Was Yosef on the Spectrum

March 24, 2020

Professor Majia Nadesan ● Canadian Journal of Disability Studies

What is autism? Although autism is ultimately a diagnostic category, people who exhibit symptoms we now label as autistic are not restricted to the modern era (see e.g. Houston & Frith, 2000). Detailed historical analyses of the concept of autism have described a constellation of symptoms that were formally delineated and medicalized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but pre-existed contemporary nosologies (e.g. Hacking, 2009; Nadesan, 2005; Waltz, 2013).

People experienced as “different” in their communication and social pragmatics have troubled normative expectations across recorded history. Samuel Levine’s Was Yosef on the Spectrum: Understanding Joseph Through Tora, Midrash, and Classical Jewish Sources argues that Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel from the Book of Genesis, was possibly autistic. Diagnosing people retrospectively as autistic raises complex “hermeneutic” or interpretive questions, including the possibility that our selective readings and attributions of recorded histories reveal more about our current concerns than past realities. Yet, while acknowledging this post-modern possibility of non-retrievable origins, the hermeneutic tradition offers a dialogic framework for understanding the mingling of the past and the present using the idea of a textual fusions of horizons (Gadamer, 2011). Roughly, the hermeneutic tradition holds that each reading of a historical text links the past and present, with the potential for a better understanding of the (“intersubjective” or social) self and its project forward. It is in the spirit of this hermeneutics that Levine’s text finds contemporary relevance.

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Was Yosef on the Spectrum – new review

March 10, 2020

Professor Ian Hale, PhD, FCIS ● Author of Asperger’s, Autism & You and The Insider’s Guide to Autism and Asperger’s

Samuel Levine is a prominent New York Law Professor and foremost Judaic scholar. He has written a unique and important book. It conjoins both factual Biblical history with modern neuroscience and psychology to tell us part of the yet unacknowledged story of the history of Autism. This book is special, it must be read.

Titled Was Yosef on the Spectrum?, published by Urim Publications, he combines his extensive knowledge of Rabbinical commentary up to the present day; with the Torah, the Talmud, and Autism producing a unique insight linking our past with the future. The Yosef referred to is the one from the book of Genesis.

Yosef was youngest son of Jacob, also known as Israel. He is best known as the wearer of The Coat of Many Colours, given to him by his father as a mark of his special status of wisdom from his youngest years and as the interpreter of dreams, much to the envy of his older brothers who plotted against him and sold him into slavery. After enduring many hardships Yosef rose to find favor with Pharaoh to become his chief adviser and wisest counselor. He was the visionary who saw the significance of his dream of seven lean cows consuming seven fat ones. He told Pharaoh it prophesized seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine throughout the lands of Egypt. Taking his advice, Pharaoh was careful to store the seven years of good harvests which saved his Kingdom from the famine Yosef had foretold.

During his life Yosef showed many of the now-recognized characteristics of an Autistic person. His determination, his special ability to identify and focus on important things, while being poor at the mundane and social aspects of life, which caused him many problems-but he never gave up, eschewing love of power, thinking always of the common good above himself. His strong sense of compassion (he forgave his brothers and made sure his family was looked after), his love of nature and care for people and animals, his fearlessness, his strong sense of justice and total unfailing loyalty to friends, even in adversity, and perhaps most tellingly, his “different brain” which allowed him to see what others couldn’t. It is precisely those characteristics which, today are so sought after by major corporations like Microsoft, IBM and SAP. Autistic people are special with their special, “mystic” skills and non-standard hyper-connection to creation and intelligences.

In recognizing this, we all owe a special debt to Prof Levine. This not just an account of the past, but a proven understanding of the present and a prophesy of Prof Levine himself to us all-here and now of a potentially glorious future. It is also a warning against ignoring what God has given to us with his gift of Autism to those He has chosen.

It is with real joy that I recommend this book without reservation to every reader who seeks true knowledge on all of the many subjects covered. It is a story of triumph against seemingly impossible odds (something all too many Autistic people and their families face today) and a message of hope. Truly one of the most outstanding reads of this, new century. It deserves seven stars.


Joseph on Joseph: The Rav’s take on the Tzaddik

February 17, 2013

by Alan Jay GerberVisions and Leadership

The subject of the life’s journey of Joseph, Yosef Hatzaddik, is the subject of weekly Torah readings till the end of December, which includes the festival of Chanukah.

This week’s essay focuses on the work Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses [Ktav Publishing House, 2013] by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, Dr. David Shatz, and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky for the Toras HaRav Foundation.

This review deals with the Rav’s take on Joseph.

According to Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, the Rav identified with Joseph, not just because they both had the same name and because Joseph was misunderstood by his siblings. Rabbi Soloveitchik identified with Joseph mainly because he was a dreamer and Joseph demonstrated, throughout his life’s experience in Egypt, that one can remain a loyal Jew even while living in the most advanced society of that era. Further, both were to spend their life’s work interacting within their respective societies at the highest levels.

Much in this work points to the Rav’s highlighting Joseph’s activities as parallel to the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people.

In the Rav’s essay, “Joseph The Dreamer” he observes: “As Jews, we have a living memory which spans centuries and millennia. We also have an awareness of a common destiny. The past is real to us; the future is also real – as real as the past. Basically, this memory of the past, together with anticipation of the future, are two experiences of brothers. And since Jews are brothers, that is what unites us: the common past and the common future.”

This common bond, when joined with trust, has forged for Jews, throughout history, the binding force that assured for us that collective strength that has guaranteed our existence through the ages.

The relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh was predicated upon the wise advice that Joseph gave the monarch that led to the continued economic integrity of the Egyptian governance. Consider the following interpretation of Joseph’s words by the Rav:“However, there is a way to avoid the distress and disaster which will be caused by the seven cows, and that is the Read the rest of this entry »


Publishers Weekly on Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses

January 6, 2013

From Publishers Weekly:Visions and Leadership

With this 11th installment in the series, Soloveitchik’s previously unpublished material on biblical luminaries Joseph and Moses comes to light. Shatz, Wolowelsky, and Ziegler combed through the treasure trove of manuscripts, tapes, and lectures left by the Rav, as Soloveitchik was affectionately called by his students, to arrange this meticulous collection of thoughts and insights. In it, Soloveitchik shares his analyses of Joseph as dreamer and ruler; his assessment of Joseph’s father Jacob/Israel as both subservient and powerful; and the roles Moses played as judge and king, among other topics. As with his other works, the Rav’s erudition is evident, and the personal stories that are woven into his biblical exegesis reinforce his assertion that the Bible’s stories and its layers of interpretation have informed the psyche of the Jewish nation throughout history and still resonate today. Bible scholars and followers of the Rav will certainly appreciate this important volume.


Joseph on Joseph: The Rav’s take on the Tzaddik

December 11, 2012

by Alan Jay GerberVisions and Leadership

The subject of the life’s journey of Joseph, Yosef Hatzaddik, is the subject of weekly Torah readings till the end of December, which includes the festival of Chanukah.

This week’s essay focuses on the work “Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses” [Ktav Publishing House, 2013] by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, Dr. David Shatz, and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky for the Toras HaRav Foundation.

This review deals with the Rav’s take on Joseph.

According to Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, the Rav identified with Joseph, not just because they both had the same name and because Joseph was misunderstood by his siblings. Rabbi Soloveitchik identified with Joseph mainly because he was a dreamer and Joseph demonstrated, throughout his life’s experience in Egypt, that one can remain a loyal Jew even while living in the most advanced society of that era. Further, both were to spend their life’s work interacting within their respective societies at the highest levels.

Much in this work points to the Rav’s highlighting Joseph’s activities as parallel to the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people.

In the Rav’s essay, “Joseph The Dreamer” he observes: “As Jews, we have a living memory which spans centuries and millennia. We also have an awareness of a common destiny. The past is real to us; the future is also real – as real as the past. Basically, this memory of the past, together with anticipation of the future, are two experiences of brothers. And since Jews are brothers, that is what unites us: the common past and the common future.”

This common bond, when joined with trust, has forged for Jews, throughout history, the binding force that assured for us that collective strength that has guaranteed our existence through the ages.

The relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh was Read the rest of this entry »