Methodology and Concluding Remarks
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Shiur #38: Methodology and Concluding Remarks
Over the course of writing this series, I have allowed the techniques of analysis that I employed to speak for themselves. I have generally not dwelled on the methodologies involved, relegating most of my methodological comments to footnotes. If the analysis of the text was compelling and enlightening on its own merit, then that, more than any analysis, justifies the approach that I have been using. Nevertheless, in todays shiur, I think it would be worthwhile to consider the methodologies employed throughout this series.
The Study of Tanakh and Literary Criticism
In 1962, R. Aharon Lichtenstein delivered a public lecture at Stern College entitled, Criticism and Kitvei Ha-Kodesh. He posited what was at the time a somewhat novel proposition: students of Tanakh may well be rewarded by the attempt to apply literary criticism to learning Tanakh. R. Lichtenstein did not publish his essay until quite recently, but in the interim, others have independently reached the same conclusion. In the 1980s, academic scholars of both Bible and literature began to undertake precisely what R. Lichtenstein had proposed. Scholars such as Robert Alter, Meir Sternberg, Adele Berlin, and Shimon Bar-Efrat (to name just a few) began to employ poetics in interpreting biblical texts, often yielding magnificent insights. Even if these studies were not undertaken with the intention of mining the text for its deeper religious meanings, many of the observations and conclusions paved the way toward a more profound understanding of the Tanakh.
For the student of Tanakh steeped in tradition, the approach commonly termed New Criticism should be of particular interest. This literary approach treats the text as an object, or a product, rather than a window upon historical actuality or the sensibility of the author. This is substantially different from the critical approach that dominated academic study of the Bible for approximately two hundred years, an approach that sought to determine the history of the composition of biblical narratives. Proponents of that approach have frequently and openly declared that they reject the divine origin of the Bible, and that form of criticism has therefore generally been regarded as one which clashes with Jewish tradition. In contrast, a literary approach that is interested in the final product namely, the literary unity of the final text facilitates a reading of the Tanakh that uses rigorous academic methods while allowing for a presupposition of textual unity. While this approach is not designed to promote the concept of Torah min ha-Shamayim, it more easily coheres with it than did previous academic biblical studies. I maintain that when properly applied, a literary approach to Tanakh study can deepen our understanding of devar Hashem and enhance yirat Shamayim.
One aspect of New Criticism which is considered to be central is the manner in which it focuses on features inherent within the text. It is interested in a close, unmediated reading of the text, and it perceives meaning that emanates from the patterns, allusions, and structure of the text itself, rather than the external questions that surround its origin. Some New Critics maintained that one should look for the meaning of a text not only within itself, but also within the web of allusions to the canon of existing literature as well.
The literary approach described here is one that we have encountered quite frequently during the course of our study of Megillat Ruth. Throughout these shiurim, I have assumed the internal allusive character of biblical texts, frequently noting parallels between Megillat Ruth and other books of the Bible. These shiurim often engaged in close readings, paying careful attention to individual words, syntax, and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read. I have also endeavored to draw attention to conscious rhetorical devices of writing, such as omissions, subtle variances, ambiguities, and allusions. During the course of this series, we have observed many other literary techniques, such as the employment of key words and phrases, thematic patterning, division of units, character development, type scenes, plot movements, wordplays, chiastic structures, and language cues.
Despite the usefulness of applying these academic literary methods to Tanakh study, the theological dimension of that application is often ignored by scholars. Academic literary studies can become an exercise in intellectual and aesthetic prowess, focusing on the form while ignoring the notion of a deeper religious meaning. The New Critical perception that literature has no referential function and is not intended to convey any meaning, but is instead an artistic creation meant to be appreciated solely for its aesthetic merit, is particularly anathema to a religious student of the biblical narratives. It is insufficient for the religious student of the Tanakh to examine these narratives for their purely literary or aesthetic value. Indeed, I believe that the traditional student of the Tanakh has the liberty (and perhaps the obligation) to reject certain notions of these literary methodologies that do not cohere with the religious objectives of Tanakh study.
One principle that characterizes traditional interpretation of biblical texts is the insistence on discerning the religious meaning that emerges from a text. For traditional sources, it is never sufficient to reveal the aesthetic beauty of a text well written. The ultimate criterion for determining whether a particular textual idea is compelling is whether it is meaningful and adds a significant dimension to our understanding of the narrative. I have consistently sought to apply this notion in my reading of Megillat Ruth.
Use of Traditional Texts
For a religious student of Tanakh, perhaps the most attractive feature of the New Critical textual concerns is the manner in which they so often cohere with midrashim and with traditional exegetical methodologies employed in the study of Tanakh. New Critical methods feel familiar to the student well-versed in Chazals approach to the text. Chazal are not often self-conscious about their methodology, nor do they offer a consistent, systematic reading of Tanakh narratives using any one methodology. Nevertheless, midrashim tend to be sensitive to many of the techniques associated with New Criticism. In fact, Robert Alter makes the astonishing assertion (for an academic scholar) that in many cases, a literary student of the Bible has more to learn from the traditional commentaries than from modern scholarship. In this vein, Alter alleges that it is the midrashic assumption of the deep interconnectedness between all biblical books that accounts for the Midrashs exquisite ability to be attuned to the small verbal signals of continuity and significant lexical nuances that are so important for interpreting Tanakh.
example, Chazals appreciation of literary parallels. Midrashim
draw our attention to the connection between the narrative of the sale of Yosef
and the attendant deception of Yaakov (accomplished with the words haker
na in Bereishit 37:32) and the story of Yehudas desertion of his
brothers along with the attendant deception of Yehuda (accomplished with the
words haker na in Bereishit 38:25). Narrative
analogies based on literary parallels are common in Chazal, who embrace
and astutely apprehend literary connections between many biblical narratives. For example,
midrashim compare the story of Joseph in the palace in
Midrashim likewise recognize literary connections that point to similarities between various biblical characters. Examples include comparisons between David and Esav, Pinchas and Eliyahu, and Boaz and Shimshon. Chazal are likewise sensitive to the notion of a key word, an inclusio, different words used to modify characters, a deliberately ambiguous phrase, type-scenes, and wordplays.
In our study of Megillat Ruth, we have frequently encountered Chazals literary sensitivities. I have endeavored to weave together traditional readings and an academic methodological approach. While I have frequently cited academic studies of Megillat Ruth, I have no less frequently cited midrashim and traditional commentaries, often in search of their literary contributions. I did not cite every midrash or exegete, but rather those that I felt could either illuminate the simple meaning of the narrative or offer a deeper understanding of the theological idea lying at the heart of the narrative.
I have been particularly interested in illustrating the manner in which midrashic readings reveal the core of the peshat, the simple meaning of the text. All too often, those who are searching for the peshat dismiss or ignore the midrash, which appears to stray far from the text. While the midrash may not be designed to explain the verse itself, it has been my experience that a deeper examination of midrashim often reveals that at the core of the midrash lies a deep apprehension of the meaning of the narrative. When the midrashim do stray from the simple meaning of the text, it is often enlightening to ask why they did so and to try to determine the objectives of the midrash. This is especially true when the midrash offers an implausible or homiletical reading. To this end, I have on occasion introduced midrashim that appear to have strayed far from the peshat, with the express purpose of explaining the manner in which the midrash actually penetrates to the core issues of the narrative.
I would summarize my methodological approach as the combination of the systematic application of literary poetic tools (especially those aligned with the approach of New Criticism and found unselfconsciously in many midrashim) along with an insistence that the reading must yield a deeper apprehension of the theological meaning of the narrative. The most useful designation for this method is a literary-theological reading, originally designated such by R. Shalom Carmy. While this approach is located well within the continuum of traditional readings of the Tanakh, it is distinguished by the fact that it represents a self-conscious methodology that employs literary academic tools to mine the texts for insights and deeper meanings.
is one of the exciting new vistas that have recently opened for Tanakh
study, especially in
foremost champion of this approach is Herzog College, a teacher training college
located in Alon Shevut and associated with
As the series draws to a close, I find myself regretting its end. Kasha alai ha-pereida it is hard for me to end this series. Writing this has been a wonderful experience. I have received many enlightening comments from readers that deepened and broadened my understanding of the importance of this short narrative. Perhaps the most gratifying part of this experience has been in realizing just how bottomless are the depths of Torah study. After more than twenty years and hundreds of hours spent exploring this Megilla in a classroom setting, I have been unceasingly amazed to discover how many new insights emerged from a different sort of encounter with this book, an encounter brought about by systematic research and by formulating my ideas in writing.
On a personal note, my grandfather recently asked me how it is possible to write more than thirty shiurim on a book of four chapters. While spoken in jest, his query remained with me. I hope that these chapters have justified themselves. I trust that the readers who have remained with me from the beginning of the series have not found it to be repetitive (beyond reason) and have benefitted from the consciously deliberate pace. In broadening the scope of the Megilla to include many different biblical narratives, I have aimed to show that no book of Tanakh should be read as an independent entity, but rather should also be understood within the broader context of the entire corpus of the Tanakh. It is my opinion that this sort of analysis can yield deep and satisfying insights.
I have tried to illustrate the manner in which Megillat Ruth functions as the nexus for many different Tanakh themes: kingship, redemption, chessed, how to build a harmonious and well-functioning society, ideal leadership, the relationship between names, identity and destiny, blessings, house building, and effective social interactions. At the risk of repeating myself, I have allowed these themes to crop up in numerous shiurim so that there is no doubt as to how deeply these ideas are woven throughout the Megilla.
Ruth documents the
manner in which people lead their humdrum lives, without dramatic events and
extraordinary miracles. And yet while it records ordinary interactions, it also
features the extraordinary behavior of two great individuals who succeed in
reversing the negative trajectory of society during the period of the Judges.
Ruth and Boaz teach us how two individuals can act in accordance with their own
conscience and in contrast to the social alienation and apathy that prevails. In
doing so, they bring this lawless and hopeless situation to an end and pave the
way toward a society of daily blessings, in which the nation can build a strong
and unified house. It is my fervent prayer that a deeper understanding of this
magisterial book and its exemplary characters will have a positive impact upon
our society, especially in this blossoming and critical stage of building a
society in modern
I want to take this opportunity to thank several key people who have been instrumental in producing this series. Of course, I bear sole responsibility for the ideas presented. Nevertheless, there have been many people without whom this series would not have taken the shape that it has attained, and I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to them.
I must begin
by thanking my students who have been a sounding board for these ideas during
the past twenty-odd years of teaching Megillat Ruth (and other
books of Tanakh that have had an impact upon my understanding of
Megillat Ruth) at
And, to you, my dear readers, who have encouraged me and written with questions, comments, or just to ask why you have not received the most recent installment, I appreciate your enthusiasm and insightful remarks.
I have dedicated this series to my mother, of blessed memory, who was appropriately named Naomi Ruth. My mother was an exemplar of abiding compassion and generosity, which is really what this book is all about. My ability to appreciate the great characters in Megillat Ruth is undoubtedly due in part to her personal example, and she remains for me a source of constant inspiration and encouragement. I am grateful for the many years that I was able to experience her daily love and kindnesses, which have had an indelible impact upon me.
With deepest gratitude, I express praise and thanks to the Ribbono shel Olam, who has given me shefa berakhot and the opportunity to learn Torah and disseminate it. I hope that this series has merited the zekhut, le-hagdil Torah u-lehaadirah, to spread the love of Torah and a deeper appreciation of its profound and rich ideas, as well as its moral teachings.
I welcome all comments and questions: [email protected]
 I would like to thank R. Hayyim Angel, R. Yaakov Beasley, R. Yitzchak Blau, Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan, and R. Reuven Ziegler, who kindly read an initial draft of this shiur and provided helpful comments.
 In that lecture, R. Lichtenstein expresses strong reservations about using the word criticism in conjunction with the Tanakh, recognizing that it could easily lead religious readers to recoil from the words anti-religious associations (p. 17). In fact, R. Lichtenstein categorically rejects the notion that critical analysis of the Tankah should include a semi-juridical enterprise, involving judgment and evaluation (p. 24). He maintains that we do not have license to grade the success of the biblical corpus, nor to postulate criteria of excellence with regard to it. After all, this is divinely inspired writing. However, the primary meaning of the word criticism is not to judge or evaluate, but rather to discern (pp. 25-26), and that, he asserts, is indeed the task of anyone who is looking to find deeper meanings in the biblical texts.
To be clear, it is important to distinguish between literary criticism of biblical texts, which involves analysis of the literary nature of the books of Tanakh, and source criticism (also known as biblical critcism), which refers to the attempt to establish the sources used by the author of a given work. R. Lichtenstein is interested in the former and firmly rejects the latter when applied to studying the Bible.
Lichtensteins essay was published in a recent collection of essays presented in
honor of R. Shalom Carmy: Criticism and Kitvei Ha-Kodesh, in
 New Criticism has its roots in the 1920s (for the most part in America) and originated as a corrective of both historical and affective literary criticism. The term New Criticism should not be understood to mean that it is the most recent literary approach; in fact, there are many newer methodologies of literary criticism that are also employed in biblical study. For an excellent survey of the manner in which different literary approaches have been employed in reading the Bible, see John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (1984).
 There have been attempts to reconcile the source critical study of the Tanakh with Jewish faith and observance. One example is the approach of R. Mordechai Breuer, who devoted himself precisely to this task. Readers who wish to encounter R. Breuers approach should read the Hebrew volume published by Herzog College, which contains a collection of R. Breuers essays as well as several essays examining his methodology: Yosef Ofer (ed.), The Aspects Theory of Rav Mordechai Breuer (2005).
 The terminology and assumptions of source critical biblical studies often prove to be alienating to a religious student, thereby acting as an impediment to the ability of such students to incorporate the useful rigor, systematic analysis, and general contributions of the academy into the study of the Tanakh. It is part of my aim to illustrate the manner in which academic literary study of the Bible can be incorporated into a traditional approach to learning Tanakh.
 Thus, to offer one example, even if Robert Alters work, at its core, assumes the doctrine of source criticism, his assumption that the final product deserves attention results in astute literary readings that can enhance our understanding of the theological meaning which inheres in the biblical text.
 Cleanth Brooks and T. V. F. Brogan, New Criticism in Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (eds.) The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, (1993) pp. 833-834, acknowledge that close reading is regarded to be the hallmark of New Criticism. Nevertheless, they maintain that this is by no means the most distinctive trait of New Criticism and may also be its limitation, disabling close readers from looking beyond the text itself.
 This concept is formulated in a now classic passage of T.S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent in Selected Essays (1932) p. 15. For a critique of this idea, as well as the internal inconsistencies it presents within the very tenets of New Criticism, see John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (1984), pp. 170-178.
 For the purposes of the present examination, I will not examine the literary tools used to study biblical poetry. Those tools include some that have not been mentioned in our study of biblical narrative, such as rhyme and meter, which are primary elements used to identify the theme of the poetic text.
 R. Aharon Lichtenstein does present a compelling case for the spiritual value of aesthetic experience in general, and particularly when beauty may be seen as a reflection of divine revelation. See Criticism and Kitvei Ha-Kodesh, pp. 21-22. Nevertheless, he clearly maintains that the Tanakh is much, much more than merely beautiful literature.
 In this vein, religiously disposed literary critics, such as T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis, expressed reservations with regard to academic literary study of the Tanakh. See T. S. Eliot, Religion and Literature, in Selected Essays (1950), p. 343, and C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (1954), p. 214.
 This is starkly articulated in a poem entitled Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982): A Poem should not mean. But be.
 An approach in which literature has no meaning, and exists merely for its own sake, naturally rejects theological readings. Religious students are not the sole proponents of rejecting this aspect of New Criticism. Robert Alter, Introduction to the Old Testament, in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (eds.), The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987), p. 15, asserts that it is the exception in any culture for literary invention to be a purely aesthetic activity. Writers put together words in a certain pleasing order partly because the order pleases but also, very often, because the order helps them refine meanings, make meanings more memorable, more satisfyingly complex, so that what is well wrought in language can more powerfully engage the world of events, values, human and divine ends. The English critic F. R. Leavis, who shared many critical beliefs with the school of New Criticism, nevertheless stressed the value of moral education in textual interpretation. See, e.g., M. Gray, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (1994), pp. 159, 195-196.
 Moreover, to deny the search for any historical background to biblical books, as New Critics would have it, is to deny that these books were written with any theological-historical intentions.
 Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy (1979), p. 80, points out the drawback of an approach that only partially adopts a particular literary theory. Nonetheless, he enlists Paul Ricoeur in advocating the possibility of employing the terminology of a theory without embracing its entire ideological infrastructure.
 To offer just one example, in shiur #21, I examined the remarkably parallel structure of chapters two and three. While this is a significant literary structural point, I posited that it is not merely an aesthetic embellishment. Instead, it suggests, quite elegantly, the flowchart that illustrates that characters provide food and the promise of children to another character. This, in turn, reveals Ruths role as a mediator and Boazs role as the one who metes out Gods blessings. Both of these roles prepare us for their consummate role as progenitors of kingship.
 This is not always the case. A beraita at the end of Berakhot cites thirty-two methods used by R. Eliezer the son of R. Yose HaGalili in studying aggada. See Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 20, where he brings as an example of one of these methodologies a case in which an elliptic narrative may be explained by another more detailed one. The midrash in this case points to Yechezkel 28, which provides information about the Garden of Eden unknown from the narrative in Bereishit. For other examples, see Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 92; Devarim 942.
 Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981), p. 11.
 Sota 10b; Bereishit Rabba 84:19.
 See, e.g., Y. Zakovitch, Mikraot Be-Eretz Ha-Marot (2001), p. 12, where Zakovitch cites Chazals extensive familiarity with analogies.
 Bereishit Rabba 87:6.
 Bereishit Rabba 40:6.
 Bereishit Rabba 63:8.
 E.g. Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer 46.
 E.g. Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Naso 4.
 E.g. Berakhot 28b, where Chazal note that the name of God appears eighteen times in Tehillim 29, corresponding to the eighteen blessings in the Shemona Esrei.
 E.g. Berakhot 10a, where Chazal advance the notion that those psalms that were beloved to David opened and closed with the word ashrei. (An intriguing, but tangential, point is that this statement assumes that chapters one and two in Tehillim were regarded as one chapter.)
 E.g. Bereishit Rabba 80:10, which astutely observes that it is meaningful to refer to Shimon and Levi as the brothers of Dina (Bereishit 34:25). This midrash makes similar observations with regard to other similar modifiers, such as Miriams depiction as the sister of Aharon (Shemot 15:20).
 E.g. Ruth Rabba 7:12. See shiur #32, where I discussed the different ambiguous biblical phrases examined in this midrash.
 E.g. Shemot Rabba 1:33, which observes that three couples meet by a well in Tanakh. See also shiur # 16.
 Chazals use of wordplays may be observed in the al tikrei homiletical readings. See e.g. Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 1:3.
 One of my favorite examples involves the creative etymology of Elimelekhs name found in Ruth Rabba 2:5. While at first glance the etymology seems to wreak havoc with its simple meaning, a closer examination suggests that Chazal were contrasting Elimelekh and Ruth, a contrast intended to explain the very reason that Elimelekh cannot produce kingship while Ruth must and does! This is a superb example of midrashic creativity that cuts to the very heart of the narrative. See shiur #7.
 See R. Shalom Carmys essay, A Room with a View, but a Room of our Own, Tradition 28:3 (1994), pp. 39-69. His formulation of this methodology may be slightly different than my adaptation of this term, as he places greater emphasis upon the historical context of the biblical narratives. Nevertheless, I think that it is an accurate term to describe my methodology. Moreover, I do not believe that I have strayed very far from R. Carmys original meaning.
 R. Yoel Bin Nun, one of the founders of Herzog College, maintains that there is a direct connection between the development of a new approach to Tanakh and the establishment of modern Israel. He asserts that it is impossible to study Tanakh in the land of Israel as Jews did when they were in the Diaspora prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel. (See R. Bin-Nuns preface to R. Nathaniel Helfgots book, Mikra and Meaning: Studies in Bible and its Interpretation (2012), pp. xv-xix.) While I am not certain that I would adopt such a severe bifurcation, R. Bin-Nuns self-consciously innovative approach is part of the warp and the woof of Herzog College, which has advocated for innovative approaches to Tanakh study alongside traditional readings. However, despite its innovative appearance, I believe that the literary-theological approach that I have employed falls squarely within the continuum of tradition. I have benefited from R. Shalom Carmys approach (A Room with a View, but a Room of our Own), in which he makes a compelling case for building an independent derekh ha-limmud within the context of tradition that does not disregard, and often even incorporates, select features of academic scholarship.
 There is, of course, no one monolithic way to accomplish this synthesis between tradition and academia. Herzog College offers many more avenues of research than the methodology that seeks to combine literary readings and traditional exegesis. One fruitful avenue of research involves the quest to restore the historical context of these Tanakh stories using geographical knowledge, archeological discoveries, and Ancient Near Eastern languages and texts.
Ultimately, this approach will be subject to the test of time to determine its
lasting effect on Jewish scholarship. Nevertheless, its impact may be seen in
the recent publication of several books that have emerged from the halls of
One study that is not connected to the VBM is a recent volume by R. Yitzchak Etshalom, in which he acknowledges his debt to the methodology of Herzog College and its staff. His book, Between the Lines of the Bible (2012), is subtitled, A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary, thereby consciously acknowledging the existence of a new school of Tanakh study. See also Yaakov Beasley, Return of the Pashtanim, Tradition 42 (2009), and Yaakov Blau and Yaakov Beasley, The New School of Bible Study: An Exchange, Tradition 42 (2009).
 A recent volume of Herzog College offers an array of essays by members of its staff that seek to present and disseminate its various methodologies to the public. This volume, Hi Sichati: Al Derekh Limud Ha-Tanakh (Maggid, 2013), which includes essays by R. Aharon Lichtenstein and R. Yoel Bin Nun, was born from the recognition that Herzog Colleges approach involves some measure of significant innovation and, as is the case with all innovations, is not without its detractors. The volume should be understood both as a partial presentation of the methodologies that have emerged from Herzog College and a defense of their place within a traditional continuum of studying Tanakh.