Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is Rabbi Fohrman's Purim Book Controversial?

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I just posted a quick review of a new book by Rabbi David Fohrman about Purim on my blog: Book Review | The Queen You Thought You Knew

There is something about this book that seems controversial. A rabbi whom I respect deeply was very offended by the book. His criticism was that the book basically ignores Chazal and appears to be more like an academic analysis of the megilla than a typical Torah style analysis found in yeshivos today.

This is true on both accounts. It is a more academic style and the academic style is not taught in yeshiva.

But is this style "wrong" or just unused by yeshivos? Does a dvar Torah or theory of Torah need sources in Chazal? Some say yes. There are Roshei Yeshiva whom I have heard say that unless something is "muchrach" it is not Torah. It's just opinion. It needs to fit in with existing knowledge and ideas to be true. On the other hand, the very heart of "chassidishe Torah" is it's absence of hachracha. It's all poetic reassurances of what is already believed to be true.

The fear of non-muchrach divrei Torah is that it undermines Chazal. It allows modern readers to use their modern ideas to interpret ancient words that have almost all been interpreted already using primary sources. If we can do it ourselves the argument goes, we are at risk of discarding Chazal, God forbid.

This puts bloggers like me in an interesting position. I am not a fan of "chassidishe Torah". I prefer my divrei Torah be built on at least some hachracha. I don't want Chazal to be undermined. But I also think I would enjoy the academic style of Torah study as well. In fact I did enjoy the book.

One would expect that the Charedi world that banned Rabbi Slifkin's books for undermining Chazal would vehemently oppose this book as well. "Academic study of Torah?! That's for kofrim. We have Chazal!"

Yet, the same Jonathan Rosenblum who supported the ban of Rabbi Slifkin's books, waxes poetic about Rabbi Fohrman's book. ( I find that very interesting. In fact, the rabbi mentioned above is a big Rabbi Slifkin fan. How could one not be? Rabbi Slifkin simply quotes Chazal! But it could be argued, that Rabbi Fohrman in essence discards Chazal! According to the aforementioned rabbi, this is much worse. As evidence for this position one can simply look for approbations in the front of the book. There are none.

It will be interesting to see what will happen with this book. It is the first book I am aware of that implements the academic style of study in a book designed for charedim. Rabbi Etshalom has many divrei Torah in this style. Yet, I have never met a charedi who studied them.

It remains to be seen if this book will be accepted. And if it is accepted, what does that mean?

Buy the book today and get it in time for Purim here: The Queen You Thought You Knew


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