There is, it seems to me, a fundamental disconnect between the way that Israeli and American trained historians go about their business. Israeli scholars, at least those in Jewish Studies, are trained to be first rate philologians. Manuscripts, text reconstruction, and philological analysis are their bread and butter. That, surely, is as it should be. After all, how can one possibly say anything about the past if the supporting evidence is not firmly determined? In other words, if you don't know what the past said, how can you report it, much less evaluate it?
That having been said, I can't shake the feeling that many of my Israeli colleagues (who I hold in the highest regard) pay a very high price for their heavy emphasis upon manuscript work. Somehow, it seems to manacle them. So much effort goes into philology, that there is not enough time to acquire other, equally important, skills that would allow them to properly interpret the sources over which they pore. To begin with, there is not enough of a sense that one must read widely and deeply in order to develop the kind of literary and historical sensitivity that texts require. That demands fluency in languages other than Hebrew (and a bit of English). For medievalists, it requires German, French, Italian and Latin (at least). The reading material requires primary sources in those languages, not only skimming some scholarly articles.
In other words, one needs to cast a wide net, in order to comprehend the text in front of you. One needs intellectual and cultural perspective, openness to other disciplines. If one confines oneself, to iron-clad time frames and specific literary genres, one runs the risk of being trapped in a methodological box, when scholarship actually demands that one think out of the box, in an attempt to see the larger picture. That type of box also leads to less than deep thinking and analysis, and a subsequent misrepresentation of the past. [Everything, of course, has its limits and those who go to the opposite extreme (e.g. nefarious PoMo'ists like Shlomo Zand) also miss the point. Media aurea, you know.]
Now, obviously, no one can know everything. That does not, however, excuse scholars from becoming literate in field outside of their area of specialization. Yet, that it exactly the problem with the way that Israeli scholarship is organized, to everyone's detriment. Talmud is not allowed to mix with History; Literature with Philosophy; Economics with Education and so on. Whoever organized this system forgot that while one must obviously pick one's focus, life itself is integrated and complex. The result is very much like the Indian fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. The only difference is that scholars with blinders don't really share ideas and insights. So they're not only blind, but deaf and mute, as well.
I believe that the Israeli academic emphasis on text is essentially sound. It certainly is better than the abject lack of Hebrew literacy and textual skills that mark far too many Jewish studies professionals abroad. Nevertheless, it's time to remove the blinders, open our ears and mouths.
The ones to help with this, are those of us who were trained abroad and moved here. Of that, I will write, IY"H, next time.