Monday, May 02, 2011


The new issue of ha-Ma'ayan is online. I haven't had time to go through it carefully. But there is one exchange that I thought was worth commenting on. Someone who berated R Yoel Friedmann for his critical review (in an earlier issue of ha-Ma'ayan) of R David Avraham's new edition of Sefer ha-Terumah. Friedmann is working on a doctorate on Sefer ha-Terumah, and noone knows the manuscripts of that work better than he does. His main complaint against the new edition was that the editor used the manuscripts in a haphazard way, without trying to determine their relative worth. It's worth mentioning that R David Avraham's previous project was a massive (8 volumes, I think) new edition of Sefer Kolbo. His footnotes there are exhaustive and sometimes exhausting but definitely helpful. But Kolbo is almost unique among medieval Halakhic works in that it exists only in a printed edition - no manuscripts of it are known to have survived.

The berater declares that Friedmann's perspective is irrelevant because it is academic, whereas Avraham is following the methodology of the 'Yeshiva world'. Academics concern themselves with variants and with determining the original text, while Yeshiva adherents are enamoured of the received text that has been sanctified by generations of learning. I've heard that claim before, and I find it silly, but if it's followed consistently, at least it doesn't purport to more than it achieves. However, as Friedmann points out in his rejoinder, this new edition is not a reproduction of the standard printed text, since the editor did in fact make use of manuscripts and presents this as one of the main advantages of his edition. In this light, the berater's position seems to be that the Yeshiva world insists on its right to use critical tools haphazardly. Ignoring them would bespeak ignorance, but using them carefully and consistently would apparently betray the values of the Yeshiva world. So a happy compromise is found in mediocrity.

The number of scholars within the "Yeshiva world" who are studying Talmudic philology and other branches of critical Jewish studies, and applying them carefully and successfully to traditional texts and traditional questions is growing. This issue of Ha-Ma'ayan includes a few interesting examples. But the tension is still there. Looking at other articles in the issue, one can find an attempt to resolve a Halakhic question with grave implications for the rule of law in Israel through comparison of manuscripts. On the other hand, in Rav Yoel Katan's regular column which surveys new books in the field, he criticizes the author of Derekh ha-Melekh for citing too many academic sources in a Halakhic context. Of course, there is a big difference between the application of thought to textual criticism and privileging any article published in an academic journal over traditional sources. But the allure of academic Jewish studies is quite bright.

The argument over Sefer ha-Terumah upsets me, partly because I know R Yoel Friedmann, but mostly because the study of medieval Halakhah is one field where the distance between academics and traditional learners is fairly small, and the opportunities for working symbiotically are great.



Blogger Zohar said...

Yes, the manuscripts are used in a sloppy way. Furthermore, an over-reliance on "intuitive" textual criticism coupled with a complete avoidance of source criticism often creates more problems than it solves. Hence the somewhat justifiably bad reputation of textual criticism itself in the yeshiva world.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Mar Gavriel said...

Really interesting post.

6:46 AM  

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