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

A Contemporary Outgrowth: David Weiss Halivni

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A Contemporary Outgrowth: David Weiss Halivni

More recently, David Weiss Halivni, whose method of Talmud study has been criticized for highlighting discrepancies between history and halakhah, has addressed the question of conflict between the outcome of academic scholarship and practical halakhic observance by proposing that one of the goals of an integrated historical-halakhic approach is to teach students to differentiate between layers of truth. Halivni suggests that there is a distinction between religious truth and historical truth and that both factor into our definition of Torat emet. “Halakhah ke-Beit Hillelis our religious truth, for all of the reasons that practical halakhah was, indeed, established according to the tradition of Hillel; nonetheless, the Torah of Shammai is historical truth, and if one spent all his life learning the teachings of Beit Shammai, he would still be required to recite Birkhot Ha-Torah!38 Despite conflicts that may arise, Halivni continues to advocate an historical approach precisely because of the imperative to seek truth in Torah. In response to condemnation elicited by an article he wrote on the historical relationship between Midrash and Mishnah,39 Halivni argued:

The inviolability of Halakhah is a part of our Ani Maamin; no compromise is possible there, whereas the scientific method, by its very nature, is tentative and to some extent adjustable. Nevertheless, the commitment to historical study, and hence to the critical method underlying it, stems in principle from our basic moral integrity, no mean religious obligation—to pursue and follow truth to the best of our abilities. In the present scholarly climate critical study is the only way. Mankind has not devised a better means of getting at historical truth. Not to apply it to Halakhah would, by present standards, deflect from the belief that our Torah is not only a Torat Hayyim, but also a Torat Emet.40

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