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If the Law Isn't In Heaven, Where Is It?

In one of its more famous passages, the Talmud records a debate about the mundane (but important) issue of whether a certain oven can be used to cook kosher food. All of the rabbis except one, Rabbi Eliezer, rule that the oven cannot be used because it is impure. To prove that he is correct and that the oven is pure, Rabbi Eliezer calls on God to perform miracles in the presence of his colleagues—a carob tree is uprooted and moves across a field, a river reverses its course, and the walls of the rabbis’ study hall magically begin to cave in—but the rabbis remain unmoved. Continue Reading »

The Mantle of Elijah

Many think of Modern Orthodoxy as a tepid compromise, Orthodoxy Lite, an accommodation with the values of bourgeois culture, satisfied with mediocrity in the study of Torah and half-hearted about the demand for single-minded commitment to God and His commandments. From the 1930s through the 1980s Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik represented the alternative: an Orthodoxy centered on the service of God even while engaged with and concerned for the rest of humanity, deeply, almost obsessively devoted to the traditional study of Torah even while confronting and learning from the liberal arts. Until this week his son-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, was the most prominent exponent of that ideology in Israel, where he was Dean of Har-Etzion Yeshiva, and in the United States, where he frequently lectured and exercised influence via his many disciples. For all his admiration and faithfulness to his masters, R. Aharon fashioned his own distinctive intellectual agenda, while conducting his life with rigorous piety and an ethical sensitivity that had to be seen to be believed. I was a student of both, and now they are both gone. (Link: http://haretzion.org/about-us/rav-aharon-lichtenstein-ztl) Continue Reading »

The Trial of Jesus

For the last four years, I have been conducting, at New York University’s School of Law, a seminar on the trial of Jesus. The Wall Street Journal inveighed against it as educational inanity: if not exactly corrupting the youth, then at least leading them astray and squandering their tuition . . . . Continue Reading »

Talmudic Jesus

Jesus in the Talmud by peter schäfer princeton university press, 232 pages, $24.95 Rabbinic literature is surprisingly silent on Christianity—but Jesus makes a cameo appearance in the Talmud, and it isn’t an endearing one. In scattered passages, the Talmud’s sages portray him as a child . . . . Continue Reading »

The Unmodern Jew

I “I would like to have an answer. . . . If someone will be good enough to provide the answer I will gladly take his change of garments to the bathhouse for him.” The bit about the change of garments and the bathhouse is talmudic phraseology from tractate Eruvin (27b), indicating a matter . . . . Continue Reading »

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