Friday, September 23, 2011

Teaching Torah With Rashi

Luke Ford writes: In a lecture on Deut. 22:1, Dennis Prager said: “I’m very unhappy that you asked that question because it may invalidate a certain community [Orthodox] from buying these tapes and listening to them. Your question, was I taught these things at yeshiva? Some things I was. Most of the things I am conveying to you I was not taught in my traditional upbringing. I’m doing something with this that is very different.”

“When I meet learned Jews who find out that I am teaching the Torah verse by verse, they will say, ‘Oh, so you teach it with Rashi?’ And of course I have studied the Rashi but I don’t teach it from Rashi for while he is invaluable, if I need to learn how to live today, he’s not the best source now. From the filter of my background with these rabbis but living in the modern world, what I am working out is — is this book rationally morally applicable to your lives? It is an original attempt to make that clear. I don’t know of another attempt like this. It is easy to say, he is really arrogant. He thinks he understands the Torah that well to teach that way. I can’t defend against the arrogance. Why would I do this? It’s not for the money. It’s very hard. I wish that I had been taught these things.”

“I am very moved that wherever I go to speak in Jewish life, very often, Orthodox rabbis, Chabad rabbis, will tell me that they use these tapes when they teach Torah. Not to mention Reform and others. That says to me that they know that this comes from a good place.”

“I picked up a lot of it from great scholars. Very often they were Christians who taught me these things… I obviously don’t use the parts where they say, ‘This shows that Christ…’ That’s not my faith.

“Irving Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi, wrote in his book on Christianity that he has been deeply influenced by Christian thinkers. He said that from an early age, when he read Christian thinkers, when he read ‘Christ’, he substituted ‘God’ and it worked perfectly. I cracked up when I read it because that’s exactly what I do.”

“That’s how I know Judeo-Christian is a legitimate term. I did learn a lot from these [Christian] people who do relate it to life today. I learned things [in yeshiva] that I knew were not going to help me deal with life. Moses was caught by Pharoah and his neck turns to marble when he’s about to be killed. Or the reason that Moses had a speech impediment was that when he was a baby on Pharoah’s lap, they put before him gold and hot coals, and he was about to reach for the gold and give away how brilliant he was, but he reached the hot coals and burned his tongue forever. I don’t mind those stories but they don’t help me understand what the Torah really wants to teach. And those are some of the things I learned at that time. I’m fighting for the belief that this is a divine text.”

In a lecture on Deut. 22:15, Dennis said: “I am versed in the sources like Rashi, Rambam and so on. They have helped shape my understanding but I believe that we need to dust off a lot of the traditional coloring of our view of the Torah to make it understandable for modern men and women. Many Orthodox rabbis get these tapes and have no problem with anything I have said, even though I am not making reference often to Orthodox sources. I’m being as true to the Torah as possible. It almost comes as a relief to many Orthodox Jews that an honest reading of the peshat plain reading of the text without commentary leads you to an elevated view of the Torah.”

“On Deut. 22:16, Rashi says this teaches us that the woman has no permission to speak in the presence of her man, i.e. her husband. What am I going to say? Is this really what the Torah teaches? That a woman in the 21st Century should not speak in front of her husband?”