It was both heartening and disappointing to read Jeffrey Goldberg’s post on Friday about William Kolbrener’s book Open Minded Torah. Heartening: Kolbrener is clearly my kind of thinker, weaving together Torah and the whole of life, thought, literature, and experience. It’s great to see Goldberg, whose blog I regularly enjoy, inspired by this kind of Torah–a Torah which I like to think of myself as a contributor to.
But it was also disappointing. Why should the idea of a Milton scholar who is literate and erudite in Western culture and in dialogue with Torah be a foreign concept? (It’s not, btw: Jeffrey, allow me to introduce you to people like Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Aviva Zornberg, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, or Marc-Alain Ouaknin.) It is disappointing that the idea of open-minded Torah, and in particular open-minded Orthodoxy, seems like such an oxymoron to Goldberg. Of course I partially hold Orthodoxy itself accountable for this–as did Rav Aharon in a famous 1982 essay in Tradition, where he lamented the lack of Modern Orthodox achievements in culture (as opposed to science, where there had been and continue to be many). Figures like these are still rare, and appear as exotic exceptions rather than expected developments.
But I also hold Goldberg accountable. One needs to ask, as he did of another writer the other day (in a way I approved of): Where is Goldberg’s curiosity? How did he meet Kolbrener without coming across the others I’ve mentioned above? (Sacks and Zornberg in particular would seem to me unavoidable for someone like him.) There were moments in his exchange with Kolbrener where Goldberg sounded rather small-mindedly anti-Orthodox: “Why does it seem as if so many Orthodox Jews break the law, particularly when it comes to financial crimes, when compared to non-Orthodox Jews?” Goldberg regularly does much better than this in his writing about Israel (which is why I like him so much)–so it was disappointing to see him make this unsophisticated remark.
Jeffrey–there are a bunch of us in the Orthodox world learning, writing, and teaching the kind of Open-Minded Torah you’ve discovered. (Many of us find our Ortho cred regularly challenged, by the way.) So welcome. I’m glad we’re offering something that speaks to you and others hungry for a Torah of intellectual honesty, depth, sophistication, and relevance. Learn with us and contribute to this teaching.