March 16, 2008

Shadal: Genesis 1:1

Shadal's (Shmuel David Luzzato) commentary on Genesis 1:1*

The wise understand that the intent of the Torah is not to teach of the natural sciences, but that the Torah was given only to direct humankind on the path of righteousness and justice, and to establish belief in the Unity and Providence of God in their hearts, for not to the scholars alone was the Torah given, but to the entire people. Just as concepts of Providence and reward and punishment are not explained (and properly not explained) in the Torah in a philosophical manner, but are treated in human terms ("And the lord was angry with them," "And His heart grieved," and many other such expressions), so the story of the Creation is not told (and properly not told) in the Torah in a philosophical manner - for as the Rabbis said, to impress upon flesh and blood the power of the Creation is impossible
Therefore it is not proper for the torah scholar to force the Scriptures from their literal meaning to make them conform with the natural sciences, nor is it proper for the critic to deny the Divine origin of the Torah if he finds things its stories that do not conform with scientific research. Both scholar and critic ought instead to examine the inner nature of the human mind, and the different learning approaches nature takes when it speaks to each mind: to a child in its way, to a youth in another way, to an aged man in another, to the strong in a special way, to the weak in a special way, to the rich in one way, to the poor in another

I love this comment. Why? Because it looks like its out of nowhere. At least to me. I have yet to find commentary, pre-20th century, to say what Shadal said. I don't think you will find it anywhere. I believe this is mainly due to, not only who Shadal was (which I am still learning about), but also due to the general culture of Italian Jewry (IJ). From the introduction to the commentary, Dan Klein writes that IJ was open to secular culture as well as secular methodologies. With this in mind, you can understand that with new tools at their disposal and an open attitude in general, a different way of looking at the text was bound to occur. With further study into the ancient near east, one has an almost automatic shift in how they perceive the stories and characters. You start understanding that it was an all together different society and in order for one to better understand what is happening in the text, you have to pull yourself out of your own time and place and try to put yourself in the time of when the stories were written (this is one of his principles as well). Interestingly enough, he does not say for us to try to enter the society and minds of each character at their specific time (though I doubt he would not attempt this as well), but instead, to understand WHEN it was WRITTEN. Afterall, things were not written at the exact time Abraham did this, or David did that, but instead, he seems to want us to understand the stories as the author wrote it and how the recipients understood what that author meant to convey.

That's one thing I find interesting. The next thing I find interesting is the following question: Was he, or who was he referring to in his comment? I would understand this comment appearing in contemporary works as some sort of anti-Aish Discovery article, but who did they have in the mid-19th century trying to kvetch the sciences in the Torah? Hopefully, somebody has an answer to this, but I will take a shot.

In the introduction to the commentary, I learned that Shadal had an "anti-rationalistic outlook - one that was equally characteristic of the Italian Jewry tradition - in that he refused to elevate philosophy and the functions of the mind above righteous behaivor and the values of the heart." He did not approve of "Rambams penchant for philosophy." Could this commentary be in a way polemic against a growing fear that, as the Rambam and other mefarshim were attempted at times to reconcile Torah with the "sciences" of their day, that this was happening in his own day with enlightenment spreading around him?

Just a guess.

* All quotes are from: The Book of Genesis, A Commentary by Shadal, translated by Daniel A. Klein