LACK OF SERIOUS TANACH STUDY
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire series of articles in the winter issue on Tanach study (“Mining Tanach,” 2018). Both Nechama Leibowitz, a”h, and yibadel l’chaim, Rabbis David Fohrman and Nosson Scherman are giants in the field, albeit with very different approaches.
A few thoughts about the lack of serious Tanach study today:
1. Americans are notoriously poor with languages other than English, and American Jewry, even Orthodox Jewry, seems to need everything in translation. Just look at the advertisements for Torah literature in this publication. As we all know, anything in translation loses the essence, the very spirit of the text.
2. A real appreciation of Tanach requires something of a poetic aesthetic. That aesthetic is sorely lacking among many.
3. Traditionally, America has not been a country that values purely intellectual pursuits—we are a nation of pragmatists who look for the utilitarian in what we learn. As Jews, we aspire to learn Torah lishma, but the impact of our environment is so pervasive it makes such rigorous study appear nonessential to many.
I’d also like to respond to “Grandma,” the letter writer in the last issue who expressed concern about how her Orthodox grandchildren will view her as they mature, as she is secular. Over thirty years ago, when my wife and I were raising our children, we dealt with the issue of non-observant parents on my side. Firstly, and most importantly, young children are far less judgmental of their grandparents than the grandparents think. Secondly, the classic formula for successful grandparenting works wonders here: Be loving and giving—leave the parenting to the parents. My father, a”h, never came emptyhanded to our home. He was generous to a fault with our kids, and our children, now grown with families of their own, awaited my parents’ visits with excitement.
Thirdly, spend Shabbos and yom tov with your children and grandchildren when you can. Your children will have the job of answering the probing questions. My kids were quite accepting of the fact that my parents did not have the chinuch that I had—and that was quite sufficient for them.
Finally, enjoy your grandchildren to the fullest. They are the dividends on your investment of raising your child.
Rabbi David Friedman
Oceanside, New York
It seems that the article “Why Isn’t Tanach Studied More?” by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski (winter 2018) left out an important point: Because Christianity appropriated our Scriptures (what they call the Old Testament), Tanach no longer held the same chashivut for many Jews living in Christian Europe as did the Torah She’be’al Peh, which has a uniquely singular connection to the Jewish people only. For some, there was a certain distance, especially with the later Prophets, where Christianity used verses to provide support to the Gospel narrative.
Sephardic communities did not have this dilemma, given that the Muslim world did not claim ownership of our Torah; in fact, though generally respectful of it, they often challenged and rewrote it. Nor, to my knowledge, did Islam use our verses to foretell and validate Mohammed. Christianity reinterpreted the Bible, but did not rewrite it or challenge its veracity; rather, in their view, they continued building on it as something foundational. Christianity considers itself “Biblical”; Islam does not.
I suspect as the years went by in Ashkenaz, Torah She’be’al Peh—the Gemara and Kabbalah—was more amenable to, and representative of, the type of life Ashkenazic Jewry was living. There can be no doubt that many of the characters and kings in much of Nach were not at all emblematic of what the rabbinic leadership had in mind for Jewish life. Nor was much of the Land-centered aspect of it. The men of the Gemara, on the other hand, were conducive to the very idea of the talmid chacham, more so than the figures in Nach, so greater emphasis was placed on Gemara study. The downside of this approach is that many of the masculine and heroic virtues, the earthy and natural characteristics among figures in Nach were glossed over and even ignored, . . . waylaid as not representative of a “Yid.” Nationalism, the need for sovereign power, and attributes of physicality were certainly dismissed, since they were viewed as unrealistic and irrelevant to the actual condition of medieval Jewish life.
The later-renewed focus by many on Tanach was an attempt to reshape the Jewish man, and people, into a more Biblical protoype.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero