Thursday, January 1, 2009

AJS Conference Day Two Session Four (Insults Through the Ages)

Hartley Lachter (Muhlenberg College)
"The Little Foxes that Ruin the Vineyards: Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov on the Pernicious Influence of Jewish Philosophy"

Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov, in Sefer Emunot, refers to philosophers as foxes that ruin the vineyard of Jewish tradition. For Shem Tov it is Kabbalah that represents the true Jewish tradition. Sefer Emunot serves to educate the reader as to the true nature of Kabbalah. Shem Tov even attacks Maimonides for going after the Greek Aristotle and human reason. Shem Tov sees Maimonides as being an elitist. For Maimonides, knowledge comes to the worthy few. Shem Tov does acknowledge some philosophy as being useful; just as long as it is kept in its place by revealed tradition. The fox in Shem Tov's analogy is not just clever it also is a violator of boundaries. Their actions lead to apostasy. As such philosophers destroy the one vehicle for divine truth to reach the world. Thus it is a threat not just to Judaism but to the world as well.

Matt Goldish (Ohio State University)
"Rabbinic Insults in the Early Modern Period

There is a thanks in order to the conference for lowering their standards thus allowing for Allan Nadler to take part.

Rabbis do not pay much attention to the laws against loshon hara. The early modern period is rich in rabbinic insults. This reflects a crisis in rabbinic authority. Rabbis saw the oral law and rabbinic tradition as being under attack and they felt the need to its defense. For example we have R. Jacob Sasportas attacking the Sabbateans. Referring to the four sons of the Passover Haggadah, he comments about Nathan of Gaza that first Jacob Hagiz thought he was a Tam, a simpleton, than he realized that he was the child who does not know how to ask. Sasportas calls Sabbatai Raphael a tub of urine. Leon Modena attacks Kabbalists and asks that boiling lead be poured down the throat of Shem Tov b. Shem Tov for insulting Maimonides. According to Modena, Kabbalists have not produced a single worthwhile Talmudist. Their work is the overcoat of idiots.

Alexander Joskowicz (University of Mississippi)
"Jewish Insults in the Modern Period: On Neo-Orthodox Popes and Jewish Jesuits"

Insults serve an important role as source material. In the late nineteenth century making fun of Catholics becomes an important part of inter communal Jewish polemics in Germany. In 1876 there was the famous debate over the law of separation. This measure was supported by the Orthodox party. It allowed them to form their own separate communities outside the control of the Reform establishment. Reformers attack the Orthodox as being Jesuits. Just like the Jesuits are first and foremost loyal to the Pope and not the state so to the Orthodox refuse to remove references to Zion from their prayers, demonstrating their disloyalty to the state. We also see the counter argument that Reform rabbis are like Catholic priests; they have no natural authority and seek to simply bully people into submission. This anti Catholic sentiments can be seen as a type of pathway to modernity. Jews were taking part in the Protestant culture around them and framing their arguments within a distinctively Protestant value system.

(Allan Nadler served as the respondent for the session and stole the show. First he returned the favor to Dr. Goldish by pointing out that it was now past shkeia, sunset, so Dr. Goldish could tuck his tzitzit in. Then he introduced us to some interesting background about the name Nadler. Apparently, during the early modern period, the name Nadler was a common insult. The source for this seems to have been a family of Nadlers who were bigamists. So calling someone a Nadler was the Jewish way of calling someone a bastard. Indeed even the famous R. Joel Sirkes got involved and ruled that it violated the laws of lashon hara to call someone a Nadler.)

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