The Eighth Day of the Week

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A community’s sacred texts shed light on its beliefs and values. This is obvious when it comes to liturgy.

Hence the uproar, last year, over the pope’s reinstitution of the Latin Mass, and its prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

Of course, the principle is true when it comes to Jewish liturgy as well.

The inclusion of the matriarchs in liberal versions of the amidah or the use of female or gender-neutral God language reflect feminist (or at least female-friendly) theological inclinations. And when the Reform movement re-introduced language about the resurrection of the dead in the new prayerbook it published last year, it reflected the movement’s increased comfort with aspects of traditional Judaism.

But prayerbooks aren’t the only texts that shed light on a community’s religious values.

Soon after ArtScroll published its Hebrew-English Stone Edition of the Pentateuch in the early 1990s, it became the humash of choice in most Orthodox synagogues.

But the Stone humash wasn’t merely an updated translation of the Torah. Its commentaries differed wildly from the previous Hebrew-English humash of choice: the Hertz humash — edited by Joseph H. Hertz and published by Soncino.

While the Stone humash refers to traditional and modern (small “m”) Orthodox sources, Hertz availed himself of Christian works, academic Bible studies, as well as traditional sources.

By modern academic standards, Hertz’s commentary was by no means stellar. In fact, Hertz rejected the fundamental theoretical framework of modern Bible scholars — the Documentary Hypothesis. Nonetheless, whenever I was in a synagogue with both the Hertz and the Stone, I would always reach for the Hertz.

The Hertz engaged with the world, even if it did so under specific ideological constraints. The Stone, on the other hand, represented the swing toward social and theological insularity that has come to define much of contemporary Orthodoxy.

I bring all of this up because I stumbled upon some very interesting facts about Rabbi J.H. Hertz.

Posted on February 29, 2008

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