Tag: Philosophy

From the YUTOPIA Archives: An Odd Instance of Intellectual Assimilation – Christian Influences on Nachmanides’ Thought

YUTOPIA's 10 Year Anniversary SpecialOne of the main characters of the movie Footnote is a scholar whose most eminent academic accomplishment was a single complimentary footnote in his teacher’s work. Such recognition indicates that not only has a master in a field read your work, but found your contribution significant enough to disseminate to his larger audience. Aside from earning one’s PhD, this can be the academic equivalent of “getting made.”

The closest I’ve experienced this feeling myself was when I shared a graduate school paper on Ramban / Nachmanides (1194–c. 1270) with my father’s teacher Haham Jose / Yosef Faur in his Netanya house in 2002. In particular, I remember his elated reaction at my discovery that Ramban’s commentary on Deuteronomy 17:11 is nearly identical to the Early Church Father Tertullian’s (c. 160–c. 225 AD) justification of priestly authority. Haham Faur referenced this discovery in his article Anti-Maimonidean Demons p. 28 note 110 in his Horizontal Society (vol 2. p. 188).

I rediscovered the original paper among the same pile of documents as my father’s letter of resignation. I believe I kept the original copy of this paper due to the comments I received from Professor David Berger, which made an indelible impression on me:

This is a very intelligent, well written, vigorously argued but unconvincing, tendentious, one-sided, arbitrary, even biased argument. The suggestion that N.[achmanides] invented a tradition so that he could exercise authority i.e. that he did not believe that there was a Kabbalistic tradition that he had studied is unsupport[ed] and even offensive. I will assign a good grade to this paper because of its stimulating qualities, but what they stimulated in me was a combination of fascination and anger.

Despite Dr. Berger’s personal objections, he gave this paper an A-. There is also much more to be said in comparing Dr. Berger’s affinity towards Ramban and his criticisms of Chabad, but that is for another time. [1. Haham Faur was a fan of Dr. Berger’s book on Chabad, though in discussing my paper he said, “if he is a fan of Ramban, then his book makes no sense.”]

Unsurprisingly, the paper itself could stand to use some editing and a few more revisions. Aside from the typos which should be expected at this point, I can see in hindsight imprecise language if not poor word choices. I suppose one reason to pursue advanced education is precisely to improve such skills. At any rate, for those interested in the subject or Hassidim of Haham Faur who are compelled to collect all related data, I am embedding the paper itself, complete with original typos, mistakes, and comments.

And in case anyone is wondering, despite this being a Revel paper, I did in fact submit the paper on time.

Episode 22: Politics of Exclusion – Nodeh Beyehuda and R. Yaakov Emden

Rabbi Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion class continues with the Nodeh Beyehuda and R. Yaakov Emden responding to the rationalism of the late 1700’s. Includes reference to Alice’s Restaurant.

Nodeh Beyehuda and R. Yaakov Emden Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – Nodeh Beyehuda and R. Yaakov Emden

John Stuart Mill On Orthodox Judaism

Most people probably do not consider utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill to be any sort of an authority on Judaism. In fact, I doubt Mill himself would have considered himself to be such an expert. But I did find one passage of his which perfectly captures the state of discourse and debate in Orthodox Judaism.

The following paragraphs are from the beginning of Mill’s The Subjection of Women which I proudly bought for $6 at a Barnes and Noble moving sale. Mill’s basic argument is against the automatic social, economic, and political disadvantages imposed on women from birth. As an introduction to his argument, Mill explains the uphill battle he faces in challenging the widely accepted status quo. While his observations are generic enough to be applicable in many other areas (politics, business, academics etc), I’d like to put this in the context particularly in how Orthodox Jews engage matters of religion be it halakhic or theological, and perhaps recalling my own personal hashkafa series.

Note: Although I tried copying verbatim, I apologize for any spelling and punctuation errors. Because Mill has a tendency for run-on sentences, I bolded one particular segment for particular emphasis so as not to get lost in the paragraph.