Dear Subscriber: Hakirah
volume 25 was mailed to all subscribers on October 9, 2018. Enjoy!
Hakirah Volume 25, Fall 2018
The 25th edition of Hakirah marks another milestone for a journal that was begun in 2004 with the mission of “promoting the intellectual and spiritual growth of the Flatbush Jewish community.” Hakirah has far exceeded its goals, and by volume three the mission had been changed from the “Flatbush Jewish community” to the “Jewish community” as Orthodox scholars and even some non-orthodox scholars from around the world joined us in our mission. Hakirah sought to accomplish its goal by “providing an opportunity for members of our community who have been studying in depth to disseminate the results of their study for careful review” and “encouraging others to join in this type of study.” Dozens of new authors have found their voice in the pages of Hakirah, but they have been joined by established authors, prominent talmidei hakhamim and noted academics in Jewish studies, as well as accomplished scientists and scholars of the law and the humanities.
We stated in our mission statement that we wished to “create a forum for the discussion of issues of hashkafah and halakhah relevant to the community from a perspective of careful analysis of the primary Torah sources,” and indeed the most crucial and controversial issues facing Jewry have been discussed in these pages. The “Torah and Science” controversy of 2004, the proper procedures for gerut, the prospect of women rabbis, the Torah attitude towards homosexuality, Orthodoxy’s stance and responsibility toward the state of Israel, and Judaism’s stance in the divide between liberalism and conservatism, as well as many other issues, have all been debated here. And in this tradition, the Forum section of this edition deals with whether the issue of humane treatment for animals is a matter of moral concern for religious Jews or just an overhyped part of the political correctness agenda of the “progressive” left. (the original article from vol. 24; Zvotofsky’s counter-article; as well as Zelcer’s response are all available for download.)
Those issues that divide the Modern and Haredi camps have often been a focus of Hakirah, and in this edition two articles shed light on the development of this divide. An important and fascinating article in Hebrew about Rav Moshe Soloveichik zt”l details how the son of Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l, the father of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l aligned himself in part with the Mizrachi movement while remaining firmly implanted within the Agudah world, and battled against the concept of having a central authority controlling psak, or what constitutes Da‘at Torah. In Hakirah 24, the first part of an article reported upon the revisionism in the haredi world, in which haredim sought to distance their ancestors and their seforim from the “taint” of Zionism. In this concluding section, the author demonstrates that this was not merely a result of change within haredi attitudes but was also due to changes within the religious Zionist camp.
Hakirah authors have constantly demonstrated that science is not a challenge to our mesorah but a necessary aid in understanding the teachings of the Torah. Thus in a special Torah and Science section, professors from major universities use in-depth knowledge of math and science to suggest new angles in approaching ancient halakhic and hashkafic issues. These articles—“The Tallest Column: On the Monetary Value of Stature in Jewish Law”; “Deconstructing the Lunar Calendar”; ”Probabilistic Analysis of the Propagation of Latent Mamzerus”; and “Do Human Beings Have Free Will?”—demonstrate the broad range of topics that are affected by scientific knowledge. Likewise, in our section on Jewish Law, medical knowledge as well as sociological and psychological insights are used to answer the question “Does Halakha consider female infertility an illness?” while in the other article of this section, “The Problem with Double Dipping: Ma’areh Sheni in Dyeing Tekhelet,” (complete article available for download) the author shows that the new means for effective dyeing of tzitzis is consistent with halachic requirements. The issue of science is relevant as well to an article in the History of Halakhah section, where in “Rambam and the Size of the Sun” the author shows that Rambam used the latest technology to make his judgments, and that we follow in his footsteps when we use it in the pursuit of Torah knowledge.
An article in the section on Jewish Thought also uses the latest scientific knowledge: in “Aharei ha-pe’ulot: If we follow our hearts, then what do our hearts follow?” the author explores how our increasing understanding of the human psyche gives insight into how mitzvot perfect us. In “Hokhmah and Narishkeit: Learning the culture of a declining West,” the author reviews a recently reissued 1998 book with essays from some of the leading Orthodox thinkers of the last generation and asks whether it is worthwhile or even still possible to learn from Western culture. The third essay in the section, “Divine Perfection: Definitions of Shleimut,” deals with an abstract philosophical issue that was crucial to our Rishonim but has seldom been written about in later years. In the Talmud Torah section, the article “Fathers and Sons and Wine: The Oedipal Complex” attempts to extract insights from the field of educational psychology from a Talmudic story.
Under the History of Halakhah, in an article entitled “Erudition and Error in Early Ashkenaz: Did R. Eliezer HaGadol Study Avodah Zarah?” the author’s inquiry leads to insight about the seder ha-limud of the Rishonim in Ashkenaz. And in the History section, the author’s question “Why did the pasha give the keys of Jerusalem to the Chief Rabbi?” leads to information about early Eruvin in Yerushalayim.
A special section on teshuvah is featured and opens this volume, in time for the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. In “Teshuva and Viduy: The Ambitious Method of Coming Closer to Hashem,” (complete article available for download) a leading Rosh Yeshiva explains the placement of Rambam’s Hilkhot Teshuvah at the end of Sefer Ha-Mada. “Teshuva is really the conclusion of what began with Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, precisely because it has at the center of its ambition the potential transformation of even a tzaddik gamur into a ba‘al teshuva gemura.” And in a second essay, “Rambam’s Missing Mitzvah—Settling the Land of Israel,” the author suggests that returning to Eretz Yisrael is itself an element of teshuvah.
A fitting close to the introduction to this edition of Hakirah is the acknowledgment of the loss this past Av of Flatbush resident Dr. Yaakov Elman z”l. Reb Yaakov was an internationally renowned academic scholar as well as an exceptional talmid hakham who made major contributions in several different areas of Jewish scholarship. The titles of his two Hakirah articles, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza,” and “Pahad Yitzhak: A Joyful Song of Affirmation,” give one an idea about the range of his expertise. He was a ben Torah and ba‘al middot who was a friend to several members of the Hakirah editorial board, whom we learned with and from, and he was a friend to Hakirah itself with whom we would consult on areas beyond our expertise. In a letter in Hakirah 2, responding to our initial edition, he ended with: “I wish you all the luck in the world in cultivating intellectual curiosity in Flatbush and among frum people in general. Decades of experience have shown me how difficult a task that is. Good luck!” We would often laugh together about this, as apparently his “good luck” berakhah was fulfilled. Sometime later he told us that “Hakirah gave him hope,” and shortly after that he began contributing himself. Dr. Elman left many unfinished works, and it is our prayer that the topics over which he toiled will be continued to be explored in the pages of Hakirah.
Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought is a publication of Hakirah, Inc. a non-profit private foundation exempt under section 501 (c) (3).
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