Our Children Are The Guarantors

Defending Zionism from its detractors. Anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. Let the other side apologize for a change.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Integral Interpretation: Answering Spengler

Spengler of Asia Times is a writer I most admire, and to whose new articles I look forward. This does not, of course, mean agreement with everything he says or consideration of his standpoint as a perfect one. In my view, his greatest flaw is his overemphasis on ethnicity as the drive behind world events; this is only natural from one like me who views ethnicity as a secondary factor and ideology—the beliefs and convictions of men—as the prime mover of world history. I respect his worldview; I disagree with it.

Spengler has recently gotten into a dispute with Robert Spencer, of Jihad Watch fame, over quite a small snippet in his article from May 7, 2007, Are the Arabs already extinct? (the very title shows Spengler’s focus: he writes about Arabs while I write about Muslims). Spengler argues that the secular Syrian poet Adonis (the pen-name of Ali Ahmad Said) is a better source for learning about Islam than the traditional sources of Islam themselves. The most relevant quote is the following:

As a poet, Adonis does not describe the spiritual state of the Arabs, but rather evokes it existentially. The available literature on Islam consists mainly of a useless exchange of Koranic citations that show, depending on whether one is Karen Armstrong or Robert Spencer, that Islam is loving or hateful, tolerant or bigoted, peaceful or warlike, or whatever one cares to show. It is all so pointless and sophomoric; anyone can quote the Koran, or for that matter the Bible, to show whatever one wants. With Adonis one gains access to the inside of the Arab experience of modernity. It is a terrible and frightening one, not recommended for the faint-hearted, but indispensable to anyone who wishes to get beyond the pointless sloganeering of the pundits.

Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald have already given him their answers (see [1] and [2] respectively). But since this is a subject that interests me, particularly as an Orthodox Jew, I wish to give my own. My answer concerns specifically the following part of the quote:

The available literature on Islam consists mainly of a useless exchange of Koranic citations that show, depending on whether one is Karen Armstrong or Robert Spencer, that Islam is loving or hateful, tolerant or bigoted, peaceful or warlike, or whatever one cares to show. It is all so pointless and sophomoric; anyone can quote the Koran, or for that matter the Bible, to show whatever one wants.

By mentioning only the primary scriptures, viz. the Koran and the Bible, this is where Spengler has fallen. As an Orthodox Jew, I know better than to regard the primary scripture of a religion in isolation. Even at the beginning of his Torah life, an Orthodox Jewish boy of the age of five does not learn the Torah by itself, but studies it together with its simplest commentary, that of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi). What Spengler has disregarded in his quote is the truth that, in any scriptural religion, the interpretation is an integral part of the canon. So many people fall into that trap, but this is of utmost importance for our age, in which we are confronted by an enemy driven by religious ideology.

By interpretation, I mean not just the commentaries but also the assumptions and methods with which the believer approaches the sacred text. Take, for example, the Islamic concept of abrogation: if two Koranic verses contradict, then the one which tradition has determined to have been given later cancels the earlier. So an irenicist like Karen Armstrong can quote an array of Koranic verses calling for peace and intellectual dispute with unbelievers, but the fact that those verses have been abrogated by one verse that calls for war and forced conversion renders her point obsolete. This is no sophistry, for the Muslim jihadists themselves, whenever challenged on scriptural grounds, enlist this fact as a reply that leaves the challengers silent. Interpretation is an inseparable part of scripture—that cannot be emphasized enough.

Or take the following verse from the Torah (Numbers 1:51):

And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up; and the common man that draweth nigh shall be put to death.

To anyone who wishes to say, “This is just like the Muslims’ law of execution of non-Muslims who set foot in Mecca. See, Judaism is just as bad as Islam!”, this verse seems to be a watertight proof. But when you study it together with Rashi’s commentary, that “proof” evaporates. On “that draweth nigh”, Rashi says, “To that act of worship”, and on “shall be put to death”, he says, “By the hand of Heaven”. That is: the non-priest (i.e. the one who is not a Kohen, even if he is of the Israelites) may not approach the Tabernacle for worship (standing near it to take a photograph would be permissible), and if he does, it is not the people who execute him (contra the fate of the non-Muslim who enters Mecca), it is G-d who does that, in much the same manner as He did to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, for burning strange fire before Him.

Of course there may still be scoffers. “I don’t accept that interpretation”, they may say. No problem, but then you have not accepted the traditional Jewish understanding of that passage. You have not accepted that passage, because Orthodox Jews consider Rashi’s commentary to be an integral part of it. Orthodox Judaism does not consist in just knowing the bare, unguided text of the Torah, but in accepting the sanctioned interpretations of it, and all the practical commanded deeds (mitzvot) that stem from that. From the words in Deuteronomy 6:8, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes”, the mitzvah of donning the phylacteries (tephillin) is not automatic; it first requires that the passage not be interpreted solely as a metaphor, and then the shape, size and composition of the phylacteries needs to be gleaned from somewhere. The Oral Torah, believed by every Orthodox Jew to have been given at Mount Sinai just like the Written Torah, has all those details. Without that belief in the divine authority of the Oral Torah, one is not an Orthodox Jew, and whatever religion he practices cannot be called Orthodox Judaism.

The fact is that even believers in the sufficiency of primary scripture cannot do without interpretation, and guided, sanctioned interpretation at that. In earlier years, out of curiosity, long before I thought of coming back home to Orthodox Judaism, I read the gospels of the Christian New Testament. What idea did I come out with after my reading? That Jesus was some kind of mystic and guru, a cross between Mohandas Gandhi and David Koresh. Now this view is blasphemous to any traditional (i.e. non-universalized, non-Marxified) Christian, but that is the sort of conclusion a person can easily reach when reading the gospels unguided. Christian missionaries, upon arrival to a new land, have usually operated thus: befriending the natives, learning their language, devising a writing system for them, teaching them that system, translating the Christian Bible to their language and, finally, teaching the natives the scriptures and their message. Now, that last stage is contrary to a belief in self-sufficient scripture: it would be enough for the missionaries to have stopped at the stage of having translated the Christian Bible—to leave the natives the books and go on to other pastures. But it is obvious that that could end up with the natives arriving at some creative interpretation just as I did, and not that interpretation which the missionaries consider to be life-saving (the belief in Jesus as savior from sin). My point proven again: interpretation is integral to scripture.

Now that this point has been made, it should be clear that the beliefs of any scriptural religion need to be taken as the sum of scripture and its interpretation. Thus, it can be seen that it does not matter what the Bible or the Koran say by themselves, but how the believers interpret what they say. And if the ideology of jihad is to be challenged on scriptural grounds, then that is to be done not by bringing peaceful verses from the Koran but by challenging the jihadist interpretations of its verses, and by challenging the tradition that says the peaceful verses are made void by the warlike ones. And this is no simple business at all, especially not in our age.

Consider Reform and Conservative Judaism: to an Orthodox Jew, these are not legitimate forms of Judaism at all; they constitute forms of apostasy just as surely as assuming a secular lifestyle or converting to Islam are. Now, in contrast to the Islamic treatment of apostates (executing them for the political traitors or runaway slaves they are, according to the belief system), apostate Jews are in no physical danger. Can one say, then, that Reform and Conservative Judaism present potent challenges to traditional (a.k.a Orthodox) Judaism? No. Orthodox Judaism has never given Reform or Conservative Judaism any credit for their challenges. I mean that, whenever a Reform or Conservative rabbi challenges the traditional interpretation, the Orthodox Jewish answer is always the same: “That comes out of your own human mind and not out of the divine voice that the forefathers of the nation heard at Sinai”.

Is there a chance of challenge through sheer numbers? By the prospect of the majority turning away from one interpretation and accepting another, thus forcing even the hardliners to concede? The surprising answer is: not in our day and age. One would assume our day and age is one of rebellion; that is true, but whereas the past generation rebelled against ages-old tradition, this generation is marked by rebellion against the rebellion. Or, as I like to put it: the Sixties bumper sticker, “Question all authority”, has given way to the rejoinder, “Who are you to tell me to question all authority?” The “Mainline Protestant”, or Liberal, churches are not so mainline nowadays, and their liberality has led to the situation that only a few gray heads, the rebels of the 1960’s, populate them, while the young blood is to be found in the demanding, challenging, hardline Fundamentalist Churches. This generation has had quite enough of being told they can do everything they want; the rebellion against that may be nothing more than a matter of, “Where’s the fun in being permitted everything?”, or a deeper explanation that can fill a whole doctoral thesis, but there is no arguing with facts: this day is carried out by the Orthodox Jewish synagogues, by the Fundamentalist Protestant and Non-Cafeteria Catholic churches, and by…

…traditional Islam, with its jihadist interpretations. Which is why an easy-going young man can all of a sudden surprise everyone by switching off his computer one day a week (if Jewish, like I did), by going out to the streets preaching the gospel to passers-by (if Protestant Christian), or… by blowing himself up within a crowd of non-believers (G-d forbid).

And it is not enough to cherry-pick passages from the Koran, or to accuse others of doing so, in order to understand this state of affairs.

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Blogger kahaneloyalist said...

Spangler actually has an interesting point. More than what do the Islamic scriptures say, how do Muslims act? Though he writes Arabs instead of Muslims. The answer is Muslims act like barbarians whenever they have the strength. I think the words of the Rambam written during the "Golden Age" of Islam should show us how the Muzzeis behave under the best of circumstances. (I have brought this quote before)
Iggeret Taiman
"You dear brethren know that Hashem has unfortunately cast us down among this people, Ishmael, who plot great evils against us and hate us, as Hashem decreed upon us: "Our enemies commit crimes against us", (Devarim, 32:31). You know that no greater enemy has threatened us, and no nation has done more to subjugate and humiliate us. Even David HaMelech, when he sawe through Ruach HaKodesh all the troubles slated for Israel, began to wail and lament the wicked Ishmalite nation: "Woe is me, that I sojourn with Meshech , that I dwell beside the tents of Kedar!" (Tehillim 120:5). Note that of all of Ishnmael's descendants he mentions Kedar. That is because the lunatic(Mohammed) was descended from Kedar, as is know regarding his lineage. Moreover, Daniel only mentioned our humilation and servitude in the context of the Ishmaelite Kingdom, may it soon be crushed: "Ishmael cast down on the ground some of the host and of the stars and trampled them" (Daniel 8:10). We are still suffering their enslavement, perfidy and lies, which surpass the bounds of human endurance."

May 14, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

anyone can quote the Koran, or for that matter the Bible, to show whatever one wants. ...the Devil can quote scripture my friend..youre on spot as always and most dont know or never even heard of the "Oral law" which truly tells a Jew how to live!...brilliant essay my friend!

May 14, 2007 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'd agree with your assessment of Spengler. I think his focus is culture and religion as its underpinning, rather than ethnicity. However, that said, I think you are absolutely right about the young. The sixties generation may have said "question all authority", but what they really meant was "thumb your nose at all authority". They were and are the ultimate narcissists, which is why they don't get the young. In fact, young people turning to traditional religious practice or even just traditional religious values frighten the "me" generation. There is definitely something new in the wind.

May 14, 2007 5:39 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...


Whenever some says to me, "The Jews were better off under the Muslims in the Middle Ages than under the Christians", my response is, "That's a textbook example of damning with faint praise".


That Shakespearean quote (I think it's from him), "the Devil can quote scripture [...]", is so spot-on. Would you believe I've seen scriptural defenses of homosexuality? I'm not making this up. Just goes to show you how much the twisting can go, even in the face of the most plain-spoken texts.


I've read almost all his articles, and ethnicity is as recurring a theme in his writings as ideology is in mine. His cultural take on affairs, which I share, is the reason why I like reading him so much; but I can't deny this fundamental difference between us.

I think the satirical movie The Life of Brian captured our generation best: after years of everyone doing their own thing ("We're all different"), people prefer conformism as today's counterculture ("I'm not"). Of course, things are more complicated than this--after all, the hippies, for all their "sticking it to The Man", were an orthodoxy in their own right, as is (in greatest irony) anarchism as a whole (that's how you get anarchists who embrace Stalinism or Islam). Our generation is more balanced: we search for conformism, but we cherish the good life of the Reagan years. At least that's the way I see things, from my very personal view.

May 14, 2007 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I assume you are in your 20's. I was an adult when the 60's arrived.
You are right about its inherent orthodoxy. People talked about doing their own thing, but the so-called non-conformists were clones of one another in thought and dress. Intellectual diversity was despised and attacked with arrogance. What characterized the age, despite its Marxist and flower-child rhetoric, was contempt for ordinary, working humanity, who held society together just by meeting their commitments every day. Beneath it all was a shallowness and a kind of abyss that comes from valuing nothing more than oneself. I get the feeling it is against that underlying emptiness that the young today are rebelling.

May 14, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...


I have Sixties parents. They're nowhere near as hippified as a lot are, thank G-d, but they taught me permissiveness that neither their parents found nor I find acceptable.

It's one of the subjects I find most interesting. I just drink those writers who were there (both body and spirit), left that way of thinking and now write about it all. Neo-Neocon's "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series is one of the best, as are three posts by Gerard van der Leun of American Digest:

On the Return of History

Goodbye to the Way We Were

Radical Roots and the Conquest of the Democratic Party

Riveting. Our trouble is this: the kids from that era, unchanged, are the ones in positions of power, whether as policymakers at State Department or as the propaganda barons of the Mainstream Media. Unseating them is the first step toward winning this war.

May 14, 2007 8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right, "the kids from that era, unchanged, are the ones in positions of power...". But what I remember so vividly about the 60's is how quickly everything changed. The world in which I grew up changed overnight almost literally. I keep expecting a sea-change now. I see evidence that it is coming. I think those former kids now in power see it too, which is why they try to suppress free discussion in whatever ways they can and which is why they demonize traditional religion and religious observance.

May 14, 2007 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Ptah said...

An informative post about how the Torah is interpreted. However, I must say, in correction, that the Gospels, along with Acts, is history. Interpretation is in the rest of the New Testament, excluding Revelation. The disciples of Jesus were not Tom Swifts, so Jesus gave the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit to help "guide them unto all truth".

Of course, one can posit that the "remainder" of the New Testament needs interpretation, but my particular experience is that "interpretations" of those sections are creative exercises to negate the plain meaning of the text, as you pointed out with regard to Homosexuality.

Of course, there is a difference between "THE interpretation of a text", and the set of what one would Hermenutical rules. These are rules for reading and interpreting the text that one adopts ahead of time before reading the text itself. Some of these are "Take the text literally, unless the context and text indicate the deliberate use of symbolic, poetic, parabolic, or prophetic verbiage." "Read metaphors and turns of phrases as they were understood by the hearers and readers of the writer, for the primary intent of the Originator (God) was to communicate to THEM, and only secondarily to us." (ex. The word "works" means different things to Paul and James, and only by reading the context can you discern that.)

I personally have developed a form of "experimental religion", in which the Scientific Method is adapted to interpret religous texts. It is the standard Observe, Hypothesize, Experiment, Evaluate, modify hypothesis cycle, and has served me well. In this context, "interpretations" take the place of competing theories, with reconciliation requiring that the best theory ("interpretation") covers most of the scriptures and hold the fewest contradictions against scripture. Thus, one could make a case for Homosexuality, but one has to discount or wrest many different texts to do so, while the tranditional case against it contradicts no texts, and does not require elaborate "re-interpretations" to make the texts support the hypothesis (Occam's Razor.)

Unfortunately, it seems that only physicists are really capable of applying the methodology consistently and skillfully. People tend to slice themselves with Occam's Razor: for instance, they insist on "proof texts" with no regard to texts that contradict their hypothesis, and say that, being the simplest interpretation, their interpretation must be accepted. Occam's razor says that the simplest theory that explains all the facts and is not contradicted by any is the theory to be preferred.

I am currently working on an exposition of my methodology at my website, but it is still a work in process: some core theories need more development, and some seem dubious at best. If, by this comment, you believe that I believe in the Scriptures, but am doubtful of some of my interpretations of them, then you are correct.

May 15, 2007 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Ptah said...

Oh, and assumptions must be watched. You cannot believe how much one's presuppositions can affect how one reads the text, and it is a real struggle to figure out where they are misleading you. One lives for years thinking that there should be "Christian" Nations, in the same way that there is a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation or a Hindu nation or a Bhuddist nation, only to realise that a state religion has to enunciate certain kinds of laws, and a religion that does not dictate any of those kinds of laws is not, in essence, a state religion. Mosaic and Davidic Judaism, and Islam, are state religions because they dictated capital crimes, but Christianity is not a state religion because it does not mandate the death penalty at all, in the same way that Reptiles are not Mammals because they do not have hair. (I got that from applying the principles of Biological Taxonomy to religions.)

May 15, 2007 4:26 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...


Perhaps if I had read the epistles and not just the gospels, my conclusion would have been different; but it would still be far from guaranteed that my conclusion would have been the tenets of traditional Christianity. Re: Paul vs. James on the word "works", surely you know Martin Luther called James' "an epistle of straw" and wanted it excluded from the canon, just because he thought it went against his message of salvation by grace alone? Or Arminianism vs. Calvinism as another example where you can see believing traditional Protestant Christians pit scripture against scripture in driving their points home. I'm more partial to the Catholic doctrine of taking it from the Magisterium, if only because it's similar to the situation in rabbinic (now called, "Orthodox") Judaism.

Good luck in applying the scientific method to scripture. I would caution beforehand, however, that hermeneutics will always be, by necessity, a soft science, not a hard one. Not that hard science doesn't suffer from the clash of biases--see Global Warming for a great example of that.

In my view, reiterated on this blog a zillion times, presuppositions are everything. If there's one thing I emphasis about this Clash of Narratives, it's how your presuppositions color the way you view everything else. To me, objectivity is either 1) someone totally outside the frame of observation (i.e. G-d); or 2) a multitude of observers each pounding on a view with their critical scrutiny until nothing but the truth is left.

Thanks for the comment, Ptah! You're one of the most intellectually-minded commenters here.

May 15, 2007 6:29 PM  
Anonymous ptah said...

Ah, you bring up the two classical issues in Christianity that points out that even the experts do not adhere to their hermenutical rules consistently.

When paul speaks of works, he specifically says "works of the law", and defines both law and works, citing lying, adultry, idolatry, and greed as specific examples of breaking the law. James, on the other hand, gives two examples of "works" (not qualified with the phrase "of the law"): He cites rahab's hospitable treatment of the Hebrew spies, and the offering of Isaac by Abraham to God. Now, last time I looked, treason and child sacrifice were nowhere mentioned in the Law as good deeds. Rather, these were works of obedience to God, not works of the law. Ergo, the definition of a "work" is necessarily different between Paul and James.

The Calvinist/Armenian conflict is a sore point with me: while I find the Armenians as touchingly naive as to the depths of evil humanity is capable of, I find the Calvinists extremely objectionable by their use of word plays to disarm verses that would destroy their case. I cannot articulate my argument against them at the moment any better than saying that all their verbal maneuvers revolve around denying that certain bible verses employ universal positives, and their word plays focus chiefly on verses that, in other contexts, would be regarded as universals. (I.e. they change "For all A, B is true", to "For some A, B is true"). What is maddening is that they have no problem accepting that "all" means "all" in "All men have sinned", but deny it means "all" in "God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth."

I would not blame the Scientific method for Global Warming: there is a lot of violations of the Scientific Method the Global warming advocates indulge in that are positively unforgivable, such as doctoring data, biased reviews, ignoring relevant facts, incredible ignorance of error sources in numerical analysis. I notice such stuff, since the church in my youth elected to attack Evolution by teaching how Good Science is REALLY done. Its similar to how the Secret Service protects the money supply: they make their agents study genuine money for months before letting them look at counterfeits, with the result that they detect bogus bills almost immediately.

Every field has to tweak the method a bit to adapt it to their case: one cannot do field biology, archaeology, or astronomy in exactly the same way one does Physics, but fields that work harder to imitate Physics usually produces better science than those who don't. I'm still working on the protocols, and hope to make a better case in the future.

And thank you for the compliment, although I must say that "Iron sharpens iron.": other than Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, I find your posts as being great inspiration for posts of my own, either as personal commentaries, extensions, or jumping off points in other directions.

May 16, 2007 5:50 AM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...


You raise here an issue concerning any scriptural religion in which it is believed that every adherent is capable of interpreting scripture correctly (e.g. in Protestantism, by virtue of being "saved, therefore guided by the Holy Spirit").

When you say, "[...] even the experts do not adhere to their hermenutical rules consistently", I infer that correct interpretation requires great expertise. In Orthodox Judaism, although every adherent is enjoined to attain as high a degree of erudition in the Torah as possible, it is a dictum that few can be expected to reach the level needed to impart, let alone interpret, the Torah. That's why there are rabbis and rabbinical interpretations--rank and file like me cannot be expected to have attained the necessary level of expert knowledge for being teacher or interpreter.

Either scripture is simple and its message accessible to all without any requirement of years of study, or scripture needs a class of devoted students who are to teach its correct interpretation to the masses. It seems to me your quoted snippet refutes the former proposition; therefore, how can one continue holding that it is within the capability of all the masses of thousands upon thousands of Christian believers to interpret it correctly? A very small percentage are graduates of divinity schools.

Re: scientific method and global warming, I didn't say the scientific method was responsible for it; quite the opposite, I was pointing out how even the scientific method, which is there for minimizing human bias, is chafing under the strain that such politically loaded issues like climate change have set upon it.

May 17, 2007 12:15 AM  
Anonymous ptah said...

Either scripture is simple and its message accessible to all without any requirement of years of study, or scripture needs a class of devoted students who are to teach its correct interpretation to the masses.

And the problem is: what is "its correct interpretation"? I am fairly sure that someone aware of the Calvinist/Armenian issue is aware of the origins of the Protestant/Roman Catholic split that arose at the time of the Reformation, one issue of which was the role of the writing of the fathers ("the accepted interpretation") in resolving doctrinal disputes. The Roman Catholics continue in the tradition of a central magesterium that provides the "official" interpretation that keeps everyone "reading from the same script", while Protestants have been content to rely on an interative process of proposal, examination, and reliance on individual validation, while accepting the risk that there will be divergent interpretations (i.e. Heresies). The current view, as best as I can tell, is that it is preferable to form the equivalent of a marketplace of ideas in an environment free of coercion and accept the risk that bogus products will be vended that would mislead a fraction of the people, rather than risk that there is a monopoly and that 100% of the people are mislead, with reformers quashed physically. The model is not much different from the Rabbinical model of individuals earning credibility for their commentary by making good judgments.

I am curious: is there a link to that beginner's commentary online you mentioned in your post?

May 18, 2007 4:28 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...

Ptah, I read the comment, but it's approaching Sabbath (c. 25 hours of having the computer switched off), so an adequate response will, with HaShem's help, be later.

I don't know if Rashi's commentary is online; web search for "Rashi", "Torah commentary", "Yitzchaki", in any combination, might turn something up.

G-d bless.

May 18, 2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...


An Orthodox Jew has the obligation to choose a rabbi (and stick to him); but rabbis don't gain a following through a popularity contest. Certainly if the rabbi is good-natured and helps people through their legal difficulties, then he will gain a reputation and therefore followers, but those traits (being good-natured, helping etc.) are enjoined on every pious Jew regardless.

The judgments that rabbis have had to exercise have become less and less over the course of millennia, because successive issues were ironed out in each subsequent period. Each rabbi builds on past generations, summarizing the decrees of the forebears, updating them to the current situation but not changing them. Any Orthodox Jewish rabbi will tell you that he is not authorized to change anything; he does not have the authority to interpret scripture privately, independent of his predecessors. All the more so holds true, then, for the ordinary believer: I am not allowed to interpret scripture privately. Oh, I can do that if I want, but then I have to keep it to myself; it could never be considered part of the canon.

And all this, too, is not my opinion, but a tenet that stems necessarily from the Orthodox Jewish core belief that G-d gave us, in addition to the Written Torah (the Pentateuch), the Oral Torah as the key to interpreting it correctly. The fact that the Oral Torah was later written down (as the Mishnah), in order to guard against its being forgotten (the Roman rule of Judea was starting to take its toll on Jewish education), makes no difference; Orthodox Judaism holds the Oral Torah and its subsequent clarifications and summaries (the Talmud, the Yad Chazakah of Maimonides, the Shulchan Aruch etc.) to be the one true key to the Written Torah. I don't know if a marketplace of ideas would be desirable for us or not; I can only say we weren't given any choice in the matter.

May 20, 2007 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Ptah said...

Zionist Youngster, I hope you had a fine sabbath: Mine was VERY productive spiritually.

I came to the realization that the Method by which Jewish rabbis came to a consensus was via a modified Delphi Method, except that it is distributed over time as well as geography. Not bad for the same people who came up with the basics of quality assurance and checksums when copying the Torah texts. The consensus of intelligent experts arrived at over an extended period of time that is continually confirmed by later experts is is a pretty reasonable compromise between an entirely private interpretation and one dictated by a single individual.

May 21, 2007 9:13 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...

Wow, thanks for that inspiring insight and the link! I never thought of it that way. This is an "ahead of its time" example par excellence. And I agree it's the best middle road between the two options.

May 22, 2007 12:33 PM  

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