Current Issue Article Abstracts
Fall 2022, Vol. 112.4
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Legal Theory and Jewish History
David N. Myers
JQR presents a forum exploring the generative combination of legal theory and Jewish historiography. It features essays by Natalie B. Dohrmann on the imprints left on early rabbinic law by the twin pressures of pre-rabbinic Jewish and Roman history, Alexander Kaye on the persistence of exilic legal ideologies in Israeli legal circles, Arye Edrei on Herzog’s vision of Israeli law, Suzanne Last Stone on the importance of law’s own imagination in legal theory, Jessica Marglin on the global turn, and Nomi Stolzenberg asking just what is Jewish about Jewish legal theory.
Introduction: On Legal Theory and Jewish History
Natalie B. Dohrmann
A Thing Imaginary
Suzanne Last Stone
Jewish Law and the Global Turn in Legal History
Jessica M. Marglin
Jewish Legal Theory?
Nomi Maya Stolzenberg
This article analyzes Jewish writings normally placed in the period between about 200 b.c.e. and 200 c.e. that associate human mortality with the formation of Adam from the dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2.7). In particular, Ben Sira (16.30–17.1), the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls (5.32; 7.34; 9.17; 11.22, 24–25; 12.30; 20.27–34; 21.11–17, 25, 31–38; 22.12, 19; 23.13, 23, 26–27), Wisdom of Solomon (7.1–6), Philo’s On the Creation (134–35), and Second Enoch (30.8–10) all include material to this effect. The relevant passages generally give the impression that humans are susceptible to death due to the earthly constitution with which they were created, not because of a “fall” of Eden that had a corrupting effect on a previously pristine creation. A number of passages in the same texts have typically been understood to express the notion of a “fall” that introduced death to human existence (Sir 25.24; 1QH 4.27; Wis 2.23–24; Creation 151–52; 2 En 30.11–12, 16–18), but many such passages do not allude to the Edenic inception of human mortality as clearly as scholarship has generally assumed. Ultimately, the notion that humans were created mortal is a widespread and underappreciated motif within the Judaism of this period.
In his Sefer tikun ha-de‘ot, the thirteenth-century Jewish philosopher Isaac Albalag advocates the double truth doctrine, according to which the truth of philosophy and the truth of religion are contradictory yet simultaneously true. To support this doctrine, Albalag offers an unusual conception of prophecy that links prophets to a suprarational mode of apprehension and a domain of reality that contradicts demonstrative truth. Both doctrines clash with the Tikun’s visible Aristotelianism. In this paper, I argue that the double truth doctrine is not an actual dogma, but rather, serves a mere rhetorical-practical purpose. I analyze Albalag’s skeptical critiques of the limitation of the human intellect, showing how these eventually lead to the conclusion that the state of prophecy that lies at the heart of the double truth doctrine is unachievable.
Portraits of Abraham often bear the distinctive stamp of their creators, a fact attested in spiritual biographies of the patriarch in medieval Jewish literature. An example is Abraham as portrayed in the pages of a Torah commentary by the fourteenth-century Maimonidean Eleazar Ashkenazi ben Nathan ha-Bavli. In step with Maimonidean models, this Abraham ardently cultivates noesis as the principal religious activity. At the same time, he puts himself in grave danger in order to promote a revolutionary monotheistic teaching. While often taking his bearings from Maimonides, Eleazar can imbue Maimonidean ideas and interpretations with new resonances and turn them in novel directions. In his account of Abraham’s career as a monotheist missionary, Eleazar portrays Abraham in a manner without Maimonidean precedent when he imputes to the patriarch the use of mockery as a device to breach idolatrous ignorance. Eleazar emulates Abraham’s use of ridicule in his campaign on rationality’s behalf. Yet where Eleazar’s Abraham uses mockery against pagan irrationality, Eleazar deploys it to deride fruits of the midrashic hermeneutic and its foremost medieval spokesperson, Rashi. Put otherwise, Eleazar ridicules midrashim that threaten to turn the divine word into a propagator of the sort of unscientific myths Abraham so heroically opposed. In so doing, he positions himself in a line of enlighteners standing at the perennial crossroads between rational religion and popular faith.
This essay considers intercultural exchange within the framework of the early modern missionary encounter, concentrating on the Pietist mission in eighteenth-century Germany. The complex ramifications of Protestant Pietism for Jewish history have not received sustained scholarly attention; this essay argues that the meetings between Pietist missionaries and Jews often resulted in an intense dialogue, entailing an intriguing cultural entanglement. In the first half of the eighteenth century, the Pietist mission prompted personal conversations between Christians and a significant number of Jews. Most Jews were surprisingly willing to speak with the missionaries, despite their evident agenda. The essay focuses on three individual authors of well-known Yiddish ethical (musar) works whose extensive links to Pietism have been largely overlooked: Elhanan Henle Kirchhan, author of Simhat ha-nefesh (1707, 1726/27), Aaron of Hergershausen, author of Liblikhe tfile (1709), and Isaac Wetzlar who penned the social critique Libes briv (1748).
This creative dialogue between Jews and Pietists provides important empirical data to substantiate theories of cultural transfer and, more specifically, Jewish translation in the early modern period. In their dialogue with the Christian missionaries who set out to convert them, Yiddish writers formulated their own plans for the reform of Jewish society according to the precepts of piety. Rather than foregrounding confessional division, the Jewish-Pietist encounter was rooted in a shared quest for spiritual and social improvement through the reform of religious life, moral conduct, and education, to the extent that a comparative reading of Jewish and Pietist sources exposes an unexpected cross-cultural synergy.
This essay critically engages various contemporary readings of Hasidism. It examines what I call a “domesticating” orientation in Hasidic research, a quasi-apologetic move to read the academic study of Hasidism back into a normative Orthodox framework. I argue this is, in part, a resistance to what I call a “neo-Hasidic” orientation of a previous generation, scholars who sought to use Hasidism as the basis for their modern, existentialist, and renewal projects. This essay argues that while the domesticating critique has some merit, it overestimates its own objectivity and misses crucial aspects of the neo-Hasidic interpretation it seeks to undermine. I then use the work of Rav Shagar and what I am calling his “postmodern” reading of Hasidism as a critique of the domesticating trend that adopts, while also criticizing, the neo-Hasidic interpretation. In sum I argue that Rav Shagar presents a template that cuts through and moves beyond the modernizing and normative trajectories to open vistas for new understandings of Hasidism for our time.
The article examines the history of the first sustainable Yiddish daily in the world, Yidishes tageblat (Jewish Daily News), published in New York between 1885 and 1928). The history of the Tageblat exposes two lacunas in the existing scholarship about Yiddish culture in America. First, there are almost no English-language studies about Orthodox Yiddish newspapers. Second, whereas many historians have accepted and repeated a characterization of the Tageblat as an “Orthodox” paper, in reality it exhibited mildly traditional views that catered to many immigrants’ aching for homey Yiddishkayt, which did not necessitate rigorous observance of Jewish law. The newspaper’s conservatism was anchored in the concept of klal-yisroel (the Jewish people as a whole) rather than specific precepts. The article examines various writers/editors in the paper and shows how they were far not only from Orthodoxy, but sometimes even from traditionalism. This topic also illuminates the paucity of studies about conservative as well as lowbrow American Yiddish culture, especially in comparison to the plethora of studies about radical (socialist, communist, etc.) Yiddish culture. Finally, the article analyzes the difficulty to isolate and define the Tageblat’s kind of traditionalism as a historical phenomenon.
Alexander Altmann, “The Encounter of Faith and Reason in the Western Tradition and Its Significance Today,” with an Introduction by Leo Strauss
Philipp Von Wussow
The text is an annotated transcription of Alexander Altmann’s lecture at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago, October 1961, with a brief introduction by Leo Strauss. An introductory essay by the editor serves to situate the encounter in their larger scholarly projects and point to a few crucial issues in Strauss’s enigmatic introduction, which sets the stage for Altmann’s lucid presentation. In particular, it points to their respective stances toward Julius Guttmann, the preeminent figure in German Jewish scholarship around 1930, whom both mentioned in the text. The differences pertain to the understanding of medieval Jewish philosophy in its relation to Christianity—a topic that was little problematic for Altmann, who conceived of the Western tradition as an ongoing Jewish-Christian dialogue, whereas Strauss had sought to sketch a new understanding of the medieval Jewish enlightenment in opposition to Christian thought. Altmann’s lecture is a continuous dialogue with Strauss’s position on the encounter of “faith” and “reason” in the Western tradition.