Reflections on the Importance of Asking the Right Question*
The series is divided into three parts: The first part (sections I-IV) offers a more detailed definition of the challenge that biblical criticism poses to Orthodoxy, and a brief survey of the main solutions that have been developed thus far. These solutions are based on evaluating the validity of religious truth claims on the basis of their correspondence to empiric reality.
The second part (sections V-XI) follows the development of an alternative trend which seeks to offer adherents of Modern Orthodoxy a more satisfactory response by moving the discussion to a different track. This trend, which is associated with the approach of post-liberalism and constructivist views of truth, focuses upon the function and meaning of religious truth claims in the life of the religious believer.
The third part (sections XII-XVIII) will relate to the need to nevertheless bridge the gap between reality and meaning in religious discourse, and offer an intra-religious approach to theology which blurs the sharp distinction between the human and the divine, the natural and the supernatural.
* The phrasing of this subtitle draws inspiration from Cynthia Ozik’s article: “Notes on Finding the Right Question,” in On Being a Jewish Feminist, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Schocken Books, 1983), pp. 120-151, which begins by citing Suzanne K. Langer’s observation, that “every answer is concealed in the question that elicits it, and that what we must strive to do, then is not look for the right answer but attempt rather to discover the right question.” Without wishing to take any position here regarding the issue which provoked Ozik’s interest in this observation (i.e., the source for women’s ostensibly subordinate status in Judaism) or her conclusion (i.e., that the right question to ask in this case is sociological; for a rival view, see Judith Plaskow’s response, “The Right Question is Theological”, in the same volume), I concur with the general principle and believe that it is particularly germane to the issue at hand.
Thanks are also due to several people who contributed to the formulation of this article – first and foremost to the organizers of the seminar on “Orthodoxy, theological debate and the legacy of Louis Jacobs,” sponsored by the Oxford center for Advanced Jewish Studies during the year of 2013, in which several of the scholars mentioned in this article took part. This convening facilitated clarification of the various positions and issues at stake in a friendly and constructive ambiance, and created the impetus for spelling these all out in writing. I would also like to thank Charlotte Katzoff who read the manuscript in its early stages, and offered several important suggestions for clarifying my position. Last but not least is Zev Farber, who conducted a close and sensitive reading of its final form, recommending references to similar positions previously expressed on this forum, and subjecting it to various editorial devices such as subtitles and requests for clarification of technical terms, in the effort to render its regrettably heavy style a bit more reader-friendly.
Table of Contents
Tolerating the Fragility of Theological Constructs: Does Self-Awareness Make Them Too Fragile?