CS Lewis, Elul and the Shofar

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16 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    RAL ztl was a strong proponent of reading The Screwtape Letters, which he rated as one of the great mussar works of the 20th century.

    that work and particularly the works of other non-jews on the mishnah, areas of halakha or various sugyot / mesechtot forces you to think carefully about what chazal meant by chochmoh b’goyim ta’amin, torah ba’goyim, no ta’amin. this is not the place to discuss where such careful thought might lead you.

    • Bob Miller says:

      This just goes to show that we and our Torah message have had a positive cumulative impact on the thinking of some non-Jews, who may or may not realize this. Creating this impact in the wider world is one of our big jobs on earth. Much of this impact has taken place during our current long exile.

      We still need to be vigilant to reject any false ideas specific to other religions that are embedded in their communications and published works.

    • DF says:

      Several of us in NIRC circles (early 90s) read it. It’s a good book, and not too long. But there are many good books from Christian writers. We don’t like to admit it, but the truth is, one can be extremely learned, and be completely at home in Hebrew and Aramaic, but nothing compares to reading something in one’s mother tongue, the language in which one thinks. Somebody captured this in brilliant form, in explaining how he only properly understood a midrash, even though he knew perfectly well what every single Hebrew word meant, when he saw it in front of him in English. He said:

      “As a picture is worth a thousand words, an English word is worth a thousand other words.”

      That’s…genius.

  2. Nachum says:

    The Gra felt the same about Yonah as he did about Shir HaShirim and Iyov. That is, Yonah (who’s mentioned in Melachim) and Shlomo (ditto, of course) existed (and there was definitely an independent legend of Iyov, whether or not he existed), but the books about them are allegories.

  3. Raymond says:

    When I think of the shofar, I also think of still another image, namely the Sacrifice of Isaac. I think of how obedience to G-d is so important, that Avraham was even willing to sacrifice his own beloved son for its sake. And I think of the idea of the Temple sacrifices themselves, how it could have been us who were sacrificed rather than the animals we are sacrificing in our place. Quite a scary image, yet very powerful.

  4. Uncle Screwtape’s letter about the various sorts humor and their utility is one of my favorites, and gives a perfect definition of leitzanus, which he calls “flippancy”:

    But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know…

  5. Yehudah says:

    Lots of innuendo from dr. Bill lately. How about just flat out telling us what you believe torah bagoyim al tamin believes, so that when we read your opinions we will know if they emanate from the mind of a mamin.

    • dr. bill says:

      i wish i could, but it is a bit too complicated. the terms torah and halakha may not have had the same implication across the many, many centuries of talmudic literature. i once discussed this at length centering on the mishneh at the end of the third perek of avot. i found an insight from the Grash on chazal’s use of various terms a key to what i assume. i forget on which tosefta he was commenting.

      but to put your mind at rest, a non jewish insight in our canonical texts can be very useful. but being very useful to one studying does not necessarily make it “Torah.”

      • Weaver says:

        “Torah bagoyim al tamin” is obviously lav davkah – you know, like when Abarbanel incorporated Christian writings into his peirush in chumash or Rav Breuer saying one should say “amen” after reading Immanuel Kant, as well as the countless philosophical and hashkafic ideas adapted from Christian/Muslim/philosophical sources. It’s also just one aggadic saying; the entire Judaism doesn’t hinge on it.
        If “the goyim” can split the atom and make advances in theoretical physics, I’m pretty sure they can also make an elementary inference from a Rashi using high school level logic skills (what passes for a “shmuess” these days).
        “Torah bagoyim al tamin” is now mainly used as a defense mechanism, a way to dismiss ideas without having to seriously consider them.

    • Weaver says:

      “Torah bagoyim al tamin” is obviously lav davkah – you know, like when Abarbanel incorporated Christian writings into his peirush in chumash or Rav Breuer saying one should say “amen” after reading Immanuel Kant, as well as the countless philosophical and hashkafic ideas adapted from Christian/Muslim/philosophical sources. It’s also just one aggadic saying. The entire Judaism doesn’t hinge on it.
      If “the goyim” can split the atom and make advances in theoretical physics, I’m pretty sure they can also make an elementary inference from a Rashi using high school level logic skills (what passes for a “shmuess” these days).
      “Torah bagoyim al tamin” is now mainly used as a defense mechanism, a way to dismiss ideas without having to seriously consider them.

      • dr. bill says:

        there are many other examples of use by various gedoalai olam of non-jewish ideas in various contexts. one of the most radical was RAL ztl and his use of a non-jewish source to better perform a mitzvah.

        your last comment understates the problem; academic works on the history of the talmud or halakha, and kal ve’chomer beno shel kal ve’chomer, jewish history in biblical or second temple times, written by a traditional jew or non-jew are rarely even read. a number of years back a centrist orthodox organization published a historical piece using “facts” on the second temple era already questioned in the time of rishonim. when i mentioned that to the rabbi responsible, he told me that no one mentioned that.

        • mycroft says:

          Using Seder Olam for actual dates is very dangerous. Tanach agrees to the day in most of what is in the Babylonian chronicles. I have heard RHS in a shiur refer to length of bayis sheni-he was not using Seder Olam chronology.
          There is a religious professor of Jewish history specializing in Second Temple period at Hebrew U. Prof Dan Schwartz.
          I wish there were more that I knew of for crucial period of our history.

          • dr. bill says:

            mycroft, i think that what i heard attributed to the late rabbi Schwab is interesting. i heard that he wrote that we know little about those 150 or so years that differ between seder olam and normally assumed duration of the persian empire in order to create a period of discontinuity creating the need for emunah.

            i assure you that what we know of the period from the destruction of the first temple to the Maccabean period is very spotty. the only sources are from sources that were never part of our mesorah.

            if you think there is argument about the talmudic period, the 600 preceding years are subject to even more fundamental dispute.

            i have read a number of books and articles, but feel completely ignorant. ironically, the three people who have a reputation that includes expertise in this period, are all practicing traditional jews, albeit what many to their right call orthoprax.

            during my time in the Rav ztl’s shiur almost 50 years ago, a gentleman older than the Rav walked into class and took a seat in the back of the room. i believe no more than 2 other talmidim recognized this expert in the second temple period; one of those 2 talmidim passed away a few years ago. his books are no longer seen as reasonable conjecture.

            i read a book/article occasionally but i find there are better uses of my time and i suspect yours. a gmar tov

      • Bob Miller says:

        How familiar are you with the whole range of shmuessen nowadays?

  6. yisroel miller says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein! With some minor editing by someone in our machaneh, the Letters (and also “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”) could be published as “The Soton’s Shiurim” and become a text on recognizing some of the daily working of the Yetzer Hora.

  7. Paul Shaviv says:

    As has been discussed online from time to time, there is a curious Jewish connection to C.S.Lewis. His wife, Joy Davidman, about whose death from cancer he also wrote profoundly, was an American Jewish woman. She had two sons by a previous marriage. One became a very Orthodox Ba’al Teshuvah as a teenager in Oxford. C.S.Lewis made part of his home kosher for the boy, and accommodated all of his religious requirements. His son went to yeshivah, and for a time became a Satmarer! Later, he abandoned observance. He was a brilliant, if eccentric, individual. We shared a Rosh Hashanah meal in Cambridge exactly fifty years ago. (The third partner in the mezuman was another, now internationally famous personality.)

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