4/14/2007

Theologian or Am Haaretz?

I’m back on a Jewish philosophy/theology kick. There are some things I have to work out for myself. Over Pesach, I read the Rav’s ‘Halakhic Mind’. It’s a challenging read, and I hope to post a fuller review later, but suffice it to say that it didn’t do much for me. It provides a philosophical basis for the Rav’s halakhic endeavor. There are holes, though. Big ones.

So I’ve started Neil Gilman’s ‘Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew’. I’m only a few pages in, and already I’ve found two glaring examples of complete amhaaratzus. It’s astounding.

The first example is when he accuses R’ Yehuda Halevi’s proof of the Torah’s divinity and veracity of being circular. The evidence that there was a mass revelation is located in the very book whose veracity you’re trying to prove. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Kuzari’s proof. The proof rest on the assumption that a claim of mass revelation cannot be fabricated, and only the Torah claims mass revelation. The proof is not beyond refutation, but it’s also not circular. How can you miss that?

The second example is where Gilman claims that the Sinai experience is not so central to the Torah, but only became so later on. As a prooftext he brings the vidui bikurim, where Sinai isn’t even mentioned in the summary of Israel’s history.

What’s this guy smoking? How can you miss the centrality of the Sinai revelation in the Torah? The early part of DEvarim constantly emphasizes the importance of remembering Sinai. So much of the Torah takes place there. The claim is just ludicrous.

As for the vidui, I wrote last year that short summary narratives only emphasize the elements of the story that are important for the current situation. When one is bringing his bikurim, the emphasis is on how we went from a state of landlessness to having land, and God’s role in that. The Sinai revelation is not important to that particular narrative.

My expectations for this book have been lowered dramatically. Back to the drawing board.

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