Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cite It Correctly!

As a professor of English, one of the things that I teach is accurate/correct citation methodology. Yes, my department is very makpid that ANY material that is not 100% solely the ideas and writing of a student be cited as to source. It is not only directly quoted material that must be cited: paraphrases are also required to be cited as to original source.

What I teach is 100% congruent with Jewish philosophy. We are taught that we must give credit to the source of any ideas or information about which we are writing/speaking. We don't hide behind a nebulous "they" but name names. Just peruse our writings and see the multiple examples that begin "In the name of ______ it is said" or "_______said," or _____ and ____ said."

Why this posting now? There is apparently a bit of a brouhaha about a letter printed in one of the Anglo-Jewish papers. The writer states that he conferred with daas Torah, that he conferred with gedolei Yisroel, and that the people he conferred with are 100% in agreement with him. He states that the rabbanim of the area in question are also all in agreement with his position. What he doesn't do is name names. This leaves the reader of the letter with some problems. If a gadol, if a rabbi is in 100% agreement then why aren't the names of these gedolim and rabbanim stated? Surely an argument would get stronger when respected names are listed as being of the same opinion as the letter writer? You can't offer as support for your position that others also hold that position without naming who these people are. There is no way to verify what the truth is without some black and white facts.

Were a scientist employed by a known research laboratory to offer up a statement that X is absolutely not the correct approach/view about phenomenon Y, and were that scientist to offer up as corroboration the statement "I have conferred with known greats in this field and with others who are also researchers and they support my opinion," he/she would be the laughingstock of the scientific world if no names were mentioned. What scientists and what are their credentials? Un-named scientists just don't make it as expert opinion.

So, why do we accept less in areas that affect us as observant Jews? Daas Torah says? Do we have only one learned person in all of Klal? Is there only one posek whose word is taken above all others? According to whom? It is poorly crafted writing/argument to leave out the names of those who supposedly have given their imprimature to an idea. Who is that masked man behind the mask of "Daas Torah"?


Trudy said...

Call me a cynic but when I read a lot of what is written in the jewish papers I'm not believing all of what I'm reading exactly because of the 'they said' proof that is presented. Either you believe in something enough to have your name go public and connected to an idea or statement or just maybe you don't believe in that thing all that much. What reason could there be in not givinig the names? If you are well known enough to have your views or opinions count then why stop at mentioning names?

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely zero reason to believe ANYTHING said "in the name of gadol x" without hard evidence that said gadol actually (a) actually said what was claimed, and (b) was completely aware of the situation. Period. End of story.

Tangential point: while there is a talmudic concept of omer b'shem omro (attributing a statement to the original sayer), this has not always been followed to contemporary academic standards in our literature: the Rambam and Ramban both extensively quote and paraphrase others without attribution, and the entire genre of pseudopigraphy attests to the inconsistent adoption of this concept.

Anne said...

My father was a pulpit rabbi for many years. When people came to him for a psak he was very careful to tell them that what he was telling them was a psak for them, based on their particular situation and the details they gave him. They could not/should not go and telll someone else that Rabbi B said it's okay to do this or that we have to do this unless they also revealed every single detail of their situation and even then, those other people needed to come and see him personally, not just take somebodys word that the psak was complete and true. When he would give a psak that would hold true for the whole shul then he would get up and say so. He didn't send a messenger to give out the psak.

Not naming your sources is just plain wrong and leads people to believe that you don't actually have those sources or you aren't quoting them completely or what they said doesn't apply where you are applying it.

JS said...


It's quite simple. There's no intellectual honesty. You don't need to state who agrees with you or who supports you. You can throw around phrases like "daas torah" and that is enough. If you question it, you're a kofer. Believing Jews don't question. It's so completely topsy turvy that it's reached that point. The religion of questioning, and people are suspect if they question.

Your analogy to a scientist is apt, but maybe not for the reasons you intended. I don't think it's coincidental that large swaths of the frum world have completely rejected the findings of science or other academic fields. Daas torah, even unattributed daas torah, trumps not only what you can see with your own eyes, but what other people, doing independent investigations, also see with their own eyes. Daas torah trumps the greatest scientists, psychologists, economists, and medical professions.

What is equally amazing is the refrain that two guys sitting in a chavruta and asking questions back and forth is at a higher level of intellectual honesty and academic integrity than the world's leading academic journals.

Tuvi said...

This is even stranger when you consider that the secular world is expert crazy. Everyone wants name recognition, and the more people who know your name and what you profess the better. There is a downside to this also. Get your name way up there, become that well known and everything you say and do will get reported, including when you say or do something that people don't approve of. Could be that some of the hierarchy of klal actually prefer that their names don't get attached to certain statements or announcements just in case they might have to eat their words.

Lion of Zion said...

One who says something in the name of its speaker brings redemption to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), "And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai."

Pirke Avot 6:6

i once heard a rabbi give deliver a drasha in which he discussed the raid on entebbe. it sounded so familiar. i went home and checked. he read it verbatim from telushkin's "Jewish Literacy." i', not a big fan of sermons, but that was last time i ever listened to his