2000–01 Hakirah or Mehkar: The Religious Implications of an Historical Approach to Limmudei Kodesh

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In the course of my university education in history and Jewish studies, I encountered an increasing number of primarily yeshivah-trained teachers of Torah who are turning to the university to supplement their own Torah education. Few intend to switch their teaching venue from the yeshivah to the university; but many desire the acquisition of academic tools and methodologies that they hope to implement in their own yeshivah classrooms. As Torah educators in day schools and post-high school institutions, these men and women have no intention of supplanting traditional, yeshivah-style Torah learning with academic study. Yet they believe that the utilization of academic tools and methodologies in their teaching of Torah will allow them to achieve educational goals that are not being met by traditional approaches.

Is this integration of academic scholarship and traditional Torah study as seamless as it sounds?

Aware that this trend was becoming a “hot topic” of debate in Torah education circles, I decided to explore this question in the context of my ATID research, not quite sure of where it would lead me. A student of history myself, I initially focused my investigation on the clash between the study of Torah and the study of history. As my research progressed, I realized that this was not a paper on the intersection of Torah and history but on the intersection of Torah and academic scholarship which is based on an historical understanding of the development of religion. And I realized that the concerns of those educators who opposed this new derekh limmud were not unfounded: the synthesis of academic scholarship and traditional Torah study is not seamless for a multiplicity of reasons.

Nonetheless, I became convinced that an approach to Torah learning which is able to integrate certain facets of academic scholarship with traditional study has powerful educational potential and may be able to achieve educational goals in areas where classical limmud seems to be failing. This paper, then, is an attempt to explore the religious and educational issues underlying an integration of this sort and to present a particular vision of what this new educational approach might accomplish.

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