Hakirah Volume 6 has just arrived back from the printer. It should be reaching subscribers in the next week or so. Here is the Editor’s introduction that describes the articles in this issue.
In this edition of Ḥakirah, which is being released in time for Ḥag ha- Shavu’ot, Zeman Matan Torahteinu, our focus is on learning Torah. We are asked to look at our yeshivot and determine whether Torah is being taught as Ḥazal had intended. We look at our own method of Torah study and ask whether we comprehend what Ḥazal are telling us. As in previous editions, we look at some of our assumptions and ask whether they are correct. We look at some of our minhagim and ask whether they accord with halakhah.
In our Talmud Torah section one article bemoans the disconnect between the laws of the Torah that are taught and the application of Torah principles to the students’ daily lives. A call is made for actively teaching middot, character development, in our schools. The other article in this section explains that the rabbinic takanah in the year 64 CE “transferred responsibility for both the running and the financing of elementary school education for boys from the household to the community. Yehoshua b. Gamla’s vision was therefore for the community to set standards for Torah elementary schools and to enforce those standards.” The author calls for reviving this vision of Ḥazal.
A special section on Midrash deals with how differently aggadot Ḥazal have been understood throughout the ages. By studying several midrashim dealing with the messianic age, the first essay demonstrates “how vast are the differences between the traditionalist and rationalist schools of thought within Judaism” and notes that both schools “are rooted in hundreds of years of interpretation.” A second essay goes back to the ḥerem of 1305, in which Rashba outlawed what he considered overly-rationalistic interpretation of aggadot, and the author attributes present-day misinterpretations both in halakhah and hashkafa to the aftermath of this ban.
Under Jewish Thought two articles aim to overturn misconceptions widely held in our community. A review essay exposes the fallacy of the myth that the Haskalah was the cause of the trend to assimilation in pre-war Europe. It began rather as an attempt to confront the challenges of modernity and Moshe Mendelssohn, who is often considered (somewhat inaccurately) the father of this movement, was committed to halakhah and elevating the esteem of the Torah. “Avodah Zarah as Falsehood—Denial of Reality and Rejection of Science,” expounds upon Rambam’s teaching that the fundamental purpose for the mitzvot of the Torah, is the uprooting of avodah zarah. To justify Rambam’s principle, the author explains the underlying drive of avodah zarah, and demonstrates that its pull remains powerful in modern times and goes hand in hand with the rejection of science.
The value of science and mathematics in understanding Torah and in practicing its mitzvot is made clear in three other articles. In the Jewish Law section the article on “Bircas HaChama” demonstrates that Shmuel’s astronomical calculations are not in error for the purposes he intended them (as is generally assumed by the scientific world), but that subsequent applications of his solar model by later halakhic authorities to different issues, resulted in some current practices that are demonstrably inconsistent with reality.
In an essay in the Jewish Thought section, a psychiatrist points to some of the insights of several famous Ḥassidic rebbes, and notes that their methods are similar to what modern psychology has come to use to uplift the human spirit. A final English article is a Book Review, Overcoming Infertility: A Guide for Jewish Couples, which demonstrates how modern technology is aiding Jewish couples in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of פרו ורבו.
The two Hebrew articles deal with the origins of minhagim. In one, the author demonstrates that while many customs exist for calling out the time of the molad, none actually record the time properly. In the other article the author gives insight into our choice of the haftorot read in the weeks before Tishah B’Av, where it seems that a midrashic source has been given precedence over the Talmud.
Contributors (in order of articles) are:
Aharon Hersh Fried
Sheldon Epstein, Bernard Dickman and Yonah Wilamowsky
Asher Benzion Buchman
Nosson Dovid Rabinowitz
For a listing of the articles and the first two pages of each, go to http://hakirah.org/CurrentIssue.htm .