The Formation of the Talmud: Scholarship and Politics in Yitzhak Isaac Halevy’s Dorot Harishonim Yeshiva University News – Yu News

Posted By on December 24, 2021

While the identities of the Stammaim and Savoraim who had a hand in finalizing the Talmud as we know it will likely never be known, that hasnt stopped lovers of the Talmud from speculating on its historical development. InThe Formation of the Talmud: Scholarship and Politics in Yitzhak Isaac Halevys Dorot Harishonim, Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann traces one such attempt by a giant of pre-WWII Eastern European Orthodoxy.

Bergmann, who teaches Talmud at Yeshiva University, sets out to describe who Halevy (1847-1914) was and why his work on the Talmuds history, though apologetic, can and should be taken seriously by those interested in the development of Orthodox Judaism and the study of its foundational text.

Halevy, as Bergmann writes, was a self-taught scholar who led a colorful life of political and scholarly achievements amidst numerous controversies. A traditionalist in a time of change and a pugilistic writer, he was connected to other major rabbinic thinkers of his time, including Rabbi Yosef Duber Soloveitchik (theBeit Halevi), the Netziv, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Amidst the strong winds of the scientific study of Judaism,Wissenschaft des Judentums, Halevy strove, in his work, to offer an Orthodox Wissenschaft, intellectually rigorous but still abiding by traditional belief and observance.

In tracing the development of the Talmud, Halevy sometimes parted ways with traditional thinkers. He, as Bergmann writes, conceded that themidrashicexegesis was a later development that came to provide scriptural proof for laws received at Sinai, but not to derive new laws. This more nuanced view was at odds with those medieval rabbinic authorities, such as Maimonides, who clearly believed in the existence of a creativemidrashic process. While sometimes slanting more traditionally, Halevy also relied on numerous non-Jewish historical sources banned by earlier authorities. The contradictions in Halevys workon our resulting inability to characterize it merely as apologeticsdemonstrate the difficulties Halevy faced as a historian in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who also considered himself a strong advocate for Orthodoxy. Even when arguing against the heretics, Halevy received flack. The Hazon Ish sawDorot Harishonimas dangerous because it unduly exposed Orthodox youth to the arguments of those who historicized rabbinic teachings.

Much of Bergmanns volume consists of the nuances of the theory of development Halevy articulated. He posited that the Mishnah was universally accepted as a sealed corpus, after which Abaye and Rava composed a common body of Amoraic traditions emerging from abeit havaad, a central rabbinic governing body. However, Halevy never offers proof of the existence of such an entity. He also hypothesized that the Savoraim, later editors, made only minor changes to the text, a theory Bergmann calls fanciful and contradicted by the historical record. While much of Halevys scholarship was dismissed, Bergmann emphasizes a historical irony. Halevy helped form Agudath Israel, a rabbinic governing body of much of contemporary Orthodoxy. The Agudah, as it is colloquially called, has since popularized Daf Yomi, the daily cycle of Talmud study.

Thus, while Halevys imprint on the scholarship of the Talmuds history and development might fall short, his impact on its study to this day, it can be argued, looms taller than ever.

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The Formation of the Talmud: Scholarship and Politics in Yitzhak Isaac Halevy's Dorot Harishonim Yeshiva University News - Yu News

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