Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dangers of Midrashim Followup - II

So there are two letters to the editor in the Jewish Press about R Pinchas Rosenthal's article about the Dangers of Midrashim (see here), as well as a response by Rabbi Rosenthal. One person asks the question about miracles in the Torah, and another has a more extensive critique (in which he also points out the dispute regarding amata meaning arm or handmaiden, and suggests responses to the college professor). My points, and perspective differ somewhat, but an interesting read.

Rabbi Rosenthal responds to the first that the actual text of the Torah was intended as peshat, but does not consider that certain midrashim may also have been intended as literal, as I showed in an earlier post. Nor does he consider that to a college professor of Anthropology, both miracles seem equally implausible, and so it is difficult to make Jewish belief hinge upon anthropology professors. To the second letter, he does not answer the point about amata and takes the main thrust of the letter as an encouragement not to ask questions (which in part it is).

My main problems with Rabbi Rosenthal's approach remain 1) that he seems to consider it the only legitimate approach; 2) that it is silly nonsense and is not based upon critical analysis of the texts; 3) because he does not believe a miracle described in a midrash, he assumes that it must be intended figuratively rather than acknowledging that he might just disagree with one statement among many in Chazal; and finally, 4) there is some evidence that Chazal indeed intended some midrashim literally.

An interesting read nonetheless.

For those of you awaiting my response to Avi Goldstein (in a subsequent 5 Towns Jewish Times), it is in the work. For now, it will be sufficient to say that he conflates belief in historicity with intent of literalness, and that he misunderstands the midrash which he claims has 180 billion in Egypt (in fact, the midrash is more conservative that the ones based on chamushim).

It should be coming along some time this week or early next.

4 comments:

topshadchan said...

i noticed artscroll quotes maharal that the 180 billion means that 180 billion died over the course of 210 years.
Even that pshat is astronomical.
And to me, I think the gemera should be looked at as harmonizing the yetziah of egypt with the entrance to israel.
More homelitics, not meant that literal.
Also rabbi rosenthal should read the rambam who doesnt agree that everything in the torah is pshat.
i believe the rambam thought bilaam donkey talking was a dream, and so too the 3 angels visiting abraham. I think the sixth day of creation may also be some sort of dream.

joshwaxman said...

I'll post this soon, but basically, 180 billion is not the correct interpretation of that gemara. It means that *600,000 - 2* died over the course of 210 years, not that 180 billion died. And Rashi may well read the same peshat, depending on whether or not you read the brackets in the gemara. this will all be part of my later post.
That is what i meant that it is more conservative. Unlike 4 X 600,000 dying suddenly, we have a generation dying naturally over the course of 80 years.
this is why all midrashim must be learned inside very carefully.

But I'm saying too much too soon.
I do not think this is homiletical, but was intended as literal.
More later.
Kol Tuv,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

you make a good point regarding the Rambam. Rabbi Rosenthal may even be aware of the Rambam, but still feels that there are *some* miracles that *are intended as peshat.

Avi Goldstein said...

Josh, I am awaiting your response.
--Avi Goldstein

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