At the opposite pole to the Rashbam’s exegesis stands the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (died 1204). Judging by his introduction and from hints culled from his letters, it appears that he wanted to reduce all of the Torah to practical halakhah, leaving the rest of his time for the study of other disciplines, principally philosophy, which to him was an integral part of Jewish learning and worship (not for its own sake, but as an instrument for the cultivation of proper belief). No wonder Maimonides’ attitude toward the anonymous sections of the Talmud, which consist primarily of the argumentational, was less than benign; indeed, he often ignored them. Many a so-called “difficult Rambam” would be less puzzling if one realized that Maimonides did not always reckon with the stam.

David Weiss Halivni, Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law (Camridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1986), 111.

Pan American established a Pacific Division in January 1935 with headquarters at Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco. By December, an organization of 221 employees had converted Alameda’s land-based facility into a seaplane harbor to serve as the eastern terminus of Pan American’s Pacific route system. To build bases at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam, and Manila, the 15,000-ton steamer ship North Haven was chartered and docked at at Pier 22 in San Francisco. The ship sailed on March 27, 1935, carefully loaded in sequence with two pre-fabricated villages, five air bases, a quarter million gallons of fuel, motor launches, barges, tractors, generators, and fifty-foot timbers to build radio timbers. On board were forty-four airline technicians and seventy-four construction engineers. The unloading, particularly at Midway and Wake, was dangerous and difficult. While surveying and construction parties remained on the islands to complete the installations, the North Haven was reloaded in Manila for the return voyage and sailed back through the Golden Gate on June 30th. A second North Haven expedition in January 1936 built hotels on the islands for overnight passenger accommodations and delivered station managers, hotel superintendents, and other Pan American personnel who took up residence on the new mid-Pacific bases.

“Airway to Asia” poster at The San Francisco Airport Commission Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum

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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.

In order to maximize the possibility of gaining as clear a picture as possible of the development of Jewish law, a scholar must use a number of different sources for his or her research. The researcher must not limit him or herself to Talmudic literature and halakhic codes, rather, he or she must also examine the responsa literature, commentaries, and communal enactments (takkanot). Any source that will help us to understand the intellectual and social background of the law is important.

Michael Pitkowsky, ”Mipenei Darkhei Shalom (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature” (PhD. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011), 25.

Scholars of Jewish law must incorporate the findings of modern Talmud scholarship in order to present a clearer picture of the development of law as found in the Talmuds. It is not sufficient to vaguely identify the origins of a certain law, institution, or term, as simply “Talmudic.” It is incumbent upon the researcher to be specific when describing material found in the Talmuds and to apply modern standards of redactional criteria. Is the source Tannaitic, Amoraic, or anonymous? If it is Amoraic, from what generation and from where? If a parallel source exists, what is the relationship between these parallel sources?

Michael Pitkowsky, ”Mipenei Darkhei Shalom (Because of the Paths of Peace) and Related Terms: A Case Study of How Early Concepts and Terminology Developed From Tannaitic to Talmudic Literature” (PhD. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary, 2011), 12.

…the very idea that Judaism is a religion is a distinctly modern invention. Prior to Jewish modernity — most clearly defined as the acquisition of citizenship rights for Jews, a long process that began in Europe in the late-18th century — Judaism was neither solely a religion, nor simply a matter of culture or nationality. Rather, Judaism and Jewishness were all of these at once: religion, culture and nationality.

The basic framework of organized Jewish life in the medieval and early modern periods was the local Jewish community. While a Jewish community’s existence depended on the whim of others (usually the nobility or royalty), pre-modern Jewish communities were unique in that they had a tremendous amount of political autonomy.

Each community had its own set of bylaws administered by laypersons who, among other things, elected a rabbi for the community. Rabbis in turn had jurisdiction over ritual law and also gave credence to the laws of the community as a whole.

Each community also had its own courts, as well as its own educational, health, economic and social services systems. Outside rulers gave the Jewish community responsibility to maintain law and order, and the right to punish its members in a variety of ways, including exacting fines, imprisonment and corporal punishment.

For all these reasons, it simply was not possible in a pre-modern context to conceive of Jewish religion, nationality, and what we now call culture as distinct from one another. A Jew’s religious life was defined by, though not limited to, Jewish law, which was simultaneously religious, political and cultural in nature.

It was only in the modern period that the corporate Jewish community dissolved, and with that, political agency shifted to the individual Jew, giving him the freedom to define his identity for himself.

Leora Batnitzky, “Is Judaism A Religion Or A Culture?” The Jewish Week (2 September 2011), 24.

Raising a well-balanced, inspired, independent and motivated child — an immense challenge — is far likelier to succeed with two parents than one. Yet, while rabbis talk constantly about the 50 percent heterosexual divorce rate, pastors seem to gravitate far more to opposing gay marriage, even though we straight people have done a fine job of eroding marriage ourselves. (Indeed, one of the ironies of marriage in America is that the only men who seem to want to get married are gay!)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “Dear Gov. Perry: Instill Christian Values With Some Jewish Ones”, The Jewish Journal (23-29 September 2011), 13.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, one of the more reliable (and entertaining) ways to track the impact of Jewish culture on African-American artists was to listen for bits of Yiddish making its way into black blues, jazz, and pop. Black argots like hep and jive were becoming central to black style and soon Yiddish — a fellow linguistic outsider — started mixing in as well.

“Heebie Jeebies: The World of Yiddish Jive” in the “Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations” exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco)

Judaism is about obligations; but obligations are about relationships. Halachic theory accepts the fact that for a time, at least, this or that obligation may seem painfully beyond us. It does not, however, countenance our imagining that we are painfully removed from God. The divine-human relationship is sacrosanct.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, “Echoes of Kol Nidre in Summer,” The Jewish Week (22 July 2011), 25.

Eliezer b. Hyrcanus is the first Tannaitic master for some of whose sayings we have chains of tradition, that is, authorities who say, “I heard from…” or, more commonly, Rabbi X says/said that Rabbi Y says that R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus says/said. In addition, some of the Toseftan traditions about Eliezer, like many of those about disputes of the Houses, contain redefinitions of the substance of a dispute, or of the protasis of the pericope, preserving the apodosis just as it appears in the Mishnah. These constitute important evidence about the formation of Eliezer’s sayings; they tell us that a given authority knew and did not accept the specification of an opinion of Eliezer or of a matter about which he and others disputed, as given anonymously, but preferred a different formulation of the matter. Finally, we have, primarily from Judah b. Ilai, a number of opinions for Eliezer which are either consistent with (or contradict) anonymous Mishnaic laws, but which do not appear in the Mishnah in Eliezer’s name.

Jacob Neusner, <i>Eliezer ben Hyrcanus: The Tradition and the Man</i> Part Two (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973), 73.