Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Practice what you preach

Ha'aretz carried an interesting description of Avraham Elqayam's speech at the World Congress of Jewish Studies. His main point, which he brought home in an immediate fashion, was that academic study of a field such as mysticism must have an experiential, personal aspect to it. If you study meditation for a living, you must practice meditation.

I have noticed certain teachers of mine who, in a less demonstrative way, have reached the same conclusion. Someone who has studied rabbinic mnemonic systems and seems to have used them himself to memorize the Mishna. Someone else who, in studying rabbinic literature, has taken upon himself customs and practices he found compelling. Following Rabbenu Tam's opinion in calculating the end of Shabbat, for instance.

I believe in this strongly. Not, of course, as a requirement. Obviously, not every scholar must take upon himself the lifestyle he is studying. But for me, there is a strong connection between the material I study and the life I want to lead.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Lia said...

First: Agreed; wonderful point.
Second: I think the folks would love to hear you expand on that last sentence.
Third: I think it was Nietzche who is reputed to have said, when confronted about the fact that he was a moral philosopher but a jerk of a guy, "If I were a mathematician, would you ask of me that I be a triangle?"

6:12 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I'm afraid this isn't necessarily true.

I'd make difference between lerning Tôre - which can be academical in its method as well and isn't confined to shockling and repeating - and purely academic out-of-Tôre subjects, where identification is much less important. (Personally, I count mysticism among this.)

What would a scholar of comparative religions do?

May you never meet a criminologist who adheres to your principle in a dark alley...

(Allow me two remarks:
- I think R' Tam's shitte is not convincing at all. Have you read R' Leo Levi's introductory essay in his book on zmanem?
- I like your blog.)

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Someone who has studied rabbinic mnemonic systems and seems to have used them himself to memorize the Mishna."

What are the rabbinic mnemonic systems and where can I find out more about them?

7:35 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

Lia- that was Bertrand Russel, when confronted with the fact that he was having an affair with a student from one of his Ethics classes.
That story came to mind when I was reading this as well.
Excellent point, MB.

7:50 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

R' Saul Lieberman, introducing Prof. Gershom Scholem:
"Narishkeit is narishkeit; but the history of narishkeit? This is scholarship."

8:00 PM  
Blogger Yuen Rose Mae said...

It does not seem so common to me, based on my personal experience, to hear a person with religious principles say "For me, there is a strong connection between the material I study and the life I want to lead."

I also like the expression: "the life I want to lead". As contrasted with "the life I claim I am living".

10:49 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

Anonymous - I mentioned an article about such mnemonic techniques at the end of June. You can also read a little about it in Dov Zlotnick's book, The Iron Pillar - Mishna. One other thing - in principle, I don't allow comments signed "anonymous". Please find yourself a nom de-guerre.

Lipman - Thank you for your comment. I don't agree. On the one hand, must a non-Jewish talmudist keep kosher? On the other, wouldn't you want a criminologist by your side in a dark alley, where his understanding of the criminal mind could come in handy? I would expect (but never demand!) a scholar of comparative religion to incorporate diverse religious beliefs and practices into his lifestyle.

AddeRabbi - an attempt to recover the context and precise wording of the Lieberman quote was made by Daniel Abrams. I think it was in his article in the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 9, 2 (2000). In any case, I have always found it a disturbing comment. And Scholem's outlook was not so different. See Boaz Huss's article in Modern Judaism 25, 2 (2005), available online on academic networks. It never occurred to him that he could learn anything from speaking to the living kabbalists who lived in Jerusalem during his time.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

But understanding (the criminal mind etc.) is davke not the same as identifying. In this alley, a criminologist migh come handy, but he'd be comparable to the Scholem type, not the practising kabbalist scholar of kabole.

12:25 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

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4:57 AM  
Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

I don't know if an academic absolutely has to adhere to the material he is studying. But I, for one, don't really want to hear what some academic thinks about something he or she sees only from the outside.

If I'm interested in learning mysticism, I'll go to a mystic. The best an academic (who doesn't practice) can do is tell me about it. The gap between the two is simply too great.

10:04 PM  

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