The annual lecture marathon at Scholion is coming up. A lot of the topics leave me cold, but as you already know, I think Amos Geulah is cool.
Last night at an engagement party, a distant relative asked me what I'm up to, and when he heard, he got all excited and started sharing with me his frustrations with contemporary Haredi halakhic practice. He's a hasid himself, by the way. He asked me whether I could recommend a good book on German Tosafists. All I could think of was Simcha Emanuel's wonderful Shivre Luhot, but I think that was too obscure for him. He talked about the opposition to an eruv in Brooklyn, and predicted that selling hamets will soon go out of style too.
Anyway, it brought me back to my wondering whether there is a point to what I'm doing. When I catalogue a manuscript, I know that I'm doing something that could be of some use to a future scholar (though, with some of the stuff I've worked on, I pity the scholar who finds herself studying anything so boring). But I don't want to be a librarian all my life. I do hope to become a full-fledged academic some day. That choice presents me with two great worries. One is whether I will survive in the cut-throat world of academia (especially in Israel, where the pool is smaller and teeth are sharper, or so I hear). The other is whether as even a successful academic I would be contributing something worthwhile to the world. A lot of the research out there is just fodder for people's anger at the communities they come from, belong to or wish they belonged to. I don't feel comfortable with all that negativity. Maybe that's one reason why I focus on the Middle Ages.
Recently, I realized that, on some level, I've been priming myself for growing up to be a person in the thirteenth century. Short of something out of Timeline, that's probably not going to happen. So what other reasons are there? There are so many people out there helping others in a real way - including plenty of people in liberal arts. But how much practical good can come of manuscript studies and the history of medieval Halakhah?