Professor Alan Brill
Professor Alan Brill of Seton Hall University, New Jersey, stayed at the Centre from 20 May to 13 June 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. He explored the meaning of the word ‘Modern’ in the term ‘Modern Orthodoxy’, first applied in the early 1960s to ‘a small alienated minority’ of ‘no more than several score intellectuals’. By the late 1970s this had grown to tens of thousands, and was also reapplied to describe Religious Zionists and followers of Hirschian Neo-Orthodoxy. But research reveals that many Jews had had all the characteristics of Modern Orthodoxy in England and Italy in the 1770s, suggesting that its origins are now postdated by two centuries. In particular, does Modern Orthodoxy grapple with issues of modernity, and if it does not, as in the case of the Jacobs affair, then is it truly ‘modern’?
Professor Brill employed Anthony Gidden’s three stages of modernity – Enlightenment, Modernism and Late Modernity – as a model to explore the various meanings of modernity when applied to Judaism from 1770 to 2013, and refined his definition with the help of work by writers such as Talal Asad, Shmuel Eisenstadt and Michele Vovelle, finally identifying multiple modernities over three stages. Key questions are: what makes Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch modern? Is it his general education, changes to the liturgy, knowledge of Schiller, middle-class status, alienation from the hyper- Orthodox, or social breaks with the traditional community? In considering the Jacobs Affair, are we right to label individuals and groups as Modern Orthodox even if they lack high modernism, or are even anti-modernist?
Professor Arye Edrei
Professor Arye Edrei of the University of Tel-Aviv stayed at the Centre from 21 January to 18 July and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. Besides teaching a variety of courses in recent years on Jewish law and on the history and philosophy of halakhah, his research has focused on halakhah in modern times, particularly in response to secularism, the fragmentation of the Jewish community, and responses to Zionism and the State of Israel. While at the Centre he concentrated on the laws of giyur (conversion to Judaism), a particularly controversial issue in the State of Israel and beyond. He correlated the halakhic positions of different rabbis and their ideological worlds and values, demonstrating that polemics on conversion are less formalistic halakhic debates than controversies flowing from policy considerations designed to shape the character of Jewish society. In this he followed the suggestion made by Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs in the introduction to the second edition of his The Tree of Life, to view the ideological and theoretical discourse associated with halakhic sources as essential to the debate. His research confirmed that some nineteenth-century rabbis developed lenient laws of conversion in the hope of including the children of mixed marriages within the community, and of developing a conceptual framework for readmitting Jews who had abandoned the traditional lifestyle. He then showed how this idea developed in the twentieth century, dividing Orthodoxy into what are in Israel the Religious Zionist and the Haredi camps.
Professor Edrei delivered several lectures at the Centre and elsewhere in the university, and gave talks to and participated in the work of the group seminar. He presented a paper entitled ‘A Split Diaspora?’ to Professor Goodman’s Seminar on Jewish History and Literature in the Graeco-Roman Period, and another to the Oxford Yom Limmud.
Dr Ari Engelberg
Dr Ari Engelberg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem stayed at the Centre from 19 April to 19 June, continuing research into the Religious Zionist community in Israel that he initiated in a doctoral dissertation and in several published articles.
His postdoctoral research focuses on the effect of academic research into the Bible on the faith of Orthodox Jews. Maimonides, followed by Orthodox Jews generally, regards the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai as a principle of Jewish faith. Academic biblical scholarship seems to contradict this belief, as has recently been increasingly discussed in American Orthodox online forums, although the question is still largely suppressed in Israeli Orthodoxy.
Dr Engelberg interviewed Orthodox or formerly Orthodox young Israeli men and women in order to clarify how this issue affects their decision-making about religious identity. He went on to compare data from the interviews with academic and public discourse.
Initial results point to a gap between the stated concerns of interviewees and of public figures. Most interviewees were less concerned with objective truth statements and contradictions between science and Torah, than with issues such as pluralism and egalitarianism, and whether Judaism falls short in these matters. This may partly be explained as a turn towards expressivism, individualization and a loss of belief in modern progressivism among Israeli Religious Zionists in late modernity.
Dr Engelberg presented his research in a David Patterson Seminar and at the Yom Limmud at the Centre.
Dr Adam Ferziger
Dr Adam Ferziger of Bar-Ilan University served between 21 January and 13 June as co-convener of the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. He is grateful to the participants for their work and dedication, and particularly to his coconvenor, Dr Miri Freud-Kandel, for her professionalism, scholarly acumen and collegiality. He is especially appreciative of the academic and professional staff of the Centre, led by Dr David Ariel and Professor Martin Goodman, who encouraged and facilitated proceedings both intellectually and in terms of material comfort.
During his stay he managed to work on two projects which will lead to full length monographs. The first is entitled ‘Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodoxy’ and the second ‘Cremation and the Twentiethmcentury Jew’, both of which are discussed in greater length in the section of this volume devoted to the work of the Seminar.
Dr Judah Galinsky
Dr Judah Galinsky of Bar-Ilan University stayed at the Centre from 16 January to 7 March 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. His contribution was to analyse one of Jacobs’s lesser-known works, his Theology in the Responsa, in which he pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of utilizing responsa for uncovering an individual’s theology or religious world view, and suggested supplementing the responsa literature with an examination of the theological materials usually included in the introductions of, if not throughout, codes of Jewish law.
He substantiated this claim through a study of Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil’s thirteenth-century Amudei Gola, ‘Pillars of Exile’, or Semak as it is popularly known, that became the primary religious handbook for Ashkenazi Jewry during the later Middle Ages. He studied Isaac’s letter of introduction, which describes the purpose of his programme of religious reform, and particularly his treatment of the most religiously central commandments: Love of God and Fear of God. It emerges that Isaac’s general approach to the commandments – both in his letter and in the commentary – was influenced by a tantalizingly ambiguous passage from Midrash Tanhuma which discusses doing God’s will lishmah, ‘for the sake of heaven’, while also emphasizing the heavenly reward for fulfilling God’s will. He also explored Isaac’s understanding of the relationship between Love and Fear of God, which for him had a closer affinity than was commonly perceived, since ‘fear’ is more akin to awe rather than to dread, while ‘love’ includes appreciation for God’s intrinsic goodness and greatness, and also gratitude for divine beneficence to man.
When these emotions are translated into action by fulfilling God’s commandments, Isaac suggests that while love of God is characterized by zerizut, ‘eagerness’, to carry out positive commandments, fear of God is characterized by zehirut, ‘caution’, not to transgress a negative prohibition (aveira). In Isaac’s view, therefore, the ideals of love and fear of God are complementary rather than opposites.
This project demonstrated the importance of exploring halakhic literature other than responsa, and the need to recognize it as a place to uncover Jewish theological traditions, as illustrated by the example of Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil’s religious thought.
Professor Gershon Greenberg Professor Gershon Greenberg of American University, Washington DC, stayed at the Centre from 22 April to 30 June 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. His work on formulating a new basis for Holocaust theology, drawn from Haredi real-time responses, focused on four issues. The first is how to re-create sacramental forms which could again afford us access to the sacred, especially that identifiable in the land of Israel. The second is to ask how reason might be employed to touch the mythic, mystical and revelatory expressions which nourished and provided meaning and certainty to Haredim through the Holocaust, and thereby to contribute to reviving theology and rapprochement between Haredi and modern Orthodox thinkers. The third is how to preserve the understanding of suffering which sustained Jews through the catastrophe and to instil these truths in present Judaism. The fourth is how to reconcile the a-temporal arena of Galut and Ge’ulah (as per the Maharal of Prague) or of Galut-Teshuvah-Ge’ulah (as per Yehezkel Sarna) with the streams of thoughts in which history opened to redemption, or redemption opened to history.
Professor Greenberg also conducted research in the Centre’s Kressel Archives on the relationship between Getzel Kressel and Mosheh Prager. Prager’s earliest publications about the Holocaust appeared in Davar, which was edited in Palestine by Kressel, while Kressel arranged for Prager to write his autobiography.
He presented a paper on Prager’s religious historiography of the Holocaust at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, lectured on ‘Tapping into the Sacred: The Awakening of Orthodox Judaism in German DP camps (1945–1948)’ at the Oriental Institute, Oxford, and on ‘Dying with God: Theological Paths During the Lithuanian Holocaust’ at the Centre’s Yom Limmud. During his stay the following four papers appeared in print, the last of them in a book co-edited by Professor Greenberg: ‘The Holocaust and the Hasidic Spark’, in Steven Katz and Alan Rosen (eds) Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary and Moral Perspectives (Bloomington, Indiana 2013) 83–102; ‘Out of the Shadows: The Hareidi Religious Realities of Holocaust History’, in Yad Vashem Studies 41:1 (2013) 263–75; ‘German Displaced Persons Camps (1945–1948): Orthodox Jewish Responses to the Holocaust’, in Historical Reflections/Reflections Historiques 39:2 (2013) 71–95; and ‘Dying with God: The Views of Three Roshei Yeshiva Into and During the Lithuanian Holocaust’, in Michal Ben Ya’akov, Gershon Greenberg and Sigalit Rosmarin (eds) That Terrible Summer… Seventy Years since the Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewish Communities – History | Thought | Reality. Papers Presented at an International Conference Commemorating the Seventieth Anniversary of the Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewish Communities at the Efrata College, November 2011 (Jerusalem, 2013) 1–20.
Dr Nechama Hadari
Dr Nechama Hadari stayed at the Centre from 7 January to 26 June and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. Her research focused on how different Jewish theologies are communicated to prospective candidates for giyur (conversion) through Orthodox bodies in Britain and Israel. She conducted interviews with research participants who had undergone a conversion process under the auspices of either the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or the London Beth Din between 1967 and 2012. A central premise was that a deeper understanding of the process and of the theology conveyed to gerim is possible if one analyses the reflections of converts, rather than by engaging only with the intentions, statements and written sources of those who wield power in the process – rabbis and dayanim.
Her research showed that while converts in Israel are explicitly required to know and profess beliefs about God, the Jewish people and the place of halakhic observance and participation in the life of Israel (land, state and people), there is no such requirement of British converts, nor any place for conveying theological beliefs in the conversion process. Since the absence of explicit theological input itself indicates a theological position, the research suggests that the London Beth Din significantly differs theologically from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate – or at least, that part of it which deals with giyur.
Uncovering competing theological conception(s) of the process of giyur itself, and of the status of converts after the process is completed, will contribute significantly to our understanding of prevailing notions about the nature of Jewishness in general.
Professor Lawrence Kaplan
Professor Lawrence Kaplan of McGill University, Montreal, stayed at the Centre from 18 April to 13 June 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. His own research focused on the way academic talmudic scholarship has entered Israeli Religious Zionist yeshivot, releasing what he calls the ‘Spectre of the Historical Development of the Halakhah’. The issue of halakhic development and the theological challenges it raises go back to Zechariah Frankel and were taken up more recently by Louis Jacobs. These have now expanded beyond the world of the university or modern rabbinical seminary to the traditional Yeshivah.
Jonathan Garb recently noted the revival in Israeli Haredi society of spiritualist practice and doctrine. Professor Kaplan now observes parallel signs of searching and creativity in the Israeli Religious Zionist community. One important manifestation of this spiritual and intellectual search and creativity is in the development of new methods of teaching Talmud over the past two decades in Israeli Religious Zionist yeshivot. His analysis focuses on those Rashei Yeshivah (yeshivah deans) and Ramim (talmudic lecturers) who have sought to integrate academic talmudic scholarship into their shi’urim (talmudic lectures) and Batei Midrash (study houses), and the theological issues raised by this integration.
Perhaps the most thoughtful and articulate example of such a Rosh Yeshivah was the late Rav Shagar (Shimon Gershon Rosenberg), whose method of teaching Talmud Professor Kaplan calls the shiluv approach, a term that implies forming a new and harmonious whole. The approach, to cite Rav Shagar, ‘has as its goal the cleaving [to the divine] which reveals itself in the uncovering of the existential significance and meaning [mashma‘ut] of the sugya [unit of talmudic discourse], and the method it adopts is that of uncovering this meaning through joining together [shiluv] the tools of traditional conceptual analysis, lomdus, and those of [historical-critical] scholarship [keilim lamdaniyyim ve-mehkarriym]’. Integrating academic historical-critical scholarship and its diachronic approach into Israeli Religious Zionist yeshivot raises the spectre of the historical development of the halakhah, challenging its authority as a divinely revealed system of Law. This is aggravated by the search for significance advocated by the shiluv approach, implying that the development of rabbinic law was fuelled by shifts or even revolutions in values among rabbinic Sages.
But can Orthodox Rashei Yeshivah admit that shifts in values occurred among the Sages; and if they did occur, how to account for it? Professor Kaplan has examined the various responses to such questions offered by advocates of the shiluv approach, such as, in addition to Rav Shagar, Rabbis Elisha Anscelovits, David Bigman, Meir Lichtenstein, Yaakov Nagen and Avi Walfish.
Professor James Kugel
Professor James Kugel of Bar-Ilan University stayed at the Centre from 23 January to 6 February, 3 to 8 March and 20 May to 9 June, and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. During this time he put a few finishing touches on a forthcoming book, The Kingly Sanctuary, which addresses a number of issues connected to the position of Orthodoxy in today’s world.
At the same time he worked on a longer study, tentatively entitled Souls into Selves, in which he hopes to examine some of the theological suppositions evidenced in a number of biblical and Second Temple period texts. He presented a chapter of this work at one of the regular Yarnton seminars. In a few spare moments he also checked the proofs of a forthcoming anthology of Second Temple literature, Outside the Bible, which he co-edited with Louis Feldman and Lawrence Schiffman.
Professor Paul Morris
Professor Paul Morris of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, stayed at the Centre from 7 January to 15 March and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. He worked on a book with the working title Radical Jewish Theologies, tracing modern Jewish theologies after the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel in novel ways. Jewish encounters with modernity have included a series of traumatic events, theologically framed in terms of Auschwitz theodicies, Medinat Yisrael, and diverse forms of Judaism, contained, and constrained, within the spaces allotted to religion in modern nation-states.
The first section of the monograph, on which he focused during his Oxford fellowship, explores changing Jewish understandings of revelation. This has traditionally been understood in very different ways from the hyper-literality of Midrash and Kabbalah to the hyper-rationalism of medieval Jewish philosophers.
His research commenced with Louis Jacobs’s stated intention in his A Jewish Theology (1973) that while a Jewish theology might necessarily be apologetic it must also be ‘intellectually honest’ and ‘without subterfuge’. This was the platform for an exploration of the meaning of theology by Jewish thinkers from the seventeenth century to the present and the significant communal contexts of their debates and discussions about revelation. For example, for Jacobs, biblical criticism raised a new set of issues rendering impossible literal readings of the biblical revelation, Torah mi-Sinai. Jacobs went on to develop his own original view of non-traditional, non-literal revelation by distinguishing revelation itself from the record of revelation, that is, the written and transmitted accounts of revelation. The former is revelation of God himself while the latter is always a step removed and a later interpretation of the content of revelation. He called this ‘liberal supernaturalism’; liberal in relation to biblical criticism but supernaturalist in relation to the reality of God.
The second part of the monograph explores the new materialism as an opportunity for Jewish theologians to liberate themselves from medieval ontologies and Newtonian physics in favour of the foundation of a more sophisticated and dynamic view of material life. The increasing understanding that matter and force are more intimately related than mandated by Newtonian physics is suggestive of a new materialist theology where order is implicit within subtle matter and where the deity does not merely act on a separate creation but is integral to it. Re-reading Jewish sources about God in this light offers new understandings of God in relation to creation and humanity. This complex materialism resonates with a God unable to be pinned down to either substance or relational force. This view also provides a lens to re-view the Jewish traditions of ritual and reflective practice. This radical way of re-thinking is read alongside modern theologies of Halakhah in developing a new materialist theology of Jewish religious practice that locates us more evidently within nature.
The third part of the book links revelation to community and develops a radical Jewish political theology. The democracy of modern Jewish learning reflecting a wider democratization of the acquisition and use of knowledge challenges traditional rabbinic elitism. The ethical challenges of feminist thinking too require a new knowledge equity within communities. The new materialism fosters a new view of Jewish community, more inclusive, based on a material field rather than on more constructivist accounts. The final section promotes a radical new materialist view of Jewish sovereignty in Israel and beyond.
Professor Morris also gave a lecture entitled ‘Is Revelation a Problem in Modern Jewish Theology?’ at King’s College London; a David Patterson Seminar at Yarnton on ‘Jews and Human Rights: The Individual Right to Belong’, looking at circumcision and the human rights of religious communities and their children; and a public lecture in the context of the Seminar about ‘Louis Jacobs’s “Heretical Sermon” on the Theology of Revelation”, Arguments For Heaven’s Sake!’ in conjunction with Friends of Louis Jacobs in London.
Professor Jacob Joshua Ross
Professor Jacob Ross of the University of Tel-Aviv stayed at the Centre from 23 April to 14 June and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. The focus of his project was the claim that God speaks, and the philosophical problems that this involves.
He referred particularly to Nicolas Wolterstorff’s book, Divine Discourse, based on his Wilde lectures at the University of Oxford in 1993, which enlists the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin to defend the notion that God can speak and that the Bible could constitute a mode of religious discourse. Citing St Augustine’s conversion to Christianity after studying a text from the New Testament, which he interpreted as God speaking to him, Wolterstorff argued that God speaks in prophecy and through liturgy as well as via the text of legal sources and through events. Ross examined the force of Wolterstorff’s rejection of criticism of ‘authorial intention’ developed by modern Continental Hermeneutic philosophers such as Ricoeur and Derrida, as well as Maimonides’s denial that God really speaks. He offered an interpretation which illustrated that Wolterstorff was not far from Maimonides’s own theory when properly understood. On the basis of these remarks, Ross hopes to address the efforts of modern Orthodox thinkers, following Jacobs, to offer interpretations of Torah as the word of God, as suggested by various Jewish theologians.
Professor Tamar Ross
Professor Tamar Ross of Bar-Ilan University stayed at the Centre from 23 to 26 January and from 23 April to 14 June, and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. In the opening session she lectured on various responses developed by Orthodox Judaism to the challenges of biblical scholarship since that of Jacobs over fifty years ago, assessing their strengths, weaknesses and theological viability.
In Trinity Term she sought to address the theological dilemma of Orthodoxy, engaging with participants in the group who were actively involved with related questions. Is it possible to reach some vision of Torah that accepts naturalist descriptions of its development without descending into reductionism, and at the same time to acknowledge the all-pervasiveness of its human dimensions without lapsing into selectivity regarding its divine origin and authority? Ross’s contention that the answers to such questions are the province of theology, epistemology and philosophy rather than empiric investigation, leads her to a closer examination of the meaning of belief in revelation and God in the context of a modern Orthodox way of life.
While adopting a cultural linguistic approach to religious truth claims, she reaches beyond constructivist attitudes to seek some middle ground between realism and the language-game approach to Torah from Heaven, one that will fulfil religion’s purpose and power, but not raise the paradoxes of representation. In addition to blurring the sharp distinction between the divine and the human in the transmission of God’s word, she argues that it is possible to have a notion of divine reality without committing to a concept of God that makes the divine completely independent of our subjective perceptions. Professor Ross delivered a second lecture at the Centre elaborating these views, and prepared a written version for publication.
Professor Yosef Salmon
Professor Yosef Salmon of Ben-Gurion University stayed at the Centre from 5 February to 15 March 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. He delivered one lecture on the history and current forms of Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy, based in part on material in the Muller Library, and another about rabbinical attitudes to Christianity from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, showing how positions changed from liberal to conservative and hostile. He suggested that this shift in attitudes had more to do with internal Jewish fights between Orthodoxy and Reform than with Christianity itself.
Professor Chaim I. Waxman
Professor Chaim Waxman of Rutgers University, New Jersey, and Van Leer Jerusalem Institute stayed at the Centre from 17 January to 12 March 2013 and participated in the ‘Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies – Orthodoxy, Theological Debate and Contemporary Judaism: A Critical Exploration of Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’. He conducted research into changes in Orthodox Judaism in the United States between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. He delivered a seminar talk entitled ‘Adapting While Decrying Change: The Case of American Orthodox Judaism’ at the Oriental Institute, a David Patterson Seminar on ‘The Religious Factor in American Jewish Identity’, and a talk entitled ‘Orthodox Judaism in Transition: An Oxymoron?’ to the Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies, in which he analysed Orthodox response and the way these addressed change. He also gave a talk entitled ‘Conversion: Conflict and Context’ at the ORT Conference Centre in London on behalf of the Oxford Centre.