Modernity & Judaism In Context

Imagining A Jew

Modernity & Judaism In Context

We have learnt of the Oral Torah but not of the people responsible for it. The remaining Fire Chapters describe the people who made it possible and provides historical context for their work. The biography text lacks historical context; my objective is to create a continuous sense of Jewish time.

I realise this omission complicates your efforts to place Judaism firmly in time and place. Marginal notes and annotations will provide a sense of what was happening in both Jewish and historical time. Judaism is our primary interest. The Chmielnisky uprising in Poland, for example, are pogroms from a Jewish perspective, but his Cossacks were not particularily motivated by Jew-hatred: Cossack social and political differences from their Polish overlords exposed roots over which Jews were pushed or tripped.

Such information is useful but it is not Jewish. Were it otherwise there is no concievable history that is not Jewish – Jews have lived everywhere at every time in recorded history.
The universality of Jewish history is a theme for popular historians but this Forrest Gump approach to the Jewish past has no place here. On the other hand, Jewish responses are often relational with general current events. The efforts at compiling Mishna, for example, are relative to similar codes compiled for Roman law. The responsa literature and halakhic compendia arose relative to the development of Islamic law. Rambam (1135-1204) synthesised Judaism with the scientific-philosophical inquiry method of Aristotle under the influence of the Islamic philosopher Abu Ibn Sina (980-1037), who is known in the west as Avicenna. He remained an influential teacher in Ramabam’s day. The Mishna and the classic halakha codes – Shulhan Arukh, Tur, Mishneh Torah – all provided strong structure and order in times of rapid change and dislocation. The Masoretic efforts in discovering the science of Hebrew grammar coincided with the flourishing of classical Arabic language and literature.
Hebrew is thus both older and younger than Arabic.

This linguistic curiosity is a starting point for both Jewish and secular history. It predates the Enlightenment by 700 years and, I would argue, actually made the Enlightenment possible. I doubt there was a single major intellectual figure of the Enlightenment who was not familiar with at least one of several scientific Hebrew grammars, all of which owe their study to the Masorets.

Reb Arie

A chaplain, spiritual director, and educator, Arié Chark (“Reb Arie”) is Rector at The Metivta of Ottawa. A strong sense of personal mission has led Reb Arie to convene various civil society projects under the auspices of The Metivta of Ottawa, including the Ottawa Roundtable and the Abrahamic Chaplaincy Board.