Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm a fan of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

I want to be very clear about that before anything else, because what I have to say is critical (in the vein of v'Ani hakatan) of some of his more recent published material in the form of his weekly Covenant and Conversation pieces, which I believe are tonally and ultimately philosophically beyond the scope of traditional commentary on parshiot hashavua.

Some of Rabbi Sacks' essays have portrayed personalities in the Torah in an interesting light; sometimes this is based on an accepted commentary, albeit taken to a further level than that commentator intended, while in other instances Rabbi Sacks' ideas seem to be the product of his own reasoning, without any source material to back himself up.

This is troubling, because we cannot rely on our own understanding when we deal with the Torah, and this goes doubly for dealing with any biblical personality. I once heard a story involving Nechama Leibowitz: while discussing some texts in the Torah, a student offered a novel interpretation, which Nechama summarily dismissed. The student defended herself, upset that the teacher could just cast aside her idea.

"Aren't there seventy faces to the Torah?" the young student asked.

"Yes" replied Nechama, "but yours is the seventy-first."

With that in mind, we must remember to tread carefully when using the Torah to buttress our arguments. When we find ourselves maneuvering texts in order to serve our purposes that should serve as an indication that we should step back and be careful.

I would respond to the most recent essay, as I feel it's the most egregious example thus far, but my good friend Reb Ally has already done the hard work.

Again, I'm a fan of Rabbi Sacks, which is why this is so worrisome for me, and why I feel it's important enough to say something here about it...

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