Understanding Medieval Rabbis as People, Not Textual Abstractions

Few living scholars have exercised as much influence on the study of medieval Judaism as Haym Soloveitchik, himself the scion of a distinguished rabbinic dynasty who chose not to pursue the rabbinate, even as he acquired a reputation for immense talmudic erudition. Reviewing the recently published third volume of Soloveitchik’s collected essays, Alan Jotkowitz comments on his knack for characterizing the approach and style of the great European rabbis of the Middle Ages, taking as an example his analysis of Rabbi Avraham ben David of Posquières (1125-1198). This rabbi, usually referred to by the acronym Ra’avad, is best known for his sharply critical glosses to Moses Maimonides’ halakhic magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, but Soloveitchik argues that his other work deserves greater consideration:

Why then was Ra’avad known primarily as a Maimonidean critic? Soloveitchik suggests it is due to the ill fate of living at the same time as Rashi. . . . He writes, “[Ra’avad’s] works, as I have noted, did not attain that scope or total cohesion which was Rashi’s when he consummated the work of centuries, nor did they approach that wondrous felicity of presentation which again was Rashi’s alone. Indeed, Ra’avad’s commentaries are singularly lacking in literary grace.”

In the writings of Professor Soloveitchik, [these figures] come alive as people. You almost get the sense that he knew them personally. For example, “Ra’avad was a loner’s loner. Whether he had some commentarial tradition we shall never know, because he basically declined to use it. . . . Ra’avad explored new continents and illuminated dark places. Like most explorers of wild lands, he was a man who was wont to stride alone, and if someone collided with him on the way, he could get very irate.”

As for Rashi, “Many of the traits that we associate with Rashi—reticence, modesty, temperateness of expression—are common to the literature of the 11th century.” Where did Soloveitchik’s impression of Rashi come from? In a note, he comments that “close to a decade’s work in the literature of the 11th century has given me the sustained impression that Rashi is unique in the near total cohesion of his thought and in the lucidity of his presentation but hardly atypical in character and general bearing.”

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Judaism, Middle Ages, Rashi, Talmud

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy