THE PATH OF TORAH: The Introduction to Ha'amek She'elah
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by Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (The Netziv)
Translated and Annotated by Rabbi Elchanan Greenman
Hardcover, 394 pages
ISBN 13: 978-965-524-030-6
Darkah Shel Torah, also known as Kadmas Ha’amek, was originally published as a preface to the Netziv’s magnum opus, Ha’amek Sh’alah. This work, consisting of three sections, strives to demonstrate how the true path of Torah becomes realized through the proper application of analysis and the development of the proper character and attitude for discovering God’s truth. With such an approach, the Jew becomes closest to God through the study of Torah, as both the Jewish Nation and the Torah emanate from the same Divine source.
To facilitate understanding, this translation contains numerous footnotes that cite the Netziv’s other works, the sources he used, as well as explanations of the Netziv’s numerous references. Summaries have been provided to guide the reader in the more difficult chapters.
About the Translator
Rabbi Elchanan (Arnold) Greenman studied Talmud and Codes for
four years with Rav Aharon Soloveichik at Yeshivas Brisk of Chicago, where
he received his rabbinic ordination in June, 1977. Rabbi Greenman has a
B.S. in Physics and a M.S. in Computer Science and has presented technical
papers in the area of space robotics. He served as a kollel and faculty
member for three years at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and has
continued to teach adult and young adult classes for more than 20 years, in
Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA and Houston, TX. Rabbi Greenman has
provided significant assistance to the Jewish law segments of various
comparative law articles coauthored by Yale and Irene Rosenberg, chaired
law professors at the University of Houston Law Center. Even though
Rabbi Greenman has been employed as an engineer for the International
Space Station for almost 20 years, and is currently the Lead Engineer for
Software Quality Engineering, his first love is Torah study and he has a
special interest in the writings of HaRav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin,
commonly referred to as the “Netziv.” He and his wife Betty reside in
Houston, TX and have eight children and two grandsons.
Praise for The Path of the Torah:
"In perusing your translation of the Netziv's important essay on "Darkah shel Torah" originally published as an introduction to his great scholarly work "Haamek Sheala on the Shealtos D.R. Achai Gaon" I am impressed by your excellent translation. The copious and learned footnotes demonstrate a meticulous attention to Rabbinic scholarship in all of its ramifications. This work which now becomes available in English is worthy of being published and disseminated as a source of study and inspiration for the understanding of Torah learning."
-Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Legacy of the Netziv: “The Path of Torah”
Just the name, the Netziv, HaRav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin zt”l, should give a shiver of awe and inspiration to any knowledgeable Jew. His life’s story, as reflected in “My Uncle The Netziv” [ArtScroll, 1988] by his nephew, Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein, the Torah Temimah, tells the story of the quintessential Rosh Yeshiva and Gadol Hador.
While the book is unfortunately long out of print, if you can get a copy it would be worth the effort to revisit the author’s take of his illustrious uncle. It reads remarkably like a novel that offers the reader an intimate view of the Netziv, with insights and eye-opening historical revelations that cast the subject as not only a gifted spiritual leader, but a sensitive human being with faults that needed attending to and problems that had to be addressed. All this is reflected in the book, which merits your attention and appreciation of a true leader of our people.
While “My Uncle the Netziv” may be a bit hard to obtain, I am happy to inform you that a classic book by the Netziv, long ignored and, by now, unknown, has just been published in English translation. The new edition of “The Path of Torah” [Urim Publications, 2009] is now available in most Jewish bookstores. It bears a rare approbation by one of our country’s leading rabbinical scholars, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the Av Beth Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
Under its original title, “Darkah Shel Torah,” it served originally as an introduction to the Netziv’s “Haamek Sheala” dealing with the responsa of Achai Gaon. The translator, Rabbi Elchanan Greenman of Houston, has done a masterful job in bringing us a three-part book with 43 chapters that span a range of topics on Halacha, history as you have never experienced in yeshiva, aggadic material and mussar. The footnoting is extensive as merits so scholarly a work, with a corrected Hebrew text positioned around the English rendition.
Rabbi Greenman states that he undertook this work “because it is a work of profound significance that has largely been ignored and misunderstood. After completing the translation, I realized that it is unique in providing several examples of the Vilna Gaon’s pilpul method, the first time that such complete examples have been made available in English.”
The Netziv was known to write in a poetic style that, in translation, can obscure the meaning of the text and hamper comprehension by the modern reader. Rabbi Greenman was cognizant of this literary problem and has effectively given the text a new cast that avoids this stylistic handicap. The text is lucid and easy to read despite its complicated content. He not only succeeds admirably, he has set a new standard for establishing a responsible “flexibility” to be emulated in the future by others confronted with similar difficulties.
Rabbi Greenman studied under Rav Aharon Soloveichik at the Yeshiva Brisk of Chicago where he received his rabbinic ordination in June 1977. He also has a B.S. in Physics and a M.S. in Computer Science. For over two decades Rabbi Greenman has been employed as an engineer for the International Space Station and is currently the lead engineer for Software Quality Engineering. Despite this, Rabbi Greenman’s first love has always been the study of Torah and a specific interest in the writings and teachings of the Netziv. The work under review is a reflection of his life’s work in this field.
This book is not for casual reading. Nevertheless, it merits your serious attention given the inherent spiritual value of its content and the integrity of its sainted author.
-Alan Jay Gerber
The Jewish Star
Elchanan Greenman has made a welcome contribution to scholarship by translating “The Path of Torah” by Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, commonly known by the acronym of part of his name Netziv or HaNetziv. Greenman includes extensive clarifying insertions into the text, adds many explanatory footnotes, and improves the flow of Netziv’s writings by removing fifteen discussions from the text and placing them as addendums.
Netziv (1817-1893), a highly respected rabbi, headed the famous Yeshiva (Academy) of Volozhin for some forty years, while Volozhin was part of Russia. His writings are very complex, filled with poetic illusions and biblical passages that are mixed into Netziv’s interpretations. There are frequent digressions.
Netziv leans toward the mystical, frequently amorphous and ambiguous notions of Nachmanides, who he quotes frequently. His view of life is other-worldly and Neo-Platonic. His logic is intuitive and not deductive. He purposely combines the plain meaning of the biblical text with its midrashic interpretations. His writings are sermonic. These methods of writing and thinking might confuse many readers and therefore Greenman’s extensive clarifications are very helpful.
The Path of Torah served as one of two prefaces to Netziv’s Ha’amek She’elah, which could be translated as “Deep Questions.” The preface is divided into three parts of eighteen, thirteen, and twelve short chapters. Rabbi Greenman adds two chapters from the other preface to Ha’amek She’elah called Pesah Ha’amek, “the preface to Ha’amek,” which deal with the importance of charity and Torah study.
The first part of The Path of Torah focuses on pilpul. Netziv offers his understanding how pilpul was transmitted since the days of Moses. His method is not true history, but deductions from various biblical verses that he sees hinting at the historical transmission of pilpul.
Pilpul is a method of study that was and is fashionable in many rabbinical academies. It is a method that some people call sophistry, clever attempts to explain the Torah that show the acuteness of the pilpulist, but frequently fails to clarify the Torah. Netziv rejected this method of study, but continued to use the term with a different definition, to denote the Oral Torah that Moses gave the people without writing it down.
Netziv’s second part emphasizes the need for Jews to delve deeply into the Torah. He is apparently speaking about the need to discover the Oral Law within the Written Torah, for, as stated earlier, he does not differentiate the two; there is only one Torah. Some of his ideas are thought provoking even if one considers them counter-intuitive. For example, he states that if Israel did not sin, God would have only given Jews six biblical books and not twenty-four. The six are the five books of Moses and Joshua. Other ideas may strike people as strange, but they are psychologically reasonable. For example, he states that Jews should study not only the views of the rabbis that are the halakhah, but also the non-halakhic ideas, because people can understand the correct idea better is they also know the non-correct view. He also insists, as do modern scholars, that people should study the primary sources and not depend upon secondary sources to know what the ancients said.
By doing this, Netziv was among a unique group. He studied and wrote commentaries on the ancient writings, including the writings of the Gaonim, while most yeshivot taught and still teach only the Babylonian Talmud.
Netziv’s third part discusses the ramifications of limited intelligence. Should a person, for instance, work hard to learn more than what doctors tell him he can understand? Netziv answers “yes.” He emphasizes in this part that Moses gave pilpul (the Oral Law) to the Israelites “to ensure their survival in exile,” for Moses, he writes, knew that his people would be exiled in about a half dozen centuries from Israel.
While Netziv’s book is difficult to follow and many people may disagree with his worldview, Greenman has done a very fine job of making this respected work assessable.
The Jewish Eye