Weekly Digest – News and Essays In and Out of Orthodoxy – Week of Parshas Sazri’a 5776

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32 Responses

  1. YbhM says:

    This new Teshuva phenomenon seems to differ somewhat from the “standard” models of the Teshuva movement that started in the 1960s.

    Indeed.   As reflected in this article at least, the whole 70s-80s “searching for truth” thing is absent.  Also not a lot of learning traditional texts.  Someone should compare this piece to the article about Aish Hatorah that Rolling Stone published around 1980.

    Time will tell how this new trend pans out.

    Though the Atlantic article describes what these millenial BTs do and say, it’s only in the last paragraph that we get any kind of analysis of their actual motivations.

    If there are any millenial readers here (it seems that > 80% of the commenters on CrossCurrents are over 40), maybe they can provide some insights.

  2. YbhM says:

    Dr. Bayme validates Biblical Criticism even when it negates parts of the Torah, and he claims that acceptance of such Biblical Criticism is a key feature of “Open Orthodoxy/Modern Orthodoxy”.


    “Validates” is the wrong word here.

    The issue is that Bayme has a priori accepted the premises and methods of heretical biblical scholarship ie.  when Bayme sees an apparent anachronism he sees it as evidence of meddling in the text (whereas a traditionalist reading the text sees evidence of earlier use of the place name cf. R. Medan or of prophecy); Bayme seems to assume the impossibility of a miracle that suspends the laws of nature (whereas traditionalists – even including some Aristotelians – assume that nature-violating miracles can and have occurred) etc.

    If Bayme (or someone who agrees with him) could manage a cogent response to my last paragraph (an unlikely event in my experience), it would likely be:  “but how can you ASSUME these things??”, “you must PROVE your assumptions”  … but of course he does not prove his assumptions either  …


  3. dr. bill says:

    I think that cross-currents is running a major risk exposing its readers to the writings of various authors via links.  What is worse, those who are too busy to click on the link only get the most objectionable snippet, one that may raise real doubts, without the softening context.  But seriously, if the challenges of biblical criticism were limited to the few examples Dr. Bayme’s snippet lists, nothing that major beyond notions already present among rishonim is necessary.  I dare say that Rav M. Breuer ztl’s Pirkei Moadot raises and resolves more significant issues.

  4. DF says:

    Steven Bayme, in the article you cite, repeats the same mistake so many of his fellow-travelers have made, and that is to conflate biblical criticism with changing halachic practice. The former is cold, distant, academic; the latter is warm, alive, and electric. These are very different animals, yet so many men seem to confuse them. If it is impossible to accept one without the other, then both will simply be rejected together. Halacha is as much about traditions as it is about “sources”, if not more so, and no amount of scholarship will change that. So biblical criticism must first be separated out of the distractions of women rabbis and the like, and only then the question can be asked: Should orthodox Jews confront it?

    My answer, in a word, is “no.” Biblical criticism poses problems, there is no getting around that.  Once exposed to it properly, there is no return to innocence. You cannot look at the Torah the same way. But Dr. Bayme’s solution, of exposing everyone to it early, only exacerbates the problem. Millions of Jews live and have lived quite happily never having read a word of it. I would freely admit to there being an element of intellectual dishonesty about that. But the response to that attack is a great big, “So what?”  What is wrong indeed with closing our eyes and ears to inconvenient problems? In our age of political correctness, no aspect of society, anywhere, is free of gigantic elephants in the room that are willfully ignored. From science to sociology to education to history, we have roped off massive amounts of our brain power with a large “Do not enter” sign.  Brick walls have arisen between what can be said and written, and the forbidden zone. So why should orthodox Jews be any different?

    By no means, whatsoever, does that mean all or even most of biblical criticism is correct or irreconcilable with our traditions. Not at all. But the point is, when you make the cost/benefit analysis, there’s no reason to take the chance.

    • dr. bill says:

      DF – First, I doubt Dr. Bayme conflates Bible criticism with halakha.  As you might be aware, a good number of the leading Bible scholars are practicing Jews.  However, despite no logical connection, it is the case that those promoting a broader role for women in Judaism are also likely to be more open to BC.  Second, I believe most would agree that if one could avoid exposure to Bible criticism, all the better.  Prof. Kugel goes so far as suggesting that orthodox Jews who have no concerns in this area avoid some of his critical works.  I fear, however, that as we go forward, it will be harder to avoid exposure to Biblical criticism.  Third, while I agree with you about avoiding the topic with HS students, the responses of a vast majority of orthodox thought leaders is another matter.  IMHO, their silence wrt BC, particularly when coupled with shrilled attacks on those even raising questions, is not all that encouraging.

      • dave says:

        Actually, there is a very logical connection. It is the rejection of our mesorah, the rejection of the traditional Torah commentaries for whatever pops into the pointy head of some modern academic. It is the rejection of the halachic deciders whose psak we have followed for centuries, who are suddenly out of step with the “new” thinkers.

      • dr. bill says:

        Actually, no.  Opposition by poskim to A and B, (or even “opposition” to the mesorah, whatever that means,) does not those mean that proponents of A support B or proponents of B support A.  Somewhat similar to mi’khlal Lav e atah shomeah hen.
        In any case, our mesorah includes a broad number of methods of parshanut.  And calling bible criticism something that “pops into the pointy head of some modern academic” can only mean you have not likely read any serious criticism.  As I noted above, you should probably not start now; ignorance is bliss.

      • YbhM says:

        <i>And calling bible criticism something that “pops into the pointy head of some modern academic” can only mean you have not likely read any serious criticism.</i>

        Bibcrit begins with a set of assumptions that Orthodox people do not share (and have no reason to accept).  This has been pointed out by a diverse group of scholars who have little in common eg. R. Dovid Tzvi Hoffman and Prof. Leo Strauss. And this is the reason that to Orthodox people, Bibcrit sounds like something that “popped into” someone’s head  (“apikorus dust” is a nice metaphor used by a famous Hasidic figure).

        Rather than addressing this fundamental issue, you choose to talk down to the people who do not agree with you (cf. Leo Strauss’ description of how enlightenment figures would resort to mockery when they had no real answers).

          As I noted above, you should probably not start now; ignorance is bliss.

        It sounds like you would recommend Bibcrit to even to people who do not have a burning interest to explore it.  That makes little sense.  Not because “ignorance is bliss”, but because we should want to study Tanach le-shem shamayim.

      • dr. bill says:

        Dave: Incorrect again:

        you write: “It sounds like you would recommend Bibcrit to even to people who do not have a burning interest to explore it.”

        As i wrote above: “Second, I believe most would agree that if one could avoid exposure to Bible criticism, all the better.”

        I think it would help your argument if you quoted contemporary scholars with specific examples; BC has undergone a significant transformation in the last 50 years.

      • dr. bill says:

        Sorry Dave, it’s Ybhm above

      • DF says:

        Dr. Bill – predictions of mass exposure to biblical criticism have been made now for more than 100 years. There were suggestions that mass education, followed by the rise of  mass produced periodicals, would open the floodgates. Nothing happened. And we’ve had the Internet now for 20 years, and still most people are still unaware of the postulates of Biblical Criticism. Kugel’s book appears to have done absolutely nothing for people who were not already interested in BC to begin with. Think about it – most Orthodox Jews today, and many Conservatives, grew up with Hertz Chumashim discussing it openly, in front of their faces, and yet the overwhelming majority of people never even picked up on it. Because most people aren’t readers, and of the few who do, still less actually think about what they read.  It is hard for readers and thinkers to come to terms with that sad reality, but there you go. In this instance, mass ignorance is a blessing.

  5. Naftali says:

    Inthe offending “snippet” all Dr Bayme does is raise questions. Is the mere asking of questions now considered unOrthodox? in which case, what does an Orthodox Seder look like?

    • R.B. says:

      Really? Only questions? He writes and advocates much more than that:

      “As I see it, the particular findings of critical biblical scholarship are not the major obstacle. Jewish tradition is diverse and sufficiently flexible to absorb the contents of scholarship.”

      He has no problem with the findings (ie. answers) of critical biblical scholarship and believes that Jewish trading can absorb it.

      He also cites the Zev Farber controversy. He interprets Farber as distinguishing between the “historical credibility of biblical narrative”, much of which he rejected, and its theological truths, which he accepted”. Dr. Bayme does not criticize or reject such a view, and so the entire tenor of this essay seems to support such views to be viewed as a card-carrying member of MO.

      This is not Orthodoxy. The answers provided by critical scholarship are not and should not be acceptable and should not define a person as MO.

    • larry says:

      The answer depends on whether you are a chacham or a rasha.

  6. Yitzchak Blau says:

    I think this essay of mine is of relevance to readers (and writers) of this blog.


    • DF says:

       Your article, in which you try to poke holes in a certain rosh yeshivah’s speech,  is very questionable. You quote the speaker paraphrasing chazal’s statement “Sarah is megayes et ha’nashim, not et ha’anashim ” and somehow conclude therefrom that “If this inference from the midrash indicates that Sarah did not teach the men, it also indicates that Avraham did not teach the women. This hardly supports the notion that men must have a more significant leadership role.”

      No offense intended, but that is a very poor deduction. There are limitations imposed upon women that are not imposed upon men. The point of chazal’s statement is to circumscribe Sara’s role, not Abraham’s.  Only someone who has drunk too deeply from current secular American values, totally inimical to those of the Torah, could even propose such a reading.


    • joel rich says:

      A softer and more nuanced critical voice would significantly enhance the honor of Torah and Am Yisrael.     


      Perhaps a good example of acculturation to our host society-our debates reflect theirs (our audiences reflect theirs?)

  7. Bob Miller says:

    People often try to characterize millennials or other “official age groups.”  Outsiders are easily impressed, while insiders know how the findings and stereotypes are way too simple.  Even studies limited to one city see only some pieces of the puzzle.  

    So it’s no surprise that some very active Orthodox congregations and learning institutions in Houston, involving many younger baalei teshuvah, went unnoticed by the author of The Atlantic’s piece in your millennial link.   Some of the omissions could be due to the limited investigative time available,  some due to preconceptions that steered the author in a particular direction, and some due to a vague or absent definition of what Orthodox Judaism is and is not. 

  8. larry rothenberg says:

    Steve Bayme, 3000 years from now–“Were there really two presidents named Bush, a father and son, who both went to war with an Iraqi dictator named Saddam Hussein? or was this but one incident occuring later but added retrospectively into American history textbooks as a subsequent epilogue of the war with Iraq?”

  9. Steve Brizel says:


    For anyone interested in why Bernie Sanders is a radical socialist

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    http://matzav.com/outrage-bernie-sanders-says-israel-killed-10000-innocent-people-in-gaza/ Take a look at Sanders’ advisors on Middle East affairs-an Arab American lobbyist who makes no bones about his sympathies

  11. Ben Bradley says:

    Dr Bayme claims to be very concerned by intellectual dishonesty, and therefore advocates biblical ‘criticism’.  However the intellectual dishonesty hardly appears to be one way. An important reason why interest in bilical criticism has increase in recent decades amongst orthodox-identifiying people is , it seems reasonable to say, that R Soloveitchik was hardly positive about it. So in his heyday at the helm of the moderm orthodox world it was not emphasised. Not mentioning his infuence in this area despite his remaining the pre-eminent theologian of modernn orthodoxy, is rather an omission. In fact TheTorah.com elsewhere has an article bemoaning R Soloveitchik’s restraining influence on biblical criticism.

    Further, claiming Yitz Greenberg is some kind of true blooded, modern orthodox role model  fails to acknowledge his fringe ideas and historical disagreement with R. Aharon Lichtenstein, which placed him distinctly on the left fringe of modern orthdoxy, certainly not the centre. R. AL was no more positive than R Soloveitchik about BC.  Perhaps he wasn’t modern orthodox enough for Dr Bayme either? No True Scotsman, perhaps?  It would be becomign to display the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the greatest of the modern orthodox world have not seen fit to engage with BC in anything like the manner of Dr Bayme.

    And as for BC itself, it should be obvious that traditional , rabbinic, orthodox , or whatever other hyphen you want to apply to real Judaism assumes the integrity of the text for the drashos underlying most of halacha. Without that you’re left with an empty shell regardless of how nice the shell looks and feels.  The BC-ers could at least have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge the implications of their views for the system of Judaism they claim to identfy with, rather than prevaricating about ‘tensions’ and ‘synthesis’.

    • Richard says:

      So you’d rather they stop keeping halakha?

      • Bob Miller says:

        Wouldn’t it be better to combine correct theory with correct action?

      • R.B. says:

        I guess that would be Orthodox Reconstructionism.

      • Richard says:

        Sure, that would be preferable, but

        1) מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה.

        2) I think you’re underestimating how difficult it will be to unconvince people that biblical criticism is compelling. These are people who have researched it extensively, concluded it is true, and you telling them that it’s not “Orthodox” isn’t going to work. I understand that people want to protect the integrity of Orthodoxy/Torah Judaism, but you have to own that this comes at the price of arguing that people should stop keeping halakha.

      • YbhM says:

        These are people who have researched it extensively,

        This is rarely the case in my experience…  usually it’s a matter of someone being impressed by a professor who they assume must know what he is talking about… or someone deciding to affiliate with Team Modernity rather than Team Antiquity.

        concluded it is true, and you telling them that it’s not “Orthodox” isn’t going to work.

        Heterodoxy is not a new thing.  In olden times (ie. the 1990s) there were people who were willing to admit that “yes I have heretical ideas but I still practice like an Orthodox person” (ie.  Orthopraxy).

      • R.B. says:

        Agree with YbhM, that now those who in past would admiit they are Orthoprax, now want to have their cake and eat it too.

      • dr. bill says:

        The term orthopraxy seems to have taken a life of its own.  As classically defined, orthopraxy represents commonality of practice with tradition while maintaining beliefs that are anything but traditional.  Those beliefs are often seen by their adherents as necessary/sufficient to motivate/require the accepted practice.  Those who denies the traditional definitions of torah mi’sinai or the Messiah or reward and punishment, etc. are by definition an orthoprax.  They may believe that their beliefs also motivate practice and perhaps even motivate practice more genuinely, but they are still orthoprax.  Where it gets ugly is when one goes a step further and denigrates the beliefs of an orthoprax by denying that they can motivate practice or, yet worse, by assuming their practice is only the result of a desire to fit in culturally.  My sense is that many on this blog use the term orthopraxy in one of the latter two senses.  Orthoprax then remind those with traditional beliefs, that their beliefs challenge the intelligence of any knowledgeable individual and it degenerates from there.  If one wants to maintain civil discourse, arguing that another’s belief sets are insufficient to motivate practice is not a preferred path.  I much prefer the classic definition of orthopraxy.

  12. L says:

    Sure! I’m 25 and longtime cross currents reader. I read the article even before I saw the link here because I like reading the Atlantic. I thought the article was repeatedly inaccurate (surprised rabbi gordimer didn’t mention anything) and missed major points about orthodoxy regarding Jewish halacha and the community’s culture both, which throws doubt on the author’s conclusions about changes within our community. I agree with the earlier comment that it seems she was a victim of not enough time to research the topic and choosing a small segment of a larger community and assuming it’s representative of a larger trend without providing any evidence or even indicators that this might be the case. Whether it was what she just happened to come across first, or if she specifically went in looking for a mixed minyan breaking away from the establishment rather than the growth of the local shuls, I don’t know. Also Houston’s community was very hard hit by the past few years’ weather disasters that damaged shuls and communities and interrupted their growth process, which makes them even less representative, the article didn’t deal with that at all. I was so interested when I saw the title of this article but the contents really let me down unfortunately.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    Ellen Wilis ZL ,  a fascinating writer, and critic, wrote a fascinating article in Rolling Stone in the 1980s about her brother who became a BT via Aish and her long stay in Yerushalayim where she met Rav Noach Weinberg ZL and Rebbitzen Weinberg and why she couldn’t make the same move as her brother. It is a fascinating read . I always wondered what would happened if Ms. Willis had looked and searched at other non-Charedi aspects of the Torah world that were and are welcoming to those exploring Judaism. I think that the Willis article should be a must read for anyone in the Torah in kiruv because Ms. Willis was a bright and IIRc very educated person who just could not see herself being plugged into the Charedi world.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    http://www.aish.com/sp/so/48918362.html For those interested in the Ellen Willis article

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