Avi Sagi, Tradition vs. Traditionalism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008) $69 short paperback!
The book deals with a pluralistic halakhic approach and was combined together in the Hebrew edition with the book that I discussed below.- here. In English, it is two separate books. I will comment on the book itself next week. However, the book has a short first chapter, newly written after the rest of the essays in the book, that approaches the question of pluralism from the perspective of Gadamer.
He asks: How can the modern Jew appropriate the tradition?
Sagi answers it using his new found readings in currently read books that are beyond his training in analytic philo and existentialism.
His basic answer is that now we can appropriate the tradition in an open ended way based on Gadamer, no more alienation from religion due to modernity or lack of freedom in halakhah. We just read it with open horizons.
I am not sure if he intends to be liberal or conservative and he certainly does not deal with questions of rabbinic and communal authority. It is an existential appropriation of the tradition. I am not sure what I gain here over Franz Rosenzweig.
On Tradition: He has a nice use of Zygmunt Bauman to show the paradox, in which once one speaks of a tradition then the speaker is no longer part of the tradition. Tradition lies in tacit acceptance without justification Bauman claims that the use of the concept tradition is more about the present and future than the past. Speaking of tradition is itself about renewal or the conscious identification with something and ascribing of new meaning. (As a side point, Bauman is essential for most topics these days- why is he taking so long to be integrated into American thought?)
Tradition has 4 parts according to John Thompson- hermeneutical, normative, legitimacy, and identity and all have been broken. (I am not so certain- most people have taken these upon themselves in his/her period of emergent adulthood. And in the post Evangelical age they have all returned.)
Sagi quotes Gadamer’s rejection of Schleiermacher approvingly that we cannot attain the original meaning, therefore it is personal appropriation as something new. Tradition is one of self identity through appropriating ones tradition as one’s own.
I don’t think Sagi gets the radical openness of Heidegger horizons (Compare Fishbane who does get Heidegger)nor the Ricoeur tensions of scholarship, personal, narrative, and revelation.)
Returning to his existentialist favorites, Sagi quotes Kierkegaard one can return on the personal level, to community and to one’s imagines inner home. But, he writes that after Bauman and Gadamer- we don’t return to the actual past but stand in tradition.
He thinks that his approach overcomes the alienation that Peter Berger circa 1972 describes of having no return to the past after modernity. [Does Sagi know that by 1995 Berger rejected this sharp dichotomy and his students, like Christian Smith, are some of the leading researchers into Evangelicalism as a contemporary movement? What of Jose Casanova and Charles Taylor et al?]
Now that we have re-appropriated tradition, we can see that Traditions undergo change – even revolutionary ones. [his proof is Halbertal on tannaic exegesis]. (Don’t I have this from the 1830’s already with Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Schleirmacher? Isn’t this just positive-historical without the philological certainty?
Sagi advocates a post-traditionalism in which tradition is dynamic and changes and is captured in dialogue. We enter into the tradition in dialogue with self, past, community, and a fusion of horizons. No return to the texts themselves. [He seems to conflate hermeneutics of retrieval of scholarship with hermeneutic of personal meaning]Modern Jews can return though a Gadamer tradition, which according to Sagi overcomes modern alienation, allows freedom, and creates choice—a Kierkegaardian freedom to recognize limits and given situation.
So bye bye Wittgenstein closed language- Hello Gadamer.
But wait, he concludes his essay with the question: Don’t religious and secular receive the tradition differently. Are they even sharing the same tradition? Yes, there is a Wittgenstein family resemblance that holds it together. Therefore, we do nothave to worry about different horizons.
I must note that there are 6-7 of you out there that have been sending me long comments and questions by email and not posting. If you want to discuss my rambling then post it.