Letters, Winter 2022
Bastard, Orphan . . . Jew?
I am grateful for Adam Kirsch’s thoughtful appraisal of my new book, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton (“Ten Duel Commandments,” Fall 2021). Kirsch describes the evidence of Hamilton’s Jewish identity as amounting to “an intriguing though inconclusive case.” Indeed. I take pains in the book’s opening pages to stress that the case is necessarily probabilistic owing to the fragmentary nature of the historical record.
Even on matters where Kirsch believes that he and I diverge, there may be more harmony between us than he realizes. He questions whether “prejudice against Jews [was] really as significant a force in early America as Porwancher often suggests” and calls for a “more nuanced” approach. In fact, I wholly agree that the experience of American Jewry in the early years of the republic was not dominated by antisemitism, as my book makes clear.
To be sure, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton also documents the persistence of antisemitism in the early republic. Readers will get a fair sense of the numerous Gentiles who held Judaism in low regard and the prevalence of age-old stereotypes about conniving Jewish merchants. Those voices of intolerance cannot be dismissed as merely marginal; most American states initially barred Jews from running for legislative office and serving as lawyers. As the introduction to my book contends, America was a “young country uneasily navigating the contested terrain between New World promises and Old World prejudices.”
There is, however, one point of genuine disagreement between Kirsch and me. I write of John Adams: “Jewish law was worse than just an exercise in squandered effort, Adams claimed—it was demonic. Referring to the two components comprising the Talmud, he lamented, ‘The Daemon of Hierarchical despotism has been at Work, both with the Mishna and Gemara.’” Kirsch suggests that this is a “striking instance” of my “misreading” a primary source owing to my tendency to see “more baleful intentions” in the words of the founders than they merit. According to Kirsch, Adams is not maligning the Talmud but rather decrying how Pope Gregory IX ordered its burning. “Porwancher’s reading of the phrase is the inverse of what Adams intended,” Kirsch insists. “He was lamenting not Judaic despotism but papal censorship.”
Counterintuitively, Adams’s letter is actually expressing disdain for both the Talmud and the Pope’s destruction of the Talmud. In the very same paragraph where he denounces Gregory, Adams exhibits a marked antipathy to talmudic and kabbalistic texts: “To examine the Mishna, Gemara, Cabbala, Jezirah, Sohar, Cosri, and Talmud of the Hebrews would require the life of Methuselah, and after all, his 969 years would be wasted to very little purpose. The Daemon of Hierarchical despotism has been at Work, both with the Mishna and Gemara.” Adams then fulminates against Pope Gregory for decreeing that “the books of the Jews” should be set ablaze. I interpret the line about the “Daemon of Hierarchical despotism” to be an elaboration of the sentence immediately preceding it, where Adams is unequivocally dismissive of the Talmud. Kirsch, for his part, interprets that same language to be a reference to the passage immediately following it, where Adams is critical of the Pope. Kirsch’s take leaves an important question unanswered: why is it that Adams derides talmudic study as “wasted to very little purpose” in the same breath that he derides the Pope for burning the Talmud?
The work of seventeenth-century biblical scholar John Lightfoot is instructive in resolving this paradox. Adams’s letter singles him out for praise, observing how Lightfoot employed the Talmud in Christian scholarship: “Lightfoot derived Light from what escaped from Gregory’s fury in explaining many passages in the New Testament, by comparing [them to] the Expressions of the Mishna.” A study of Lightfoot’s writings illustrates how a reliance on the Talmud did not preclude animosity toward it. He explains that the Talmud is a necessary evil. Because the New Testament was rendered in the “vulgar dialect of the Jews,” Lightfoot needed the Talmud to understand Christian scripture. Taken on its own, the Talmud is characterized by “amazing emptiness and sophistry.” In Jewish hands, the Talmud is nefarious; in Christian hands, the Talmud can be a helpful tool.
My book stresses that Adams articulated “varied views on both Judaism and its adherents.” In this respect, Adams was much like other founders and the society they inhabited—the early American republic was neither fully enlightened in its approach toward religious minorities nor fully beholden to old-world bigotry. Against that mixed backdrop, Hamilton’s unalloyed affinity for Jews and their faith is striking indeed.
University of Oklahoma
Much of what Andrew Porwancher says about Alexander Hamilton’s origins, his early education, and his relationship to Jews and to Christianity in later life is open to questions that Adam Kirsch does not ask in his review of The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton.
Porwancher’s argument rests on the unproven possibility that Hamilton’s mother converted to Judaism to marry the Jew who was legally her husband at the time of his illegitimate birth. However, as Porwancher reports, many Hamilton scholars have concluded that the man in question, Johann Michael Lavien, “was not a Jew” or “was not legally considered a Jew” or, at least, “was not a Jew by the time he met Rachel in 1745.” Porwancher tries to make it seem otherwise. In the longest footnote in the book, he explains why he insists on using the surname Levine—which is not how Lavien spelled his name. Ultimately, however, Porwancher has to admit that in the primary sources he consulted, “the diversity of spellings is unsurprising.” His unjustified use of “Levine” stacks the decks in favor of the presumption that Hamilton was Jewish.
Porwancher does not claim that Hamilton lived as a Jew, but he does detect in his career evidence of a philosemitism unrivaled among the United States’ first generation of political leaders. In Porwancher’s view, everyone else, including Washington, Madison, and Jefferson, had tainted public records with respect to Jews. Porwancher’s evidence for Hamilton’s philosemitism is, however, very weak, and he completely overlooks evidence of his willingness to traffic in antisemitism. In his review, Kirsch pays special attention to Hamilton as the defendant’s lawyer in the trial of Louis LeGuen, which Porwancher labeled “the most fervent rebuke of antisemitism to be found in the annals of the American founders.” Certainly, Hamilton’s defense was “fervent,” but he was, after all, LeGuen’s attorney. On other occasions, Hamilton conducted himself differently. In his 2005 Jews & Gentiles in Early America, 1654–1800, William Pencak reports that “Hamilton had no problem comparing two men to ‘Shylock the Jew’ at the height of the Alien and Sedition crisis in 1799” and “was castigated by the New York Journal for giving ‘vent to the most scurrilous language against two citizens.’”
Lance J. Sussman
Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel
Andrew Porwancher’s contention in The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton that Hamilton and the Jewish community were in alliance is false and misleading in a way that Adam Kirsch’s excellent review did not address. To understand early American Jewish history, one must understand the political dynamics of the deeply polarized 1790s. American Jews were supporters of Hamilton’s economic program, both as members of the mercantile sector and as urban residents. However, soon after Hamilton’s program became law, New York Jewry began shifting their political allegiance from Hamiltonianism to Jeffersonianism.
In 1792, Solomon Simson, leader of New York City Jewry and Hamilton’s legal client, became vice president of the New York Democratic-Republican Society. Other prominent Jewish members included Isaac Gomez (another Hamilton client), Naftali Judah, and Isaac Seixas. These societies sprang up in support of the French Revolution. American Jews, keenly aware of both the promise of 1776 for their standing and the discrimination endured by European Jewry, hoped that the French Revolution would offer their European brethren the same promise that the American Revolution was offering them. Nothing in his life did Hamilton denounce more strongly than the French Revolution.
As the leader of the Federalist Party, Hamilton supported the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, the strongest anti-immigrant legislation and the most serious attack on free speech and the free press in American history. The spiritual leader of New York’s Jewish community, Hazan Gershom Seixas, gave a sermon critical of Federalist conduct, which Naftali Judah published at his printshop, the Head of Paine. After a few days, he took it down out of fear of arrest, as Federalists were using the government to close opposition newspapers and jail prominent Jeffersonians.
Historian David Hackett Fischer concluded that “a wide and fetid stream” of antisemitism ran through Federalist thought. The foremost scholar of early American antisemitism, William Pencak, states that as leader of the party Hamilton was “willing to tolerate if not encourage prejudice in which he did not believe.” An influential Jew from Philadelphia stated publicly, “I am a Jew, and if for no other reason, for that reason I am a Republican [Jeffersonian].” Some alliance.
Howard B. Rock
Florida International University
Adam Kirsch responds:
The John Adams letter plays quite a small role in Professor Porwancher’s book, and I wouldn’t want further controversy over it to be a distraction. But I continue to believe that he misreads the letter of November 14, 1813, and that Adams’s criticism is directed not at the Talmud itself but at Christian censorship of it.
Adams is responding to Jefferson’s letter of October 12, in which he describes his project of editing the New Testament to recover Jesus’s original teachings. As Adams writes, “I admire your Employment, in Selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and Separating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand.” But Jefferson lamented that a full comparison of Jewish and Christian teaching would involve more work than he could undertake: “the philosophy of the Hebrews must be enquired into, their Mishna, their Gemara, Cabbala, Jezirah, Sohar, Cosri and their Talmud must be examined and understood, in order to do them full justice.”
In his reply, Adams repeats this list of Jewish texts back to Jefferson in the sentence Professor Porwancher quotes. In other words, Adams is saying that even if Jefferson had as much life to look forward to as “Methusaleh,” studying these texts would be a waste of time for Jefferson’s purposes. That is because “the Daemon of Hierarchical despotism” has censored the Talmud in ways that make it less useful as a historical guide to Jesus’s times, as Adams goes on to explain by describing the depredations of Pope Gregory IX. The word “Daemon” here also seems to refer back to Jefferson’s October 12 letter, where in another passage, he questions whether Socrates’s famous daemon was a literal voice. But I don’t see how it can be read as a description of the Talmud itself, especially because the Talmud is not generally described even by its slanderers as a hierarchical and despotic text. On the contrary, its size and complexity are owed to the proliferation of authorities arguing with one another.
Adams’s reference to John Lightfoot must be understood in the same context. The fact that Lightfoot elsewhere expressed contempt for the Talmud is irrelevant to Adams’s attitude; nowhere in the letter does Adams use abusive language about the Talmud. (Actually, it is Jefferson who comes closer to doing that in his October 12 letter, where he quotes stereotypically hostile views of the Talmud from other Christian scholars.) Rather, Adams is here using the type of argument the Talmud calls kal vachomer, that is, an a fortiori argument: if Lightfoot was able to shed light on the New Testament even using the mutilated Talmud that “escaped Gregory’s fury,” how much more would it be possible to understand about the New Testament if the Talmud survived intact?
This statement, like the rest of the discussion, shows that Adams’s and Jefferson’s understanding of the Talmud and its textual history was shaky and secondhand, as it would have had to be. Adams acknowledges as much when he dismisses the subject, writing, “We may leave learned men to this disquisition and Criticism.” Of course, compared to later presidents, Adams and Jefferson were amazingly learned, as their correspondence—available on the National Archives website—amply shows.
I thank professors Rock and Sussman for their learned letters.
What a great pleasure it was to see my book reviewed in your pages by historian Jonathan Sarna (“From Pittsburgh to the Holocaust,” Fall 2021). I write to point out some factual errors and omissions.
Sarna writes, “Oppenheimer exclaims that Squirrel Hill is unique, ‘the oldest, most stable, most internally diverse Jewish neighborhood in the United States.’ That is an exaggeration: the Jewish community of Brookline, Massachusetts, is about the same age and no less diverse; the Jewish community of Lower Manhattan is much older.” In fact, the Lower East Side, which in 1910 was the largest Jewish community in the world, with hundreds of thousands of Jews, now has a tiny fraction of that number (my in-laws are among those who remain). Notwithstanding some shrinking outposts of Orthodoxy and some number of culturally Jewish but basically secular new arrivals, it would be a huge stretch to call the Lower East Side an “older” Jewish neighborhood today, for it is not really a Jewish neighborhood. And it is the opposite of “stable.”
As for Brookline, the best survey of its Jewish character, a 1995 article by Gerald H. Gamm, shows that it got Jewish a bit later than Squirrel Hill and never got quite as Jewish as Squirrel Hill. It also has been nowhere near as stable: Gamm writes that after the 1950s, Brookline “changed dramatically in character,” becoming by the time of Gamm’s article more elderly, with fewer families with young children (I believe that trend has since reversed somewhat). This scholarship is to be found in The Jews of Boston, coedited by Jonathan Sarna.
In his discussion of Squirrel Hill’s stability, Sarna offers a number of important caveats, including the declining membership of Tree of Life and Rodef Shalom congregations. I give those caveats myself and illustrate them with the statistics—the statistics Sarna cites, without mentioning he learned them in the pages of my book. In short, when Sarna makes claims of his own, they are not quite right; when he makes claims that are right, he fails to credit me as his source.
But Sarna seems to be writing out of a sense of pique, in particular that I give too much credit to figures he takes to be marginal. He dismisses Keshira haLev Fife, an important local clergywoman, as one who “bills herself as a kohenet,” or priestess; one can hear the contempt rising like steam off that word “bills.” One might just as well say that Sarna “bills himself as a historian”—he is one because he calls himself one and because the relevant community treats him as one. The same logic goes for Fife.
Sarna frets that I give too little attention to the “critical if less colorful work” of Jewish Federation president Jeffrey Finkelstein and Reform rabbi Aaron Bisno. In fact, I devote much of a chapter to the important fundraising work of the Federation, and I mention Bisno’s congregation over a dozen times. That’s not enough for Sarna, who seems a bit obsessed with Rodef Shalom—the congregation in which his wife was raised and to which her family belonged for generations (which he fails to mention). Sarna sneaks in references to former Rodef Shalom rabbis Solomon Freehof and Walter Jacob (which charmed me, as Freehof presided over my dad’s confirmation). Rodef Shalom is an old, storied congregation, important to Sarna’s family history and mine, but those on the ground in Pittsburgh will understand why I focused on figures lesser known to Sarna.
Sarna’s main critique seems to be that I credit David Shribman’s line that the attack occurred in “perhaps the least anti-Semitic city in the country.” To disprove my point, Sarna mentions two attacks, in March and April 2000, by mentally ill men with hateful ideologies. In the first case, a mentally ill black man named Ronald Taylor killed three white men and wounded two others; none were Jews, but notebooks were found in which Taylor wrote “DEATH TO JERUSALEM,” as well as “ANTI-WHITE,” “ANTI-JEW,” “ANTI-ASIAN,” “ANTI-CHRIST,” and so on. In the other case, a white man named Richard Baumhammers killed, in the words of the New York Times article at the time, “a lifelong Jewish neighbor, two Asian restaurant workers, a grocery store clerk born in India and a black karate student.” Sarna calls this sequence of two events an “antisemitically motivated wave of crimes.”
Whether or not Taylor and Baumhammers were antisemites or just delusional sociopaths who hated everyone is anyone’s guess. But these two crimes, twenty years ago—I’d add a murder of which Sarna seems unaware, of a rabbinical student, in Squirrel Hill, in 1986—don’t qualify Shribman’s general point that Pittsburgh is a city relatively, even unusually, free of antisemitism. For that matter, they don’t count as an antisemitic crime “wave.” There has never been such a wave in Pittsburgh—which is happy news indeed. On that much, as on much more, Jonathan Sarna and I surely agree.
New Haven, Connecticut
Jonathan D. Sarna challenges Mark Oppenheimer’s assertion that Squirrel Hill is “the oldest, most stable, most internally diverse Jewish neighborhood in the United States.” Sarna cites the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study as evidence that Squirrel Hill’s Jewish population (the study actually refers to it as Greater Squirrel Hill), once over half of the city’s Jews, is now down to 30 percent. That would be a precipitous drop if the evidence were there to back it up, but it isn’t. Having served as the president/CEO of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation from 1981 to 2004, I know Squirrel Hill, and I can recognize when someone has not done their homework.
The most recent study that Sarna might have derived the over 50 percent figure from was one done for the Federation in 2002, which documented that 47 percent lived in Greater Squirrel Hill. The 2017 study was conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, and the 2002 study was carried out by Ukeles Associates. The two organizations used different methodologies. The 2002 study asked respondents to self-identify as Jews, while the 2017 study includes “Jews of multiple religions” in addition to several other changes in the screening questions asked of potential interviewees.
Simply put, the Cohen Center changed the rules of the game, opening the door to Sarna’s flawed conclusions. I would also suggest that the vast majority of those with a weaker connection to the Jewish community who were picked up in the more expansive 2017 definition for possible interview subjects were more likely to live in the suburbs, thus further decreasing the 2017 Greater Squirrel Hill estimate. Sarna, whose title at Brandeis is University Professor of History, might have done well to speak to his colleagues before jumping to conclusions.
Sarna makes another leap when he states that the plummeting of the Conservative Tree of Life Synagogue’s membership from 850 families in 1995 to fewer than 250 in 2017 and the precipitous drop of the Reform Rodef Shalom’s membership from 2,300 families in the early 1960s to about 900 can be attributed to families departing for the suburbs. Really? Does he not believe that the Conservative and Reform movements have shrunken dramatically?
Howard M. Rieger, PhD
Jonathan D. Sarna responds:
Readers of the JRB will be amused to learn that Mark Oppenheimer does not know the difference between Lower Manhattan, which I referenced in my review, and the Lower East Side, which he mentions in his rebuttal. I refer him to the maps in Wikipedia and stand by my claim.
The Brookline Jewish community, as I wrote, is “about the same age” as that of Squirrel Hill—a few years give or take, depending on how one measures. I do not know on what basis Oppenheimer concludes that Brookline “never got quite as Jewish as Squirrel Hill.” Nor is it clear to me why Oppenheimer uses twenty-six-year-old data about Brookline, even if it appears in a book that I edited. The latest Boston Jewish community study, from 2015, combines Brookline, Brighton, and Newton and shows that the area’s geographic distribution of Jewish households has hardly changed; it is, pace Oppenheimer, quite stable.
I never respond to ad hominem comments and am disappointed in Oppenheimer for making them. The fact remains that the invaluable work of many hardworking Jewish leaders was slighted in his volume, while more colorful bit characters occupy pages. In addition to Jeffrey Finkelstein and Rabbi Aaron Bisno, whom I mentioned in my review, I should also have listed Rabbi James A. Gibson among those whose contributions ought to have been properly chronicled. Rabbi Gibson kindly sent me his moving account of October 27, 2018. (You can read it at bit.ly/gibsonpittsburgh.)
Finally, with respect to antisemitism, I remind readers that I cited the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Pittsburgh chapter. Oppenheimer cites nothing but an unshakable conviction that the community that his great-great-great-grandfather helped to found is uniquely wonderful.
Howard Rieger’s letter puzzles me. He never mentions the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, which was the subject of Oppenheimer’s book and my review. Instead, he focuses on the Brandeis University population study of Greater Pittsburgh, conducted by my colleague Professor Leonard Saxe and our Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. Rieger says that I should have spoken to my colleagues before jumping to conclusions. So, I reached out to Professor Saxe, who described Dr. Rieger’s letter as “inaccurate” and reassured me that including “Jews of multiple religions” in the survey had “no significant effect” on its conclusions. He also backed up what I said concerning the dispersion of Pittsburgh Jews to the suburbs, as well as the increasing diversity of Squirrel Hill.
I also heard from local rabbis that the dramatic decline in synagogue membership noted in my review had a great deal to do with Jews’ movement out to suburbia. Nationwide, Reform and Conservative Judaism have certainly not lost over 60 percent of their members! Back in 2017, Dr. Rieger published an article entitled “Making a Difference in Retirement,” in which he admitted that Squirrel Hill’s “housing prices are much higher than the suburbs, and the housing stock and public schools are inferior.” I applaud his efforts to preserve and strengthen his neighborhood, but as a scholar, I cannot make up facts or ignore current data. I stand by my review.
David Farkas’s erudite article (“A Maimonides in Monsey,” Fall 2021) is marred by unfortunate mistakes in its last paragraph. In the closing lines of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides’s messianic dream may not have been “a vision of some far-off time.” There is good reason to think that Maimonides thought that the messianic era was near at hand, when the masses “will all become great sages, understanding hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator to the full reach of human potential.” Farkas was also misled by the many printed editions, which insert the word Yisrael into Maimonides’s text, into thinking that Maimonides was only speaking of Jews. Maimonides himself foresaw a messianic era (near or far off) in which all human beings will “become great sages.”
Chair, Department of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Shalem College
David Farkas, in his review of Moshe Maimon’s translations of several of Abraham Maimonides’s works, writes that “today . . . while not entirely non-existent, it is rare to see a rabbinic work from manuscript brought out by anything other than an Orthodox publisher, staffed by yeshiva graduates.” According to Farkas, “the floor seems to have been ceded” by academics and academic publishers to publishers that chiefly publish works edited by “yeshiva-trained scholars.” While Farkas is careful to temper this claim somewhat, the overall sentiment is clear: not only has there been a decline in text-critical studies of Jewish texts within the academy, coeval with an increase in editions published by “yeshiva-trained scholars,” but such a shift is, in fact, a good thing, one that Maimonides himself would have likely approved of (!), for the control over rabbinic texts—and thus any claim of authority over Jewish tradition—has been wrested from those pesky academics.
Yet Farkas’s estimation of the state of affairs is entirely inaccurate. There is nothing at all new about “yeshiva-trained scholars” publishing editions of rabbinic works from manuscripts (or, as is the case with Maimon, of updating and commenting upon previously published modern translations of medieval Jewish works). One need look only at the endless list of such editions published over the last decades by Mossad HaRav Kook, Machon Yerushalayim, Yad HaRav Nissim, and several other publishers. There is, however, something relatively new afoot, and that is the willingness on the part of ultra-Orthodox scholars to engage in modes of scholarship that are not solely focused on the publication of works from manuscript. This can be seen from the genuine renaissance in ultra-Orthodox journals (e.g., Yeshurun, Yerushaisenu, and others), the efflorescence of online scholarly forums (e.g., that of Otsar haChochma), as well as from the enrollment of ultra-Orthodox students in Jewish studies programs at universities in Israel. In light of this shift, Farkas’s review left me wondering how exactly Maimon does or does not engage in the growing body of scholarship on Abraham Maimonides, and in particular, with the work of intellectual historians such as Elisha Russ-Fishbane, Ezra Labaton, and Diana Lobel.
Finally, Farkas’s claim regarding academics is nothing less than libelous. Within the past year alone, we have seen the publication of Robert Brody and Menachem Ben-Sasson’s edition of The Book of Testimonies and Legal Documents by Se’adyah Ben Joseph Gaon, Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand’s edition of Eleazar Qiliri’s piyyutim for Yom Kippur, Shamma Friedman’s commentary on Bavli Gittin IX, Avigdor Kahalani’s edition of Midrash Aggadat Bereishit, Reuven Kiperwasser’s edition of Kohelet Rabbah, and Yaakov Sussman’s Ginze Yerushalmi. This list is not comprehensive, and a list stretching just a few years back would also include Menachem Kahana’s monumental edition of Sifre Bamidbar, Simcha Emanuel’s numerous editions of medieval works, and others. Nor should we kid ourselves into thinking that the academic edition and that of the yeshiva student are interchangeable. With all due respect to Nachi Weinstein and his many esteemed guests (some of whom I count as my teachers), an appearance on his Seforim Chatter podcast is not a sign that “a work of scholarship” is “on a philological par with anything being produced by full-time professors and scholars.”
New York and Princeton
David Farkas responds:
One hesitates to debate with as distinguished a scholar as Professor Kellner, but he does acknow-ledge that my paraphrase of Maimonides was based on the standard published text. I would only note that the same verse is cited in the Laws of Repentance (Chapter 9) for similar purposes, and it is clear from the context there that he applies the verse to Israel alone. As to Maimonides’s messianic vision, all we can be certain of is that it would not be until some uncertain time in the future.
Yitz Landes’s letter is bewildering. He first accuses me of expressing an “overall sentiment” that Maimonides would have been happy about the shift from textual scholarship being published by “pesky academics” to one in which much of this work was published by yeshiva graduates such as Rabbi Maimon. Needless to say, Maimonides did not know of the future divide between yeshiva graduates and academic scholars—he knew only of knowledge and would undoubtedly have rejoiced in advances made by both.
Landes then says there actually has not been any shift and that yeshiva-trained scholars have been publishing in the likes of Mossad HaRav Kook and Machon Yerushalayim for decades. Yet, even Landes allows that there has been a genuine renaissance in what he calls “ultra-Orthodox” journals, student enrollment, and the use of online research tools. The last is particularly important, and as I highlighted in the article, one of the key tools Moshe Maimon utilized in his work. Maimon also makes use of available academic scholarship on Abraham’s life and work, including that of Elisha Russ-Fishbane, whose published material, as well as private correspondence, is cited in the introduction (Vol. II) and notes. (Diana Lobel’s book on Abraham Maimonides came out after Maimon’s, and she cites his work in her bibliography.)
Landes also claims that rabbinic textual scholarship is alive and well among academics, citing a slew of examples to prove his argument. But it is telling that virtually all of the scholars he cites are Israelis, most of them quite senior. As Landes no doubt knows, this is not the sort of scholarship by which one now climbs the academic ladder, certainly not in American universities. Landes concludes that we shouldn’t “kid ourselves” into thinking that uppity yeshiva guys are actually capable of real scholarship. His “overall sentiment” seems to be that they should go back to the beis medresh where they belong and leave the real work to the academics. But perhaps this was caused by indignation over the insults to academia he imagined I was hurling. If so, let me assure him that this was not my intention. Though thoroughly unimportant, my own feelings on the subject align with Maimonides, father and son. All contributions to scholarship, whether from Lakewood or Princeton or anywhere else, bring us closer to the Divine.
In “From Pittsburgh to the Holocaust,” Fall 2021, Pittsburgh’s South Hill neighborhood was incorrectly identified as Short Hill.
While we’re sure you all knew D-Day took place in 1944, not 1945, we still would like to note the correction in A. E. Smith’s review (“Orphan Soldiers,” Fall 2021).
We are grateful to Solon Beinfeld for pointing out that Chaim Grade (“On Chaim Grade’s Agunah,” Fall 2021) most likely allayed Curt Leviant’s concerns with the phrase “Zorgt aykh nisht.”
Poisoned Gefilte Fish, Broken Heart
In a characteristic turn of phrase, Der Nister wrote that the realization of the possibility of a land for Jews, where they lived under their own sovereignty would be a “brokhe af doyres” (blessing for future generations). The bitter irony is almost unbearable.
Pancho Villa and the Star of David Men
When the Young Men's Christian Association began offering wholesome recreation to soldiers in 1916, Jewish leaders were as as worried about evangelism as they were about bars and bordellos.
Accounting for the Soul
Mussar Yoga makes for a surprising deli combo platter of the spirit, even in our easy-going mix-and-match America.
Among the many papers discovered in the Cairo Geniza are documents, including letters between Yeshua ben Ismail of Alexandria and Khalluf ben Musa in Qayrawan, in present-day Tunisia. The papers showing disintegration of their partnership shine a light on how a particular kind of business agreement affected the composition of a halakhic guidebook still widely consulted to this day.
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