Update: Rabbi Michael Broyde is Sinking Fast

Yet another update 4/25/2013: 

The Jewish Channel's Steven I. Weiss reports that it turns out that Broyde himself (posing as David Weissman) circulated the story that he was being considered as a candidate for the British Chief Rabbi post. And so it was Broyde who called Broyde "the finest mind of his generation" in the name of Norman Lamm in a claim to a reporter at The Times of Israel on 8/8/2012. More on all of this here.

Isn't that nice. But we wonder now. Why stop there if you are making all of this up? Why not have Rabbi Lamm call you, "The Greatest Jew Since Moshe Rabbenu"? Or why not have the Lubavitcher Rebbe call out from his grave and proclaim that you indeed are the Messiah and that he is but your humble servant?

On our 4/15/2013 update we said:

We wrote about a book by Michael Broyde in 2011 and reposted it in 2012.

Due to the recent revelations about Broyde, we repost our review again. In 2011 in short we concluded that Broyde's book called "Innovation in Jewish Law" is not about any innovation and not about any Jewish law. It is about the atrophy of a prayer and discusses the customs and regulations for that prayer. Accordingly we thought that the title was misleading. Nevertheless, at the time, we politely complimented the book as "learned." Here is our 2012 post...

The Times of Israel reported (8/8/12) that Rabbi Michael Broyde "emerges as frontrunner for British chief rabbi post."

A "source close to the search process" supplied information on the process to the TOI including this tidbit, "There has also been strong lobbying for Broyde by the chancellor of Yeshiva University, Norman Lamm, who in a letter called Broyde 'the finest mind of his generation,' says the source."

Not knowing this reputation, we commented on a book by Broyde on 2/20/2011 on this blog. We found the book filled with imprecisions of language and analysis and overstatements of broad conclusions drawn from a non-representative sample of religious liturgical regulations (called by the author "laws"). We were not overly impressed with the work for these additional reasons that we gave back in 2011....

The author of Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu has wonderful credentials as the publisher tells us:

Michael Broyde is a Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and a Senior Fellow and a Project Director at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. He was the founding Rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, GA, and serves as a rabbinical judge (dayan) at the Beth Din of America, the largest Jewish law court in America. Rabbi Broyde received advanced rabbinical (dayanut) ordination at Yeshiva University and a Juris Doctor from New York University, and has published more than seventy five articles and three books on various aspects of Jewish law, ethics and religion.
The book he published has a stated agenda:
Havineinu, an abridged version of the daily prayer (Shemoneh Esreh), was once a useful, well known prayer said in pressing situations. Because it is brief, it is an ideal prayer for dangerous situations where one's ability to pray or concentrate on the longer text of the daily prayer is compromised.

Yet, over the last several hundred years, the recitation of Havineinu has functionally ceased. This book addresses the legal analysis used to explain that change. This shift in perspective has been gradual, yet the resulting profound change in the interpretation of halachic texts has had a direct influence on the understanding and practice of Jewish law. This book examines the sources and processes that have shaped the contours of Havineinu over time, exemplifying the subtle changes that occur in the development of halacha as a result of chiddush -- innovation.
We have had the book since November, when we read it, nearly four months, and now without much enthusiasm, offer a few observations on it, not all that positive.

Over all, the author is an expert in his fields of general American law and Talmudic learning. He commands and controls the texts and concepts of each of these distinct areas of learning. And he demonstrates an inquisitive mind that seeks to state and resolve problems within the areas of his expertise.

His goal here is to, "Trace the development of the halacha in on particular are: the recitation of the abstract, abridged for of Shemoneh Esreh commonly referred to in the rabbinic literature as Havineinu. (page 5)." He notes that this is an example in, "a relatively small, self-contained area of Jewish law, affording readers an opportunity to not only immerse themselves in study, but also to encounter the relevant sources with a degree of confidence and even mastery... there are many aspects relevant to Havineinu that could not be fully addressed in this book, and these omissions should not be viewed as oversights." But why omit them? We are not told.

It would be useful to learn about how laws develop and change over time, especially if the subject matter were major, central religious practices affecting economy, society or religion. Our teacher, Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik engaged in such work and produced important studies on the intersection of laws of religion and the economics of wine production and on the practices that governed money lending in the middle ages. (See his influential books Halakha, Economy and Self-Image, Jerusalem 1985, Responsa as an Historical Source, Jerusalem 1990, and Principles and Pressures: Jewish Trade in Gentile Wine in the Middle Ages, Tel Aviv, 2003.)

But this study does not explore such a case. It looks at the atrophy of a short religious prayer and concludes that such a "process is gradual; decisors of Jewish law examined the sources and interpreted them in light of their times and challenges (p. 7)."

The author hopes, "that readers will come away with a newfound understanding of and appreciation for the mechanisms of analysis, interpretation, and change that are central to the methodology of Jewish law."

And then he adds, "In truth, the journey of chiddush cannot be described. It must be experienced. Thus, we embark."

What follows in this book though is not an experiential journey. It is a learned review of ancient, medieval and modern sources on the subject of the recitation of the prayer in question with many intermediate conclusions and observations about the practice of reciting or not  reciting this prayer.

The final conclusion of the book is, "Sometimes technology and sociology change, and thus applying the basic principles formed in the Talmud to a later time requires innovative application of the halachic texts." We confess to not understanding this statement. Next, "Prayer in an ancient, dangerous, and bookless society is quite different from prayer in a modern, safe, and text-rich place." We do understand this obvious point, and it is obvious. And next, "As we observed earlier, the needs of a situation often call for revisiting the corpus of Jewish law texts..."  We do not follow, once again. And then, "...honestly analysing and interpreting the sources, and perhaps reviving a dormant line of thinking within the tradition -- an opinion or opinions that may once again prove relevant." Missing here is the description of the thinking -- the abstraction of concepts and any account of actual judicial, legal or liturgical creativity, i.e., ideas.

And the last point, "That is the essence of innovation in Jewish law."

We disagree with the basic premises, methods and resultant conclusions of this study. The author has used a coarse category in his analysis -- "innovation" -- when he should have been refining a variety of movements within the legal discussions, mainly justifications and textual manipulations in this case for accounting for the atrophy of a secondary liturgical practice, in no way innovative in any constructive sense, not generative of any idea or concept -- hence not worthy as we see it of the title description "innovation".

Innovations of significance do appear in Jewish law, especially in its intersection with Jewish-Gentile relations, in its control of marital and internal social conventions, and, hardly ever studied, its profound and long standing influence over the individual psyche of every Jew.

This exceedingly learned book is not about any of these, nor does it articulate a theory of any transportability for the study of other cases. It examines the presumptive demise of one short prayer from the practices of Jewish life and does not explain at the end why that matters, if at all it does.

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