Welcome to the Elul 5763 edition of The Edah
Journal. No articles published in the
Journal have generated greater discussion than those in the Sivan 5761 edition
authored by Rabbis Mendel Shapiro and Yehudah Herzl Henkin
analysing the halakhic issues surrounding qeri'at ha-Torah for women. R.
Shapiro argued for the halakhic legitimacy of the practice in
selected communities, while R. Henkin argued against the
implementation of this innovation. In this edition Professor Daniel
Sperber, a world-renowned rabbi, writer and halakhic authority in
Israel, makes an important contribution to that debate. His
article, Congregational Dignity and
Human Dignity, goes beyond R. Shapiro's
thesis, claiming that qeri'at ha-Torah is not merely permissible, but halakhically desirable owing to the
higher halakhic priority of kevod
ha-beriyot (human dignity) over kevod ha-tsibbur (communal
dignity). Like R. Shapiro, R. Sperber limits his recommendation to
those communities where women desire to be given aliyot and the denial of
such an option causes hardship or embarrassment. As was the
Journal's policy in publishing the original articles, it is
important to state that R. Sperber's essay should not be construed
as a binding halakhic decision taken either by the Journal or by
Edah. We offer it as a basis for scholarly analysis and halakhic
"The Book of Job is about the problem of
evil?" So asked a young student after years of yeshivah education. In Fear of the Forest, Esther
Orenstein Lapian, a master-teacher of Tanakh in Israel, discusses the issue of Orthodox Bible
avoiding "Meta-Themes" and overviews
in its traditional pedagogic techniques. The author maintains that
broad themes are critical both to effective teaching and
understanding the Torah. Yeshivah and day school education too often focuses on
individual verses and commentary, at the expense of student
interest in and deeper comprehension of the text. The essay offers
a pedagogy of "extensive reading" to overcome this
tendency and enumerates an inventory of skills for successful
extensive reading of biblical literature.
Also in the arena of Jewish education,
Professor David Ellenson, a well-known scholar of traditional
responsa and President of Hebrew Union College, offers an
introduction and translation of in interesting responsum by Rabbi
Sampson Raphael Hirsch. The rabbi was asked whether the elite
financiers of Jewish communal institutions—including
parochial schools educating the sons and daughters of the less
wealthy—are obligated to enrol their own children in schools
that provide intensive Jewish education. Not surprisingly, R.
Hirsch responded that noblesse oblige offers no dispensation from the classic obligation
of Jewish parents providing meaningful Torah education to their
children. On the contrary argued R. Hirsch, the obligation to
educate their own children in the depths of Torah precedes any
obligation to provide such education to other Jewish children. The teshuvah is an interesting
insight into the sociology and axiology of the 19th century German
Jewish community of R. Hirsch's time, and also holds much practical
wisdom for the
communal practice of 21st century American
Jewry. One can easily reflect on the salutary impact to Jewish life
were the super-rich of the American Jewish community—many of
whom have displayed great generosity in supporting Jewish education—to
provide their children with serious Torah education.
Should the arts be an important part of Jewish
day school education? Are they philosophically and halakhically
desirable, and if so is a serious arts program realistic given the
demands of day school curriculum? Ed Codish, an experienced teacher
in the graphic and literary arts, offers a case study of a
substantive arts program in Jewish education. He argues that
complex issues arise when a day school attempts to institute a
rigorous arts program that is evaluated for excellence of artistic
accomplishment. The selection of teacher and commitment to the
extra-curriculum demands of such a program are the keys to the
success of quality arts in a Jewish day school.
Freedom of speech and pluralistic disagreement
are foundational values of American society, yet any Orthodox
community must, by virtue of its ideological and halakhic
commitments, accept constraints upon this liberal vision. Despite
this fact, Professor Marc B. Shapiro maintains in Of Books and Bans that the
recent controversial bans on The Making
of a Gadol by Nathan Kaminetsky and The Dignity of Difference
by Jonathan Sacks are unusual in contemporary Orthodox Jewish
history. This essay evaluates the literary and scholarly merits of
the first book, and examines rabbinic opinions as sources of
support for R. Sacks' thesis of religious pluralism found in the
second book. While religious pluralism—whether R. Sacks'
version or other varieties—is a thesis that has received
little explicit attention in Orthodox discourse, it is the
"elephant in the room," an undeniable presence underlying
the questions of many Modern Orthodox Jews as they participate in
pluralistic American life. R. Sacks' raising of the issue, and
Professor Shapiro's initial scholarly exploration rabbinic opinion
are controversial yet welcomed developments in Orthodoxy's
forthright attempt to come to grips with modern life and values.
In a related review essay, David Shasha
examines R. Sacks' book and the pluralism thesis in the context of
modern and post-modern intellectual trends. He outlines how R.
Sacks understands the thesis' implications for contemporary
globalization, intolerance, technology and philosophy, and how the
concept of religious difference has greater inherent legitimacy
within Jewish values than within Platonic or Christian thought. Mr.
Sasha finds R. Sacks' thesis to be a valuable guide to shaping a
better future for both the Jewish people and humanity.
Departing from the Journal's standard policy,
we have chosen to publish extended interchanges on articles in the
last edition (Tevet 5763). The first set of communications is between Mr. Gil
Student and Rabbi Reuven Singer, regarding R. Singer's article
"Halakhic Values: Pesaq or
Persuasion." Mr. Student takes
issue with R. Singer's analysis of the positions of Rabbi Joseph B.
Soloveitchik (as described by Rabbi Meyer Twersky) and Rabbi Saul
Berman regarding the enforceablity of non-formal halakhic values.
R. Singer parries with an insistence that the Rav's position on
this complex matter is nuanced and open to disagreement, and that
while the Rav is still an unrivaled authority within Modern
Orthodoxy, it is well within legitimate halakhic methodology for R.
Berman to offer a dissenting opinion in this matter. The second set
of communications is between Professor Yehuda Gellman and Mr.
Lippman Bodoff, regarding the latter's study of the roots and
problematics of contemporary mysticism. Gellman asserts that Bodoff
has committed the genetic fallacy in his understanding of
contemporary hasidism and has overlooked the beneficial dimensions
of that religious life. Bodoff responds that a careful reading of
his essay meets Gellman’s objections.
Once again, I invite you to join the discussion
stimulated by The Edah Journal by communicating your thoughts on these and
other published essays. Reader responses should be sent to