Is There A Jewish Political Tradition?

Lawrence Kaplan writes to Hirhurim: "Ruth Bevan’s article "Is there a Jewish Poliitical Tradition?" is exceptionally thin. To cite Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof" as proof of a Jewish anti-political tradition is embarrassing. At least she might have referred to Gershon Weiler’s book "Jewish Theoocracy", which is available in English, even if she were unaware of the many critiques of wielers thesis. And what of the impressive and growing literature supporting the idea of an ongoing Jewish political tradition? To take the best known, is not Prof. Bev aware of the works of Daniel Elazar, and the multi-volume anthology still in progress, "The Jewish Polical Tradition," edited by Michael Walzer, et al, of which two volumes have already appeared?"

Other comments: "Rabbi Genack’s Clintonphilia has always been downright embarrassing. This interview only confirms that."

JJ writes:

Re. the interview with R. Genack, does anyone else find it crazy that the interviewer is speaking to him in the third person ("Would Rav Genack like to share his perspective . . . ")

They did it with R. Reichman. It used to be that only gedolei Yisrael were spoken to in third person. Is it now the case that you have to speak to every rav this way?

Ari Lamm writes: "I’ve conducted every single interview I’ve done for KHM in that fashion. As far as I know, they’ve all been published that way as well. That’s how I was taught to speak."

Moshe writes: "It was never the case that "only gedolim" are addressed in the 3rd person. Anyone who ever went to yeshiva is aware that all rebeim are to be addressed that way."

TALMID WRITES: "Rav Schachter once said in shiur that in yiddish or hebrew it is respectful to refer to somebody in third person. In English it sounds silly and he didn’t think it was necessary. I recall one guy in the shiur who constantly referred to Rav Schachter in third person, but instead of saying "What does Rebbe think?" he would say "What does the Rav think?", to which Rav Schachter would invariably respond "I don’t know, I never asked the Rav about that"."

Yissachar writes:

[Marc] Shapiro’s new book is a waste of money – if not of paper and ink. Did anyone ever doubt that Rambam ignores Talmudic superstitions? Or that he advances his own taamei mitzvot at the expense of those of the Talmud? His work may appear thorough, but it could be duplicated by any first-year yeshiva student with a lot of time on his hands. Shapiro made the great achievement of basically forcing any future writer who makes these obvious observations to give him a footnote.

Re the section on Rambam’s mistakes the review is very misleading. There is next to nothing in the way of analysis of Rambam’s difficult halakhot or even contradictions within the Mishneh Torah, which is what I was expecting when I ordered the book. Instead there are thirty pages of Rambam’s misquotes and erroneous citations, work which hardly displays amazing knowledge as the reviewer exclaims, but is more likely the product of one afternoon going over R’ Kapach’s footnotes to the Perush HaMishnah and the Frankel notes in the margin of the Mishneh Torah. It’s hard to see the purpose of this section unless it’s the same as the previous paragraph.

The letters from R’ Kapach included in the book made me laugh. R’ Kapach answered every letter he received, including those from high-school students. There are thousands of his letters floating around so it’s no great zchus to have one in your possession, and the meaningful ones were published long ago. The first letter published by Shapiro is four sentences long and the other two are one sentence apiece. Neither contain anything worth knowing that has not been published already.

I’ll finish by saying that I’m a great fan of Shapiro’s work, especially the biography of the Sridei Esh and the Limits as well as his posts on the Seforim blog, but this book gets a big thumbs down. What I would like to see written is a book not about Rambam but about RAMBAM SCHOLARSHIP: General trends in academia, what motivates these scholars, how they realize their ambitions, etc.

ANON WRITES: "My children were taught, in a MO school, that Lincoln committed a grave sin by freeing the slaves since Noah had cursed them to be perpetual slaves, and his assassination was therefore justified."

Y. ARON WRITES: "The MO school rebbe who taught that blacks were cursed by Noah to be eternal slaves and that Lincoln’s assassination was therefore justified should be reported to the principal. He needs to be seriously warned to keep his racial views to himself. It matters not that some Medieval commenters held similar views about blacks. Noah’s curse of Canaan is irrelevant to Blacks, and the world has progressed much since the times of those commentaries. Even the Mormons who accepted such ideas as dogma, have since, apparently, recanted."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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