Wednesday, July 20, 2005

When you say “literally,” do you really mean “literally?”—on p’shat and drash

(I swiped this from a comment that I posted on to DovBear’s Friday, July 15, 2005 post, “Lies My Rebbe Told Me #019385103”)

I've read complaints somewhere in the Jewish blogosphere about a certain recent version of the ArtScroll Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs having been published with absolutely *no* translation, just the rabbinical interpretation. Presumably not to put a michshol/stumbling block before the blind/"ignorant". Chas v'chalilah/heaven forbid that people should be able to *choose* whether they prefer the p'shat/literal meaning or the drash/rabbinic interpretation. Or both--*must* one choose? When I told my rabbi about this, he looked at me as if I had two heads, and told me that the rabbinic interpretation *was* p'shat. Sigh. And he can't understand why I don't want to study with him. We don't speak the same language, even when we're both speaking English.


Blogger Noam S said...

Here are the original posts from my blog on the topic:


Wed Jul 20, 05:17:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Here's the "money" quote from Dilbert's post--thanks, Dilbert!--at :

"We both know that most people in shul, at least the one I go to, dont have enough sophisiticated Hebrew skills to understand the entire book [Shir HaShirim/the Song of Songs] in Hebrew. I am pretty fluent and grew up speaking, and there are a significant number of words that I have to look up. Maybe I am the idiot, and there are lots of people in the USA who can understand all the words without any help. However, Artscroll has cut off the casual, non-Hebrew fluent reader from the plain translation.

This is a paternalistic way to treat Jews, essentially saying that "we know what you should read and think and will sort things for you accordingly" and is pervasive in all the publications. Only views and comments that jive with what they believe are printed. One cant fault them for encouraging thier beliefs, but it doesn't make for a complete presentation of Judaism. It leaves out valid points of view, that are being shunted to the side by the overwhelming dominance of Artscroll/mesorah. Think about the little tidbits that get left out of the biographies of gedolim, about them reading newspapers and other things. Do you really want a homoginization of Jewish thought? We are supposed to think for ourselves, that is why we have free will. Not to exercise it, to abdicate it to R. Scherman et al, is a chillul Hashem"

I'm one of those "casual, non-Hebrew fluent" readers. I'm also not blessed with a day school education. Between the two, I freely admit to being an "am ha-aretz (a person ignorance of Jewish sacred literature). It's not something of which I'm particularly proud. But, on the other hand, insulting *oneself* is one thing, and being insulted by someone else is quite another. I don't appreciate being told that I "understand the Torah on a level of a 5 year old." Were I convinced that you *intended* to offend, I would delete your comment. But I assume that you are simply stating what you truly believe to be a fact, that "The Torah was never meant to be learnt literally," and *must* be studied with the commentaries.

I believe we're already discussed this there:

But it bears repeating here:
It's true that I've never studied the commentaries, and I really should. I'll be happy to study the commentaries with anyone who "speaks my language." With due respect, Yosef, I don't believe you'd be the best chevrutah for someone with my haskafah (viewpoint). I simply don't see I should have to choose between p'shat (literal meaning) and drash (interpretation). Dikduk said, "The idea that the Bible "must be studied with commentaries" is often used, I believe, to preclude people interpreting and thinking for themselves. If you only ask "what's bothering Rashi?" you might not ask "what's bothering me?" To quote Dilbert again, "We are supposed to think for ourselves, that is why we have free will. Not to exercise it, to abdicate it to R. Scherman et al, is a chillul Hashem." I hope I have the Hebrew correct: "Elu v'elu divrei Elokim chayim, These and those are the words of the living G-d." So why should I ignore one set of words in favor of another? They're *both* important parts of our yerushah/inheritance.

Wed Jul 20, 10:59:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Okay, granted, only a child would read "the walls of the city reached up to the heavens" literally. Still, I'm more than a little hesitant to have a chavruta who's haskafah is so much more traditional than mine.

Tue Jul 26, 08:45:00 PM 2005  

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