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Adar B, 5763

Concerning the "Revadim" Approach


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated in honor of
Avraham Chai Hayun

1. Understandable Apprehension Regarding "Revadim"
2. "Aliyot" and "Yeridot" - The Ups and Downs of Jewish Scholarship
3. Requirements: A Willingness to Receive...
4. Some Truth in "Revadim"

Understandable Apprehension Regarding "Revadim"
Torah wisdom is essentially different than scientific wisdom. Our Sages teach us to "believe the [empirical] wisdom of the nations; believe not the Torah wisdom of the nations." Steps must be taken in order to separate scientifically founded wisdom from Torah wisdom. This does not mean that we should avoid making use of the tools of human wisdom when studying Torah, but it must be remembered that the source of Torah is not human wisdom, but fear of Heaven, as it is written, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of God."

What is known as the "Revadim" approach to Talmud study developed and was nurtured through methods of reasoning which originate in the academic world. The university, though, is a place for the development of human wisdom, not Torah wisdom. All university faculties dealing in Bible or Oral Torah studies in which the line of demarcation between the holy and the mundane has not been made adequately clear and for whom the Torah is non-binding and detached from life, ought to simply be closed down. Torah wisdom is not acquired through "academic freedom" and a lack of obligation to faith; it is, rather, obtained in sanctity and purity through the faithful transmitters of Torah from generation to generation.
In describing the development of the Oral Torah, Rabbi A.I. Kook offers a fascinating definition when he writes that it is "in its hidden aspects, from the heavens; in its revealed aspects, from the earth." The Oral Torah contains both hidden and revealed sides. Only one who is familiar with its "hidden aspects" is capable of clarifying its "revealed aspects." Academia occupies itself with the revealed side of the Torah alone, yet remains estranged to all that is hidden.

In the Middle Ages, after the triumph of philosophy among the non-Jews, it became necessary for Rambam and other leading Torah authorities to "convert" whatever possible from philosophy and to integrate it into the Torah. In the same way, in our own age, only leading Torah scholars are capable of converting that which is possible from without, in order to make a home for it within.
So long as it is not the generation's Torah giants who are doing this work, it is only natural that there be great apprehension regarding all that is being turned out by the various university faculties.
Academic research takes individual and isolated details and then, after detaching from their more all-inclusive picture, sets about examining them. The Torah, on the other hand, is traditionally expounded upon via the hermeneutic principle of "Klal Ufrat Uklal" - i.e., "From the whole, to the detail, and back to the whole." The Torah is one inclusive and indivisible whole which reveals itself to us one detail at a time. The profound unity which pervades the entire Torah is that which forms the foundation of Torah study.

The "Revadim" approach cuts the Torah up into pieces. According to this method, the Talmudic Sage does not endeavor to interpret the Mishnah as such; he, in fact, says what he says regardless of the Mishnah. The Talmudic Sage, say Revadim advocates, presents far-flung explanations of the Mishnah only in order to be "at peace" with it. The anonymous opinions ("Stama Digmara") which appear in the Talmud, they say, are in fact coming to offer an essentially alternate view to that which is expressed in the Mishnah. They also claim that the actual law does not evolve from the plain interpretation which we offer when explaining the Mishnah.
This is one of the forms which the critical approach takes; it does not regard the Torah as the one unified Divine word in which we are able to make a connection between the Written and Oral Traditions, between the Mishnah and the Talmud, between the Talmudic give-and-take and the actual practical law, between the details of the Torah and the all-embracing idea which underpins and unites all of these details.

"Aliyot" and "Yeridot" - The Ups and Downs of Jewish Scholarship

The Torah was given in such a way that its oral explanation is notably more extensive than its written body. Judaism speaks about both the "descent of the generations" (Yeridat HaDorot) and the "ascent of the generations" (Aliyat HaDorot).
On an individual level, one indeed discovers a decline. For example, when dealing with Talmudic and Mishnaic Sages, we assume the earlier of the two, the masters of the Mishnah, to be the greater. This has become an established fact for Jews: when there is a sizable gap between eras, those belonging to the later one do not permit themselves to contradict the earlier.

Not only was the development of the Oral Tradition a way of adapting the Torah to new and changing realities; it was a way of adapting the Torah to the capacity of Torah scholars of later generations. In order that the later generations be capable of absorbing the light of the Torah, it became necessary to expand upon and explain the words of the Torah. Only with the aid of the Talmudic scholars are we capable of understanding the words of the Mishnaic scholars; only with the aid of the later Talmudic codifiers, the "Achronim," is it possible to understand the earlier talmudic codifiers, the "Rishonim." The language of the Mishnah is of a much more concentrated and concealing nature than that of the Talmud. This is true throughout the history of Jewish scholarship: The greater the decline, the more a need is felt for expanding upon things. Yet, only via the previous generation can matters be properly understood. It is impossible to create "shortcuts" through various "bypass roads," providing our own commentaries to the Talmud and the Rishonim. Ours is a generation in which hundreds of books appear each day. This is, in fact, due to our lack of insight. The "Revadim" approach refuses to accept this fact. According to this method we are capable of receiving the light of the Mishnah without any need for the Talmud.

Yet there is also "Aliyat HaDorot," an ascent and improvement with the passing of the generations. This phenomenon exists only in the arena of the more general community of Israel. There is more Torah - the Torah is more thoroughly disseminated - in the later generations than in the earlier. This is due to the simple fact that we are fortunate enough to have at our disposal the Torah wisdom of the preceding generations. Adding our own miniscule additions, we resemble dwarfs on the shoulders of the Torah giants who came before us.
When a dwarf fails to recognize that he is, in fact, a dwarf, and that it is a giant upon whom he sits, he cannot even be a proper dwarf. Creating a system of study which fails to concentrate upon the words of such giants can only distance us from the source of the light. Traditional Yeshiva scholarship invests all of its efforts in understanding the Talmud according to the writings of the early rabbinic Sages and leaders.

Requirements: A Willingness to Receive...
Advocates of the Revadim approach bring "proofs" of its legitimacy by quoting the words of certain Torah giants who themselves present novel and original interpretations of the Mishnah, interpretations that do not appear in the Talmud. This, though, only teaches us that such a practice should not be seen as a denial of the legitimacy of the Oral Tradition; it does not, however, tell us that such was their order of study. Great Torah personages have indeed left us their original Torah ideas , yet, before innovating, they learned the entire Torah hundreds of times.
Only the sort of novel innovation which comes after one is brimming with Torah knowledge and possesses a genuine Torah-grounded outlook deserves to receive the title "Torah." Such an idea, because it is an integral part of the scholar's Torah personality, is considered entirely "from the Torah." A willingness to "receive" Torah and to focus upon that which was said by previous generations is what transforms an individual's Torah understanding into the Divine word.

It is true that we find the Vilna Gaon explaining the Mishnah in a manner not recorded in the Talmud. But was this the central pillar of his Torah scholarship? Was this his starting point? It goes without saying that the Gaon learned the opinions of those who preceded him thousands of times; he considered them, commented upon then, and adjudicated between the differing opinions, and, as a result, also arrived at his own novel interpretations. Let us, then, follow in the footsteps of the Gaon: First we will learn the Gaon's emendations on the four sections of the Shulchan Arukh in their entirety, together with his Cabbalistic commentary, and then, perhaps, we will merit producing an interpretation not mentioned in the Talmud. Any other approach to study is a sure recipe for Torah ignorance and a general inability to differentiate between that which is central and peripheral in the teachings of the Sages.

Furthermore, one cannot possibly produce a "system" or any kind of comprehensive study program based upon scattered examples of isolated innovations by earlier and later authorities. To the contrary, by taking note of these isolated examples which "fit the mold," as it were, of this "system," we are able to appreciate all those other places wherein the Talmud cannot be budged in the slightest.
In dealing with any method of study, one must strive to uncover the psychological motives which find expression therein. It will be seen that the Revadim approach is a product of Western culture, which places man in the center. In Western culture, the character, desires, and personal expression of the individual are greatly emphasized. Yet, a person who is taken up by a search for personal self-expression and personality will no doubt find it quite difficult to listen to others. Such an individual is bound to have a difficult time wholeheartedly committing himself to studying for many years the opinions of those who preceded him. According to the Revadim approach, the "Me" in the study is what is important, not an openness and willingness to accept what is being related.

The Torah indeed forges and nurtures our personality; this, though, happens not from the bottom up, but from the top down. The Torah reveals that which is truly concealed inside of us, as opposed to the outer layers of our personality. This can only be achieved where there is much humility and openness to the teachings of the Torah. We must begin by listening to the word of God; only after this will we be able to truly listen to ourselves. In this manner the attribute of humility will be acquired. Man is like a human channel with the task of channeling the word of God, and, in doing this, he discovers himself.
An approach which turns the student into an independent exegete of the Bible or the Mishnah is an educational, cultural, and intellectual recipe likely to cause the destruction of Torah tradition. It, gives exaggerated precedence to the "Me" in Torah study, and disregards the importance of hearing the word of God.

Some Truth in "Revadim"
That the Torah is the inner seed of all existence is true. And just as existence develops and is not static, so too, the Oral Torah undergoes a constant process of evolution. Clearly, in a generation like ours, which is constantly advancing on the path to redemption and returning to the Land of Israel, the Torah too is being redeemed. The Torah of the redemption will be a new and enlightening one. But the new light which will appear will not do so as a result of flight and detachment from the lights which were revealed during the course of all the preceding generations. To the contrary, we refuse to disregard a single illumination that was revealed during the thousands of years of exile. We refuse to "free ourselves" from the spiritual treasures which we acquired as a result of strenuous labor. We will illuminate all of the Torah that was learned in previous generations, and we will utilize the light of redemption, a light of inclusiveness and unity.

As noted, the Torah is revealed via "Klal Ufrat Uklal" - i.e., "From the whole, to the detail, and back to the whole." The Torah first appeared as one great collective whole at Mount Sinai. Over the ages, the Oral Tradition succeeded in uncovering and amassing thousands upon thousands of details - details which were born from, and evolved out of, this original collective whole. Our task today is to bring things back to the whole. We are called upon to see how all of these endless details fit into one comprehensive whole. This final, all-inclusive whole will display, in a very full manner, that which appeared in the original whole in a very concentrated manner. The final whole will thus succeed in redeeming all of the details and transforming them into one all-encompassing whole which relates to all of the minute details of life. This, then, is our "Revadim" system.


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