Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought is a quarterly Orthodox Jewish peer-reviewed academic journal published by the Rabbinical Council of America. It covers a range of topics including philosophy and theology, history, law, and ethics.
R. Emanuel Feldman Remembers Wars and Hopes for Jewish Revival
36:00As we continue to wrestle with the state of anxiety for what comes next at this troubling and traumatic time in Israel and around the Jewish world, we take strength from demonstrations of inspiring resilience and unity in our nation. We hope you’ve been following the content recently published on TraditionOnline.org responding to current events. In our upcoming Winter issue we hope to deliver some more substantive writing, tentative and initial as it may be, bringing the lens of Orthodox Jewish thought to bear on this war. In the meantime, as we try to make sense of things while navigating the maze we find ourselves in, we thought it would be useful to check in with TRADITION’s “elder statesman,” Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, whose wisdom, insights, and opinions cast useful light in the darkness—perhaps even more so as he enters the back end of his 10th decade with all the intellectual rigor readers of our pages have been accustomed to since his first early contribution in 1960. (Read all of R. Feldman’s TRADITION articles and columns here.) In this episode R. Feldman chats with our editor Jeffrey Saks about the current Gaza War in light of his memories of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War; the challenges to Zionism and religious Zionism going forward; and his cautious optimism for a renewed Jewish spirit when the fog clears and we emerge victorious. They also talked about the role of TRADITION as a scholarly journal of ideas at a time such as this. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman served in the rabbinate in Atlanta for over 40 years before making his home in Jerusalem in 1991. He edited TRADITION from 1988 to 2001 and remains a valued counselor to our journal.
Shalom Rosenberg’s Narrow Bridge of Faith
34:18“The entire world is a very narrow bridge.” The world, all of life, is a “narrow bridge,” on either side of which is a gaping, terrifying abyss. Someone who does not live this experience cannot understand it. One needs to traverse the bridge, and it is clear from an objective perspective that he is capable of doing so. This is why “the main thing is not to fear at all.” Your greatest enemy is not outside of you, but, rather, inside of you. It is fear itself. So writes Prof. Shalom Rosenberg z”l in his essay “A Narrow Bridge: R Nahman of Breslov’s Faith in a World of Doubt” appearing in TRADITION’s recent Fall 2023 issue. Rosenberg was a distinguished professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University and a widely-regarded public intellectual. He passed away in Jerusalem in March 2023. This essay was, of course, written and sent to press before our current traumatic moment in Israel — what all agree is a time in which we must find faith in a world of confusion and many are plagued by doubt. Because Rosenberg’s essay presents itself to us with such unexpected timeliness, we thought it would be instructive to discuss it with Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem, himself a student of Rosenberg. Leshem is the director of the Gershom Scholem Collection for Kabbalah and Hasidism at the National Library of Israel. Read “A Narrow Bridge: R Nahman of Breslov’s Faith in a World of Doubt” (TRADITION, Fall 2023).
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Psalm 139: When God’s Presence Both Overwhelms and Eludes
44:34During this time of worldwide Jewish unity, TRADITION is pleased to deliver an episode of our podcast co-produced with our friends at Matan: The Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute of Torah Study in Jerusalem. Our recently released Fall 2023 issue features an essay by Dr. Yosefa Fogel Wruble titled “Psalm 139: When God’s Presence Both Overwhelms and Eludes” which explores two exegetical prisms for Psalm 139 and the theological relevance in understanding this mizmor as a form of emotional struggle with God. Of course, when the essay was written, and when we went to press a few weeks ago, no one could have foreseen how its themes would become presciently relevant to our current moment—but that’s often how it is with Torah learning. We thought it would be appropriate to chat with the author about her essay in light of the events on Simhat Torah and the war. Dr. Yosefa Fogel Wruble is a Ramit in the Women’s Beit Midrash at Migdal Oz, a lecturer at Matan, and the host of the 1-on-1 Parsha Podcast from Matan which explores deep thematic points of the weekly Torah portion. For today’s we turn the microphone back on her, making her the guest of this episode, for which she is joined by TRADITION’s associate editor, Rabbi Yitzchak Blau. They discuss the feeling of being overwhelmed by God and the feeling of His absence. Wruble deepens her analysis and the conversation moves in some novel directions: How does the Psalmist’s self-expression compare to the prophetic ambivalence of Jonah and Jeremiah? What are possible responses to our paradoxical experiences of feeling both His presence and absence Which related issues have the current situation brought to the fore? Read “Psalm 139: When God’s Presence Both Overwhelms and Eludes” by Yosefa Fogel Wruble (TRADITION, Fall 2023).
From Yom Kippur 1973 to Simchat Torah 2023
1:07:04TRADITION and the Rabbinical Council of America brought together authors from our recent issue on “The Yom Kippur War After 50 Years” as they discuss insights from their contributions to our pages and the sudden, tragic timeliness of that issue for events unfolding in Israel. Dr. Shlomo Fischer, Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Sinensky and moderator Mrs. Mali Brofsky. TRADITION has made the content of our entire special “Yom Kippur War After 50 Years” issue (Summer 2023) open access as a special digital book: https://traditiononline.org/the-yom-kippur-war-after-50-years SUBSCRIBE TO THE TRADITION PODCAST Available on iTunes / Spotify / SoundCloud / Stitcher / Google Podcasts
41:54TRADITION’s Fall 2022 issue featured a lengthy essay by Todd Berman exploring a 6-decade-old critique launched by R. Eliezer Berkovits on Dr. Abraham J. Heschel’s “Theology of Divine Pathos.” In brief, the debate centered on Heschel’s contention that a prophet reacts to God’s emotions, that the navi is guided by God’s own feelings. For Berkovits, Heschel errs by aligning himself with the wrong side of the anthropomorphism and anthropopathism debate. Berkovits was a significant figure in mid-century Orthodox Jewish thought and was an important contributor to the pages of TRADITION. A noteworthy curiosity of Berkovits’ critique of Heschel was its appearance with an editorial note expressing some reservation about this “controversial” offering, which “evoked sharp differences of opinion among members of our editorial board,” on which he served as a member at that time. Plus ça change. Berman’s essay, with its defense of Heschel, similarly evoked sharp differences of opinion among our readers. Todd Berman joins the TRADITION Podcast to discuss the underpinnings of the original debate between Berkovits and Heschel; how the Orthodox community’s reception of those ideas has evolved in perhaps surprising ways over the decades; and what aroused his interest in this old episode which turns out to be still quite relevant to contemporary Jewish thought. See Berman’s essay, “Berkovits, Heschel, and the Heresy of Divine Pathos,” with links to Berkovits’ original 1964 article, the array of reactions generated among our readers, and Berman’s response. Rabbi Todd Berman is the Director of Institutional Advancement and a Ram at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi.
Materialism and the Rise of “Modern, Orthodoxy”
54:15On April 23, 2023, TRADITION and the Rabbinical Council of America convened our first TRADITION Today Summit, hosted at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, NJ, exploring “Material Success and Its Challenges.” Among the papers presented at the event was a fascinating item co-authored by Avital Chizik-Goldschmidt and Chaim Saiman, “Material Success and the Rise of ‘Modern, Orthodoxy’” – in which a lot rides on the title’s enigmatic comma. While the papers from the Summit will be appearing in an upcoming issue of TRADITION, in the hopes that the discussions and debates there will have a greater impact and reach within the broader community, we are rolling out some of the content through our journal’s different media arms. In this episode of our podcast, editor Jeffrey Saks (who co-chaired the Summit with Shlomo Zuckier) chats with Saiman about the paper and the unique and curious ways in which the markers of Orthodoxy’s material aspirations each respond to the halakhic requirements and religious aspirations of persons who live fully within Orthodoxy and who are invested in its continuity. Chaim Saiman is Professor of Law and Chair in Jewish Law at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law, and Albert J. Wood Fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania. Watch a video recording of the conversation.
The Rav’s Enduring Pedagogical Relevance
41:45Three decades following the passing of the Rav zt”l his legacy endures and his teachings still inspire – but how do we communicate his Torah to a generation “which did not know Yosef” (R. Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, that is)? This is a question that is explored from a few different angles in TRADITION’s recent expanded issue on the thought of the Rav. Readers of the special issue will discover that one of the many insightful perspectives on this particular question is offered by Mali Brosky, whose essay “The Rav’s Enduring Pedagogical Relevance” takes up the challenge of how we can best convey R. Soloveitchik’s thought, hashkafa, and philosophy to students born over a decade after his death and almost a generation after he left the public stage. It is indeed complex, but crucial, and Brofsky makes a compelling case for why it’s more important than ever, offering some lessons from her many years of teaching. She recently discussed her essay on the podcast she co-hosts, RZ Weekly, which surveys issues facing the Religious Zionist community in Israel and worldwide. It’s an engaging weekly roundtable conversation between Mali and her educational colleagues, Johnny Solomon and Reuven Spolter. We thank them for allowing us to share the segment of this episode over our feed – search for RZ Weekly on all podcasting platforms to subscribe. Subscribers can access the essay alongside some open-access content available to all at https://traditiononline.org/rabbisoloveitchik120issue where the issue can be purchased as well. Mali Brofsky is a senior faculty member at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, teaches for Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Hebrew University, and runs a clinical social work practice in Gush Etzion.
We Read the Rav to Know We Are Not Alone
13:55Our editor, Jeffrey Saks, offers this audio version of his Editor’s Note introducing TRADITION’s special issue on the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l. In Saks’ essay, “We Read the Rav to Know We Are Not Alone in Loneliness” (open access here), he shares his own personal encounter with the Rav’s writings at a pivotal moment in his own religious development, and discusses the important role the Rav played in the American Orthodox scene and in the pages of our journal. Click here to see the contents of the new issue, sample open-access content, and order your copy.
The Eleventh Plague
47:27Here we are, days before the arrival of Passover. If we are not drowning in cleaning products, chances are we’re doing the equally important work—perhaps more important work—of reflecting on the Exodus story in advance of Seder night. A highlight of this week’s observances is the recounting of the biblical Ten Plagues. In an interesting new book, Dr. Jeremy Brown considers the Eleventh Plague, a kind of catch-all phrase he uses to explore how Jews as a people and Judaism as a religious tradition have encountered and responded to plagues, disease, and pandemics from the Bible right up to our own days of COVID-19. Dr. Jeremy Brown, Director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, is a physician and historian of science and medicine. TRADITION’s Winter 2021 issue featured his essay “The Plague Wedding,” which was republished as a chapter in his most recent book, "The Eleventh Plague: Jews and Pandemics from the Bible to COVID-19" (Oxford University Press). The TRADITION Podcast recently caught up with Brown to talk about his work, traditional Jewish responses to plague and disease, and, more generally, his assessment of how Jewish thought and halakhic tradition have responded over time to such occurrences—and how we fared during the most recent pandemic. Jeremy considers the long arc of history and does so through the prisms of theology, halakha, ritual, and folk custom (some admittedly bizarre—including the so-called shvartse khasene or plague wedding, about which he wrote in our pages). He balances this with the insights and wisdom drawn from history, epidemiology, medical science, sociology, and public policy. The host for this episode is Jeffrey Saks, editor of TRADITION. Watch a video recording of this conversation.
The Hidden Order of Intimacy
38:52Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg is an internationally recognized teacher and lecturer around the English-speaking world and, each week, in multiple settings in Jerusalem, where her unique style of integrating keen readings of the weekly Torah portion with the commentaries of midrash, classical meforshim, Hasidic interpretation, and more, are supplemented by the insights she draws from philosophy, psychoanalytical readings, literature, and culture at large – the “best that’s been thought and said,” as it were. Her work has inspired generations of students, and has produced a very rich body of six volumes on biblical books and themes. TRADITION’s Winter 2021 issue featured her essay “On Love, Holiness, and the Other,” and, channeling the work of psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear and R. Aharon Lichtenstein, explored the “command to aspire” as an ethical imperative. That essay has now appeared as part of a larger chapter in her most recent book, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus (Schocken). As the Jewish world commences our annual reading of Leviticus this week the TRADITION Podcast spoke with Zornberg about her new book, the unusual way it came about, and the intellectual “atmosphere” she breathes in order to produce works of Torah scholarship that bring together such wide-ranging voices. We also discussed the troubling state of the study of the humanities in the world today and within Jewish learning in particular. The host for this episode is Jeffrey Saks, editor of TRADITION. Watch a video recording of this conversation.