Authorial intent: Still more construction of Jewish culture

Alan Brill, author of the Edah article we've been picking at, shares his comments.
[Typo now corrected - my apologies.]

A shaynem dank for the close reading of my article, but as the scene in Annie Hall where Marshall McLuhan shows up to explain himself, the internet allows me to comment and exert authorial intent.

First of all, I was not writing to invent anything new nor was I writing to teach anything to professors. I was writing for a modern orthodox audience, a small enclave. Yes, some of the ideas go back to Bialik and Scholem among many others, but those ideas were not considered in modern Orthodoxy because of its acceptance of the German milieu definitions. I wanted my modern Orthodox reader to consider a broader palette for
defining culture. I wanted the reader to consider (1) that culture is not outside of Judaism (2) that Judaism is richer than the bifurcation model allows (3) that halakhic analysis is a thin description (4) that we are constructing using the past (5) and that Judaism plays itself out in a concrete way. While these ideas may be self-evident to some, they are less evident to a community that treats ideal halakhic frameworks as

Second, Marc grasped my intent better than Ken. I do not endorse any all-encompassing approach. I am not relinquishing the positive gains of the Enlightenment project in either ethics or science for an Evangelical worldview. I am closer to Robert Christigau (wow, what a long forgotten influence) than German essentialism. I have no problem letting things remain fragmentary, unresolved, and mediated. And when we construct, I
have no problem with different rubrics for the narrative, communal, and universal levels.

Marc, I do not think we live in an unauthentic age. I do not work with the before and after scenarios of Enlightenment, modernity, or reform. I do not consider contemporary Rabbinic Judaism less authentic than those of 19th century Vilna, 17th century Padua, or 15th century Posen.

Marc, the integration of popular culture within high culture was already accepted by 1992 when the New Republic had an important article accepting the social link between Rilke and Elvis Costello, both are considered as high culture, or in your terms Rabbi Soloveitchik and Lou Reed (see Herbert Gans or Michael Kammen, American Culture American Tastes). My questions were more geared for accepting these weaves in our lives and then asking how a Rabbi Soloveitchik/Lou Reed weave differs from a Rabbi Soloveitchik/ Mordechai ben David weave. And on the utopian quest in popular culture, while I did not pursue a Walter Benjamin utopia, it is worth discussing.

For Marc and Zackary, I treat the Rabbinic culture as authentic. I accept the standard orthodox criteria of the halakhah as the definition of authenticity as an a-priori. My goal was just to give it a greater inclusiveness and to treat halakhah in a less rarified way. There are a wide range of Rabbinic texts, (including rabbinic, ashkenaz,
mediteranian medieval, early modern, ottoman empire and Eastern Europe) and the communities that created them to serve as guides and models. These texts have statements on psychology, politics, and cosmology that need to be placed in conjunction with modern Western texts. I do not have a preconceived notion of which elements from either corpus will be accepted, rejected, mediated, or reinterpreted. But, I would like the discussion to occur.

Finally, while Yiddish authors in interbellum Warsaw may have had an expansive view of Judaism, my concern was only with Orthodoxy, which did not have an articulated expansive view in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, or the West side.


Alan Brill


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