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No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Rabbi Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh

No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Karo’s. The Shulhan ‘arukh (“The Prepared Table” or “The Ordered Table”) eventually became the standard code of Jewish law throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. with few exceptions, nearly every Jewish community had accepted it as authoritative within generations of its initial publication. The Shulhan ‘arukh as a “writing” delivered to the Jewish public by Joseph Karo had a truly transformative impact upon Jewish life. In this way, one can speak of Karo’s work as a discourse, as an idea. The book served scholars as a reference work and literate lay people as a manual of Jewish law. It stimulated commentary and controversy, resistance and cooptation. One is hard pressed to find another book written in the early modern period that endured as long as the Shulhan ‘arukh.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 368.

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For Jews, one might posit that the composition of texts in manuscript never disappeared from Jewish culture.

In his Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order, David McKitterick characterizes the relationship between print and manuscript in the early modern period as a long divorce. For Jews, one might posit that the divorce was never finalized: the composition of texts in manuscript never disappeared from Jewish culture. The writing of a Torah scroll, the composition of a mezuzah, and other such sacred objects continues uninterrupted. Even beyond these basic ritual functions, manuscript writing continued to play a crucial role in Jewish societies for centuries after the invention of printing, and manuscripts continue to exist in persistent tension with printed books.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 371.

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Rejecting Judaism means not only rejecting traditional theologies, but also rejecting this core part of your self-identity

When a group of people share such a rich set of experiences and history, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they all believe the same things about God. The role of Jewish tradition in shaping our beliefs is so powerful, so primal, that it transcends the question of theology and becomes a simple fact about who we are. I can lose my faith in God, but I can’t change the fact that I’m Jewish anymore than I can change the fact that I was born American. Being Jewish is a principal part of what makes me “me.” Rejecting Judaism means not only rejecting traditional theologies, but also rejecting this core part of your self-identity, choosing to turn your back on a tradition that’s shaped your whole life to this date.

Zack Beauchamp, “Judaism Without God,” Tablet (25 June 2012) {http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/104444/judaism-without-god}

“we Jews almost defy definition. We are a unique demographic group; none of the customary sociological categories is a perfect fit for us”

We must begin by trying to define Judaism and the Jewish people, no easy task even for one who has spent a lifetime studying Jewish history. Worlds like religious and secular and nationalistic, which have clear-cut meanings in other contexts, become fuzzy and confused when applied to us. The plain fact is that we Jews almost defy definition. We are a unique demographic group; none of the customary sociological categories is a perfect fit for us.

 

We are a religious group, true, but simultaneously more than that. We share some facets of national existence, but not all of us partake of them fully. We are an ethnic entity, yet at the same time an admixture of many races. If we are to be defined with any measure of accuracy, a new term must be devised, peculiarly and uniquely for us.

Roland B. Gittelsohn, Partners in Destiny: Reform Judaism and Zionism (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1984), 1.

” The ancient Jew regarded himself quite naturally as the equal of the member of any other race or nation in his contemporary world”

The more the archaeologists dig around Palestine and its environs, the more evidence they discover of the variety and versatility of the activities of the Jewish people. Singularly interested in moral and religious questions they certainly were – else we could not explain Moses, the prophets, … – but not to the exclusion of everything else. All the evidence spells a normal, healthy people and the reason for it is self-evident. The reason was national independence and the integrity that came with the possession of soil, language, liberty and the strength of ethnic cohesion. The ancient Jew regarded himself quite naturally as the equal of the member of any other race or nation in his contemporary world.

Leon I. Feuer, On Being a Jew (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1947), 97.

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“Just like the idea of Chovevei has grown out of a specific need, the mission of YCT struck a cord with a unique set of students”

Just like the idea of Chovevei has grown out of a specific need, the mission of YCT struck a cord with a unique set of students. The students applying to our rabbinical school feel a calling to serve. They are caring and learned, each a leader in his own way. They are our centerpiece, wishing to change the very face of the Jewish community and world. So refreshing is YCT’s approach that many of our trainees would not be in any rabbinical school were it not for Chovevei.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, “A Message from Our Founder and President,” Fourth Annual Gala (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2007), 13.

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YCT has “fanatically adhered to the Maimonidean rule forbidding responding negatively toward others”

YCT has, to date, consistently and, perhaps, fanatically adhered to the Maimonidean rule forbidding responding negatively toward others. YCT’s curriculum is not only a course of professional study; the quality, quantity, subject selection, and orientations of its instructors provide the discerning reader with a quantifiable and unified ideological self-definition of the kind of Orthodox Judaism that it fosters and offers. As a self-consciously modern (YCT prefers the adjective “Open”) Orthodox Yeshiva, it requires commitment to Jewish law in both theory and practice as a pre-condition for acceptance as a student. But, as an Open Orthodox institution, YCT is open to the insights of non-Orthodox rabbis who can make what it believes to be serious contributions. Academic Talmud is taught by an observant Orthodox rabbi who happens also to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary, revealing an openness that violates no rule in the classical canon but does deviate from the insular political discipline demanded by Haredi religion. Critical methodology actually empowers the student with the tools to make an autonomous reading of the canon. Since, in Haredi religion, the communal rabbi is authorized only to echo the views of the official “rabbonim and poskim” but not to render an autonomous opinion, however reasoned or defensible within the canons of talmudic hermeneutics, the democratization of independent learning is fraught with danger and is, therefore, off-limits to all but the Haredi gedolim elite. For this reason, academic Talmud undermines “the sanctity of Torah,” precisely because it affords its practitioners the power to render defensible readings and judgments – the original sense of “criticism” – of the canon with unfettered autonomy. Furthermore, Haredi rabbis are, by habit, conditioning, and education, disinclined to speak to the concerns of Conservative synagogues. By founding an institution that trains virtuosi who do not regard the Haredi elite as the ultimate source of rabbinic authority, YCT cannot be deemed to be legitimate to the Haredi elite.

Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, “The Two Contemporary Varieties of Orthodox Judaism,” in Mishpetei Shalom: A Jubilee Volume In Honor of Rabbi Saul (Shalom) Berman, ed. Rabbi Yamin Levy (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2010), 583-585.