The Orthodox Rabbi Who Pioneered Critical Talmud Scholarship

Feb. 12 2016

When David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921) first delved into academic study of the Talmud, the field was largely the province of proponents of Reform Judaism who wished to ground their movement’s changes to Jewish religious practice on a foundation of historical scholarship. For his part, Hoffman wished to use academic scholarship to defend Orthodoxy. His efforts laid the foundation for 20th-century study of the Mishnah—the earlier stratum of the Talmud, compiled around 200 BCE and traditionally believed to be based on a divine Oral Torah given to Moses. Michael Chernick writes:

David Zvi Hoffmann worked out a distinct, Orthodox approach to critical Mishnah study that attempted to understand the historical development of the Mishnah from within itself and from rabbinic and non-rabbinic sources related to it. . . . What sets Hoffmann apart from his contemporaries is his attempt to derive the history of the development of the Mishnah not only from references to its composition scattered across other traditional texts, but by carefully examining the work itself, and by “excavating” its layers. . . .

Through their research [into traditional Jewish texts], Reformers sought to demonstrate that Jewish practices were neither uniform nor static. . . . To counter their claims, Hoffmann set out to prove that the original Oral Torah, which according to him was preserved in the Mishnah, was ancient and originally undisputed.


More about: Jewish studies, Mishnah, Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Talmud


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount