Bearing our Tradition

29 11 2010

There is an utterly hilarious video that has been doing the rounds of the blogosphere, featuring two cartoon bears arguing about whether or not the biblical patriarchs observed all of the mitzvot of the Torah:

What is most interesting about this is the defensive response that it has provoked from various conservative circles, who feel that their religion is being mocked and that the absurd beliefs being ridiculed in this cartoon are inherently defensible. In an attempt to justify them, Rabbi Gil Student has written a post that concerns the number of rishonim who adopted this particular view. Well, I suppose that settles it then. His argument in many respects boils down to a few lines, which are expressed in varying ways throughout his different posts, and which constitute the key to his particular religious philosophy:

The view that the Avos observed all of the mitzvos occupies a hallowed place in Jewish tradition, with Rashi in particular adopting it… Someone who mock [sic] this position, mocks Rashi. Think about what that says about you.

Well, I’ve thought about what that says about me and I still think that R’ Student is missing the point. What he fails to realise is that the video is not actually mocking rishonim like Rashi at all. Whatever Rashi believed, and however Rashi believed it, is one thing. Worthy of study, certainly, and a corpus from which we may choose to subscribe to individual sentiments ourselves. Never has anybody suggested that the writings of Rashi constitute empirical truth (never, that is, until relatively recently), and so it’s important to be clear about who here is being mocked. While R’ Student can come loudly to the defense of Rashi, it is R’ Student (and others like him) who are the subject of the cartoon’s derision, and not the mediaeval rabbis themselves. But perhaps, in his eagerness to carry their standard, R’ Student has forgotten how to differentiate between himself and them.

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