‘Noah Feldman May Be Very Smart, But He Isn’t Very Wise’

Marc B. Shapiro writes:

Professor Isadore Twersky once mentioned in class that although this book’s title should have mentioned Maimonides, in 1929 Harvard University Press would not publish a book with such a title. In this regard, he also called attention to the title of Sarah Heller Wilensky’s doctoral dissertation, “The Teaching of Issac Arama in the Framework of Philonic Philosophy.” This, too, is a false title, and the subject of the dissertation is seen more clearly by the title of the Hebrew book: R. Yitzhak Arama u-Mishnato. As Twersky explained, Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations did not want a dissertation on a Spanish Jewish thinker unless it was given a more universal theme, hence the “Philonic Philosophy,” an allusion to Wolfson’s theory of philosophy, but this was put in just for show. Incidentally, Fisher’s edition of Or ha-Shem is responsible for my taking credit as being the only student ever to have made Prof. Twersky laugh in class. It was the 1990-1991 year and we were studying Crescas in his seminar. Twersky would often ask me to read, during the course of which he would often correct my pronounciation. When Fisher’s edition of Crescas appeared I immediately bought it and brought it to class. When Twersky called upon me to read, I replied that this time he wa not going to be able to correct my pronounciation. He asked, “why not?” to which I replied, holding up my new book, that I just purchased a new edition of Or ha-Shem, and it is “menikid.” This was too much for even the eternally staid Twersky, and he too was brought to a chuckle. (From inyana de-yoma, someone asked me if Noah Feldman studied with Prof. Twersky. He was not in any of Twersky’s seminars that year. He was, however, in Prof. Septimus’ seminar as well as that of Prof. Leiman, who was at Harvard in fall 1989 as a visiting scholar. In those years, long before he became famous [now, notorious] I would often tell people that one of my fellow students, an undergraduate taking graduate classes, was perhaps the most brilliant person I knew – a much better head than mine – and I have known many intellectual heavyweights. Yet I have read some people, who certainly don’t know him, describing Feldman as an expert in Shas and poskim. This is laughable. He has a great mind, and can grasp a Tosafot quicker than almost anyone, but he never spent any serious time in limudei kodesh after high school. I think my father best summed matters up after reading his article. He said: “Feldman may be very smart, but he isn’t very wise.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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