Academic Year 2012-2013
Stephen Hazan Arnoff is the Executive Director of the 14th Street Y, a Jewish Community Center in Manhattan’s East Village and the Founding Director of LABA: The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture (www.labajournal.com). He has served on the leadership teams of the Makor/Steinhardt Center of the 92nd Street Y and Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, and teaches and writes widely on Jewish communal issues, education, religion, and the arts. Recently he contributed chapters to Reading the Boss: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bruce Springsteen (Lexington Books) and Dylan at Play (Cambridge Scholars Press). Stephen received his doctorate in Midrash and Scriptural Interpretation as a Wexner Graduate Fellow and Mandel Jerusalem Fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and lives in New York City with his wife and four children.
You must be Honest:
Bob Dylan, Midrash, Outlaws, and the Law
Based on methodologies for evaluating the ritualized study, memory systems, oral-performance and writing that allowed midrash of Late Antiquity to reinvent biblical law to match the agendas of its time, I will investigate how Bob Dylan as “outlaw” performer and interpreter staked a claim to a moral code beyond contemporary law. Both the rabbis of Late Antiquity and Dylan probed gaps in the legal structure they inherited, hoping to shape an alternative system of norms and meaning for their respective worlds. In each case, this work resulted in deep implications for how society understood law, creativity, and itself.
I will explain Dylan as an outlaw midrashist embodying sociologist Max Weber's "great rebirth of old ideas and ideals" whereby prophetic art reenchants ancient covenants in a modern creative idiom. Explained through midrash methodology, Dylan’s interpretative prophetic voice shines covenantal light upon shadows where legal meaning and purpose have failed.
I hope that this case study of the nexus of creativity and law will offer compelling modes for understanding classical midrash both in its formative context and as a tool for shaping legal and creative meaning today.