A New Venture and a Pre-Shavu’ot Podcast

It has been an eventful few weeks. After three and a half years, I am no longer working for Jewish Ideas Daily. The parting was amicable and we did not discount the possibility of doing some work for JID or its affiliated projects.

The work that I’ve done for them, specifically building a model to take in the entire sweep of Jewish and Israeli news, opinion, and analysis on a daily basis, has prepared me for the next step. Together with Dr. Judah Levine, who worked with me for JID, I have launched a new venture called FindNeedles. We serve clients by going through vast amounts of content to find the items that are specifically relevant to them. Our process combines the power of machine aggregation with the human intelligence of curation. You can learn more by visiting our site, www.findneedles.com . And here’s a sample of something we recently provided for a client.

Please get in touch if you think we can be of value to your business or organization.

A few weeks ago, I gave a shi’ur in honor of my grandparents, as I do every year. This year I explored the uneasy and blurry relationship between halakha and aggada, between law and lore. I used the well-known stories of the non-Jews who came to Hillel and Shammai with the intention of converting to Judaism. The central thesis (and chiddush) of the shiur is that the figures of Hillel and Shammai are typologies that externalize rabbinic ambivalence about standardizing and codifying practice. I further argue that this ambivalence persists even after these stories are domesticated by halakha – that is, that aggada resists domestication and occasionally succeeds in injecting something of life’s messiness into the halakhic codes themselves. In fact, I argue, the impulse toward standardization of conversion and the impulse to resist standardization, both of which are manifest in contemporary debates about conversion, are discernible within the Talmud’s discourse; looking only at halakha or aggada simplifies the picture considerably.

This reading of the stories in the Gemara and the subsequent codification is both indebted to and critical of a recent work by Barry Wimpfheimer  called Narrating the Law. I hope to have occasion to flesh this out further in a review essay.

Since the subject matter pertains directly to the upcoming holiday of Shavu’ot, I thought it might be of interest over the next few days. The audio of the shiur is available here, and the associated source sheet is here.

Chag Sameach.


DW said...

I listened to the audio-shiur this morning and may incorporate some of your ideas into my own Shavuot teaching. I'm curious what your thoughts are viz. the "shtei torot" theme. I can see it in two directions: mahloket as undermining faith in Torah sh'be'al Peh (c.f. Rambam's treatment of mahloket), or mahloket has undermining the moral authority of Hazal...

ADDeRabbi said...

I would think the former. As I alluded in the shiur, I'm fairly well convinced that there is a connection between that story and the Gemara in Sanhedrin about machloket proliferating during the generations of the students of Hillel and Shammai, to the point that "the Torah became like two Torot."
I see this fellow coming to Hillel and Shammai in search of God's truth, and the obvious presence of sectarianism forces him to want to encounter the truth directly, outside of the various sectarian interpretations. Hillel saw this person as being לשם שמים.