By Jeffrey Radon
I am the author of the internet site Orthoprax Judaism (www.orthopraxjudaism.com), and the author of a book on the Hebrew Bible Reconciling a Contradictory Abraham (https://www.amazon.com/Reconciling-Contradictory-Abraham-Orthoprax-Anti-Theological/dp/1946124176), and I regard myself as a disciple of Rabbi Israel Drazin. I have never had the privilege of studying in person with Rabbi Drazin, but I regard him as a teacher in that I very much identify with his orientation and approach to the study of the Bible and the Jewish tradition.
In my view, Rabbi Drazin, as an orthodox rabbi, is unique in the orthodox world in representing a small minority who study and teach on the basis of academic research. Oftentimes there are conflicts between the views of academic scholarship and those of widespread orthodox dogma and ideology. Rabbi Drazin’s willingness to study and teach on the basis of academic scholarship expresses a deep spiritual commitment to the pursuit of truth in an intellectual sense – even should such truth contradict widespread orthodox ideology.
Parenthetically, there is no theological dogma in the Bible or in the Talmud, the foundation of the rabbinic tradition. Moreover, there is a Talmudic teaching regarding the Bible “no verse ever loses its plain meaning”. This teaching was evidently a support for midrashic interpretation of Biblical texts by the Talmudic rabbis in which texts were interpreted midrashically not according to their plain meaning – as midrash was an elaboration beyond the plain meaning of texts. However, the Talmudic teaching “no verse loses its plain meaning” implies that we should not forget that we must first attempt to understand what the text itself is teaching before we elaborate beyond what the text is teaching – and, the Talmudic teaching thus gives legitimization to a critical analysis of what texts (Biblical or rabbinic) are teaching from a historical and literary point of view even though such analysis may lead us to interpretations that contradict widely accepted viewpoints.
In the writings of Rabbi Drazin in general, and in his book “Who Really Was the Biblical David?” in particular, Rabbi Drazin exemplifies such a commitment to understanding first and foremost the plain meaning of texts. He is without question a true scholar in the sense of his amazing breadth of knowledge of both primary and secondary sources in the study of the Bible and the Jewish tradition. In his book “Who Really Was the Biblical David?” Rabbi Drazin chapter by chapter analyzes the passages dealing with the life of David from I Samuel 16, when David is first introduced, to the end of I Samuel with the death of King Saul – in bringing to light how the Biblical David is portrayed in the plain meaning of the texts as opposed to midrashic interpretations of the Talmudic rabbis and as opposed to orthodox ideology.
One other thing I would like to add – Rabbi Drazin’s writings in general, and his book “Who Really Was the Biblical David?” in particular, though scholarly in nature, are written in a very readable style, and not in an academic language and convoluted style that is unfortunately (in my eyes) so widespread in the academic world.