I am a big fan of the works of R’Mayer Schiller. He is a thoughtful, insightful and intriguing individual with an “unorthodox” world view. I want to quote again from his essay “Torah Umadda and The Jewish Observer Critique’ Towards a Clarification of the Issues".
The issue being dealt with is one of immense complexity and really in my opinion, is at the forefront of the “ideological debates” in the world of Orthodoxy. In short, the question is, what does G-d have to say about our mundane, human existence outside the world of Mitzvot?
In this excerpt, Rabbi Schiller accuses the critics of Rabbi Lamm essentially of Cognitive dissonance, for on the one hand they perpetuate an ideology that exclusively values Talmud Torah as the “be all and end all”, yet simultaneously, although guiltily, see value in other dimensions of human existence whether it be art, wisdom, poetry, beauty, sport, culture, etc. To paraphrase R’David Berger in one of his shiurim, these are the Jews who are “proud of their secular education, but against it” or as R’Schiller would say Jews who “resolutely refuse to draw any theoretical conclusions from their musings”.
I highly recommend that people read the whole article, however the following I think poignantly gets straight to the point:
They feel a positive attitude towards “wisdom’, art and other forms of human achievement, yet, their world view is helpless when it comes to explain the significance of these phenomena. What in their opinion, is God’s response to one who explores the intricacies of biology or chemistry? To Jonas Salk? Or to Beethoven? What is the achievement of Edmund Hilary in God’s eyes? Or Stan Musial? What was the value of Hemingways ‘old man” and his struggle bring home the “fish”?
I have often sat with Hasidim who have declared that a “frummer doctor is a Kiddush Hashem”, but will resolutely refuse to draw any theoretical conclusions from their musings. Indeed, isn’t it standard practice in the “Torah only” world, at fund raising events, to honor those with advanced academic degree and praise their accomplishments? Recently I sat with a prominent mitnagdic Rosh Yeshiva who waxed rhapsodic over Ebbets Field, Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang, “Campy” and “Pee Wee” and, yet felt obligated to declare those wondrous memories of his youth “shtusim”. The gap between a mathematical theory of good and evil and the reality of the boundry of God’s creation is difficult to overcome
 Another mitnagdic Rosh Kollel told me that a trip to Niagra Falls would be “bittul Torah”. However, when reminded of the Abbot and Costello routine of “Niagra Falls”, he laughed so hard he could barely catch his breath. I asked him what he thought God felt about the joy he experienced at that moment and he was at a loss to answer.
While browsing the Lookjed forum, I came across an amazing
reference, posted by R’Gil Student. It is a massive collection of sources in
short book form by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Judaism’s positive view of other
religions and nations. Fascinating stuff, it can be found here. Enjoy!
Its introduction begins with a quote from Rav Kook, from his sefer “Orot Hakodesh”, truly beautiful and insightful:
When the knowledge of G-d is suffused by a great love, when it is pervaded by its true illumination, according to the capacity of each soul to receive it, there radiates from its absolute light a love for the world, for all worlds, for all creatures, on all levels of their being . . . When these love-possessed people see the world, especially living creatures full of quarrels, hatred, persecutions and conflicts, they yearn with all their being to share in those aspirations that move life toward comprehensiveness and unity, peace and tranquillity. They feel and know that the nearness of G-d, for which they yearn, can only lead them to joining themselves with all and for the sake of all. When they confront the human scene, and find divisions among nations, religions, parties, with goals in conflict, they endeavour with all their might to bring all together, to mend and to unite . . . They want that every particular shall be preserved and developed, and that the collective whole shall be united and abounding in peace. (R. Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot haKodesh, II: 442-43)
I have always been fascinated by the “missing years” in Jewish chronology and it is something that I really want to explore in more depth in later posts. For a bit of a background to this issue, see this Wikipedia article
I have addressed the issue once before in this post, which includes R’Biberfeld’s solution to the problem. R’Biberfeld preposal can be found in his scholarly polemic “Universal Jewish History” which is available online in its entirety here. It is a very interesting book, which although dated, does contain some fascinating ideas and sources.
A rather new approach which has recently appeared can be found in the 3rd volume of the Hakira Journal. The article entitled “A Y2K solution to the Chronology Problem” is available for download here. I will hopefully analyze this solution in a later post.
What I really want to post up is a fascinating piece by R’ Saadia Gaon in his Emunot v’Deot relating to this issue. It can be found in Chapter 9 of the "Treatise of Redemption" (pg 322 of the Yale English Edition). R’Saadia Gaon in his critique of the Christian interpretation of some passages in Daniel, makes the claim that the Christians intentionally altered the calendar so that the dates of their view of redemption would coincide with their understanding of scripture. R’Saadia Gaon makes the accusation that they intentionally added dynasties to their list of kings to achieve this effect (the opposite of the views championed by the article in Hakira and R’Shimon Shwab). Here is the quote in full:
However the clearest [refutation of all lies in the fact that from the time when this revelation was made to Daniel until the date which they believe [to have been the time of the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the redemption], only 285 years had elapsed. Now the total sum [mentioned in the book of Daniel] is 490 years. Of this number of year 70 were taken up by the period preceding the building of the second temple, and 420 by that of its existence.
I have found, then, that the advocates [of the Christian doctrine] had no other means [of supporting their theory] except the contention that an addition is to be made in the chronological calculation. They maintain, namely, that the government of the Persian over Palestine existed for a period of something like 300 years before that of the Greeks and that the number of their kings during this period was seventeen. However, I have refuted this contention on their part from the text of the book of Daniel itself, [pointing out] that it was impossible that between the time of the government of Babylon and that of the Greeks more than four Persian kings should have rules over Palestine. For the angle said to Daniel, peace be upon him: And as for me, in the first years of Darius the Mede, I stood up to be a supporter and a stronghold unto him. And now, I will declare unto thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all; and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up against the real of Greece (Daniel 11:1,2). The above statement has thus been explained from every aspect.
These are, then, the arguments that may be offered in refutation of the doctrine of the Christians aside from the objections to be raised against their theory of the suspension of the laws of the Torah and those that might be urged against them on the subject of the Unity of God, and other matters, which cannot properly be presented in this book.
The eight treatise has hereby been completed.
Concerning the matters of kindness that our government in the United States of America, (that G-d has, in His great kindness toward the survivors of European Jewry and the survivors among the Torah giants and their students, brought us here, and we founded Torah institutions, established ones from Europe, and also new ones,) which through the "Kingdom of kindness”, whose entire purpose is to benefit all its citizens, has made available many programs to help students in all the schools in the country, so that they can learn and grow in their studies, and also Torah institutions receive substantial assistance for their students; certainly all the Roshei Yeshivot and their principals, and the students, appreciate all the benevolence of the government, and bless the welfare of the Nation and all who stand at its leadership with all blessings.
And even though there is no suspicion on the Roshei Yeshivot and the principals, who are too fearing of Heaven to violate prohibitions of theft, and of speaking falsehood and untruth and deception, and violation of the law of the land with any type of leniency, for they know of the severity of the prohibitions and the terrible punishments from Heaven, and it is against the whole purpose of the foundation of the yeshivot and the study there, which is for the students to be truly G-d-fearing and to beware of monetary prohibitions in the extreme; even so, it is appropriate to be raise the issue in order to draw attention also to the donors, who bring donations to support the Torah, that they should not cause theft, or a loss of money to the government, not in accordance with the laws of the Torah and the laws of the government, that they should not stumble even unintentionally in these great transgressions. And to all who are very careful, great blessing should come to them, and they should succeed in their Torah institutions, to have many G-d-fearing students; which is a great blessing to the Nation as well, as it is well-known to all that the Yeshiva students are, thank G-d, the most distinguished citizens in their personal traits and good behavior.
(Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat, II, 29 The translation here is slightly abridged and adapted)
Extract is from "Tzedakah and Tzedek" By R’Daniel Feldman