Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Freedom of Inquiry in Judaism

How free are we in our intellectual pursuits? Does the Torah limit us as to what we can study?

The UO world clearly holds yes, and therefore they ban books, internet, etc. Much of the MO world sets no limits. Interestingly enough this is a dispute between R' Parnes (when he wrote this he was at YU) and Drs. Lawrence Kaplan and Berger in the first 3 issues of the Torah Umadda Journal. They had a back and forth dispute where R' Parnes wrote an essay Torah Umadda and Freedom of Inquiry where he took the position that our inquiry must be limited and not touch on areas of kefira and minus. Dr's. Berger and Kaplan responded in an essay On Freedom of Inquiry in the Rambam and Today and disagreed. They stated To artificially limit serious fundamental inquiry where the person is properly prepared, even if such inquiry involves reading works of heresy is to stultify an individual's religious growth. R' Parnes summed up the dispute in Volume 3 Response and Closure [reply to Kaplan & Berger, and to Carmy]

R' Parnes expressed it best at the end of the article.

...Yet what is most important is that I have raised a halachick issue essentially no different then a a question in kashrut. In fact this is a question of kashrut in the sphere of intellectual activity. ... Of course there has been mention of the possibility that feedom of inquiry is not a halchic issue. ...Either way the matter cannot be swept under the carpet as a concession to the practicability and twetieth century living!

This is a genuine recurring unresolved issue that needs resolution ... If the matter is not dealt with in the classical manner of horaah Torah UMadda adherents may be left adrift in a sea of ambiguity and self doubt.

I have raised this critical issues to coax the advocates of Toprah Umadda to define it clearly to all of Jewry.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge R' Parnes's pleas has not been answered.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

R. Parnes is right, that insofar as the halakha codes and perhaps the Talmud does place limits on what people may read that the position which basically removes these limits, even if its because of es laasos--especially if--the position should to be articulated forcefully in a halakhic manner if only so that it could go on record.

But even if you don't want to accept that personal inclinations and worldviews ever have anything to do with the conclusion that a posek reaches, it is hard to see who we're going to see such an articulation from that will be both intellectually honest and satisfactory to, well, anyone.

A Jew Who Once Learned said...

I recall Rav Aharon Soloveichik z"l saying at a Torah Umadda lecture that everything is permissible (to study) except higher biblical criticism, which is beyond the pale.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>I recall Rav Aharon Soloveichik z"l saying at a Torah Umadda lecture that everything is permissible (to study) except higher biblical criticism, which is beyond the pale.

That seems like an artificial line in the sand to me. What of the fact that if Orthodox scholars don't study it then there'll be no Orthodox Jews capable of responding to it?

There is also the position of R. Mordechai Breuer, which basically says "yes, the findings of higher bible criticism are honest and true and reveal wonderful things about the text, but that is because R* chose to author a Torah that appears to be compiled from J, E, P & D.

*Ribono Shel Olam