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Belying the regimented connotation of the word "orthodox," Orthodox Judaism is by far the most diverse stream of Judaism, encompassing such incompatible types as rationalists and mystics, West Bank settlers and peaceniks, college professors and obscurantists, feminists and male chauvinists.

Relevant Links
American Orthodoxy Turns Right  Chaim I. Waxman, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. In a development with significant consequences for the future of Orthodox Judaism, sizable numbers have been adopting a more insular stance. (1998)
American Orthodoxy Turns Left  Alan Brill, Book of Doctrines and Opinions. A decade or so ago, the sociologist Chaim Waxman argued that American Orthodoxy was sliding to the Right; today he contends it is sliding to the Left. Maybe the terms need to be examined.
Orthodoxy and Innovation  Aryeh Tepper, Jewish Ideas Daily. What remains for those dissatisfied with the liturgy but hesitant to say anything lest they undermine larger traditional understandings?
Were the Israelites Enslaved in Egypt?  Michael Carasik, Jewish Ideas Daily. A scholar examines the debate over the literal truth of the Exodus—and receives a debate in return.

Orthodoxy's internal critics, too, come in different varieties.  Recently, two Orthodox rabbis have leveled serious charges against their religious community, one attacking its theology, the other its primary educational thrust.  In important respects they contradict each other.

Norman Solomon is a distinguished British academician, recently retired from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, who whimsically claims to belong to the "skeptical Orthodox."  His latest book, Torah from Heaven, certainly exudes skepticism.  It argues that the central assumption of classical Judaism—the divine origin of Torah—has become so clearly unbelievable in its literal sense that the only way to keep intellectually honest Jews from abandoning Orthodoxy is to reinterpret the doctrine not as fact but as foundational myth.  Solomon, tongue firmly in cheek, tries to reassure the faithful by pointing out that myths are not necessarily false.  But he clearly thinks this one is.

Solomon painstakingly traces the development of the notion of Torah from Heaven as it mushroomed to include not only the divinity of the Five Books of Moses and the somewhat lesser holiness of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, but also a divinely inspired Oral Torah, eventually written down in the Talmud, that explains and elucidates scripture, and rabbinic decrees and interpretations through the generations that are also alleged to embody God's will.  Solomon then surveys the ancient and medieval critiques of the doctrine, which either denied the Oral Law (Sadducees and Karaites) or superseded or replaced both it and the Bible with a new revelation (Christians and Muslims).      

The rabbis dealt with problems of internal contradictions, anthropomorphisms, and apparent moral blemishes in the Torah through what Solomon calls a "reconciling hermeneutic."  Familiar to students of the Talmud, this mode of analysis employs ingenious interpretations of words and phrases and clever juxtaposition of texts to untangle difficulties.  The method was sufficient to satisfy the pre-modern Jewish mind.  But the challenges raised over the last 400 years to the divinity of Torah can no longer be so easily countered, writes Solomon, since we now understand "the relationship between revelation and other sources of knowledge"—archeology, history, anthropology, comparative religion, literary analysis, evolutionary biology.  These disciplines throw into doubt not only the veracity of what is related in the Bible and the authority of the rabbis' Oral Torah but the textual integrity of scripture itself.      

Solomon deftly catalogs the strategies that Orthodox thinkers have adopted to fend off these threats to tradition.  Some—the currently popular ArtScroll publishing project, for example—simply close their eyes to any view that veers from the regnant Orthodox line, even if antecedents for it can be found in rabbinic literature.  Others accept elements of modern thought and try to fit them into the traditional framework, reconciling the Big Bang, for example, with the Bible's Creation narrative.  Another alternative, a favorite of the philosophically-minded, elevates Torah to a Kantian conceptual world immune from evaluation by earthbound criteria.

Solomon does not find any of this convincing: Torah from Heaven, he claims, "cannot be upheld by the serious historian, scientist, or philosopher."  But how many Jews outside Solomon's academic ivory tower practice these rarefied professions?  Does Solomon's alternative, appropriating the doctrine as myth, an "interpretation of history through faith," work any better?  It is hard to imagine Orthodox Jews continuing their demanding regimen—of prayer, ritual, study, and raising their children to these tasks as well—for the sake of an Orthopraxy built upon myth.

Gidon Rothstein, a Yeshiva University-ordained rabbi and Harvard Ph.D., thinks Orthodoxy's problem lies elsewhere.  He claims that We're Missing the Point—the title of his new book—by conveying Orthodoxy primarily as a system of commanded behaviors.  While Norman Solomon came of age in the mid-20th century, when important elements of Orthodox Judaism sought to address intellectual challenges such as modern biblical scholarship, Rothstein is a generation younger, and his concern is how to square Orthodoxy with the currently treasured value of individual autonomy.

Flying in the face of the common assumption that Judaism is a religion of requirements and religious acts, Rothstein claims to find biblical proof that God originally intended to impose very few commands upon humanity, allowing men and women to devise their individual paths to emulate Him.  Only after human beings' repeated failure to find God on their own did He impose an elaborate system of mitzvot on one model people, the Jews.  And even now, Rothstein asserts, a Jew is supposed to view those commandments only as a bare-bones framework for developing a relationship with God that is primarily personal and spiritual—as he calls it, in the hackneyed vernacular of contemporary spirituality, a "personal journey."

The relationship that Rothstein advocates is based on the very same theological tenet that Solomon finds unbelievable: the idea that God revealed Himself to the Israelites and gave them the Torah.  Blissfully ignorant of or indifferent to the thorny problems that the doctrine has encountered over the last few centuries, Rothstein calls this the "unequivocal core" of Judaism.

These two books are incommensurate: Solomon's is judicious and erudite, Rothstein's disorganized and somewhat bombastic.  Yet their critiques of Orthodoxy, taken together, themselves invite a critical question: If Orthodox Judaism's core theological claim is weak, and if its commandment-centered approach to religion is so at odds with human autonomy, why is it so much more vibrant and successful than the liberal streams of Judaism, which suffer from neither deficiency?

Lawrence Grossman, director of publications at the American Jewish Committee, edited the American Jewish Year Book from 2000 to 2008.

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Menachem on May 15, 2012 at 8:03 am (Reply)
What do you mean by "vibrant and successful?" The authors would claim that where ideas are concerned, contemporary orhtodox judaism is not as vibrant and successful as one may hope.
Wally Right on May 15, 2012 at 8:45 am (Reply)
Very interesting, because most of the concepts broached here are discussed in the Brit Hadasha, a very Jewish polemical book mostly unknown within the observant world. The problem with the Torah is not the written Torah: There is much evidence--historical, archaeological, linguistic--that it is a divinely inspired whole. But the oral torah is clearly only partially inspired--that is, it is a compendium of passed-down traditions, but not every jot or tittle (to use the Brit Hadasha expression) is inspired as the written Torah is. And there is no warrant for saying the Humash is more inspired than the Prophets or the Writings, so let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
A. Schreiber on May 15, 2012 at 9:29 am (Reply)
The concludes with what the yeshivas call a "bomb question"--i.e., a really good one. But there are equally good answers. Here are three:
1) A great many orthodox Jews don't realize that their theological claims are weak. Thus, the real problems people like Norman Solomon speak of don't trouble them, because they never occur to them. 2) Some Orthodox Jews who are aware of the inconsistincies and problems pointed out by Biblical criticism don't care, and rightly so. Orthodoxy is still the one and only demomination to focus on God as we know Him. Thus, while many educated frum Jews are fully aware that the halacha system developed by men over time and was not given by God (sorry, Aish Hatorah) it doesnt change the core ideas of Godliness that only orthodoxy teaches and aspires to. 3) Contrary to this article's claim, it is very easy to adhere to orthodoxy, even if privately people believe it's built upon myth. What is the alternative? Godless atheism? The religion of liberalism? We've seen the results, and they arent good. Conformity to custom is truly a small price to pay (especially when most of the customs are enjoyable) to reap the benefits of a society that tries hard, despite its failings, to live up to a higher standard. Besides, all societies, especially liberal American society, require people to conform to notions they privately disagree with. No American isreally free to speak his mind today.
YY on May 15, 2012 at 11:53 am (Reply)
The author's belief that the Oral Torah was invented by rabbis, rather than deriving from Mt. Sinai, is based on speculation. You can't prove a negative. History and the social sciences are not exact sciences -- they are quite fuzzy and political. As someone with a Ph.D. in social science, I can tell you that much, perhaps most research is driven by politics and ideology, and virtually no one I know would publish results that contradicted their political or theological views.

Ancient history is not such an exact science that it justifies throwing out the basic underlying belief of rabbinic Judaism -- that the whole Torah was passed down from generation to generation, starting at Sinai. (Anyway, if non-observant Jews are not qualified to serve as judges, then why should they be qualified to change our belief system?) If individuals want to quietly look into these matters and adopt heterodox beliefs while remaining observant, OK, but this should be an esoteric and discouraged endeavor rather than something for the masses.

The Conservative movement made historical skepticism its official ideology, and the result was that no one is motivated to become completely observant. The author is advocating that Orthodox Jews do the same thing, but he ignores the fact that it would probably have the same result.

That said, it would be useful for someone to explain in a compelling way why a person who doesn't believe in oral-Torah-from-Sinai should still be completely observant (by Orthodox standards). I'm not sure it can be done well, but it does fill a need, for those who already find it hard to believe the traditional narrative. A certain proportion of committed Orthodox Jews probably do hold heterodox views, and either come up with their own personal theology to justify it ("if the rabbis made it up, gamzu l'tovah;" "It works, and has kept the Jewish people going over the millenia, so it must be G-d's will") or just keep practicing without knowing exactly why they should.

If I understand Rothstein correctly (and I haven't read the book) he argues not that we shouldn't think of Judaism as requiring numerous mitzvot, but that we should think of it as that PLUS a generalized duty to serve Hashem with our own individual spirituality and actions beyond mitzvah observance (the general duty to engage in acts of kindness or to pursue justice, for example). This is compatible with Judaism as we know it -- it just pushes people to be braver, more individualistic, and more focused on the inner life. Some people are already doing this, and Rothstein's book might stimulate more to do so.
real jew on May 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm (Reply)
Wally Right is a Jew for Jesus: hence, his usage of the term BRIT HADASHA, which is Hebrew for NEW TESTAMENT. And that explains his put-down of the "oral torah"- the 'tradition of the elders' which the NT denigrates. And, of course, he is wrong about the HUMASH, which unlike the Prophets and Writings, is the only authoritative source for Jewish law.
abarafi on May 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm (Reply)
Irrespective of the veracity of Torah or Talmud the reason observant Judaism persists is because it brings external structure to life and living. More liberal philosophies that provide so many more choices also create a lot more confusion. Ask yourself if the continuing attempts to make our sexual identities irrelevant leads to increased happiness? Now that more and more of our jobs have virtually nothing to do with whether we are male or female, we are more and more divorced from how our maleness or femaleness relates to our lives. Every other mammal on the planet viscerally 'knows' its role. There are clear distinctions between what they do and whether they are male or female. As humanity progresses, that clarity abates. In its place we have confusion, unhappiness, and a feeling of purposeless. Reform and conservative Judaism do nothing to change that. Only observant Judaism gives us structure.
manny saltiel on May 15, 2012 at 1:50 pm (Reply)
Sounds like another former of redistribution to me. From each according to his ability to each according to his need. Isn't this what is being advocated in the article? I don't have any great ideas of my own... The best one I have heard is that all shuls in any given community must charge an annual education fee in addition to the annual membership fee. In this way, those whose children are grown and those without children in the school system (yet) also pay in? Why? Because the next generation of Jews is everyone's responsibility.
real Jew on May 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm (Reply)
Wally Right is clearly a Jew for Jesus: hence, his usage of the term BRIT HADASHA, which is Hebrew for NEW TESTAMENT. And that explains his put-down of the "oral torah"- which is the 'tradition of the elders' that the NT denigrates. And, of course, he is completely wrong about the HUMASH, which is special because, unlike the Prophets and Writings, it is the only authoritative source for Jewish law.
YM on May 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm (Reply)
An Orthodox Jew has to believe that the Torah was given directly by G-d to Moses; one is not Orthodox if (s)he doesn't believe that. Norman Solomon can call himself anything he wants, but he is not Orthodox. On the other hand, Gidon Rothstein is saying the same thing that the Chovos HaLevavos said in the 11th century. He is pointing out something very important, IMHO.
Chelm Wiseman on May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm (Reply)
I am in the middle of reading Torah from Heaven and am interested in this debate.

My background... Generally non-observant upbringing - Liberal Jew - descended from liberal jews - strong natural inclination to study Judaism.

About 5 years ago I started studying some with Aish Hatorah and some with Chabad. I remain a liberal Jew, but with a much broader understanding of Judaism and more observance and learning than an average reform Jew.

I teach Jewish history in my congregation and I was very pleased to find Rabbi Solomon's book. In a liberal congregation, you simply cannot ignore the problems presented by a critical reading of the text. It is also no guarantee that any one congregant believes in God at all. (Though most do) Rabbi Solomon helps to find a middle ground between complete skepticism and complete lack of skepticism. I think his work will be very important... less so in the Orthodox world and more in the liberal Jewish world. I hope more liberal Jews read it, so we (reform Jews) can get past the reflexive undermining of the traditional historical narrative and deal with more important issues.
Jerry Blaz on May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm (Reply)
Lawrence Grossman astutely pointed out the generational difference between Solomon and Rothstein. I think we ought to examine what has happened in-between these two generations. Perhaps, it is the change that occurs between two successive generations, one takes the opposing perspective from the prior generation. As a member closer to Solomon's generation, I understand the importance Solomon gives to incertitude. As a witness to the current generation, I understand the necessity of having secure answers to questions that, in the prior generation, piqued something that was between curiosity and doubt. Security in the insecure world we live in is an important assumption on which to base our beliefs and understanding.
CJ Srullowitz on May 16, 2012 at 12:15 am (Reply)
Professor Solomon makes a bald declaration in stating that Orthodoxy's core belief "cannot be upheld by the serious historian, scientist, or philosopher." Presumably all those historians, scientists, and philosophers who do, in fact, believe in the Divinity of Torah are, ipso facto, not serious students of their fields.

How convenient for him.
Pinchas in Boston on May 16, 2012 at 1:38 am (Reply)
Torah has a divine source, it is inter alia a past-present-future Code and is far more than a set of historical narratives from the ancient Middle East. The mindset from Moshe down through the rishonim and acharonim was highly spiritual, they were on the briatic/ astral level and their study and writings, if on a lower level than Torah shel ktiv, were also inspired and "divine."

Much of the Torah has been to be shown compatible with science, especially in the areas of physics and mathematics. Minds greater than mine or Lawrence Grossman's or the "distinguished" Norman Solomon's-- like the Rambam and Ramban, the Ramchal, the Gaon of Vilna, Rebbe Nachman, the late Lubavitgcher rebbe-- were believers, and I have no problem deferring to their wisdom and belief system.

And then there is what I would call the loyalty factor: just as I pledge allegiance to the flag-- without agreeing to every facet of American law and history-- so I pledge my allegiance to Torah-true Judaism, which in my case turns out to be a Conservadox approach infused with meditation and serious Kabbalah study, plus a strong dose of Rav Kook's dati leumi approach. Encompassing it all are the willing leap of faith (Emunah and Bitachon) in Hashem and HaAm HaYehudi.
Yeshayahu Hollander on May 16, 2012 at 6:10 am (Reply)
Orthodox Jewry is NOT an ideology, a theology, or a thought system. Worlds of difference of beliefs separate some orthodox rationalists from some mystical hassidic groups, but we nevertheless will eat from one another, daven with one another, and [more rarely, admitted] marry one another. In a community in which I lived in Jerusalem, we did not study aggadeta, certainly not mysticism, but we did regularly study Shulhan Arukh, and definitely tried to observe it.
Intellectual criticism of the 13 "Foundations of Faith" of the Rambam are not really of practical interest to normal orthodox Jews. This is NOT ortopraxy, devoid of belief. This is recognition that our human understanding of the Almighty Creator and Ruler is very limited, and the more we learn of our own halakhic sources the more we know how little we really know. We prefer to concentrate on our very important function: serving Him as we understand - based upon our tradition - that we should. We are here to serve, not to debate. To serve in happiness, Simha.
It is this ignoring of intellectual differences and emphasizing practical observances which enables us to have so many different, conflicting ideas - and nevertheless to stay unified. Our way is one of Unity, not of intellectual conformity.
Ben Tzur on May 17, 2012 at 5:17 am (Reply)
I would urge Norman Solomon and actually anyone else who supposes that "Higher Biblical Criticism" has made a convincing case for the diversity of historical sources in the Chumash, to read Umberto Cassuto's book on The Documentary Hypothesis (1941). It is a brilliant and persuasive refutation of an approach that still has some dominance in academic "Biblical Studies" but which has only persisted by simply ignoring Cassuto and other critics from within its own discipline. Cassuto, a secular academic who taught a generation of students at Hebrew University, and a world-recognized authority on ancient Near Eastern languages and literature and the Biblical period, showed that the "documentary hypothesis" asserting different authors and texts within the Chumash runs up against insurmountable difficulties, showing ignorance in fact of Hebrew and of ancient Near Eastern language and literature generally. There are quite simply no attempts in Biblical Studies circles (by which I chiefly mean Christian and Christian-secular circles, but also Jewish-secular ones) to take up Cassuto's arguments and refute them. His book is cited respectfully, but never discussed.

There is more substance therefore to the Orthodox scepticism about the results of Christian and secularist Biblical Studies than Solomon has recognized. Bias governs that discipline; it does not present a neutral nor objective agenda. Not everything is to be rejected in it, but it is far from presenting a persuasive case.
Philobiblia on May 19, 2012 at 10:05 am (Reply)
Much work has taken place in the 50+ years since Cassuto's death. He proposed that the Pentateuch was written down as a single, entirely coherent and unified text in the 10th century BC. This is refuted - and the diversity of sources demonstrated- by the presence of Aramaicisms throughout the Pentateuch,
especially in Leviticus, which would date it as post-exilic, and from the Persian period.
YM on May 21, 2012 at 11:58 am (Reply)
Aramacisisms are there because Aramaic was used even during the biblical period. It doesn't prove post-exilic provence, except for those who don't want to face the fact that the Torah was given in front of several million people.
Philobiblia II on May 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm (Reply)
Cassuto was not a "secular academic"; Moshe David Cassuto served as chief rabbi of Florence, Italy from 1914 to 1925.

Jerry Blaz on May 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm (Reply)
Well, that solves a lot of problems to know that Rabbi Cassuto isn't one of "those" ("those" being exegetes who accept to a lesser or greater degree an approach to Biblical investigation involving use of insights gained in the documentary perspective.) Actually, if we are to assume that the only truth is a doctrinal truth, there would be nothing to discuss. Cassuto becomes an "Ilui" in the minds of some because he resisted the overwhelming opinions of many Biblical exegetes regarding what is basically called the "documentary theory." If a person wants only to see Scripture through a theological prism one is free to do so, and one is equally free to view the Bible as religious studies. Either way, "gam zeh meshubach"(it is also worthwhile).
Ben Tzur on May 22, 2012 at 5:01 am (Reply)
Whether or not Cassuto got a rabbinic ordination in his early years has no relevance to his later academic work, which was indeed secular academic. The Hebrew University is not a rabbinic seminary, but a secular university with the same high secular-academic standards as leading universities around the world. Not even chief rabbis get any special claim to lectureships there, rather the reverse it is likely to be seen as a drawback, and next to no such figures have positions there. Cassuto got his post therefore not for anything related to his semichah (rabbinic ordination), but for his many publications and universally acknowledged scholarship in secular Semitic and ancient Near Eastern studies. Specifically, his book on The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch was entirely in secular academic terms. It did not appeal to Rabbinic authorities or sources to confirm its points, and did not push an Orthodox view of the history of the Pentateuch, far from it. He did not assert that the Torah as a whole was revealed at Mt. Sinai, which is the usual Orthodox position (although even in the medieval period there were some highly respected authorities who excepted certain passages and questioned others -- all this is perfectly legitimate in traditional/Orthodox Judaism, which has been much more rationally oriented and multi-perspectival about scriptural exegesis than Christianity has tended to be). Historical issues, in any case, are not his topic in the book. He does make some historical suppositions merely in passing in his book, in some throw-away sentences, but these are in fact contrary to Orthodox views. His analysis focuses instead on devastatingly effective demonstations of the illogic and ignorance behind the "Documentary Hypothesis." As it happens, none of his substantive arguments about the Documentary Hypothesis have been rendered redundant by subsequent research. The refusal to address Cassuto's actual points, precisely because they are irrefutable, began with the publication of his book; the present silence merely continues that and is no more justified.
Joe P. Falk on May 22, 2012 at 10:46 am (Reply)
What archaelogical/linguistic proof does YM have that Aramaic was used in Israel during the pre-exilic Biblical period? Secondly, there is the same basis - faith, not empirical fact- for saying that Jesus' miracles took place as the assertion that the Torah was given to millions of people. Even the Bible itself only documents the giving of the 10 commandments at Sinai, NOT the whole Pentateuch.
Jerry Blaz on May 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm (Reply)
Cassuto is renowned for his denial of the documentary theory as an academic scholar. Using Cassuto as one's justification of denial of the validity of any non-Orthodox exegesis of the Scriptures is the problem. However, during Cassuto's tenure, there were exegetes who could not teach in the Bible faculty of the Hebrew University such as the late Naftali Torczyner (Tur-Sinai) because their views of Scripture were "too free."He worked in Semitic linguistics in the Hebrew department of the Hebrew University and his contributions to Scriptural exegesis as an academic study is at least equal to Cassuto without my denying one iota of accomplishment from Cassuto.
Ben Tzur on May 22, 2012 at 9:41 pm (Reply)
As it stands, the claim that there are Aramaicisms in the Pentateuch are just claims without any substantiation. But according to what I have read, there is next to no Aramaic in the Pentateuch. The only exceptions are a place name that has been claimed to be an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew place name, in Gen. 31:47, which is probably a late scribal notation in the margin of a copied text, many centuries after the Torah text originated, which still later copists eventually inserted into the main text (a phenomenon that was not uncommon in ancient manuscript copying), and quite dubious attributions of two words, one in Gen. 15:1 and the other in Num. 23:10, to Aramaic when they could as easily have been unusual Hebrew words. Aramaic, in any case, was spoken in the ancient Near East from early times. But linquistic analysts who have dealt with the Torah text find its links rather with the pre-Mosaic northern Semitic language spoken in Ugaritic archives (Ugarit was a kingdom in the region of northern Syria) dating from the fifteenth to the twelveth centuries BCE. E.g., Jacob Milgrom, in his studies of the Books of Leviticus and Numbers (see the volumes on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series, and on Numbers in the Jewish Publication Society of America series), has shown these linguistic affinities explain the meaning of words, grammatical constructions and phrases in the Torah text that no longer had those meanings and were applied to other things already by the middle of the Biblical period. Milgrom shows this for very many terms and stylistic features in the Torah text. These manifold parallels more convincingly demonstrate the authentic antiquity of the Torah text, and its provenance from the Mosaic period, than any much later Babylonian Exilic or still later origin. The only real appearance of Aramaic in the rightly called Hebrew Bible is in the books of Ezra and Daniel, which explicitly deal with the environing Aramaic peoples from the fifth century BCE onwards. This is a very weak support for any argument that Aramaic influenced the Pentateuch, a quite different set of books.

In any case, nothing put forward here even qualifies, let alone refutes, the analysis of Umberto Cassuto.
Ben Tzur on May 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm (Reply)
By the way, Cassuto is not the only person who has presented convincing arguments against the Documentary Hypothesis, although his is the most systematic, thorough-going and well-grounded in knowledge of Hebrew as well as ancient Semitic literatures. Actually, scepticism about the DH (Documentary Hypothesis) is very widespread in "Higher Biblical Criticism," the self-lauding title given by its members to Christian seminary and secular academic Biblical analysis, and is used only for lack of anything else by many Biblical critics. One of the most persuasive disproofs, as it happens, comes from Otto Eissfeldt, one of its chief advocates, for he, in trying to support the thesis of multiple authorship of the Pentateuch, showed that application of the standard criteria for these documents ended up fragmenting the "Elohist," "Yahwist," "Priestly" and "Deuteronomist" documents into as many as ten "documents" behind each, producing despite Eissfeldt's claims a comical kind of reductio ad absurdum to the whole DH as such. This reductio ad absurdum has been widely recognized by "Biblical Critics" as a big problem, even if one that they would rather not deal with. (E.g., see the discussion in Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch [1992], pp. 14ff.)

Another by-the-way: I notice that my own writing style differs depending on whether I am writing an scholarly article, a letter to my relatives, a work of dramatic narrative, a brief historical account, or a shopping list. In other words, the content strongly shapes style. This is also true in the Torah. See Cassuto for more on this. But if "Higher Biblical Critics" got hold of my life work, in which in addition my style has changed over time, they would without any doubt conclude that the literature proves that I am fifteen different people, Q.E.D.
YM on May 23, 2012 at 10:56 am (Reply)
This essay was misleading because it portrayed a non-Orthodox point of view as representing Orthodoxy. Ask Rabbi Louis Jacobs if someone who doesn't believe the Torah was given at Sinai is accepted as Orthodox. This entire essay was based on the fact that Solomon's book represents a valid Orthodox approach.
maven on May 23, 2012 at 11:26 am (Reply)
re: "Ask Rabbi Louis Jacobs if someone who doesn't believe the Torah was given at Sinai is accepted as Orthodox." This statement is contradicted by the Torah itself, which notes that NUMBERS and DEUTERONOMY were both given post-Sinai: the former in the second month of the second year in the wilderness, and the latter in the eleventh month of the last year ibn the wilderness. So the "Orthodox" view of revelation is heretical/treif, according to the explicit language of the Torah itself!
Secondly, what is the historical documentation for B-Tz's view that "Aramaic, in any case, was spoken in the ancient Near East from early times"?
R. HaLivni on May 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm (Reply)
The verbose poster claims, as an argument, that their ”own writing style differs depending on whether I am writing an scholarly article, a letter to my relatives, a work of dramatic narrative, a brief historical account, or a shopping list” and “in addition my style has changed over time, they would … conclude that the literature proves that I am fifteen different people." Fine. But in none of the poster’s other appearances on this blogsite, in any of these literary venues, does the poster employ their full/real name! How, then, do we know, for a verifiable fact, that “Ben-Tzur” is not, in actuality, an alias, for a team/committee of disparate individual contributors, say, who answer to the initials “J’, “E” “D” and “P” ?
YM on May 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm (Reply)
Maven, an Orthodox Jew by definition believes that the Torah was authored by G-d. Whether the entire text of the chumash was given on Har Sinai or just the ten commandments is discussed in the Gemara, I believe; there is not a single opinion.
Jerry Blaz on May 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm (Reply)
To say that Solomon isn't this or that kind of Jew is an attempt to exclude free discussion because eventually if he is not Orthodox, he cannot represent an Orthodox view, and if he cannot represent an Orthodox view, it is therefore to be understood as not representing a "valid" viewpoint, and it goes on and on until a viewpoint is 'posul'. Then there is nothing to discuss, and we each go our way; therefore, only the rich texture of Jewish debate has suffered.
YM on May 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm (Reply)
Jerry, one cannot be one of "Orthodoxy's internal critics, attacking its theology", if one isn't Orthodox. Thats all. The validity or lack of validity in his viewpoint isn't the issue, but rather whether the viewpoint is Orthodox or not. In this case, not.
Wally on May 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm (Reply)
Thanks Real Jew for your comments on my comments.
I didn't say the Humash wasn't the authority for the law, but it's clear that we tend to neglect the other two parts of the Tanakh relatively speaking, whereas the xians and others theoretically claim all three parts, study them, but are more excited about the prophecies and devotional writings while disparaging the law. I would say I'm more of a 'not against J' then 'for J', keeping options open and try to filter out what is good and useful from what is not.
Ben Tzur on May 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm (Reply)
Let me reassure anxious posters that I am not a committee nor even a person suffering from split personalities "J," "E," "P," and "D," but thanks for your concern!

As for the antiquity of Aramaic, see any standard encyclopaedia article on Aramaic, its history and literature. It goes back beyond the tenth century BCE, and really just emerged as a dialect of previous western Semitic spoken and written in the region. E.g., it shows strong affinities with the language of the Ebla texts, which are from ca. 2,400 to 1,800 BCE, as does Hebrew itself.
Ben Tzur on May 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm (Reply)
Wally, all portions of Scripture are part of traditional Jewish study and liturgy, not just the Chumash. E.g., considerable portions of the prophetic writings are read along with the Torah portions in weekly services, as the Haftorah accompaniments. Whole books from the Writings (Ketuvim) are read by the congregation on the festivals. The psalms were often (and still are) known by heart and recited at any time by individuals. And of course private study traditionally encompassed the whole Tanakh.
One further tiny objection: you write "the law," meaning "the Torah." But Torah does not mean "Law." This is a Christian mistranslation and it leads to a serious misrepresentation of the text, serving the denigration of the God and the commandments of Sinai, and the opposition taught by their Apostle Paul between real spirituality and outward works, "grace" and "law," the supposed Jewish Sinaitic God of severe justice and wrath and the supposed Christian God of love and mercy. Actually, the Torah is filled with affirmations of God's mercy and grace, and the practice of the mitzvot, the commandments, provides a direct experience of "grace." Not for nothing are so many of our prayers expressions of gratitude, from the time we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to sleep at night. "Torah" comes from the root relating to teaching and instruction, and is in simple everyday Hebrew the noun "Teaching." Similarly, a teacher is, if female, a "morah," if male a "moreh." There is no reference to law in the word. "Law" when applied to Torah is a prejudicial misnomer.
Ben Tzur on May 24, 2012 at 1:12 am (Reply)
It occurs to me to add a further ironical observation: the very presence of those extremely few possible Aramaicisms in the Pentateuch, even if we accept that they are that, actually proves the opposite of what posters above claim, that the Pentateuch was written in or after the Babylonian Exile. For if the Pentateuch were written in an Aramaic-speaking environment, would we not find very many Aramaicisms in it? Even if there were a conscious effort to produce a Hebrew text for the allegedly fictional prophets, historical books, psalms, etc., and the Pentateuch itself, it is obvious that numerous echoes of and slip-ups into the Aramaic tongue spoken in daily life in Babylonia would have occurred. And if we suppose that all these fictional works were produced at the time of the Babylonian Exile and after it, the texts would not at first have had the status of scripture and unalterability, so after the first generation or so further editorial additions, scribal glosses in Aramaic that would end up in the novel text itself, and so would have inevitably have produced in a few generations a mixed result throughout. However, that there is only one probable Aramaicism in the entire Pentateuch, a translation of a Hebrew place name, and two other more dubious but possible ones, shows that the text as we have it was already in the Babylonian period a sacred text, known too well to have words easily changed by scribal errors, and it also shows that the text was preserved for a further millenium or so in an Aramaic-speaking environment without any significant alterations. This also implies that very many of its readers knew the text word for word, and copying of manuscripts was very carefully done even as it still is done, so that any inadvertent changes, in early as well as later centuries, would be noted and corrected. It appears that when all is said and one, only one such minor error escaped their attention. So we must conclude that the Pentateuch was already known widely as divine revelation from Sinai in the sixth century BCE and in the following centuries despite the Aramaic environment, and that strong measures were taken already back then to preserve it unalterably .
Eitan on May 24, 2012 at 9:46 am (Reply)
Examples of Chumash Aramaicisms, esp. in Leviticus:

1. memshelet hayom and mimkar: the preformative "mem"; the authentic Hebrew would be "limshol"

2. le-reacha (as in the famous "you shall love your neighbor" verse): the Hebrew should have an "et" as the sign of the direct object, while Aramaic uses the "lamed" as a prefix to the word it governs
Curt Levey on May 24, 2012 at 10:01 am (Reply)
The comment "As for the antiquity of Aramaic, see any standard encyclopaedia article on Aramaic, its history and literature" is an unsourced pontification, like numerous other assertions by its poster.
The Unitary (=anti-Documentary) Hypothesis about the Pentateuch is to the (Orthodox) Yeshiva hashkafa as Intelligent Design is to (Protestant Christian) fundamentalist Creationism: namely, a duplicitous attempt to fob off religious dogma as independent ("secular academic")truth. In both cases, perpetrated in the jingoistic service of ideological triumphalism.
If nothing else, the Unitary doctrine is contradicted by the fact that Deuteronomy- unlike the other four books of the Chumash- presents itself NOT as the Word of God (= divine), but as the valedictory musings of Moses, the words of Moses (= human, however divinely-influenced). This fact, among other things, helps explain the difference in certain details of content between Deut and Exodus, such as the difference in wording regarding the commandment to observe the Sabbath.
BenTzur on May 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm (Reply)
I have cited many sources for my assertions above. In regard to encyclopaedia articles on Aramaic, which is itself a source citation I offered that should be readily confirmed by any poster using whatever encyclopaedia is available to him/her, perhaps the article "Aram, Arameans," and "Aramaic," in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 3: 251-6, 259-87, will do. The latter article, p. 260, only finds one place in the entire Pentateuch showing Aramaic influence, namely the Gen. 31:47 verse I have already mentioned. That is sufficient to rebut both Eitan and Curt Levey. As for Deuteronomy, it is indeed Moses's address to the B'nai Yisrael (as has been acknowledged down through the ages), so I agree with that point, but this does not constitute a refutation of its origins in the Mosaic generation, quite the opposite. Moreover the unitary nature and antiquity of the other books of the Chumash, which is what Cassuto focussed on, not Deuteronomy, remains.
Ben Tzur on May 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm (Reply)
By the way, the highly abusive references by Curt Levey to my well-resourced and directly relevant comments as "unsourced pontification" and, far worse, to traditional Jewish and contemporary Orthodox teachings regarding Torah revelation as a "duplicitous attempt to fob off religious dogma" may have escaped the moderator's eye, but I would like an apology from him. Such attacks do not belong in this forum.
J.A. on May 25, 2012 at 10:17 am (Reply)
None other than Prof. A. Nadler, on the "French Lessons" blog thread, commented on a B-T analysis that "there is scant evidence of knowledge of the sources to back up the strongly held opinions that have been expressed" (April 8); and, by association, characterized B-T's approach as "an extended, Jewish-chauvinist "ashrenu, mah yafah yerushateynu" boast, veiled as scholarship" (April 12)
Poseq on May 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm (Reply)
It is no refutation of Levey to claim that "the unitary nature and antiquity of the other books of the Chumash, which is what Cassuto focussed on, not Deuteronomy, remains." The Documentary Hypothesis spoke of four (4)- J, E D and P- sources, not three (3) !

Secondly, contrary to YM, the criterion for what constitutes Jewish- as opposed to Christian- "Orthodoxy" is HALACHIC practice, NOT AGGADIC belief.
If you do your best to observe the 613 commandments, that makes you observant Orthodox. Whether you do so because you thought God spoke to the Jewish people through Moses in the wilderness, or, over time, through four helpers known as J, E, D and P, is beside the point.
Rabbinic Judaism never sought to define itself via creedal statements until Rambam was driven to do so because of circumstances- and, according to leading Maimonides scholar Menahem Kellner, Rambam himself did not "believe" in some of the 13 Ekarim he outlined!
Alternately, one of Maimonides' 13 principles declares God's utter incorporality. According to Rabbi Slifkin's research, Rashi believed that God had a body. So, by Rambam's standards, Rashi was not only not Orthodox, but a heretic! So much for the folly of defining "Orthodoxy" and/or Judaism in non-praxis terms.
YM on May 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm (Reply)
Poseq, an Orthoprax Jew who publishes that he doesn't believe G-d is the author of the Torah will never be accepted by other Orthodox Jews as someone who can speak on behalf of Orthodox Judaism. Solomon's view is not one that the Orthodox community accepts. The divine authorship of the Torah, "Torah min HaShamayim" is a fundamental pillar of "Orthodox" Judaism.
Dina on May 26, 2012 at 8:44 am (Reply)
Mr. Ben-Tzur sets up a straw man in his post: what Mr. Levey (correctly) criticized was not "traditional Jewish and contemporary Orthodox teachings regarding Torah revelation" AS SUCH, but the stealth effort to parade those pre-fabricated doctrines as anything but! Genuine learning is about the independent pursuit and DISCOVERY of truth, not the RECOVERY and indoctrination of communal nostrums.
As the Christian fundamentalist Bible thumpers at the Discovery Institute have been doing in promoting Intelligent Design as "creation SCIENCE". In siding with such efforts, Mr. Ben-Tzur, alas, has tipped his hand to his real agenda.
maven on May 26, 2012 at 11:55 am (Reply)
I checked Ben-Tzur's Aramaic reference in the latest (2007) edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica (his page numbers apparently were for an earlier version). That article was written by Prof. E.Y. Kutscher, who died in 1971. Which means that its info ia at least 40 years out-of-date!
Eitan: you are vindicated!
Jerry Blaz on May 28, 2012 at 3:54 am (Reply)
The assumption of certitude can only be based on faith, not research of either a Cassuto or a Devers. Faith, in Orthodoxy, means accepting the that the Torah comes from Hashem. However, there are Jews who comes is all sizes of belief, disbelief, and unbelief. If one Biblical researcher says that the first four Books are written by Hashem and the fifth by Moses, what happens to the faith of an Orthodox who makes that claim. I certainly don't claim to know because I am not bound by the authority of Orthodoxy, though I certainly respect their rights to claim whatever makes any person professing to be Orthodox to believe his beliefs. The article makes the claim that both Solomon and Rothstein are equally Orthodox, and, I suppose, that means they will sit down and eat together. However, their approach to faith must be different one from the other. So there is pluralism in Orthodoxy, and if there is pluralism in Orthodoxy, there apparently are those who resist it, because they fear allowing pluralism get a foot in the door of Judaism.
Ben Tzur on May 28, 2012 at 6:12 am (Reply)
The only specific charge that needs response is the claim against me that "there is scant evidence of knowledge of the sources." However, I can perhaps best answer that in the same way I would answer Curt Levey's slurs regarding "unsourced pontifications," as follows:

In the posts to the article on "French Lessons," I count 53 separate specific citations to sources in my posts. By "specific," I mean citations that each went beyond the mere general mention of an authority or the mere provision of a quotation without indicating satisfactorily where it came from (in contrast quite a few such unverifiable quotes were given by other posters including by Curt Levey), including documentation of the author and publication details (full book or article title, etc.) so that a reader could verify it. Whenever necessary, e.g., when quoting directly, my citations included the relevant page numbers. I count each citation of a page number as a separate citation.

However, in all other posts to that article by other authors, there were only 12 such specific citations fulfilling the criteria I mentioned. None were in any of Curt Levey's posts, and only 4 in A. Nadler's. My comments were therefore far better supported by sources than the comments of these or other posters.

In this present webpage blog, by my count my comments are supported by 9 specific citations meeting the criteria I have mentioned. Curt Levey has none. Specific citations by all other commentators number 8, by my count.

Turning to more significant matters, the observation that Deuteronomy provides Moses' last address to the B'nai Yisrael is one asserted already in Deuteronomy itself. Cassuto naturally knew this as well as any other reader. This does not therefore constitute a refutation of his demolition of the "Documentary Hypothesis," which explicitly related to the other four books of the Chumash.

It is incorrect to assert that there are no determinative beliefs or "dogmas" in Judaism, only praxis. The Ten Commandments themselves begin with an affirmation of One God. Such belief is therefore determinative for Judaism. It underlies all the other commandments, including those in the Ten Commandments. The Torah further affirms that the God of Sinai is the Creator of the entire universe, and the only Saviour, who has furthermore revealed himself in the Torah, created the Jewish people as such, and given them a framework by which to live, etc. No one denying any of these beliefs can be said to be a believing and faithful Jew. The Torah further affirms that we humans are all created in the divine image, are prone to sin, but can achieve repentance and atonement with God, for God is merciful and near unto all who call upon him in truth. Moreover, God has covenantal relations with all humanity, not just with the Jewish people whom God created as such to be a "Kingdom of priests" at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:6). God has entered into a universal covenant with the whole of humanity (through Noah: Gen. 9 -- see David Novak, The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism); through this covenant every culture and religion, whatever their later distortions, errors and idolatrous desecrations, preserves a heritage of righteousness. Due to this, even people of the extremely high level of godliness attained by Job can emerge from them. Thus it can be that, as the Rabbis put it, the righteous of all peoples have a share in the World-to-Come. One does not have to be Jewish to be saved. That is a Jewish "dogma." The messianic age is another of the fundamental teachings preserved by the Torah. There are many other important beliefs, as is indicated even by the text of the daily prayers. Even the simplest blessing before enacting a mitzvah makes belief affirmations, and so beliefs are core parts of the enactments of all the commandments and all the practice of Judaism. Even if Judaism is remarkably broad-mined and not "dogmatic," and allows for multiple perspectives, it does most definitely rest on basic doctrinal affirmations. That is one of the things Shavuot, the festival of celebration for the first revelation at Mt. Sinai, which we have just finished, makes very clear.

The history of Jewish philosophy would not have any meaning or shape were there not some shared and agreed basis for fundamental principles underlying Jewish affirmations. E.g., Julius Guttmann's Philosophies of Judaism (1964) begins with a first chapter devoted to the discussion of what the "fundamentals" and "basic ideas" of Biblical religion are. Menachem Kellner, in his Must a Jew Believe Anything?, tries quite explicitly in contrarian mode to argue that there are no dogmas (in the sense of Christian dogmatic theology) in Judaism, but this, while having a partial truth, skates over the actual nature of Jewish religious thought and even simplifies Maimonides' approach, giving too 'either-or' and unilinear an approach to the standard Jewish 'both-and' multi-perspectival approach to reality (e.g., the approach which Rav Soloveitchik has famously described as "pluralistic" in his The Halakhic Mind). Other scholarly studies of Maimonides have certainly presented a very different understanding of his view of doctrines and redemption than that presented by Kellner.

But regardless of Maimonides, there are indeed basic religious ideas underlying Judaism which shape the Biblical and certainly the whole of post-Biblical authoritative literature. A good introduction to them is Solomon Schechter's Basic Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909).
Ben Tzur on May 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm (Reply)
On Kellner, while there is much in his thesis with which I agree, and much with which I disagree, it would be incorrect to suppose that he is arguing that there is no firm belief structure in Judaism and that it is only centered on practice. He does not say that. On the contrary, he argues in his Must A Jew Believe Anything? (2nd edition, 2006) against unrestrained "religious pluralism" (by which he means religious and cultural relativism), that all views are equally true and therefore equally untrue (a view that refutes itself, by the way). He writes, in his concluding paragraphs (p. 146), "The claim that all forms of Judaism are equally true and valid ... trivializes the decision to remain Jewish. ... I have much greater respect for a Reform Jew convinced that her interpretation of Torah is superior to mine and fervently committed to it that I have for someone whose understanding of Judaism has no truth component. With the first person, I can agree to disagree (the position staked out in this book); with the second, I have very little to discuss concerning matters of Jewish religious importance. ... For thousands of years Jews have martyred themselves for their faith; to adopt a pluralist view of religious truth is to make a mockery of those sacrifices. It further implies that any Jew who makes such a sacrifice in the future is misguided." Kellner does not consider the Torah Judaism view of reality untrue or ungrounded, or such sacrifices for it misguided, and he does not argue for a philosophical view that justifies valueless cynicism.
Yeshayahu Hollander on May 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm (Reply)
This is a very interesting discussion but a bit too dogmatic. While it is orthodox dogma that the Torah has not changed, see 1. Torah Temima on Shemoth 29,37, gloss 29. The TT porposes a solution, which is refuted in "Margolios Hayam" by Rabbi Reuven Margolios, Zecher Tsaddik Livracha, on Sanhedrin 34, and see the Soncino edition on that page and the notes, which also relate to the same omission in the Torah. From all this it is clear that at least on change in the text has occurred, since the time of Rabbi Akiva or since the time of RASHI. I have been looking for an acceptable alternative understanding for decades, but have found none.

It is also known that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Zecher Tsaddik Livracha, instructed to dispose of a book by a Ashkenazi Rishon [if I am not mistaken - a Rabbi Yehuda] who wrote that the Torah as we have it was redacted by Ezra the Scribe. If so, it is possible that Arameicisms may have appeared at that time.
Ben Tzur on May 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm (Reply)
Maven thinks Eitan and his unsourced suppositions are vindicated because the article I cited came from the first edition of the Ency. Jud. (I do not have the second edition), representing the results of the best Semitic language scholarship of that generation and summarizing many centuries of study and research. Apparently Maven thinks that ancient Aramaic is no longer the same language as it was up to 1973, and ancient Hebrew too has suddenly changed, so that the best scholarship in the 70s no longer applies even to basic language knowledge of either Hebrew or Aramaic. This is not the case, and even though I do not have the second edition of the Ency. Jud. before me, I notice that Maven cannot claim that it has actually changed the information already present in the articles concerning Aramaicisms in the Pentateuch, which I cited, and Maven cannot claim it does. So Eitan is not vindicated.
Dovid on May 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm (Reply)
"The Ten Commandments themselves begin with an affirmation of One God. Such belief is therefore determinative for Judaism." Another pontification from the the poster who is ashamed to use his real name! RambaM would consider this as the "first commandment" (and therefore 'determinative') but RambaN would not! Actually, this 'affirmation' follows the pattern of ancient (pagan!) Suzerainty treaties, and so simply presents the convention of the day; the Suzerain is portrayed as identifying himself.
Cassuto's views fall midway between the critics and fundamentalists: he believed in sources which were put together to form a national epic- just not "J", "E", "D" and "P."
Ben Tzur on May 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Reply)
If the First Commandment is merely following ancient suzerainty treaties, why is it a Commandment? Does it not affirm that without acknowledging God, there can be no covenant? Thus it is indeed a statement of belief and faith, that there is in fact a Commander.
Ben Tzur on May 30, 2012 at 11:53 pm (Reply)
The comment by "Dovid" about Nachmanides (Ramban) supposedly disagreeing with Maimonides (Rambam) about the status of the First Commandment and claiming instead that it does not present a belief affirmation that is determinative for Judaism, gives no specific source citation, and is incorrect.

This is how Nachmanides begins his lengthy remarks on Exod. 20:2, concerning the First Commandment, in his Commentary on the Torah, Volume 3: Shemot/Exodus Part 1 (Mesorah Publications, 2006), pp. 480f. -- I put in brackets the words the translator adds for clarity: "This statement constitutes a positive commandment. [God] said, 'I am Hashem,' [by which] He instructed and commanded [the Israelites] that they should know and believe that Hashem exists, and [the next expression, your God, taught them to believe that] He is THEIR God. That is, [they are to believe that there is a God] Who exists, Who is the original Being, [i.e., He predates all other beings,] from Whom everything [else] came about [only] through [His] volition and power, and [they are also to believe that] 'He is their God,' [meaning] that they are obligated to serve Him." [God] said 'Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt' because [God's] taking [Israel] out from there demonstrates [His] existence and [that everything in the world depends on His] will, because it was through [God's] knowledge and through His guidance that they came out [from there]. It also demonstrates the creation [of the world from nothing,] for according to [the doctrine of] the eternalness of the world, nothing can [ever] change from its [inherent] nature, [so that supernatural miracles, such as occurred during the exodus, would be impossible.] It also demonstrates [God's unbounded] power [to do as He pleases,] and indeed [God's unbounded] power, [in turn,] demonstrates [His] Oneness, as [God] said [above, 9:14], So that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world."

Nachmanides draws other fundamental beliefs out of the First Commandment, and above all the obligation it imposes on every individual Jew (he stresses this, pointing out that the Ten Commandments were said in the singular and addressed to the hearer in the singular) to believe in God, in the Exodus and in the Sinai revelation, and in each Jew's own consequent obligation to join in being a holy people, accepting God as their king, consecrated to God and obeying God's commandments: see pp. 480-2.
medaqdaq on May 31, 2012 at 10:32 am (Reply)
The pshat wording of the alleged "first commandment" contains no verb in the imperative; that makes it, at best, descriptive, NOT prescriptive. If people choose to 'spin' it otherwise to fit a pre-set dogmatic agenda, that is their problem, but such is a clear distortion of the plain intended meaning of the text.
Nowhere in the Bible does God command belief, just obedience.
Shneur Zalman on May 31, 2012 at 10:35 am (Reply)
Solomon Schechter must be turning over in his grave. Ben-Tzur’s declaration of the existence of a catechism for Judaism falls flat.
There is no set of beliefs that, when held and expressed publicly, automatically strips that individual of his Jewish/Judaic identity, let alone consigns them to torment in the afterlife! E.g., some might say, the Trinity, 3=1. But, according to the Jewish kabbalists’ idea of the sefirot, God has ten parts, 10=1 !
J. Spiegel on May 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm (Reply)
I showed the May 30 Nachmanides quote to a friend of mine, who has yadin, yadin (advanced) Orthodox ordination, and did a post-doc in medieval Jewish thought. This was their pithy assessment: "this is reading Rambam into Ramban. dishonest apologetics."
Ben Tzur on May 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm (Reply)
I am not claiming that there is a catechism, only that there have always been fundamental beliefs that constitute Judaism, accepted down through the ages, primary amongst which are the belief in God as Creator of the entire universe, present ruler of it, and Redeemer, in Israel as God's people, and in the Torah as God's revelation. As for the comment by J. Spiegel, I would suggest that your advanced Orthodox rabbi with a post-doc in medieval Jewish thought take a few days off and read Nachmanides. He may not like what he sees, since it contradicts his assertions, but there is nothing dishonest in the quotation, and it is not reading Rambam into Ramban, nor even apologetic distortion. It is what it is.
Ben Tzur on June 1, 2012 at 2:50 am (Reply)
One further clarification since various posters seem to want to exaggerate my assertions into some sort of straw-man Christianized Jewish equation of Jewishness with a dogmatic "catechism." I am not trying to argue that a Jew ceases to be a Jew if he or she disagrees with any doctrine at all. Even an atheistic Jew who rejects all the teachings of the Torah, abandons his/her people, and commits every kind of abomination forbidden in the Torah still remains a Jew according to halakhic definitions -- just a very poor Jew if the deviations are merely doctrinal, maybe even an evil one if the deviations extend to the ethical mitzvot and/or militant antisemitism. Nachmanides did not compile a dogmatic theology and was adverse to doing so, criticising Maimonides for his deference to Greek/Aristotelian thought and differing on specific interpretations of Biblical passages (as he did even with Rashi and Ibn Ezra at times), but he was not of the anti-Maimunist party of his generation, sought to reconcile the Maimunist and anti-Maimunist camps, and did not condemn as such either the Mishneh Torah nor even the Guide for the Perplexed. For he largely agreed with Maimonides that there were essential beliefs taught in the Torah and in the Talmudic, mystical and other later writings, even if their lists differed in some respects. He wrote explicitly about such things in his works, as I have shown in relation to the First Commandment; such passages could be duplicated many times over from his writings.

All of this is well-known and is described in all scholarly histories of the Maimunist controversy, so citations should not be necessary.
practitioner of Torat Emet on June 1, 2012 at 9:34 am (Reply)
1. Describing an opinion as “secular, academic" without noting that it was the work of an individual who had served as a European (Orthodox) Chief Rabbi.

2. Citing as authoritative- and therefore, presumably state-of-the-art, up-to-date- an Encyclopedia Judaica article that is over forty years old. 40 years old! Which is like saying that nothing significant changed for the Israelites (in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness) between the time that they left Egypt and when they finally entered Canaan.

3. Alleging that Prof. Cassuto was opposed to any and all “Documentary Hypothesis” (DH) Biblical source criticism, when it was just the Wellhausen version of DH to which he was opposed, since Cassuto delineated his own sources.

Let us remember: asher natan lanu Torat Emet...
practitioner of Torat Emet on June 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm (Reply)
Unbelievable! Now the poster claims infallibility, insisting that he is beyond criticism! (June 1, 2:50 posting). At the same time, in another JID blog thread (on Shavuot), he has no problem accusing a critic of his of storing Yahrzeit candles in a liquor cabinet - is this not a case of double standards?
Ben Tzur on June 2, 2012 at 9:54 am (Reply)
OK, the playing field is heavily tilted and will remain so. However, I am honored to be given the opportunity in any case to stand up for our defamed heritage, in full confidence that those silent readers who are decent will be open to a positive understanding, irregardless of the negative diversions by more vituperative posters.

Cassuto did not argue for nor "delineate" multiple documents of any sort anthologized or cut-and-pasted into the Pentateuch. His elegant, scholarly, logical and expert argument demolished not only Wellhausen's hypothesis but any similar sort of multiple authors theory. The whole thesis of his book is that there was a single authorship at least of the first four books even if in his opinion the author drew upon numerous earlier oral and other traditions going back to the time of Moses (he gives the instance of Dante's Divine Comedy for such a creative, distinctive and original reworking of past traditions, and the same in fact applies to any other author one might name).

While Cassuto has been unjustly ignored and none of his arguments have really been addressed by most Christian (and anti-Orthodox Jewish) Biblical critics, there have been some very important Christian critics of the DH, too. This will give the thesis more credibility, no doubt, amongst the DH defenders on this blog, since a mere Jewish scholar criticising the DH lacks credence with them. Chief amongst these Christian critics are R. N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study (1987), R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament (1992), and Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (1987) and Genesis 16-50 (1994). Despite some highly problematic assumptions in his work, the studies of Jan Van Seters should also be mentioned. As a result of these and fundamental criticisms of the DH by still other Christian and secular Biblical scholars, and what many now admit are the far-fetched nature and outdated evolutionary assumptions behind it (not shown to obtain in any other sacred literature and certainly in no other Jewish literature), the DH is no longer fully endorsed in Christian/secular Biblical Studies, and many reviews of current "Higher Biblical Criticism" now grant that the entire hypothesis is implausible as it stands and needs considerable modification or even replacement.

Wenham, to give a specific example, presents a remarkably thorough demonstration of the cohesiveness and unity of the Flood narrative in Genesis, showing it to be a single narrative structured in standard Biblical chiastic fashion. This has long been used by DH advocates as a prime "proof" of the interweaving of two quite different and often contradictory J and P documents, cut-and-pasted line by line or even interpolated word by word into the text we have. Cassuto already demonstrated the weakness of this claim. But we may say that Wenham shows even more clearly that this is not so. If there were any prior sources, he says, his analysis shows that they have been recast and extremely well integrated into a single coherent and consistent narrative. See his "The Coherence of the Flood Narrative," Vetus Testamentum, XXVIII, 3 (1975): 336-348, available on-line at

As for the claim that Judaism has no fundamental and defining doctrinal faith aspects, but only ritual, ethical and legal rules to obey, this echoes the standard Christian and especially Paulinian-Lutheran line that Judaism is defined only by Works (allegedly demanded by a merely legalistic and punitive misconception of God) and that only Works are considered by Jews necessary for salvation, while Christianity opposes to this a self-defining emphasis on salvific, spiritual doctrinal Faith and Grace. Of course, from the start and right from the time of Paul through to Luther, Judaism repudiated the Christian typically Hellenistic either-or characterization. Faith and works express each other according to our Sages, are codependent and enacted together, and both are necessary. God's presence and grace is directly experienced and rejoiced in, in the course of enacting the Commandments, so the doctrine of God's existence is no dry dogma, but is essential to Jewish experienced practice. That is why doing the commandments are accompanied by explicit gratitude, joy and doctrinal affirmation. All foundational Jewish sources stress these faith and doctrinal aspects of Judaism. The Torah itself begins doctrinally with an account of God as Creator of the universe, and of humanity, and also as Lord of history. Moreover, the Mosaic Torah climaxes in and centers on the revelation at Mt. Sinai. These are therefore and obviously things one must believe in if one is going to accept the Torah at all, as a faithful and believing Jew. It has been said by one of the posters that the Torah nowhere commands faith. However, as I have already shown, the obligation to acknowledge and to believe in God is explicitly the first of the Ten Commandments, according to just about all traditional commentators. It was said that Nachmanides proves that this is not so; I have proven on the contrary that this is emphatically true also for him, by quoting his own commentary on the Ten Commandments. The prophets also constantly insist on Israel's obligation to believe in God and also to believe in Israel's calling as a Kingdom of Priests, contrasting that to belief in the pagan gods and idolatry. Jews have an obligation not to assimilate to the beliefs and worship of the gods of the peoples round about ancient Israel. The psalms repeat this insistence on knowing and affirming God, not just doing His will. The demand runs right through the Bible. The synagogue prayers, since they are drawn from Biblical texts, naturally emphasize these beliefs constantly and on every page. No one can recite these prayers without making faith/doctrinal affirmations. The sequential declaration (and celebration) of God as sole Creator of the Universe, Lord of Torah revelation and of history, enthroned and acknowledged King of Israel, and past, present and future Redeemer, constitutes the organizing fourfold framework for the prayers. Even the short blessings one recites when doing mitzvot feature affirmations of many fundamental beliefs of Judaism; the Grace After Meals is an especially full and vivid example. The sabbath itself is stated in the blessings inaugurating Shabbat to be a memorial of Creation and also of the Exodus from Egypt -- otherwise, there is no point to observing the Shabbat. Belief, faith and enactment are therefore intimately intertwined and are all essential to Judaism.
Edmund Breitbart on June 2, 2012 at 10:09 am (Reply)
The Nachmanides quote he cites is from a book put out by Mesorah Publications. In other words, NOT first-rate peer-reviewed scholarship.
This publishing company focuses on ideology-driven promotional tracts which are then passed off as independent scholarship. The texts it handles are processed through this prism; and if they do not yield the desired outcome, brackets (as in the Nachmanides excerpt) are then employed to "massage" the material in the intended direction. Caveat emptor.
Chaldean Periphrast on June 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm (Reply)
"The Torah itself begins doctrinally with an account of God as Creator of the universe, and of humanity, and also as Lord of history. " "DOCTRINALLY"? Once again, Ben-Tzur asserts by fiat what he cannot demonstrate by close, philological textual study.

The Torah begins with a narrative, not a dogma.
Where does it say in the Chumash that "thou shalt believe (fill in the blank)" ? Nowhere. It says thou shalt do x, y or z; and if not, dire consequences may ensue. Ben-Tzur's apodictic proclamation that " the DH is no longer fully endorsed in Christian/secular Biblical Studies" does not stand. Where it is not
fulled endorsed is in Orthodox Jewish, theologically conservative Christian, and pseudo-secular (like the Discovery Institute, which is funded by Protestant fundamentalists) circles.

"The Mosaic Torah climaxes in and centers on the revelation at Mt. Sinai." Centers perhaps, but climaxes? Since the Sinai gathering is recounted in the Book of Exodus, if it is the climax -as Ben-Tzur contends -then how is it that the Mosaic collection is a Pentateuch, and not a Biteuch?

(Moreover, truth be told, stylistically, critical scholarship has established the linguistic and thematic continuity of Deuteronomy with Joshua; so, in that reapect, what we have is a Hexatuech, not a Pentateuch. )

" the obligation to acknowledge and to believe in God is explicitly the first of the Ten Commandments". Huh? If it is so explicit, why does it need to be so agonizingly discussed - i.e., "read in" via eisegesis?

"Jews have an obligation not to assimilate to the beliefs and worship of the gods of the peoples round about ancient Israel." This includes belief in the spirits of the dead, which, it just so happens, Ben-Tzur affirms in his comments in the "Shavuot: Stopping Point" blog thread!

SUMMARY: Ben-Tzur's dogma-driven elegant fundamentalism does not stand, other than as a meticulous monument to what Prof. Nadler has, previously, so felicitously characterized as "an extended, Jewish-chauvinist "ashrenu, mah yafah yerushateynu" boast, veiled as scholarship" (April 12).
Ben Tzur on June 4, 2012 at 12:29 am (Reply)
Edmund Breitbart, the translation is the translation, and is accurate and even authoritative, and is even far more careful to indicate translation bridges and underlying meanings and to distinguish them from the literal words than others are (for all translations bridge words and interpret meanings, but few indicate this). If you object to the translation, it is up to you to provide a better one from a source that is acceptably learned and secular-anti-Orthodox enough for your taste, but do not a priori rubbish what you do not know.

Chaldean Periphrast, if you do not believe the doctrine that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, you obviously cannot accept as true in any sense even the first chapters of the Torah or anything later in it either. If you think it fantasizes or even lies, then, quite clearly, it is not your Scriptural revelation and the religion and world view it teaches are not your own. Belief and acceptance of doctrines is therefore fundamental to the reading and believing acceptance of the Torah from the first sentences onwards. That is just elementary logic.

As for where does it say in the Chumash "thou shalt believe (fill in the blank)"? -- how about the Shema itself? It was of course the central affirmation of faith of ancient and later Judaism. It is to be the first thing taught to children, and the last words recited before death. It is repeated every day in daily prayers as the central doctrinal affirmation of Judaism, and is chanted by the chazan and the entire congregation when the Torah scrolls are removed from the Ark. It is commanded in Deut. 6:4-9 (also elaborated on in 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41). Keep in mind that in Biblical Hebrew the "heart" was thought to be the place where consciousness itself lodged. Thus it was the place where beliefs were held. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall remain upon your heart, and you must teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you are at home, when you are travelling on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them be as frontlets between your eyes. And write them upon the doorposts of your houses and gates."

Again the reference to Prof. Nadler's put-down. I would have preferred to leave it in silence, since I am sure that he himself is ashamed of what he wrote there (and it is obvious that he ceased all participation in the discussion immediately afterward), since it would in effect be a negation not just of Judaism and Jewish civilization but even of his own role as rabbi and teacher of Jewish religion and civilization. No still-Orthodox rabbi would insist in anger that there is no reason to be proud of traditional Judaism or the Torah, or its gifts to all humanity, and that real scholarship could not support that. That is what Nadler seems to be saying, although possibly I have misunderstood him and I hope I have. In any case, I strongly differ with the seeming meaning of his comments against a positive view of Torah, Judaism and their impact on wider humanity.
Todd Stiles on June 4, 2012 at 10:49 am (Reply)
"Belief and acceptance of doctrines is therefore fundamental to the reading and believing acceptance of the Torah from the first sentences onwards. That is just elementary logic."
(According to the 'elementary logic' of the Church, Trintity is Monotheism, 3=1 !)
The Shema is not even a prayer. It is of the nature of the "hear ye, hear (shema) ye" of a town crier making a proclamation to get people's attention. The ancient Israelites were henotheists, and that was its original central thrust. Under challenge from trinitarian Christianity, Jewish leaders then began to give it its current monotheistic emphasis. Also: "love" here (va-ahavta) is an action- obedience- not a state of mind or emotion, let alone belief.
Shneur Zalman on June 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm (Reply)
Yasher Koach, Mr. Stiles. You are one of the few people knowledgeable enough to know that the Shema is NOT a prayer (as rabbinically defined).
Ben-Tzur is “sure that Prof. Nadler himself is ashamed of what he wrote there since it would in effect be a negation not just of Judaism and Jewish civilization but even of his own role as rabbi and teacher of Jewish religion and civilization. No still-Orthodox rabbi would insist in anger that there is no reason to be proud of traditional Judaism or the Torah…”
Pride in one’s heritage is one thing; misrepresenting it is quite another, even in the name of so-called Orthodoxy – which Ben-Tzur defines as his own views and practices.
You don’t build a good religion on bad data. The basis of Judaism is what Jacob Neusner has dubbed the “Dual Torah”: Written and Oral Law, Tanach and Talmud. Not midrash, and certainly the gnostic tract known as the Zohar. Notice the virtual non-existence of Talmudic references in the body of Ben-Tzur’s postings. Why? Perhaps because that material focuses on conduct, not adjudication of vagaries of doctrine/belief. Doctrine will matter in Judaism when- and only- when a duly constituted Sanhedrin will vote and vet it as such.
Ben Tzur on June 5, 2012 at 2:11 am (Reply)
I am not sure just what "Shneur Zalman's" point is in claiming that the Shema is not a prayer. He is wrong about the alleged "Rabbinically defined" exclusion of the Shema from the prayers. That is simply incorrect, and I would refer him to the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berachot (opening pages and passim), which takes for granted that the recitation of the Shema is the first and primary expression of prayer, which the rabbis defined in fact as "the service of the heart," symbolically equivalent to the Temple sacrificial service -- as a result, we are told in Berachot in its first pages that the times of daily recitation of the Shema are determined by the times of the daily Temple sacrifices. I mention this since SZ seems to want more Talmudic references. If prayer is understood merely as petitions, however, this role belongs to the Amidah, it is true. Prayer in a wider sense as blessings, praise and celebration is not thereby excluded.

In any case, the Shema is explicitly presented in the Written Torah itself (which is the specific issue), in Deut. 6, as a commandment, even as the core and chief of the commandments given by God. That the Shema declares a core commandment of belief in God is stated in the text and even in the Shema itself. There are additional verses in that same chapter (Deut. 6) that underline the obligation to believe in God and serve him, and add that it is also necessary to believe in and remember the Exodus from Egypt and to acknowledge that it was God alone who brought Israel out from there, etc. -- the entire chapter of belief statements even ends with the two Hebrew-word summary, ka-asher tzivanu, "as He commanded us." So it is a commandment.

We traditionally recite the Shema however as a confession of faith, to affirm our commitment to and agreement with this God-given commandment and the truth it declares, and gladly include ourselves in the Sinai covenant. With this heartfelt repetition, it becomes a prayer, part of "the service of the heart." We agree to focus our mind on God all the time, to teach about him and the Torah to our children, etc., etc.. As such it is the traditional confession of Jewish faith and belief. This is why our martyrs have died with it on their lips.
Shmuely on June 7, 2012 at 10:46 am (Reply)
Rabbinic definition of prayer as blessing means you include a "Blessed art thou" and end with an appropriate chatima. The Shema does neither.

Ben-Tzur pulls a fast one by conflating the single verse of the Shema itself with the sentences which follow it- which is what Stiles and Zalman are talking about, in the context of dictating belief, which was the original topic.

The sentences which follow - va-ahavta, etc- prescribe action, but "Hear o' Israel" per se, in the Bible itself, simply serves as a "call to order" and little else - i.e, "listen up people, I have something to say," To read more into it, is false.
Ben Tzur on June 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm (Reply)
Shmuely, you can disagree with me, but do ad hominem attacks do not constitute acceptable arguments.
I do not pull a fast one, i.e., intentionally deceive or lie, in presenting what is so far as I am aware the universal view of rabbinic commentators on the Shema, the First Commandment, etc. If you can present any pre-modern traditional or contemporary Orthodox authority that agrees with you about the Shema and the First Commandment, by all means do so. Otherwise your objections fall flat.

Let us grant your statement that the "Hear O Israel" portion of the Shema is a "call to order" or "listen up, people, I have something to say." And just what is that something? It is immediately clarified: I, the Lord your God, am One. That is a commandment about belief, an obligatory belief about the one who has "called to order" and declared, "Listen up!" God describes himself, and calls upon Israel to acknowledge and believe this description. Furthermore, you must think about this as the core focus of your life, the Shema goes on to say, at all times, and in your teaching to your own children. Moreover, you must know and believe that God alone brought you out of Egypt, etc. -- all the other declarations of Deut. 6. These are not actional things, but doctrinal ones. Of course, actional things do flow from this, once these fundamental beliefs are accepted: the Torah commandments generally are validated by these beliefs. By the way, the claim that ahavah is a merely actional thing, and not personal, deeply heartfelt nor emotional nor a matter of state of mind and belief, is false. The universally given translation of "to love" is the correct one.
Tabor Goldberg on June 9, 2012 at 10:39 am (Reply)
The last time I looked, truth was non-denominational- i.e., not tied to one dogmatic persuasion. The claim that "If you can present any pre-modern traditional or contemporary Orthodox authority that agrees with you about the Shema .... Otherwise your objections fall flat." Amazing: there is - there can be- no truth, ever, ever, outside of Orthodox Judaism (as defined by Ben-Tzur)!
Biblical scholarship (look it up in JBL) has demonstrated that “ahava” has a distinctive meaning in Deuteronomy: fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience. Which is action-based. This, when you think about it, makes more sense, since the Tanakh is about conduct, not about policing thought or belief.
After all, it is a set of commandments which were given at Sinai, not a set of creedal affirmations.

The assertion that "The universally given translation of "to love" is the correct one" is silly. "Love" is the English translation- influenced by Christian/New Testament culture; and all translations are approximations. And, anyway, the universal argument- everyone does it- is not a Jewish one. Paganism was universally practiced until Abraham -was he wrong?

Then there is the matter of Ben-Tzur's ciruclar logic, and frequent invocation of the "valid" or "accepted" or "settled" or "universal" (and, especially, "doctrinally"). Quite obviously there is no answer to this kind of statement, and when it occurs in a discussion then, according to that person, the discussion is over.
Chaldean Periphrast on June 11, 2012 at 11:22 am (Reply)
1. Ben-Tzur declares “The universally given translation of "to love" is the correct one.”
And for how long was YAM SUF, the REEd Sea, ‘universally’ translated – incorrectly! – as the Red Sea?

2. From Moshe Weinfeld, DEUTERONOMY, Anchor Bible series, 1964/1991:

p.238 In Deut., the term love (a-h-v) has a special meaning of loyalty, as in the vassal loyalty oaths.

p.351 “love” in the Ancient New East connotes loyalty. Thus, when the suzerain demands loyalty from his vassal, he adjures him that he shall love the king as he loves himself. …the practical meaning of the command of love is loyalty, obedience, as is clear from the continuation in Deut. 6:6.

Conclusion: Philology (including comparative Semitics), matters, historical context counts. The words mean what they mean, not what an "ashrenu, mah yafah yerushateynu" apologist would like them to mean.
Ben Tzur on June 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm (Reply)
The Shema says explicitly, after the belief statement "The Lord (is) your God, the Lord (is) One, -- and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (mind, consciousness, dispositions, also including emotions), with all your soul (nefesh, that is, your life force, primal urges), and with all your might (oz, energy, strength, intensity, but also according to traditional commentaries through dedicating all that you possess to this devotion). And these words, which I COMMAND you this day, shall be upon your heart ... " So, first of all, this is a commandment, immediately declared to be such. And secondly, "love" in Deut. 6:5 is stated to denote here something that involves your whole consciousness, including your emotions, and even your entire life force and urges, your nefesh. That fits the English meaning of "love" very well. But it does not fit a merely legal formal declaration of loyalty and obedience. Rather, such formal declarations are subsidiary, and draw their force from the wider general meaning of "love," here as in all other languages. As is said, in Deut. 10:12: "And now, Israel, what does God want of you? Only that you remain in awe of (leyirah) God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord will all your heart and with all your soul." Awe, yirah, is an experiential state just as love is. It stirs the whole person. Naturally, then, you wish to keep close to the One who commands this, and to do His will gladly. It is not enough after all to do his will formally, as sovereignty treaties require. It is not a merely outward thing, nor a formality. You want to do this with "all your heart and with all your soul."

I take it from Tabor Goldberg's comments that he knows of no pre-modern traditional, nor contemporary Orthodox, interpretation of the Shema and the First Commandment that accords with his views. He certainly gives none, but ignores the whole reference to pre-modern traditional commentaries, subsuming it in contemporary Orthodox Judaism which apparently in his eyes is simply invalid as such, and adds a gratuitous attribution to me of the idea that "there is - there can be - no truth, ever, ever, outside of Orthodox Judaism (as defined by Ben-Tzur)!" But I did not say that. It is a straw man. He then declares that "Biblical scholarship" (no sources given by Goldberg but obviously this by his definition excludes all traditional Jewish and contemporary Orthodox Biblical scholarship) regarding the term "love" in the Book of Deuteronomy says it merely relates to fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience, all just action-based and therefore, he seems to be implying, not experiential, emotive or feelings-related at all. But this is demonstrably incorrect, and not just for the Shema which explicitly contradicts it. For example, see the appeal of Deut. 10:19: "You shall also love (ve-ahavtem) foreigners/strangers/converts who dwell in the land," and Levit. 19:18: "You shall love (ve-ahavta) your neighbour as yourself," and verse 34, now specifically again in regard to strangers and converts, "You shall love him (ve-ahavta) as yourself" -- there can be no talk of loyalty oaths, relations with sovereigns, nor obedience pledges, in these verses: the whole stress in fact is on equality, indeed warm mutuality and felt devotion and care. Such love of others is even explicitly equated with self-love. But self-love is far from being a matter of sovereignty treaties, mere formal obedience to a master, or any politicized allegiances. It manifestly relates to the most intimate and personal feelings and passions.

Chaldean Periphrast contradicts himself, since on the one hand he mocks the universally given translation of ahavta as "you shall love," saying the agreement of all translations (including modern ones by the way) does not mean a thing, and then he cites to support himself the comments of Moshe Weinfeld which as it happens also give the translation of ahavta as "love"! So his own source disproves his claim. Weinfeld is cited however as explaining the term as indicating vassal loyalty, but as I have already shown and as is well-known, we cannot pretend that personal devotion and love cannot come into that too -- in any case the fact of the matter is that "love" is also explicitly used in Biblical Hebrew for personal feelings, physical longings, and devotion both sexual and other, and not just in regard to sovereigns, and the usage in loyalty treaties actually derives its force and meaning from this wider application, just as in our own day and age. I've already given some instances. Some further examples of this wider meaning of a-h-v: Gen. 27:4 [Isaac says] "Make it into a tasty dish such as I love (ahavti), and bring it to me to eat." Gen. 29:20: "Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, but it seemed like only a few days because of the love he had for her (beahavato otah)" 29:32: Leah gives birth to Reuven, and says "Now my husband will love me (yeehavani)." Exod. 21:5, regarding a slave who refuses freedom, saying: "I love (ahavti) my master, my wife and my children ... " A further important instance, which directly contradicts Weinfeld, is Deut. 7:7: God is described as having love for the Bnei Yisrael, which following on the Shema indicates the felt mutuality of the love declared there, a love that goes beyond mere sovereign acceptance of loyalty; "love" here certainly cannot mean "vassal loyalty" nor "obedience." Nor is it limited to "actions." Even therefore when Israel breaks the covenant, unlike in sovereignty treaties this does not end God's "love" for Israel, as too many Biblical verses indicate to bother quoting here. God's love, and Israel's love too, is shown to be deeply felt, relating even to their personal identities. It goes far beyond not only actional matters since Israel's actions cannot break it but also in its personal depth beyond mere formal sovereignty treaties, as the Shema itself already explicitly makes crystal-clear to all but the wilfully blind.

Other Biblical passages using a-h-v as "love" precisely in the senses we use for the English word could very easily be added, but the ones given should be sufficient. However, it is evident that those who are wilfully blind cannot be made to see no matter how explicit the proofs. We have seen this every step of the way, from Cassuto to a works-righteousness view of Judaism (following Paul's Epistles and Luther) to a rejection of explicit Biblical quotes. In every case counter-arguments were rejected out of hand with ad hominem attacks and slurs including even accusations of dishonesty. Hardly conducive to debate.
Tabor Goldberg on June 13, 2012 at 11:14 am (Reply)
Ben-Tzur seems to be unaware of the fact that language changes, that words are NOT univocal over time even in denotation (let alone connotation). For example, in English hip-hop jargon, for a certain generation, "bad" meant that something was good. And in Shakespeare's time, "nunnery" was the polite code word for brothel.
(At least he is consistent: he also believes that the 40+ yrs old research of Prof. Kutscher on the Aramaic language is still the state-of-the-art word on that subject.)
Like every language, Hebrew changes over time, and the Bible covers at least a 1000 yr. period. The pre-modern Jewish scholars did not have the benefit of comparative Semitics, which renders their work less than definitive- Rashi, for example, was driven to try to understand certain Biblical terms through analogy from the medieval farming methods of Catholic France.
Anyway, texts differ. "P" is different than "D" : the meaning of 'love' in Deut established for Deuteronomy by modern critical scholarship- as summarized by Weinfeld- may or may not be applicable for the LATER text (Aramaicisms included) of Leviticus ("P"). And it is Deuteronomy which is known, after all, as the mishneh Torah, the second/latest (=more authoritative) rendering of Revelation.
As for ad hominem commentary, it is Ben-Tzur, not CP, who is being Pauline throughout, in insisting in the Christianizing privileging of (private) faith/belief/action over (Semitic) publicly-observable conduct.
One further note: in the ongoing evolution of language, in Israel today, Ahava ("love") is best known as the brand name of a best-selling soap. "You shall soap your neighbor as thyself'!
Shneur Zalman on June 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm (Reply)
Stiles, Goldberg and the Periphrast all note the true meaning of ahava/love in Deuteronomy as loyalty/obedience. How it may be used elsewhere within the Bible is not germane, and cetainly no “proof” that loyalty/obedience is incorrect.
Hebrew is not Esperanto; so statements such as “wider general meaning of "love," here as in all other languages..” are rhetorical flourishes without meaning. Does Ben-Tzur claim to know every language on earth? For example, in Greek there are three separate and distinct words for ‘love': agape, eros and philia, all with different shadings that are lost when merged/translated into English as ‘love’ or into Hebrew as ‘a-h-v’
“works-righteousness view of Judaism (following Paul's Epistles and Luther)" ? Such a Christian formulation! You mean: a taryag mitzvot view of Judaism?
Ben Tzur on June 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm (Reply)
Of the nine references to "a-h-v" words in my response just above, which I quote to show that "love" means far more than mere action-directed "obedience" to a "vassal lord," four come from Deuteronomy itself, and one of the more forceful examples is precisely the Shema itself when each word is considered in its full literal meaning. This disposes of both Tabor Goldberg's and Shneur Zalman's objections. No further comment is necessary, and I consider this discussion concluded.
shmuely on June 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm (Reply)
Ben-Tzur's apodictic claim that "one of the more forceful examples is precisely the Shema itself when each word is considered in its full literal meaning" demonstrates no such thing. Because it is obedience that is being asked, rather than it be given in rote-form, the text goes out of its way to stress that one should do so whole-heartedly (lvav, nefesh, etc) !

Moreover, Ben-Tzur's declaration that "no further comment is necessary" seems a chutzpah!
practitioner of Torat emet on June 15, 2012 at 10:09 am (Reply)
The posting about the 3 different Greek words for "love" is telling, because, according to the Talmud, the only languages in which the Torah can be read publicly/liturgically are Hebrew AND Greek!

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