Thursday, August 18, 2005

Shabbos: Heavenly Torah

A friend suggested that we study Heavenly Torah (Torah min Hashamayim) by Abraham Joshua Heschel (and recently published in a translation by Gordon Tucker). I've been glancing through this book today and can't wait to study it. Where has this work been hiding! Why hasn't it been announced with great fanfare? This is Heschel's synthesis of the theology of Rabbinic Judaism! Who better to make sense of the sea of Talmud!

I love the idea behind this book, which at first glance appears to examine major aspects of Jewish theology through the schools of Akiva and Ishmael. I know little about Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha but he sounds like the guy I'd be most likely to like in a personal Tanna. Plus I'm a great appreciator of serendipitous juxtapositions and, having just read Abaye on 106b of Tractate Shabbos ask: "Are you telling me to learn the tradition for no purpose, that it should be like a song?", I perked up reading the quote of the unnamed Mormon philosopher on p xxv of Heavenly Torah that "Heschel sings rather than argues." It brings home again the divide between those who denigrate and those who value song.

More later.


Anonymous Reed Chopper said...

R. Ishmael was a stand up guy and had a reasonable approach to interpreting scripture. Unfortunately, the wacko school of Akiva won the day.

btw, can you imagine naming your kid Ishmael today? R. Ishmael's parents must have read the plain meaning of scripture, too.

11:02 AM  
Blogger NeilLitt said...

Interesting that Ishmael’s champion, Heschel, turns out not to be a plain meaning kind of guy: he seems to be inventing a new kind of gezeirah shavah (and let’s not forget that Ishmael invented them!) when he uses the Talmud rather than the Torah as his prooftext and writes, “Two have hold of a Tallit— the strict, austere one, and the cynical argumentative one. One says that doubt itself is forbidden by the Torah, and the other vows not to accept any dogma.” Then, just as the Mishnah in Bava Metzia 2a, he concludes that each of these cannot swear to own more than half the truth.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Reed Chopper said...

Cool. Heschel is just riffing on the Rabbis the way the Rabbis riff on scripture, as a way of vividly grounding his homily in the tradition.

5:28 PM  

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