I've discovered that I love my new yeshiva (Yeshivat Petah Tiqwa). One of my rabbis is giving a shiur based on Professor Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction" (about how the traditional Jewish mimetic tradition has been replaced by hyper-textualism, giving rise to Haredism and humra-ism), and after that, he wants to teach Professor Moshe Samet's writings on the sociology of Haredism and humra. That tells you a lot right there.
On three separate occasions, three different rabbis pulled me over privately to ask me about who I am, what makes me me, etc. Now, that right there is exceptional.
But furthermore, when one of the rabbis asked me about any religious struggles or difficulties I've had, I bared all. I told him how about six or so months after I first came to yeshiva three years ago (so I had been a baal teshuva for two-and-a-half years when the following started occurring), I started having some doubts about the prophetic character of Sefer Daniel. That is, the book bears unmistakable similarity to the early-Second-Temple era apocalyptic works, with the geula being an ahistorical rupture from the heavens, whereas the prophets usually depict geula as a historical process that concludes natural and ongoing evolutionary and historical and sociological human development of civilization. In fact, if you read Daniel simply, without inserting any inexplicable lapses in time, the book seems to depict the geula as dovetailing the Maccabean wars of Hanuka. Moreover, the imagery of Daniel - glimpses of heaven, etc. - bears striking resemblence to the Hazalic Heikhalot literature (think: four entered Pardes) and the Essenic/Qumran/Proto-Christian mysticism from which Qabala seems to have heavily borrowed. You see that in one fell swoop, I've umpugned the authenticity of Daniel, Qabala, and Hazalic Ma'aseh Merkavah/Bereshit.
Moreover, Daniel is the first unequivocal statement of tehiat ha-meitim in the Tanakh. Isaiah makes some vague references, but nothing truly substantive. In fact, if you read Tehillim, it seems that the Psalmist was not even sure whether dead results in anything but a dark shadowy Sheol, typical of Near-Eastern mythology in general. Surely, there was some afterlife - Avraham was gathered to his fathers even though they were buried in Babylonia but he in Makhpelah - but the Psalmist seems to be pitifully asking G-d if anything but the netherworld awaits him. And since I've impugned Daniel, its statement of tehiat ha-meitim is of no avail to me. In fact, critical scholars seem to consider Daniel part of the Hasmonean-era apocalyptic literature as found in the Apocrypha, and they regard tehiat ha-meitim as an innovation perhaps indebted to Zoroastrianism, but certainly dating to no sooner than the Babylonian exile in any case. As for the afterlife in general, they attribute the differences in Prophetic ( = Sheol) and Hazalic ( = Olam ha-Ba, Gan Eden for the tzadiqim, etc.) understanding to influence of Greek philosophy on the latter.
Indeed. Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz (of Hertz Pentateuch fame), in his Siddur, says, in his commentary on the 13 Principles, that Jews have believed in tehiat ha-meitim ever since the Maccabean period. In one of his shul sermons on Yom Kippur (printed in his Early and Late, collected sermons and writings), he says that according to scholars, Daniel was written during a period of martyrdom and gave inspiration to Jews to martyr themselves for the sake of Judaism. In his scholarly study of Qabala and Jewish mysticism (printed in his Sermons, Addresses, and Studies), he conflates Daniel with the Maccabean-era apocalyptic literature, contrasting them both togther at once with Prophetic literature. If we put all this together, it seems clear that Rabbi Hertz regarded both Daniel and tehiat ha-meitim as Maccabean-era innovations. Daniel was written during a period of martyrdom (the Maccabean period!), and Jews have believed in tehiat ha-meitim only since that period. (What is so amazing is that an Orthodox rabbi such as he was can feel comfortable saying all this!)
Regarding Daniel's authenticity, cf. what Rabbi Emanuel Rackman writes in One Man's Judaism, p. 276 in the 1970 Philosophical Library edition:
It may be heresy to deny the possibility of prophetic prediction, but it is not heresy to argue about authorship [of Biblical books] on the basis of objective historical and literary evidence.See further on this in my Scientific Developments that Contradict the Torah: Do Not Have a Kneejerk Reaction.
I vaguely remember in Professor Ephraim Urbach's Hazal/The Sages, he brings an example of one of the Hazalic rabbis buying some old scroll he found on apocalyptic topics, a scroll whose authorship the rabbi didn't even know, buying it from some non-Jewish Roman soldier who had himself found it only G-d-knows-where, and the rabbi started quoting it like the gospel. Professor Urbach says that save for some isolated examples - Rabbi Akiva's support of the naturalistic bar Kokhba rebellion, or the geula being like the slowly rising sun in Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:1 - Hazal tended to have a very apocalyptic understanding of geula not so different from that of the Essenes or the Proto-Christians or what have you, a very un-Prophetic understanding.
So for a few months, all of this greatly troubled me, and I lost no small number of hours of sleep, lying await troubled by all this. Eventually, I came to terms with it all, and convinced myself that I'm not a heretic, but for a few months, I was quite troubled. I told all this to the rabbi at Petah Tiqwa, and told him that I still believe everything I said above - albeit I'm in doubt, and not sure of anything one way or the other, whether Zoroastrianism and Hellenism influenced Jewish eschatology, whether Daniel is authentic, etc. - and he didn't bat an eye. He didn't seem the slightest bit surprised or perturbed. That comforted me.
I might remark briefly on how I finally became comfortable with all this: first, I had some discussions with Professor Yaakov Elman at YU, an expert in the intersection of the Talmud and Zoroastrianism in Persia. I asked him about all the preceding, and he replied that frankly, he didn't think I was ready for his answer. What he did say is that one must discard any romantic or comforting notions of Judaism being pristen and free of non-Jewish influence. But even though Elman gave me no answers, I took his stern statement to heart, that Judaism is not free of foreign influence. Furthermore, the fact that he knew all this that I've said up till now, and so much more, and yet he is still frum, comforted me. Even though I didn't yet know the answers, I was comforted that the answers were out there somewhere.
Later, I discovered some of those answers myself. I was helped by Professor Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology. In the introduction, we see that according to everyone but Rambam, unintentional heresy (kefira b'shogeg) is not true heresy; only intentional heresy (b'meizid) is true heresy, when the person says, "I know the Torah/Judaism says this, but I disagree and say that". But I'm not doing this; I'm saying that I think that the original Sinaitic Judaism and Torah, in the form of Isaiah and Tehillim, might disagree with what later Judaism - such as Daniel and Hazal - said. That is, I'm not disagreeing with Judaism per se, but rather, I'm disagreeing with different understandings of what Judaism says. I don't say, "Judaism says Daniel and tehiat ha-meitim are authentic, and I disagree with Judaism"; rather, I say, "I'm not sure whether Judaism demands that I believe in Daniel and tehiat ha-meitim". Even if I'm wrong, my heresy is not intentional, for I believe what I honestly believe Judaism demands that I believe, and I am not consciously and deliberately disagreeing with Judaism per se. (I am, however, disagreeing with what some say that Judaism believes.)
In fact, thanks to my beloved and much-cherished former havruta, Yosef "Yosele" Vardakis (my love for him is like the guy-love between J. D. and Turk on Scrubs), I heard a corrobation of these thoughts of mine, from a shiur by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, "A Great Jewish Idea" (January 2008), http://www.cardozoschool.org/audio.asp --> http://www.csstorage.org/audio/downloadaudio.php?audio=18 OR http://www.csstorage.org/audio/big.m3u. I haven't listened to the whole shiur, but only to the small section I about to refer to. This begins at 44:30, where Cardozo says, "Concerning the Yud-Gimel Ikkarim...". Cardozo there says that despite Perek Helek, it is not clear to him that the Prophets (chiefly Isaiah and Ezekiel) intended a literal (as opposed to allegorical) tehiat ha-meitim, and so he cannot say that one must believe in it literally. Moreover, he says, he doesn't see the issue as being important enough to make it a dogma in the first place, contra Hazal and Rambam. That is, even though Hazal and Rambam declare one a heretic for doubting tehiat ha-meitim, Cardozo is inclined to possibly disagree with them both, regarding what Judaism says. And even if tehiat ha-meitim is a dogma, he isn't sure whether he must believe in it literally (as per Hazal), or only allegorically (as per the doubtful reading in Isaiah and Ezekiel that can be read an an allegory and not as a literal prediction of what will happen).
Furthermore, as we see in Professor Shapiro's introduction to Limits, Rabbi Haim Hirschensohn held that heresy must be manifested in deed to be true heresy, and Rav Kook, following Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, says that only unequivocal declarations, not mere equivocal doubt and uncertainty, are heresy. According to either, I am not a heretic.
Moreover, in Shapiro's chapter in Limits on tehiat ha-meitim, we see that according to many of Rambam's contemporaries and those after him, Rambam himself did not believe in tehiat ha-meitim. Rambam in his letter on tehiat ha-meitim says that he does believe in it, but many held that Rambam was being disingenuous, and trying to hide his true views. And yet, while they sharply disagreed with Rambam (assuming they were understanding him correctly), they didn't consider him a heretic. Rambam perhaps thought that tehiat ha-meitim was meant allegorically, but even if he was wrong, he was not a heretic (according to the non-Rambamists, who hold that accidental heresy is not heresy). Shapiro also shows that Rabbi Hertz, and another recent Orthodox rabbi whose name escapes me at the moment, both held that tehiat ha-meitim was not literally meant. Both, in fact, hold tehiat ha-meitim to be a post-Sinaitic innovation (perhaps of the Persian era?), and yet both were Orthodox rabbis good standing!
Additionally, there in Limits, Shapiro notes that according to Rabbi Yosef Kafih, the renowned Yemenite expert on Rambam, and a conservative Maimonidean himself no less (i.e. Kafih himself holds by Rambam and believes only what he believes Rambam believed, and doesn't merely study abstractly and distinterestedly what he thinks Rambam held), tehiat ha-meitim means only that the body itself is resurrected, even as the soul remains in heaven. Now, Shapiro notes, this makes tehiat ha-meitim absolutely senseless and meaningless. If so, what is it? Shapiro suggests that the significance of tehiat ha-meitim is not that G-d will resurrect the dead, but that He can. Indeed, in Sanhedrin, most of the Hazalic polemics strive to show not that G-d will, but that He can. For example, one rabbi remarks that if G-d created you after you had never existed, surely He can recreate you after you've once existed already. Now, even if I personally doubt whether tehiat ha-meitim will occur, I certainly acknowledge that G-d can do it! According to Shapiro's expository departure (as opposed to simple interpretation of author's intention - see my Post-Modern Interpretation of Texts, especially s. v. "Recently, Rabbi David bar Hayim taught Rav Kook's hakdama to his Ein Ayah") from Kafih, I am not a heretic.
P. S. A Qaraite friend of mine, James Walker, said to me,
To your issues with immortality of the soul (which I actually sympathize and agree with), you might find it interesting that the popular appeal of accepting Pharisaic rulings was directly linked to their teachings about the soul and the spirit world, as Yosef ben Matithyah noted in Antiq. XVIII.1.3:Frankly, I don't know enough to answer the question.
"...They [viz. the Pharisees] also believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrines they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people...".
Just again, since you're the first Yeshivah Bachur I've ever spoken with on this level, what are your thoughts on this, given the apocalyptic millieu of the late 2nd Temple era? (Keep in mind the Bnei Tsadoq resisted this doctrine, as did pre-Rabbinic scholars like Ben Sira.)