Friday, May 07, 2010

Defending DovBear on the Parsha

A very serious charge has been levied against my book, DovBear on the Parsha. An unknown, anonymous commenter on another blog, says the book consists of "overt and intentional kfira." I find this charge impossible to sustain, and will respond to it the only way I can: with a blog post.

DovBear on the Parsha is a collection of blog posts - 69 in all - which appeared here between October, 2004 and July, 2008. All of them were edited for spelling, grammar, space, clarity, accuracy and civility. (though as some have noted, sometimes viciously, our very best efforts to scour the book clean of any spelling mistakes came up rather short.)

The majority of the posts were written before I started thinking seriously about textual issues, before I had read any Kugel (he's not referenced anywhere in the book) or very much of any other critic aside from Alter, who is mentioned in several places. Alter, however, takes the view that the Torah (for the most part) is a literary whole, that is whoever it was that compiled the book (in Alter's view an editor, or school of editors) made careful and conscious decisions, and chose to tell the stories in certain ways, and for certain reasons. Though I do make use of this idea (and Alter's observations) in about a dozen posts, I use it for Torah and not heretical reasons. As I say in the book (page 149) I think even skeptics must concede that observations such as this suggest (rather strongly in my opinion) that the Torah was (for the most part) finalized by one hand, a hand that made deliberate and purposeful authorial choices, a hand that could have certainly belonged to God.

In the list that follows, I revisit every post that appears in the book, and rate them using the following scale. 1 is for posts that contain no kefira at all (no color code) or introduce a kfiradik notion for the purpose of debunking it (marked in blue), or for the purpose of showing why it might not be kfira at all. (marked in green) 2 is for posts that mention a kfriadik idea without expressly agreeing or disagreeing with it (marked in red). 3 is for posts that contain overt kfira, or arguments in its defense.

1. Chava or Chivya?  Mentions Alter's kfiradik idea about the origin of Eve's name, and shows how the Zohar really said it first. Score: 1
2. Yom Does Not Mean Day  Nothing. Score 1
3. Some Sacrifice  Wonders about the efficacy of sacrifice based on what happened to Hevel and Noah immikdately after their offerings. Score 1.5
4. Rainbows  Quotes the Ramban on rainbows. Score 1
5. The Curse of Ham  Discusses an Ibn Ezra Score 1
6. Mulling Over the Mean Loez  Discusses a Meam Loez Score 1
7. Eliezer and the 318 Men  Discusses a Gur Aryeh Score 1
8. Smarter Schoolteachers Please Discusses a Rashi Score 1
9. Keturah  Discusses a Rashi Score 1
10. The Original Charge to Abraham: Be Like the Gentiles?  Wonders what to make of the fact that that archeologists have discovered almost all ANE cultures circumcised their children, and that evidence for this practice pre-exists the earliest dating for Abraham. Score 1.5
11. Rashi and Anachronisms  Discusses a Rashi Score 1
12. Notes on Va-Yera  Discusses some of the literary evidence that ties together the various stories in this parsha   Score 1
13. A Twenty-first Century Sodom?  Discusses an SRH Score 1
14. The Rape(?) of Yitzchak Discusses a dvar torah from the Bar Ilan website Score 1
15. Are Non-Jews the Spiritual Equivalent of Donkeys? Discusses an SRH Score 1
16. How Old was Yitzchak when he Married Rivka? Discusses an Ibn Ezra Score 1
17. One Last Note on Va-Yera  Discusses a Rashi (some say that this particular  Rashi is kfridiak, but its a plain Rashi you can find in the Gutnik edition of the Chumash) Score 1 
18. Besuel  Discusses a problem spotted by Rashi that some solve differently based on textual and archeological evidence Score 2
19. Why was Isaac Blind? Discusses a Rashi and 5 midrashim Score 1
20. Notes on Toldos  Discusses some of the literary evidence that ties together the various stories in this parsha   Score 1
21. Salt and Straw Discusses a Rashi and a famous  midrashim Score 1 
22. What was Rivka Playing at? Based entirely on an SRH Score 1
23. God Loves Rebels  Based entirely on a midrash  Score 1
24. The Three Tears of Esav Muser based entirely on 3 midrashim  Score 1  bb
25. Did the Patriarchs Keep the Commandments? Discusses the disagreement on this subject between Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra and Radak, Ramban, Rashi and Rashbam Score 1    
26. Leah's Lament  Based entirely on Targum Onkelos Score 1  
27. Marrying Sisters  Straight muser Score 1
28. The Magic(?) of the Mandrake Mostly based on an SRH with some impious wondering about the power of magic. Score 1.5
29. The God of Beth-El  Shows how Targum Onkelus and Targum Yonatan provide an explanation for a textual issue that is superior to Rashi's Score 1  
30. The Message to Esav Shows how ArtScroll's translation of a verse is not in keeping with the trup (while instead being in keeping with how Alter and other critics read it) Score 1  
31. Wrestling A discussion of Yaakov's character, as depicted in Berashis, based on Robert Alter Score 1  
32. Post-Shabbos Wisdom  Muser Score 1  
33. Esav Sonei Le’Yaakov  A correct interpretation of the famous phrase, based on ArtScroll's Saperstein edition Score 1  
34. Taking Care of Timna  Muser Score 1
35. The Esav Enigma  A discussion of midrahsim that do not take a negative view of Esav, and an attempt at explaining the change in attitude Score 1
36. Why Munich Matters  Muser Score 1
37. The Kiruv Homily  Muser, based on a Kli Yakar Score 1
38. Boxed In Muser, based on a Kli Yakar Score 1
39. Cousins  Who were the "caravan of Ishmaelites"? Score 1.5
40. Serach Bat Asher, Deathless Jewish Woman  Quotes a Ramban Score 1
41. Tamar’s Tale  An overt and intentional argument against the critics who say Tamar's story doesn't fit the narrative, based on Robert Alter  Score 1
42. Common Language  Based on a Ramban  Score 1
43. Who did Yosef Marry?  Challenges 1 midrash based on another  Score 1
44. ArtScroll's Ideology  Shows that ArtScroll doesn't translate according to Rashi, despite claiming that they do. Score 1
45. The Fruitful Swarming of the Children of Israel Observes a literary connection between the beginnings of Berayshis and Shmos
46. The Second Beginning Observes a literary connection between the beginnings of Berayshis and Shmos Score 1
47. How Far Did Moshe Float? (And other notes on water) Score 1
48. What was Going Through Yocheved's Mind? Attempt to understand why she left Moshe at the water Score 1
49. Who was Moshes's Pharaoh?  Discusses a Maharal Score 1
50. In Rashi's Bes Medrash  Discusses a Rashi, based on Avigdor Bontchik Score 1
51. Changing Names and Language in Egypt  Discusses a midrash Score 1
52. Did the Patriarchs Know God's Name?  Attempts to debunk the DH idea that "ushmi hashem lo noadati lohem" proves multiple source Score 1
53. Makot Machlokes Summary of what rishonim say about the makkos Score 1
54. Was the First Matzo Kosher L'Pesach? Innocent question based on the posuScore 1
55. Is Pesach One Holiday or Two?  Argues that the claim made by critics that Pesach was once two separate holidays should have no bearing at all our appreciation of the holiday Score 1
56. The Long Way  Discusses a Rambam Score 1
57. The Hands of Moshe  Discusses some of the literary evidence that ties together the various stories in this parsha  Based on Cassuot Score 1
58. Learning Midrash with the Learned Lay Person Musser Score 1
59. The Doorpost Gods  Discusses a famous crux, and provides traditional and modern interpretations without choosing between them Score 2
60. Defending Trumah and Tezaveh  Argues against the critics who say thhat these two parshiot are evidence of multiple sources, and a later redaction Score 1
61. Zahav, Kesef, and Nechoshes  Quotes a Gra Score 1
62. Something on the Most Boring Parsha of Them All  Literary allusion connection the mishkan to Berayshis Score 1
63. Abominations Muser about the inconsistent way we behave toward acts defined as toyayvah Score 1
64. Stoned  Rashi and a Sichah Score 1
65. Talking Torah with the Baby Bears  Harmless story Score 1
66. The Sin of the Spies  Wondering why Moshe distrusted the spies Score 1
67. My All-time Favorite Smack down  Ramban vs Rashi Score 1
68. Liberal Rabbis Quotes a midrash Score 1
69. What Remains my Favorite Post  Discusses the Ramban and blogging Score 1


Overt and intentional kfira: 0 Posts
Kfira mentioned, with no endorsement, often alongside traditional interpretations: 2 posts
Kfira mentioned for the express purpose of debunking: 3 posts
Kfira mentioned to show how it isn't kfira: 1 post
Posts that state no kfira but question something traditional, with no basis from among the classical commentators: 4 posts

The balance: 59 posts containing quotes from, or otherwise based on, midrashim, Rishonim and Achronim

None of the posts are overt or intentional kfira, and three of them are actually arguments against kfria

Note: Please restrict your comments on this post to the book, and its contents. I have a post planned for later today, which will attempt to discuss the blog itself, and its occasional peregrinations into what some conisder forbiden territory. Please withhold any comments you may have on that subject until that post appears.

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