Rabbi Lichtenstein's Foreword to Mikra and Meaning by Nathaniel Helfgott

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgott has written an incisive and perceptive book of literary approaches to selected biblical texts, Mikra and Meaning. The work must be examined within the literature of such studies written for the modern Orthodox reader, that is the college educated observant Jew. It stands out as a remarkable success within that genre.

What struck us in this book was the Foreword by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a former teacher of ours, and an exemplary individual whom we use to describe the scribal archetype in our recent book on prayer (God's Favorite Prayers).

He sums up his endorsement of the book  as follows, in a manner that we find less than exemplary, starting from the simple given that if you write a foreword, that you take the time to read the entire book (in this case not a great burden since the book is around 240 pages):
...I have not read every line of his treatise. Given the sensitivity of the complex of selected topics, it is conceivable that someone would raise some objection to some points - although I did not encounter such in the largely random and yet representative chapters I read. But the sincerity of his approach and the depth of his commitment to tradition and its polyphonic voices are impressive. This factor should in and of itself, for benei Torah reared in the tolerant and appreciative tradition of talmidei hakhamim shebeBavel, elicit sensitive caution in dealing with the material and its author. Virtually by definition, one repeats insistently, recognition of the need to draw lines is axiomatic; and within certain limits, just where that may be is likely to be embroiled in controversy. However, it should be clear that respect for the issues and for the personages engaged mandates that discourse be conducted in the proper spirit.

That, of course, affords no assurance that lines will not be overstepped. In his latter years, no less an iconoclast than Rabbi Mordechai Breuer lamented that some of his students had exceeded what he regarded as the bounds of normative fealty. Even in the company of self-defined Orthodox scholars, one is occasionally riled upon hearing or reading assertions that can be justifiably regarded as lying beyond the pale of Torah ideology and institutions. Even sans assurance, however, proper sensitivity remains crucial.

In sum, this book is, admittedly, not every ben Torah's cup of tea, and not just in light of conventional reservations regarding de gustibus. A measure of knowledge, sensitivity, and sophistication - and, above all, discretion and discrimination rooted in commitment - is requisite in order to extract from these studies that which they have to offer. Those who approach them with the appropriate spiritual mindset and proper intellectual array can find themselves amply rewarded... 

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