Malbim (Meir Leibush Weisser, 1809-1879) was one of the most industrious biblical exegetes in Jewish history—providing exhaustive commentaries to all but two of the twenty four volumes of the Hebrew Bible. Previous scholarship has treated him as a polemical figure—seeing him as part of a school of exegetical apologists for rabbinic tradition, who offers idiosyncratic interpretive reactions to assaults from the burgeoning movement of the Haskalah and Jewish Reform. The premise of this work is that something deeper defines and comprises Malbim’s biblical commentaries: Malbim is an anti-romantic who harnesses Scripture to teach his readers, in a consistent and systematic way, to steer clear of the romantic spirit and work toward intellectual purity and a sense of duty beyond the self. The first chapter will outline the multiple crises that arose as a result of Jewish emancipation—from the political and social to the hermeneutic and exegetical—and detail which crises most effected the traditional Jewish communities, and how. The second chapter, through a survey and analysis of Malbim’s eight biblical introductions, will show that—in contrast to views taken by traditional contemporaries—he saw the romantic appropriation of Scripture as a far more alarming threat than the one looming over the ostensibly irrational character of rabbinic tradition. This chapter will exhibit the three central pillars of Malbim’s biblical hermeneutics—which define what he perceives as a divine dialect—concision, precision, and sublimity. The third chapter will survey and analyze three of Malbim’s early sermons, in an effort to unpack the central ethical and theological teachings that make up Malbim’s notion of sublimity—and the fourth chapter will show how those teachings inflect his exegesis in ways that are evident though unseen. The unseen yet influential quality of these teachings is what leads me to describe them, using a cosmological metaphor, as Malbim’s ‘dark matter’ (an invisible substance that exerts a huge impact on the physical dynamics of the cosmos)—as these teachings, though never self-evident in Scripture or laid out systematically in Malbim’s exegesis, lead him to take unique exegetical avenues to resolve marked hermeneutical problems, often against the grain of the text and in opposition to his Jewish predecessors and romantic contemporaries. In sum, this work argues that Malbim is, more than a traditional polemicist, an exegetical pedagogue.




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