Should not have been a talmid-khokhem

I am trying to express my appreciation of Schaechter (as everyone called him) in a limit-yourself-to-800-words sort of way. Meanwhile, a thought from today's shiva call, where someone quoted a frum acquaintance of the deceased. "It's a pity [Dr. Schaechter] wasn't a Torah scholar," the acquaintance supposedly said, "because he was so medakdek [punctilious]."

Two possible responses: no, he shouldn't have been a Torah scholar, because then he wouldn't have been what he was. Torah scholarship is not so destitute, nor the Jewish world of intellectual endeavor so narrow, that every talent must be yeshiva-fied. We have minds aplenty and lots of problems to work on, from the nature of God to the proper number of bird sacrifices - to questions of language preservation and standardization.

In fact, Schaechter was a secular Jew. Some friends and I (they are academic Yiddishists who devote their life to the language and literature) are discussing his passing over e-mail, and one pointed out that our subject line (borekh dayen emes, "Blessed be the True Judge"), while an appropriate and natural response for some of us, is not appropriate for Schaechter. He was many things in his appreciation of the Jewish people, but religious he was not. He was a secular Yiddishist, an ideology with its own powerful advantages, blindnesses, and failings, not to be lumped into our own personal categories, no matter how much we are beholden to them.

Second is that being medakdek (הקפדה, דקדקניות) is not what I think of as necessary for a Torah scholar. Encyclopedic knowledge, certainly; exactitude, yes; but above all an inspired creativity. But creativity is a dirty word in some circles.

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