Iyov has posted a speech by Ismar Schorsch as President of (Conservative Movement) Jewish Theological Seminary of America (2006), in response to a question about his series from Orlinsky. However, I hope I am not mistaken in understanding this to also be a significant contribution to the discussion on languages and scholarship.
This speech made me tingle, it addresses the intense need to integrate contemporary belief with historical understanding, a rigourous involvement with our own heritage, for good or for bad, and a willingness to accept the polarity within.
I have chosen a few paragraphs to highlight, but the entire speech is posted here.
- The Zohar relates that when Moses beheld the spectacle of the Golden Calf, he did not smash the tablets of the Ten Commandments as scripture records. Rather they slipped from his hands because the letters inscribed on them fled back to heaven. Minus the letters, the stone tablets were too heavy to carry. The image graphically depicts our predicament.
With history no more than an argument for supersession, the halakhic yoke has lost its lightness. Great scholarship has ceased to energize it as it had in the past. Once, the polarity of truth and faith at the Seminary had made it home for the acme of twentieth–century Jewish scholarship, a venue of ferment and fertility. Faith once moved us to study our heritage deeply, while truth asked of us that we do it critically, in light of all that we know. Willful ignorance was never an acceptable recourse. The interaction set us apart as the vital center of modern Judaism.
But no longer. Our meta–halakhic aquifer has run dry, eroding our halakhic landscape. With frequency, fundamental changes come more easily. Our forebearers embraced history to enlarge and enrich Jewish observance; we wield it, if at all, to shrink it. How quickly have we forgotten the bracing spiritual power of Gershon Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Yehezkel Kaufmann’s Religion of Israel, Saul Lieberman’s Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, Nahum Sarna’s Understanding Genesis, or Jacob Milgrom’s commentaries to Leviticus and Numbers. Our addiction to instant gratification has stripped us of the patience to appreciate any discourse whose rhetoric is dense and demanding. Mindlessly, we grasp for the quick spiritual fix.
A grievous failure of nerve affects Conservative Judaism. We have lost confidence in the viability of the distinctive polarity that once resonated within. It is not a slick new motto that we need, but a vigorous reaffirmation of the old which gloriously captures our essence.
[I know that I am guilty of turning Iyov’s integral post into a blogbyte. Pace Iyov] Other fascinating posts around the bibliosphere address:
Jeremiah 39:3 and History: A New Find Clarifies a Mess of a Text
Jeremiah 39:3 and the Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet
Bibliophilia run amok!
Tim writes in How come our people don’t read the Bible any more?,
- we recognised that many (but not all) people don’t actually READ. They can all read, we have nearly if not 100% functional literacy, but people use that literacy to scan newspapers, webpages or magazines, they do not read books.
I hope that is not true around here. I have such a wealth of people recommending books to me, I don’t know what to do with them all. I don’t expand my blogreading, I am pretty strict with that. (Some of my hen scratches actually come from tips that are emailed to me.)
I also looked at the used books for sale in the Regent College seminary and found a whole pile of books on sale formerly owned by Stan Grenz. I was incredibly strict with myself and only bought one today (Social Teachings of Jesus by Shailer Matthews. 1897) but I suspect I will go back. Some of them have pencil notes, but only very brief ones.
Here is a short quote on women from Matthews,
- All through the gospel story we find a surprisingly high position accorded women. The life of Jesus was to give them something more than protection. It made them the companions of men – equally privileged members of the new human brotherhood.
And on marriage,
- It is in itself a fraternity – a microcosmic kingdom of God. (1897)
Sweet words which so well inform the best thinking in the first few decades of the last century, the reaching out for a universal brotherhood of humanity.