|Toby Rotenstein Einhorn
For centuries, the texts that have been studied at yeshivas have been
traditional ones; texts that have been sanctified by the Mesorah. These include the
Gemara, Rashi, Ramban, and R. Hirsch, among others. My paper examines the propriety
of the use of other texts. Texts that have not been traditionally taught at
yeshivot. These include texts such as the myths of the Ancient Near East, the Apocrypha,
Karaitic interpretations to the Torah, and the work of the Biblical Critics.
The jumping board for this topic is a class that I taught at Midreshet
Moriah in May of 98. The class was on the history of Biblical Exegesis, beginning with
pre-biblical times, and culminating in the exegetes of our generation. My aim was to show
the continuum of Biblical Exegesis, its different periods, and the concerns of each
period, which lead to different exegetical methods and conclusions.
When evaluating the class at its culmination, I realized that many of
the exegetical text that I had discussed had not been very traditional. We read part of
the epic of Gilgamesh, sections of pseudopigraphical works, non-official Targumim,
and parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The very fact that I began the class with pre-Biblical
works is not the usual way this class has been taught in yeshivot. I could have started
with Chazal, moved to Rashi, and ended with the Netziv. And yet I did
not do that.
Upon a second evaluation, I determined that I had to examine the matter
more closely. I had to ask myself serious questions. Is this material harmful to naive
souls? What are the starting assumptions of my students? If this material is appropriate,
at what age should it be taught? Could I classify and categorize the material in different
categories, and are these categories different from each other? And finally, what are my
pedagogic aims, and does the teaching of non-traditional texts subscribe to my
In order to accomplish this goal, I had to first research the
background sources to this topic. I examined the ban on studying Greek wisdom, because I
felt that the texts that I was concerned with are similar to this topic. I discovered that
the ban is no longer relevant to my class, because apparently it concerned adults and not
children, men and not women, and in general it is not relevant today, because the fear of
informers to the government no longer exists.
Using my research, as well as my own introspection, I concluded that
non-traditional texts could be taught in a traditional setting, but that one
should use them with more caution. Perhaps with more detailed introductions, perhaps
utilizing less of them and more traditional texts; whatever the situation calls for, but
the key phrase is Proceed with Caution!