Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Fine Lines, Midrash, and The Red Tent

I'm used to a specific type of Torah learning. A type of learning where you respect the teacher and grant him or her every courtesy. A type of learning that is very much based in the actual text and that uses mepharshim but not personal opinions or theories to explore the issue further. A type of learning that treats every word in the Chumash with care because every word is divine and that while not afraid to say that people sinned, is also very careful to not jump to negative conclusions about the tzadikim of past generations. A type of learning that does not even a little bit resemble literary analysis.

I'm not saying that's the only way to learn Torah. I'm not saying that I've never felt frustrated with such an approach. I'm just saying that Torah is divine and the people in the Torah and the people who teach Torah should be treated with respect. That doesn't mean they can't do wrong, it just means they deserve respect. And there's a very fine line between trying to understand what's happening in the text and simply making things up. A very fine line.

Somebody told me that she read an interview with Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, in which Diamant basically said that midrash was just the rabbis making up what happened, so her book was essentially her midrash. Midrash is not just rabbis making stuff up, and we do not have the right to just make up what happened in the Torah and see if it sells.

That's not to say we don't have an obligation to try to understand what happened in Tanach and to learn from it. Of course we do. But we can do that without trampling on Torah, the people who explained it for us, and the people who teach it to us. End rant.


At 6/28/06, 8:41 PM, Anonymous J said...

I really don't want to open up a can of worms here, but you can't make assertions in a vacuum because they conforms to your previous belief system.

Midrash is a tricky thing, and has historically been understood in many ways, including the approach of looking at midrash as kind of "dvar torahs" from the time of Chazal written in a hyperbolic and allegoric manner. This, to the exlusion of midrash being a literal tradtion.

Point is, there are other legitimate points of view that are supported rabbinically and academically. I don't you're doing yourself any favors by ranting against these valid approaches.

At 6/28/06, 8:48 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

"I'm not saying that's the only way to learn Torah."

And I am not invalidating approaches that do not conform with the way I've learned Torah in an admittedly limited number of institutions. But I think there are some ways of learning Torah that are inconsistent with Orthodox Judaism. Not respecting the Torah as divine or not respecting the mepharshim and teachers (which is not the same as disagreeing) are examples.

Midrash may or may not be literal. I made no comment on that. But the midrashim should be taken seriously--it's not just some random doodling by some random people.

At 6/30/06, 6:31 AM, Blogger Josh said...

E - I've taken many interesting classes in Biblical Criticism (Ok, just one). It provided a fascinating new prism for understanding Torah. So it's a shame that, as you point out, so many of these courses use this objective approach as a subjective way of riduculing religion and tradition. It is these individuals who give the study an heretical name, which is a shame, because absent the rhetoric, they make for fascinating new understanding of classical sources.

At 8/13/06, 10:58 PM, Blogger Monica said...

That really is horrendous if Diamant truly articulated her opinion of midrash in the way suggested to you. I wonder where and to whom she said this. Regardless, it doesn't really matter whether midrash is literal. It's commentary, and what matters is that it responds to biblical gaps and silences in a way that brings us closer to G-d.


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