July 26, 2007

For the lack of posts. Just starting, and I’m already slipping.   I’m going to try to have something substantive posted before I go to be tonight.


Once more…

July 20, 2007

Heading out of town for the weekend, to attempt to resolve my personal housing crisis (If anybody knows of an open room in Washington Heights for a Shomer Shabbos and Kashrus guy, let me know).  Have a good weekend!

A Lost Blog and the Future of Academic Blogging

July 17, 2007

Today for the first time I came across a short lived and unfortunately defunct blog called Giluy Milta B’alma. The idea was that it would be a forum to publish and discuss new and interesting findings in Hebrew manuscripts. The five posts that exist are somewhat uneven, but valuable for all that. It is a shame that the project did not work out, and here, presented in a roundabout, but hopefully useful way, is why.

There has been a great deal of discussion over the last few years about what academic blogging is, can be, should be, will be, etc…, from the UC Davis panel on “Historical Blogging and the New Media,” to the various ruminations at The Valve. (The link is to John Holbo’s, who has thought about these ideas as much, if not more, than anybody, long post introducing The Valve, what it is and what he wants it to be. It is pretty close to a programmatic statement on his vision of what academic blogging should be. Not all of his co-bloggers agree, and it’s worthwhile to poke around the place, read the comment threads and trackbacks and piece together some of the debates that surround Holbo’s vision of the future of blogging in academia. These issues are also addressed by a number of the bloggers on my blogroll.) I don’t want to rehash all of that, others have said it better than I could. The two links I posted above barely scratch the surface of what is a very interesting and productive conversation which has been going on for several years. But in all the time I’ve been following that debate, I never saw anybody suggest something quite like Giluy Milta.

The idea is to present either preliminary findings that are not yet ready for publication, or that are too short to merit a full length article. The blog format perfectly fits this project for two reasons. First of all, it is suited for shorter length pieces, such as “I was poking around in the archives today, this is what I found…:” The sort of things that you always want to put in papers, but don’t really belong there. The second reason is that blogs have built in space for discussion. “That fragment that you found? I think it might actually be…” A blog like Giluy Milta is, or would be, a fantastic forum for just those sorts of discussions.

In a certain sense this sort of project is a mirror image of John Holbo’s book events at The Valve, Crooked Timber and other sites. He and his colleagues bring their expertise to bear on scholarship which has already been produced. Book events stimulate discussion of what’s going on in a field, and contribute to the next phase of scholarship to an extent, but at the end of the day they are not actually part of the process of producing original scholarship. I think Giluy Milta points to a way that blogging can contribute to that production.

Unfortunately, right now two crucial components are missing. There is no audience, and consequently no group of contributors. To be successful, this sort of project needs a large number of contributors who are willing to take the time to post their archival findings online. It also requires people to read their contributions and comment on them, to create the lively sort of forum we see at the Valve. Without contributors, there will never be an audience. Somebody with some clout and some connections needs to get behind a project like this, and get others excited. If that were to happen, I think that it would open up a new opportunity for online scholarship.

My Question is….

July 15, 2007

When did Sam Elliott go from being a bit TV player and B-Movie badass to a acting in A-list Hollywood movies?  I want to say The Big Lebowski was the tipping point.

Quote of Today

July 13, 2007

“Now, I’ve always thought being unserious as a human being is a virtue, and I hope that my future wife is extremely unserious: either extremely unserious or seriously crazy, which would also work.”

~Reihan Salam

The Limits of The Limits of Orthodox Theology

July 12, 2007

Marc Shapiro responds to a recent review of his book The Limits of Orthodox Theology in Jewish Action at Seforim Blog. This has ignited quite the controversy in the comments over there. While it’s been a couple years since I read the book, I confess that at the time it did not strike me as that big a deal. The thesis is that Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith have not been universally accepted, and even where they have, they were not always considered to be essential dogma. While I was impressed with the incredibly broad bikius that Prof. Shapiro brought to the issue, I was not surprised by his conclusion, which really was fairly limited. Yeshaya Leibowitz discusses it in a few places, though nowhere near as thoroughly as Prof. Shapiro. While it was certainly interesting to be exposed to Prof. Shapiro’s erudition, it was hardly shocking to see the extent of the sources he cited. That being said, I understand why it might come as a surprise to people who are used to thinking of Jewish theology as a continuous train of theology from Moses up to the present. At the very least, The Limits of Orthodox Theology will provide some kiruv rav with a lot of material to harmonize.

None of this is what I want to address here, however. One of the main points of debate in the comments thread focuses around a review of Prof. Shapiro’s book by Rabbi Yosef Blau. R. Blau does not seem to be disturbed by the information Prof. Shapiro presents, he praises that aspect of the book. His major critique is that The Limits of Orthodox Theology does not present a viable alternative to the dogmatic structure it questions. In the comments at Seforim the question arose as to whether R. Blau’s critique is a valid one. Should a Jewish Studies professor, writing a book on historical reactions to the RaMBaM be compelled to respond to the theological concerns of Orthodox Jews? Conversely, is that what Prof. Shapiro was doing? Or was the book directed to the modern Orthodox world as an attempt to combat a dogmatic rightwing perspective? If that is the case, then is it Prof. Shapiro’s responsibility to present some sort of alternative to that perspective?

Frankly, I’m not sure that either of these two readings correctly pegs The Limits of Orthodox Theology. One of my undergraduate professors (also a YU musmach) once criticized David Berger’s The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by saying that, “He wrote it wearing his rabbi hat, when he should have been wearing his professor hat.” I think the issue with understanding Prof. Shapiro’s book is that he isn’t sure which hat he’s wearing. On the one hand, the bulk of the book is a scholarly treatment of historical reactions to the principles. It was published by Littman, an academic press. It certainly counted towards tenure. On the other, as R. Blau notes, he specifically puts the work in the context of increased dogmatism in Orthodox Judaism. The tone of the book certainly makes it seem as if he wants to combat that dogmatism. He also makes the point that he believes that Judaism does have some central beliefs. All of this leaves the reader feeling somewhat confused. Is the book an anti-Charaidi polemic, or is it a measured scholarly work? Is it intended to be taken as both?

Prof. Shapiro’s research interests correspond with his personal and religious interests. This is perfectly normal and unsurprising, and I don’t think it taints his work at all. However, this coincidence of the two sometimes leaves us with a somewhat muddled picture of exactly what it is that he is trying to do with a given work. (The same is true, to an extent, of Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox. Is that book a measured evaluation of the relationship between R. Lieberman and Orthodoxy, or is it a polemic directed at the Orthodox rabbinate to admit R. Lieberman into the canons of rabbinic thought? Well, it’s a little of both.) So long as we can recognize this for what it is, he has a lot that is tremendously valuable to offer, but because he does not fully commit either way, he may also fall short of some people’s hopes.

Gratuitious Neko

July 11, 2007

Because I love my readers, and feel I should share. In the first clip, she wears a blonde wig. In the second she decries boys in girls’ pants. In both she is wonderful.