30 June 2009

Day Two of YCT Yemei Iyun in Bible & Jewish Thought

Leeor Gottlieb speakingYesterday was day two of YCT's Yemei Iyun in Bible and Jewish Thought (having attended day one, as well), the only full day of the program.
The first session I attended was Leeor Gottlieb's "An
Overview of Tehillim: Tempestuous Textual Transmission". I would say that Leeor Gottlieb is on my list of my three favorite presenters at the Yemei Iyun. I enjoyed listening to him last year at one session and some of his audio on the YCT website in the Yemei Iyun section. He spoke on some of the textual transmission issues, but interestingly not only pointed out that אלקים is a general description (i.e. a god) and that the tetragramatton is more of a proper noun (God/Lord), but also pointed out that in one section of Psalms there is a greater intensity of the former than the latter. For those folks interested in Psalms, this is worth downloading (even though the downloads are free) when it gets uploaded.Rabbi Menachem Leibtag speaking
The second session I attended was Rabbi Menachem Leibtag's "What Is the Purpose of The Temple?", although he wasn't speaking on this topic generally, but rather in the context of the book of Kings. I realized my sense of the history of kings was definitely in need of going back into the Bible to get a better sense.
The third session I attended was Rabbi Hayyim Angel"Halakhic Sections in Devarim and Applications in Nakh: When Conflicts Arise in Interpretation", presented by Rabbi Hayyim Angel. This was interesting as he presented a tension between interpreting things in the Bible whether on the level of reading the Bible as an explainer of the text versus as a halakhic decisor - definitely not easy.Rabbi Eric Levy speaking
The fourth session I attended was Rabbi Eric Levy on "The Second Generation: Bemidbar 20-35". I actually hadn't planned on attending this session initially, but after hearing him the day before, I decided to go hear him again. He spoke about some of the differences between the first generation in the desert and the second - including talking about what Moses' sin or non-sin was, which was good (definitely download it when it goes on the YCT website). Elana Flaumenhaft speaking
The fifth [and last] session I attended was Elana Flaumenhaft speaking on "The Ceremony on Har Grizim and Har Eival", in which she discussed a variety of different aspects of it. At the end, she spoke of a colleague's comparison between that ceremony and revelation at Mt. Sinai, which was great, primarily about the earlier ceremony being more passive and the later one more actively involving the Israelites.

29 June 2009

Day One of YCT Yemei Iyun in Bible & Jewish Thought

Rav Nati Helfgot introducing the Yemei IyunYesterday, I attended YCT's seventh annual Yemei Iyun on Bible and Jewish Thought. This year it is being held at Ma'ayanot high school in Teaneck, NJ. The Yemei Iyun is being organized in conjunction with Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, Center for Modern Torah Leadership, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Lookstein Center for Jewish Education and Yeshivat Maale Gilboa. I've attended the Yemei Iyun every year since I've been in YCT and this year was no different.Rabbi Aryeh Klapper speaking
The four sessions I attended yesterday began with Rabbi Aryeh Klapper's clever "Did Hevel Have a Sense of Humor?", which wasn't essentially about the title (although, for those interested, Cain was utterly sarcastic) and is well worth the listen when it gets uploaded to the YCT website.
The second session I attended
was given by Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner on "Two Biblical Reactions to Catastrophe: An Intertextual Comparison between Genesis 9 and Genesis 19", which was interesting as he showed the similarities and what little differences there were between the instances of Noah and the unfortunate incident with his son Ham along with Lot and his daughters. One thing that bothered me, though, was that when Rabbi Klitsner considered Ham's sin to be either seeing Noah's nakedness, castrating Noah, or homosexually raping him, I then mentioned to him a fourth possibility: that Ham had sex with Noah's wife, as suggested in an article I read three weeks ago (John Sietze Bergsma and Scott Walker Hain, "Noah's Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:20-27)," JBL 124, no. 1 [Spring 2005]: 25-40) and he inexplicably swept it aside. Upon the completion of the lecture, I once again brought up the possibility and he once again swept it aside (although a lady in the front row did agree with me about it's plausibility). Anyways, aside from that, it was a good presentation (and there was another unrelated neat point about leadership he made).Rabbi Eric Levy speaking
The next talk I heard was by Rabbi Klapper again, this time on "Why Only Moses Could Unbury Joseph." This was a smart talk in which Rabbi Klapper essentially argued that Moses and Joseph were opposites: whereas Joseph started out as a shepherd (and living in Canaan), he dreamt of agriculture (an Egyptian thing), became more Egyptian, and became part of the bureaucracy [and helping to enslave people], Moses started out growing up an Egyptian within the bureaucracy but eventually discovered his Israelite identity, became a shepherd, and eventually freed slaves.
The last talk I heard was Rabbi Eric Levy speaking on "The Problem of the City of Shechem in Tanakh", which was surprisingly excellent. I'm not going to give away the punchline of this lecture (at least not in this posting), so you should wait for this to come out on the YCT audio page, once
it gets uploaded - it was excellent and I look forward to listening to more of Rabbi Levy's stuff (available on his website).
Okay - wondering what I'm going to hear today....

28 June 2009

Day Three of 2008 YCT Yemei Iyun in Bible & Jewish Thought

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper speakingI didn't think I was going to have time this morning to blog, but since my gym was robbed last night and it is closed today, voila - I figured I would post on what I had meant to post last summer. Today is the first of three days of YCT's annual Yemei Iyun in Bible and Jewish Thought and I figured I would finish up my posting of last year's event.
Just as YCT did in previous years, day three of last year's Yemei Iyun in Bible and Jewish Thought (yes, I attended day one and day two, as well) focused on Jewish thought.Rabbi Yitzchak Blau speaking
The first session I attended was Rabbi Aryeh Klapper's "Should Facts Affect Faith?"
The second session I attended was Rabbi Shalom Carmy's "Overture to Helek: An Analysis of the Sugya on Resurrection"
After lunch, I attended Rabbi Yitzchak Blau's "The Pitfalls of Individual Providence and General Providence".
I then attended Rabbi Blau's "Is the World to Come Corporeal and Does it Matter?"
Although in the previous two postings about the yemei iyun I posted a little about the presentations, I figured this time I would merely link the audio recordings of them from this posting.

25 June 2009

Wondering How Blogs Will Figure Into the Discussion: Summer Beit Midrash Press Release

I recently re-received this press release regarding this summer's Summer Beit Midrash in Boston (which I attended three years ago) and wondering if blogging is going to come up much:



Tel: 781-784-5391 June 11, 2009

Email: ModernTorahleadership@gmail.com


2009 SBM will focus on the theme “Toward a Jewish Ethic for Journalism”

SHARON, MA: The Center for Modern Torah Leadership, the intellectual catalyst of Modern Orthodoxy, is proud to introduce the Fellows for its 2009 Summer Beit Midrash. Fellows include men and women from leading universities, yeshivot, and seminaries with advanced textual skills and a passionate commitment to learning Torah in an environment that welcomes the moral challenges of modernity as spiritual opportunities and sees recognition of each human beings as a Divine Image as a fundamental assumption and telos of Torah study.

The Summer Beit Midrash is an intense and exhilarating learning program that allows Fellows to pursue compelling questions with intellectual rigor and ethical integrity in the framework of a warm and challenging Orthodox community, and to experience themselves as active contributors to the halakhic conversation. This year's seminar, our thirteenth, will center on the theme "Toward an Orthodox Ethic for Journalism." It will run from July 6 – August 10 at Young Israel of Sharon, 100 Ames Street.

SBM is headed by CMTL Dean Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, with an array of distinguished guest lecturers including Rabbi Howard Jachter, author of Gray Matters Volumes 1-3 and a member of the Elizabeth Beit Din and of the RCA Halakhah Commission; Binyamin Appelbaum, reporter on national economic issues for the Washington Post, who, while at the Charlotte Observer, was among the first to spot the emerging foreclosure crisis; and Mark Jurkowitz, Associate Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and former Boston Globe Ombudsman and Media Critic.

SBM Fellows will lead a variety of public learning opportunities during the seminar, including one-on-one study, thematic text-study groups, and formal classes. For more information, please contact Anne Sendor at ModernTorahleadership@gmail.com. For more information about CMTL and its programs, as well as for many terrific articles and audio and video classes, please see www.torahleadership.org.

23 June 2009

A Couple of Interesting Quotes About Printing & Censorship

While at the gym today, I read Amnon Raz-Krakozkin's "From Safed to Venice: The Shulhan Arukh and the Censor"* (HT MB) and came across the following two really interesting quotes. The first is from pages 100-101, that:
rather than being a measure directed against the Jews alone, censorship was initiated precisely because Christians were reading Jewish literature. Thus, censorship should be examined in the framework of the rise of Christian Hebraism in the 15th and 16th centuries – that is, the growing interest of Christian scholars in certain branches of Jewish literature, regarding them as essential for understanding Scripture and for confirming the Christian faith. As such, censorship must be seen as a means of incorporating Jewish literature into Christian discourse and into the category of permitted knowledge. It simultaneously created two communities of readers: books that were of common interest to Jews and Hebraists – biblical exegesis, midrash and Kabbalah; and books designed primarily for Jewish readers, such as halakhic literature. Most of the deletions of censors are to be found in the books of the first group. Most of the books that belong to the second (with the exception of Ashkenazi prayer books) were left mostly untouched. Furthermore, censorship should not be seen.
Continuing on page 101, Raz-Krakozkin continues, further developing a novel idea:
Furthermore, censorship should not be seen merely as an agent that denies knowledge; it must also be understood as a constitutive factor, one of the elements that participated in the reshaping of literacy during the critical stage of the transition to print. Censorship is undoubtedly a controlling agent with a definite role, the intention of which (in the case of Church procedures) was to define the boundaries of orthodoxy. Yet its consequences must be examined in relation to other formative agents that took part in the cultural process and accompanied the transition to print, such as publishers, printers, editors and, in particular, the communities of readers. With the implementation of the principle of expurgation, censorship was also integrated into the process of preparation of texts for publication, and the censors served as one of the agents participating in the formation of the domain of reading. The explicit intention of the censors was to prevent forbidden contents; the practice of censorship, however, entailed a careful reading of various texts and resulted in the authorization of what the Church considered to be permissible knowledge. Censorship was imposed upon the Jews and definitely had an impact on Hebrew literature, but it did not necessarily deny knowledge.
* Amnon Raz-Krakozkin, "From Safed to Venice: The Shulhan Arukh and the Censor," in Chanita Goodblatt & Howard Kreisel, eds., Tradition, Heterodoxy and Religious Culture: Judaism and Christianity in the Early Modern Period (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2006), 91-115.

22 June 2009

R' Shafran, Sully, and Me

Three weeks ago, the upper two classes at my school went on a fieldtrip to the Agudas Yisrael offices to meet with Rabbi Avi Shafran, as part of our Larger Jewish World Class. While there, I learned a new term ("pro-school choice"), amongst other things. At one point, he mentioned his "Bernie, Sully and Me" article (which was taken down from the Web (although still available here)), which he said sometimes, he works at trying to be provocative, but he can sometimes go too far. Clearly, he said, based upon the reactions to his article, he felt he had gone too far and, thus, removed the article from the website where it appeared.
However, Shafran made an interesting statement therein. When Chesley Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 several months back, I was wondering why people were calling Sullenberger a hero - he was doing what any of us would've done. Indeed, Shafran agrees:
He saved 155 lives, no doubt about it, and is certainly owed the gratitude of those he saved, and of their families and friends. And he executed tremendous skill. But no moral choice was involved in his act. He was on the plane too, after all; his own life depended on undertaking his feat no less than the lives of others. He did what anyone in terrible circumstances would do: try to stay alive. He was fortunate (as were his passengers) that he possessed the talents requisite to the task, but that’s a tribute to his training, and to the One Who instilled such astounding abilities in His creations (and Whose help the captain was not quoted as acknowledging). Basketball players are highly skilled, too – and heroes, in fact, to some. But I have never managed to understand that latter fact.
Anyways, it was nice to know that I was not unique in my thinking on this issue - not that what Sullenberger did wasn't special.

04 June 2009

Interesting Note on Exercise

This morning, while exercising on an elliptical machine, I ironically came across the following note in Professor Haym Soloveitchik's seminal essay, "Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy" (Tradition 28, no. 4 [1994]: 64-131), which I've been reading recently* (the following is n. 49 on pp. 119-120):
There seems to be a fixed quantity of pain that people, in all periods, wish to inflict upon themselves for the sake of some distant, possibly unattainable, summum bonum. The rigors of monastic asceticism, or that of the flagellants, find their equivalent in our ceaseless exercise and unremitting self-starvation undertaken for the sake of Beauty or in the name of something called Fitness. Now, as then, it is those free from the immediate burdens of subsistence who most hear the call of that higher good and voluntarily undertake to wear the hairshirt. This impulse is often linked to an attempt to move backward in time. We strive, no less than medieval men, to move backwards in time, we to Youth, they to Eden. To them the body was born with the taint of original concupiscence; to us it acquires too swiftly the odor of Age. They mortified the flesh to enable the soul to escape the confines of the body, we to enable the body to escape the ravages of Time. Each of the two equally impossible, by all rules of common sense, yet each pursued with equal vigor. To be sure the overwhelming majority of people eschewed the rigors of asceticism, but probably never denied the rightness of the enterprise. Many, perhaps, even made some half-hearted attempts to engage in it themselves, much as exercise-bikes and running shoes gathering dust in countless homes stand as witnesses to an aspiration rather than to any actual endeavor. (My remarks refer to American society generally, rather than to the religious Jewish community, who participate tepidly, at best, in this form of asceticism. In this regard, at least, contemporary Orthodoxy is still unacculturated. Nevertheless, as this community is the subject of this essay, I felt it more appropriate to use "original concupiscence" rather than "Original Sin." The latter is alien to Jewish thought, the former is not....)
I was amused that he was talking about people making "half-hearted attempts to engage" in exercise and not really being involved in exercise whilst I actually was at the moment of reading it.
While I am highlighting an interesting endnote in the article, I thought I would do so for another interesting one (n. 54 on pp. 120-121), about which I hadn't known as much:
The current popularity of the Beit ha-Behirah of R. Menahem ha-Meiri reflects this change in modes of learning. Meiri is the only medieval Talmudist (rishon) whose works can be read almost independently of the Talmudic text, upon which it ostensibly comments. The Beit ha-Behirah is not a running commentary on the Talmud. Meiri, in quasi-Maimonidean fashion, intentionally omits the give and take of the sugya, he focuses, rather, on the final upshot of the discussion and presents the differing views of that upshot and conclusion. Also, he alone, and again intentionally, provides the reader with background information. His writings are the closest thing to a secondary source in the library of rishonim. This trait coupled with the remarkably modern syntax of Meiri's Hebrew prose have won for his works their current widespread use. It is not, as commonly thought, because the Beit ha-Behirah has been recently discovered. True, the massive Parma manuscript has been in employ only for some seventy years. However, even a glance at any Hebrew bibliography will show that much of the Beit ha-Behirah on sefer mo'ed, for example, had been published long before Avraham Sofer began his transcriptions of the Parma manuscript in the nineteen twenties. (E. g. Megillah Amsterdam, 1759; Sukkah Berlin, 1859; Shabbat Vienna, 1864.) Rather, Meiri's works had previously fallen stillborn from the press. Sensing its alien character, most scholars simply ignored them, and, judging by the infrequent reprintings, if any, they also appear not to have found a popular audience. They have come into their own only in the past half century. (On Meiri's quasi-Maimonidean intentions, see Beit ha-Behirah, Berakhot, ed. Y. Dickman [Jerusalem, 1965], introduction, pp. 25-32. Meiri consciously follows Maimonides in addressing the halakhic dicta rather than the Talmudic discussion, in gathering scattered halakhic dicta under one roof, and in writing in neo-Mishnaic rather than Rabbinic Hebrew. He parts company with Maimonides and follows R. Judah ha-Nassi in writing not topically but tractatewise, and in registering multiple views. Indeed, no one writing after the dialectical revolution of the Tosafists could entertain again the Maimonidean notion of halakhic univocality.)
* Was reading it the other day, continuing from last month, when I started reading it at the gym.