" rabbis. In most cases it seems as though they read a few Christian apologist websites and the conclusions from some Kitchen or Cassutto books, and voila - they are experts! Even worse is the shameful logic these clowns try to pass of as error-proof and convincing.

In these lectures I really see what "fealty to gedolim" means. Kiruv pros are the gedolim of the "Jewish approach to science" field, and their audiences - believers in the lectures I'm listening to - eat up every word they say, no matter how nonsensical their musings. Some of the questions I hear asked in the mp3s clearly come from intelligent people, but they are so off the mark. They don't challenge or question - ever. And that is where the problem lays.