Vol. I, No. 3

You can also read previous studies on this site.

Let's Learn! is an exploration of Judaism, Zionism, the Jewish People, and God's world, guided by Yaakov Fogelman, who lectures on Torah and Religious Zionism; sets and disks of these studies, which include all the Torah readings and holidays, as well as his audio and video tapes, are available at TOP. See In the Service of God, by Shalom Freedman (Jason Aronson, $30 from TOP), for his views, together with those of 20 other teachers of Torah, on Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish People today.

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This study is sponsored by Marc and Leslie Feldman of L.A., in memory of Colonel & Mrs. M. Sans and Sara Feldman

In this study and the next, we hope, God willing, to complete our overviews of the O.T. (Only Testament), the Talmud, and the study of Jewish history, along with current events. Your ?? and responses are most welcome.

I. Beyond the Torah.
II. Fathers know best.
III. Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?
IV Torah Today.


In our last issue, we critically explored the position of tradition-observing, but critical, Jewish academic scholars of the Bible; their denial of the Divinity and Unity of the Torah and its accompanying oral law, is heretical, by traditional standards. Prof. Moshe Greenberg recently argued their (and his) position at Jerusalem's Orthodox Yakar Institute. He asked: "Is a Religious, Yet Critical, Study of the Bible Possible?" The answer was clearly "No!", unless, like Greenberg, you take "religious" to mean "subjectively inspiring", rather than experiencing the authoritative "scientific" word of God Himself.

I view Greenberg's position as a more sophisticated academic pseudo-scientific version of the Jewish Renewal Movement's dogma-- "Does it work for you? Do you enjoy the Torah?" Subjective aesthetics and values replace the absolute laws of human behavior given by the word of God, corresponding to the abstract principles and minute details of His laws of physical nature, true science. Greenberg likes to show alleged contradictions within the Bible, and between the Talmud and the Bible. He claims that the rabbis never continued the prophetic denunciation of the alleged magical efficacy of rituals, such as sacrifices and shabbat laws-- but he forgets or ignores the fact that the prophets did not oppose ritual per se, but all immoral or insincere religious activity, including prayer; he also forgets that the rabbis clearly debunked belief in any magic effect of Moshe's uplifted hands in war, or of the brass snake-- they were just devices to focus the Jews upon God and Godliness. Greenberg also alleged that the rabbinic stress on constantly studying Torah is nowhere found in the Bible-- at the very least, he ignores the Shma itself, where the Torah tells us to place its words upon our hearts, and thus be able to teach them to our children, to speak words of Torah at home and on the road, when we lie down and when we get up.

Greenberg openly rejected Rambam's insistance that God dictated the Torah as "extremist" and, while he praised Abarbanel's openness to new ways of viewing the Bible, he condemned his belief in the Divine origin of the Torah as "dogmatic"; he attributes the loyalty to tradition of medieval Torah giants to their fear of persecution should they, like him, express traditionally heretical views.

Greenberg claims that critical examination of the Torah, to discover the true intent of the authors of its original versions, w/o our cultural biases, will reveal their original inspiring messages (as in Shakespeare and Mozart), and thus induce a "religious" experience; as evidence, he shows that stories seem cut-off or truncated, per literary standards, indicating that they're a short remainder of a complete original saga, e.g the brief mention of the Egyptian drowning of Jewish babies, or the biography of Ms. Potiphar; but, in so doing, he ignores another basic Jewish belief-- that God's purpose in the Torah was NOT to tell stories or entertain, but to direct man toward his Divine mission, to fully develop his Divine Image, and describe his successes and failures in so doing; when universal man flunks his course, Jewish covenantal models, culminating inb the State of Israel, will eventually bring him back to himself and Eden. Only those parts of biography and history which directly relate to man's mission are set forth; Avraham's life, no matter how interesting, is not mentioned in the Torah until he bursts upon the covenantal stage at 75; legends of his development are relegated to oral traditions, as collected by Rambam. So Ms. Potiphar only appears on the Biblical stage to trigger Yosef's path to oblivion, followed by fame and greatness, a yerida l'tzorech aliya; her probably fascinating biography (cf. Jackie Kennedy's) is otherwise irrelevant to the Torah's grand saga.

Likewise, allegedly "scientific" Bible critics claim multiple human authorship of the Torah by pointing out different styles in different passages, tho they can show no consistant pattern of each of its alleged authors-- True-- Shakespeare can't write Walt Whitman's poems and v.v. Shlomo Carlebach's holy songs can't be composed by profane Michael Jackson and v.v. But God, who created all of them and their gifts, is Himself Master of all Literature; He, in His alltime best seller can and does weave a magnificent fabric of all styles of literature, just as He composes the grand symphony and portrait of all Nature, of which the greatest human artists and musicians are but pale partial reflections-- "I thing that I will never see, a poem as lovely as a tree." Greenberg's neo-Karite view also rejects Jewish tradition, that the Oral Law accompanies and explains the written.

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II. A TASTE OF TALMUD-- FATHERS KNOW BEST (Mothers weren't involved much in Talmud, which may have limited its experience and insights)

In Let's Learn I:2, we sampled Part 1, the history of the development of the Talmud, in Adin Steinsaltz's The Essential Talmud. Now we'll do the same for Part 2, Structure and Content, chapters 12-21. Every student of Judaism should read this clear and concise book.

Ch. 12, The Structure of the Talmud: "Both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem versions of the Talmud are arranged according to the order of the Mishna, which they expound and elaborate. The Mishna is divided into 6 basic sections or sedarim (orders); the orders, knowen by their Hebrew initials as the shas, have become synonymous with the Talmud, particularly since the Christian censors decided that the word Talmud was taboo. Each order deals with a specific catagory of problems". Ch. 13, The Subject Matter of the Talmud: "The list of tractate names suffices to give some impressions of the scope of the Talmud, but it does not exhaust the tremendous range of subjects. The purpose of the Talmud is talmud torah (lit. study of Torah) in the widest sense of the word, i.e acquisition of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, since Torah is regarded as encompassing everything contained in the world (YF: But Rambam & Co. clearly state that Torah giants have no special status in secular wisdom, which is not part of the Torah tradition)". Ch. 14, Prayers and Benedictions: "In the First temple era, prayer was entirely spontaneous; when a man felt the need to petition God or thank Him, he prayed in his own words and on his own ground; in times of trouble or particular stress, he would come to the Temple to utter his prayers there...

"The need for a recognized version of prayers became pressing at the beginning of the Second Temple era. Many of the returning Babylonian exiles had only sparse knowledge of the hebrew language and of basic concepts of Judaism. When they wanted to pray, they lacked both language and content. The Great Assembly therefore decided to compose a standard prayer reflecting the wishes and aspirations of the entire people... fixed times were determined for prayer... it was decided that services should be conducted in public... the basic format of public prayer could not retain its original simplicity for a number of reasons. These subjects are discussed at length in the talmud, mainly in Berachot". Ch. 15, The Sabbath: "The concept of the Sabbath is a fundamental part of Judaism, and its importance is stressed from the story of the Creation to the explicit precept in the 10 Commandments to refrain from labor on the 7th day (YF: this shows that the 10 are not addressed to non-Jews, who have no obligation to keep Shabbat laws; their equivalent basic principles are the 7 laws of Noach). In the most general sense, the numerous Sabbath laws are an expanding network of minute details deriving from several basic concepts (YF: like science, God's laws for the universe), which eventually create an almost Gothic (talmudic) structure, made up of 1000's upon 1000's of tiny and meticulously fashioned details, clustered around the original form".

Ch.16, The Festivals: "Most of the tractates in the Moed order deal with holidays and special occasions thruout the year. The Jewish festivals may be divided into those explicitly mentioned in the Torah, and the special days of rejoicing or mourning established in later generations." Ch. 17, Marriage and Divorce: The range of problems pertaining to Jewish matrimonial law can be divided, as far as sources are concerned, into two catagories: the various incest laws and the various prohibitions of intercourse, and the regular laws of marriage and divorce. The great (talmudic) structure of halacha on marriage and divorce was based on the tradition of many generations, and on the conclusions drawn from the combanation of these suggestions with the hints in the Torah, and their comparison with other areas of halacha. From the Mishna and the Talmud, there emerges a very detailed and complicated, but consistent, network of matrimonial law." Ch. 18, The Status of Women: "Talmudic Law excludes women, in many ways, from several important spheres of life. One might have expected all these restrictions and exemptions to create an inferior caste, and to relegate women tp a totally marginal role in Jewish society. Yet they were active in many different spheres and made their presence felt not only thru the activiities they undertook as wives and mothers, but also in what appeared to be exclusively male provinces. The reason is apparently inherent in the nature of the talmudic approach to life and to Torah.

"The halacha is regarded as more than merely a philosophical and intellectual structure in need of justification and substantiation thru incessant theorizing. It is seen, rather, as a network of practical laws-- in a sense, laws of nature-- the attitude toward which is completely pragmatic and, hence, totally flexible." Ch. 19, Civil Law: "Civil Law-- or, as it is usually called, dinei memonot (monetary law)-- is one of the most fertile areas of talmudic thought and creativity... Unlike other law codes, which are largely dependent on a relatively inflexible framework of statutes and rules, civil law... is flexible and incessantly changing." Ch. 20, Criminal Law: "The Talmud sees no basic distinction between criminal and civil law, just as there is no clear division between offenses committed by one man against another and religious transgressions between Man and God. All the spheres of legal activity are seen only as different aspects of one comprehensive body of teaching". Ch. 21, Sacrifices: "Both Written and Oral Law devote considerable space to sacrifices... The profound emotional attitude to Temple ritual did not wane in intensity after the destruction of the Temple. Not only did the Jews continue to pray for the rebuilding of the Temple and restoration of worship and sacrice, but they continued to discuss and amend the laws of sacrifice... Accordingly, an entire order of the Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim, is devoted to this subject." TO BE CONTINUED


In Let's Learn No. 2, we surveyed 19th and early 20th century Jewish secular academic pioneers in the study of Jewish history; their assimilationist outlook was far from Judaism, and they lacked acute awareness of the God of Israel; thus they failed to see the Divine messages and impetus in Jewish history. Meanwhile, the Orthodox camp, amidst Jewry's chaotic entry into the modern western world, was primarily concerned with sheer survival, with preserving God's Torah, Israel's heritage, and traditional Jewish life in the radically new intellectual, spiritual and physical settings of a harsh and antagonistic modern world; but some Orthodox Jews, especially in western Europe, which entered modernity long before Eastern Europe, understood that Orthodoxy had to become part of the modern world to survive, grow and retain relevance for the vast majority of Jews. Their rabbis and leaders, unlike most of those of Eastern Europe, managed to blend Torah with the ways of the world; many are depicted in Rav Leo Jung's Men of Spirit. Mainstream Orthodoxy too, despite its East European origins, has increasingly, tho at a much slower pace (perhaps much healthier-- see Future Shock by Toeffler), integrated its lifestyle with all permissible realms of modernity, including science (e.g. Rav Moshe Tendler and Profs. Sanders, Branover and Domb), the arts (e.g. Andre Heidu), Hebrew language and Jewish literature (e.g. Herman Wouk).

Around the turn of the century, Orthodox academic scholars, armed with both knowledge of the sources and a general education, began to review Jewish history from a truly Jewish perspective, with full faith in the Jewish historical mission. Two prime early examples are Isaac HaLevy's Dorot Rishonim and Yavetz's Toledot Yisrael. Their work, with that of countless others, is described in Dr. Meyer Waxman's extraordinary magnum opus, A History of Hebrew Literature (Vol. 4, Ch. 11; Waxman, born in Slutzk, Russia, in 1887, was educated in the halls of Slutzk, Mir, NYU, Columbia and then still traditional JTS; he founded the Mizrachi Teachers' Institute and taught at the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago). Cecil Roth described his work as "without doubt, one of the greatest single-handed enterprises in the history of Anglo-Jewish letters" (cf. Arye Kaplan). These orthodox historical works may have been inspired by earlier non-Orthodox ones, e.g. Graetz's History of the Jews and Weiss' History of Jewish Tradition. The discovery of the Cairo Geniza about a century ago, and that of the Aramaic Paapyri in 1904, also shed an entirely new light on on whole periods of Jewish history. Halevy (died 1914) intended to cover Jewish tradition from early times to the end of the Gaonic Period; the 4 volumes published during his lifetime contain close to 3,000 pages; he left 3 more volumes in ms.

WAXMAN'S RESPONSE TO HALEVY'S WORK: "The learning displayed in it is enormous and testifies to the complete mastery by the author of the entire Talmudic Literature, and also to a fair acquaintance with historical literature in German. It is furthermore distinguished by frequent keen analytic treatment of the material, and by occasional original hypotheses and theories, which prove the inventive ability of the author's mind. As such, the work should have occupied one of the foremost places in the historical literature of the period, but, unfortunately, the case was not so. The importance and value of the work is greatly impaired by several grave defects. The first is its systemlessness in the ordering of the material, in the arrangement of the chapters in volumes, and in the expression of the author's views upon the writing of history and its documentation. Halevy, who was trained in the old school of Talmudic study, which laid stress upon keenness of mind and sporadic flashes of thought, rather than upon concatenation of events and facts and orderly deductions from premises, carried this method into his History. He relied primarily upon his dialectical ability to interpret events and views in accordance with preconvinced notions and theories, and disregarded sequence.

"The second defect is lack of form. Not only did the author not master the Hebrew language, in which the work was written, disregarding all granmmatical rules and regulations, and employing a considerable number of German words, but the style on the whole is peculiar. The sentences are loosely connected and the argument is frequently interrupted by a number of pages devoted to illustrations, consisting of long quotations from Talmudic literature, Josephus and other sources, so that the conclusion is lost to the reader (YF: sounds like a man after my own talmudic heart!). In general, the number of quotations is exceedingly large and constitutes at least half of the entire work (YF: a sign of modesty and recognition of others' greatness). Besides, the author, when he wrote a chapter, must often have forgotten what he wrote in the preceding one, and repeated a part of the content, so that, on the whole, there is much repetition (YF: a prerequisite for mastering and remembering a work-- I like to listen to Rav Gafni's lectures on tape several times).

Halevy's lack of ability to present his views in a literary form was aggrevated by his personal character and his tendency in undertaking the writing of the work; these constitute the third grave defect. It is true that he was a great Talmudic scholar and of strict Orthodox views, but he most likely had an exaggerated opinion of himself and his theories. Not only was his purpose to prove that the traditional view of the Oral Law is correct, and that the ideas, which posit development and stages in its growth, as advocated by such writers as Krochmal, Rapoport, Frankel, Graetz and Weiss, are erroneous, but he had a personal quarrel with them. It appears as if the intention of the writer was primarily to prove their ignorance of the Talmud and their insincerity, for he often accuses them of light-mindedness and of falsifying Jewish history (likely true). Nor are Gentile scholars spared. Mommsen, Shurer and others come in for their share of rebuke, tho in a much milder form. These accusations and recriminations are so frequent and repeated on almost every page that they form a substantial part of the whole work (HaLevy was combatting their opposite "faith" in heresy; he may have foreseen the great abandonment of Judaism which accompanied Reform and Conservative worship of his arrogant predecessors-- see I. supra). These are undoubtedly grave defects, which detract from the value of the book, yet they do not take away its importance, for there is much learning and critical acumen in the content, which contribute greatly to the understanding of Jewish history, and throw light on many of its phases... TO BE CONTINUED


This page is dedicated to responses to today's situations, and depictions of folks and facts from the last hundred years or so.

How to be Spiritual-- A Hands-on Spiritual Manual: Folks who feel that there is more to life than our daily struggles for success and pleasure, even than our interpersonal relationships, seek a connection to God Himself, to the essence and core of all existence. Those who feel themselves failures in basic human pursuits, for whatever reason, and those who feel their life drawing to a close, wondering what's next, feel this need even more intensely-- but where does one find a how-to-do-it book in this realm, especially if he/she is an involved committed Jew? Jason Aronson has published it!-- JEWISH SPIRITUAL PRACTICES, a clear, fascinating and well-written guide by Yitzhak Buxbaum (available at Pomerantz Books, 6 Shmuel Hanagid, Jerusalem or TOP). I reject Moshe Greenberg's "intellectual economy", where he spends all his time and energy on intellectual analysis of Holy Writ, discarding its Divine origin, leaving nothing for spiritual experience of the text, beyond intellect (see Lets Learn I:1); yet I'm wary of giving my time over to kabbalistic study and practices, which are of questionable sanctity, authority and validity (see the writings of saintly Rav Yichye Kapach of Yemen, e.g. Milchenmet Hashem), when there is still so much of unquestionably Divine teaching-- O.T., Talmud, and halacha-- which I have not yet reached.

Traditional ashkenazic teachers indeed stress that the very study and practice of Torah will bring one close to God, w/o seeking spiritual ecstasy as such, trying to arouse gooey inner states, whose true origin may be quite Freudian-- cf. Nadav and Avihu, who did their own spiritual thing, after Moshe softly said: "This, the word which God commanded, do-- and God's Glory will appear to you" (Lev. 9:6; see Grade's The Yeshiva). Thanks to Buxbaum's fellow Aronson author, Shalom Freedman, for his summary of the book:

"This translation of hundreds of texts of Hanhagot opens up worlds of meanng, paths of connection between the Jew and God. It reveals how a Jew can, in his every action and thought, strive to bring himself closer to G-d. The book opens with an introduction on the General Principles of Hasidic Spirituality, Devekut, Remembrance of G-d, and Ways in Attainment. Its second section contains a detailed examination of such topics as: Prayer, The service of the Heart, Work, Trust in G-d, Loving and Honoring One's Fellow Man, Eating and the Holy Meal, Leading Thoughts, Repentance-Teshuvah, Service of the Imagination, Blessings, Repetition of the Holy Sentence, Tsedaka and Gemilut Chasadim, Charity and Kindness, Speech, Song and Dance, Sight, Pious Phrases, Bathroom, Tiredness, Sleep and Before Sleep, Sex, Talking to G-d and Being Alone with God, Hitbodedut, The Service of Praise, Afflictions, Anger, Humility and Pride. Repeat Holy sayings, A book of Torah With You Always, Torah as Prayer, A Holy Purchase, Tsaddikim, A Spiritual Friend and The Service of Confession (YF: as the chapters titles of The Essential Talmud, just contemplating them is a broadening and deepening experience!

Buxbaum introduces and organizes, and makes iluminating remarks on, the texts. But, above all, he brings the words and thoughts of generations of holy Jews to our mind and attention. And he does this in such a way as to make it posssible for us to better learn how to serve God. This book is not to be read once or twice, but kept as a permanent possession, to continually inspire the reader to do the will and work of G-d".

How to avoid Spirituality (or, at least, kabbala): "Prof. Philip Bloch, the former rabbi of Poznan and one of the last survivors among the better-known pupils of Graetz, had moved to Berlin. In the generation preceding mine, Bloch had been the authority on the kabala, tho an authority in Graetz's (mocking) spirit. He had published an outline of this field, as well as a few specialized essays... he was the only Jewish scholar in Germany who had assembled a rich collection of kabbalistic works and mss. Bloch gave me a very friendly reception-- as a young collegue, so to speak. `After all, we are both meshuga,' he said. He showed me his kabbalistic collection... In my enthusiasm, I said, quite naively: `How wonderful, Herr Professor, that you have studied all this!'. Whereupon the old gentleman replied: `What, am I supposed to read this rubbish too?'. That was a great moment in my life" (from Gershom Scholem's autobio, From Berlin to Jerusalem. His own great spiritual experience was learning to read a page of Talmud with Rashi!

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