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The Reluctant Renegade

Louis Jacobs.

Since its founding, Conservative Judaism in the U.S. has defined itself in sharp contrast to Reform, pursuing a more religiously centrist and Zionist middle course.  Its UK parallel, Masorti ("traditional") Judaism, was born as a secession movement from Orthodoxyinspired by the writings of theologian Louis Jacobs. 

Relevant Links
Between Maimonides and Jacobs  Neil Gillman, Conservative Judaism. No other contemporary theologian has explored the issue of revelation as thoroughly or systematically.
Ask the Rabbi  Neil Gillman, In the last year of his life, Jacobs answers questions on law, community, and fundamentalism with his characteristic humor and humanity. (Video; 2006)
Against Capitulation  Michael Harris, Jewish Quarterly. From a modern Orthodox perspective, it is Jacobs himself who fails adequately to respond to the challenge of biblical criticism.

Jacobs, whose fifth yahrzeit is observed this month, was practically "tenure track" to becoming Britain's Chief Rabbi, a post that was and remains under the auspices of the (Orthodox) United Synagogue. Jacobs's ascent was stymied in the early 1960's over his heterodox views on the divine origins of the Pentateuch. He died in 2006, the mostly-unwitting founder of Britain's fledgling Masorti movement. 

He would have preferred a reformation of modern Orthodoxy.  

An only child, described as an "illui [prodigy] and a Gaon," Jacobs was born in Manchester and educated at the Gateshead Talmudic Academy. Once ordained, he held various pulpits before becoming a lecturer at Jews' College (today the London School of Jewish Studies) where he trained rabbinical students. As his reputation soared, his writings, beginning with We Have Reason to Believe (1957), drew critical notice for their deviation from Orthodox norms. Jacobs softly embraced the idea that the Torah was not literally dictated by God and recorded verbatim by Moses at Mt. Sinai; that a "human element" was involved in its composition. In 1961, Jacobs's advancement to college principal, considered a stepping stone to the chief's office, was blocked by then-Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. 

Thus began what came to be known as the Jacobs Affair. The rabbi was labeled a heretic (epikoros) by the Orthodox establishment, though he had his supporters in the pews. Not a few rank-and-file United Synagogue members were non-practicing Orthodox. Regardless of levels of observance, still more shared Jacobs's progressive theological bent and were not scandalized by historical biblical criticismnotwithstanding its conclusion that the Pentateuch was not the work of a single author. The Jewish Chronicle newspaper, where for many years Jacobs wrote the "Ask the Rabbi" column, championed his elevation at Jews' College and kept the affair in the spotlight. 

In 1963, the grandees at London's New West End Synagogue invited Jacobs to become their "minister." Brodie forbade it, setting the stage for a final schism. By chance, the congregation was already set to relocate, and Jacobs's admirers quietly purchased the current building and gave him the pulpit. Thus was born the New London Synagogue in the St. John's Wood neighborhood, today the flagship of the nine Masorti synagogues in the country.

Jacobs was foremost a scholar, not a rebel.  He devoted himself to his writing, instead of to leveraging his popularity to create an alternative to the United Synagogue.  In his writing, one sees a traditionalist who rejects fundamentalism, a believer seeking a middle course between the anthropomorphized God of the Orthodox and the depersonalized Deity of the progressives.  While holding Revelation to be real, he thought the creed of Torah min ha-shamayim, "Torah from Heaven," needed to be synthesized in order to remain tenable to moderns. The problem wasn't "Torah" or "Heaven" but, rather, the concept of "from." God's authentic voice, speaking through the Torah, "is is in no way affected in that we can only hear that voice through the medium of human beings." 

In Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999) Jacobs described his approach as "liberal supernaturalism," that is, adhering to traditional ritual practice and belief in revelation, yet open to what secular learning has to teach on the historicity of the Bible. On this point Jacobs parted company with modern Orthodoxy. His research had revealed that normative Judaism was the product of rabbis' astutely adjusting Jewish law to the ages. That is why in Tree of Life (1984) he had earlier promoted "a non-fundamentalist Halakhah" that interpreted rabbinic law as "a living corpus" which had evolved according to the needs of the agenot a code that had emanated in full at Mt. Sinai. 

While Jacobs was foremost a critic of the house from which he came, in Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999) he described his aversion to Reform Judaism as "partly emotional and partly aesthetic"it lacked soul. A talmudist, he found Reform's attitude toward that great work condescending.  But he also expressed "unease" at modeling Britain's Masorti movement on the American Conservative model because it had become above all a reaction to Reform, while his response was to Orthodoxy. In Beyond Reasonable Doubt he summed up his dilemma with a story about a professor friend who could daven with the Orthodox but not talk to them, and talk to the Reform but not daven with them.  By default, he was most at home with observant Conservatives.

Of course, we can only guess at what Jacobs and his friend would have to say about the left-wing theological drift of U.S. Conservativism today, which has made that stream increasingly hard to differentiate from Reform.

As for Jacobs's lasting impact?  On the ground the results are modest. As Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg noted in his eulogy, "he never wanted to establish a new movement."  According to a 2011 report, 73 percent of British Jewish households (population 300,000) register a synagogue affiliation: 66 percent belong to United Synagogue or still more rigorously Orthodox streams; most of the remainder belong to the Liberal and Reform branches; a minuscule 2.7 percent are Masorti. The best that can be said is that Jacobs's movement has almost doubled its total membership over the past 10 years, and that synagogues like Wittenberg's New North London are vibrant and bustling.

Having been ruled an epikoros, Jacobs was excluded, including by the current Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, from receiving honors on those occasions when he attended Orthodox services. Yet in 2005, readers of the Chronicle voted him "the greatest British Jew of all time." Jonathan Romain, a Reform rabbi, captured the popular sentiment in his eulogy: "Louis Jacobs was often described as the greatest chief rabbi that British Jewry never had." 

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shmuely on July 12, 2011 at 10:53 am (Reply)
What was the purpose of the snide and totally uncalled for remark that "Of course, we can only guess at what Jacobs and his friend would have to say about the left-wing theological drift of U.S. Conservativism today, which has made that stream increasingly hard to differentiate from Reform" ???

How is this speculation relevant to the topic at hand, other than as a rude and gratuitous right-wing dig at "liberal" Conservative Judaism?
Ellen on July 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm (Reply)
The real problem of Conservative Judaism is not its leftwing drift in America because most Conservative Jewish members over the last 60 years have not taken the slightest interest in the theology of the movement or the views of its leadership at JTS in Manhattan.

The real problem of Conservative Judaism, most likely to be fatal to the movement, is the fact that the great bulk of its membership is indistinguishable from the Reform membership, thus creating an unbridgeable gap between a leadership that is Jewishly literate to a degree and speaks about the authority of Jewish tradition while the membership wants to hear only anecdotes about liberal politics, Jewish jokes, Israeli survival, etc. The 10-20% minority of Conservative Jews who actually care about Judaism and practice it to a degree, continue to hemorrhage out of the movement toward a revived Orthodoxy or now to the new independent Minyan movement. This leaves the Conservative rabbis and JTS folk with elderly members and fewer and fewer schuls.

Only the Orthodox today have a religious and educational leadership that is authentically connected to Jewish tradition AND speaks the same theological and cultural language as its membership. In the Reform movement, the leadership and membership speak the same language but that language isn't Judaism - it is secular liberalism. They won't survive either for the obvious reason that a secular liberal of Jewish descent does not need to join a synagogue today for social purposes, and is increasingly not likely to do so for any other reason.

Masorti Judaism can and someday will flourish in Israel, but I don't see how it can flourish in America or the diaspora except as a small satellite of the modern Orthodox community.
Madel on July 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm (Reply)
What if Jacobs, instead of inserting in the Torah's genesis a human element beyond Moses, had just rejiggered Moses's contribution to include a human element recognizing the pshat of the Torah. For example, the Torah expressly states that it was written by Moses over the 40 years of desert wandering, much at Sinai, but much ALSO from the Ohel Moed. Most of us recognize how our writing has changed over time, so perhaps much of what Jacobs attributed to other human contributions might have been solely Moses's maturing over time as a writer. This and many other points comprise a critical theme in Yerachmiel ben-Yishye's new novel HAAZINU (Listen Up) from Gefen Publishing. And perhaps God intended Moses's human element and NOT divine dictation to be the input to the Torah so that the Big Bang and evolution were not described so accurately as to create a 3000 year old document today that had brought modern science to a primitive people. The latter ideas also came from that brilliant book HAAZINU (Listen Up).
Chaim Yehudah on July 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm (Reply)
Just a small factual correction. The New. West End synagogue was not seeking to move after Rabbi Jacobs was denied its pulpit. It has been in the same building since its establishment in the 19th century. It was the St. Johns Wood synagogue a few miles away which was moving and which Jacobs new synagogue bought. The irony was that the Chief Rabbi prayed at the St Johns Wood synagogue and so Jacobs occupied the exact seat vacated by the Chief Rabbi who had denied him his original pulpit.
nelsonsamuel on July 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm (Reply)
My background is that I went to an after public school Hebrew School. At age 10 I was the Hazan of the Junior Congregation. I spent a semester in a Yeshiva. I was the Cantor at the Jewish Chapel on Ft. Sam Houston while I was in the Army. I was in several choirs for High Holy Day services and the Cantor for 18 years at High Holy Day VA Jewish services in LA. I am the Gabbai at my Conservative Synagogue. I can chant the Torah and do many of the Haftorahs for the congregation. However, I am not a Reform Jew nor am I Orthodox. I like to seat with my wife during services. I think that women should be allowed to participate in services. Torah is a history of the children of Israel and the relatioship of a nation to HaShem. Moses may or may not have received the Torah on Mt. Sinai but our modern technology has shown that the writing of this wonderful piece of literture was written down by more than one person and has been reproduced almost exactly for centuries. I am not orthodox because there are a few areas of observance I do not agree upon. I believe that orthodoxy has not progressed out of the 16th century Europe. The Conservative leadership has failed to keep the movement close to Orthodoxy and therefore this movement will eventually blend into Reform leaving the religion with two diverse poles. All others will be secular, Jews who think they are Jews. Only HaShem knows the outcome.
Moishgil on July 12, 2011 at 6:37 pm (Reply)
I want to second Shmuely's comment about how totally unnecessary and in appropriate the disparaging comment about progressive American Conservative Judaism was.

Half-way throughout, I found myself genuinely taken with the authors insightful and articulate prose.

Reading such an insulting and incongruous remark left me more angry with the author than appreciative of the subject matter.

Mr. Jager, you owe those of us who are proud to call ourselves committed, serious, practicing American Conservative Jews an apology. The very fact that I cannot eat or observe Shabbat in the home of most Reform rabbis tells me that Conservative Judaism remains dramatically distinct from Reform.
Avi on July 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm (Reply)
Jacobs thought that a literate and honest orthodoxy simply could not ignore the findings of biblical criticism and archeology. The irony is, of course, that orthodoxy has done just that. Despite the proliferation of information sources and education the vast majority of orthodox Jews simply know nothing about these topics. Artscroll has replaced Hertz and the music has continued without change.
Dave on July 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm (Reply)
Very well said. I used to believe that the Chumash was a work of many authors. However after studying it more I am inclined to believe that it was written by Moshe, but over the 40 years in the wilderness. If many academics are so sure that Shakespeare wrote all the plays attributed, what is so difficult about believing that Moshe wrote the entire Chumash?
JohnyC8 on July 13, 2011 at 11:34 am (Reply)
for a revealing insight into the Jacobs Affair, read an analysis by Rabbi Raymond Apple, formerly of Bayswater and Hampstead congregations, London:
Ellen on July 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm (Reply)
I understand your point, Avi, that modern science, archeology and higher forms of criticism were supposed to undermine faith in the Biblical accounts because modern intellectual methods and the intellectuals themselves were supposed to be figures of higher authority and integrity than old-fashioned rabbis from shtetls, etc.

Much of what people accept as being true as nothing to do with the quality of evidence, which to the unlearned mind is often out of grasp, in any case. It has more to do with the credibility of the messenger. That has always been the case. The faith of many reasonable people, including yours truly, in the integrity of modern intellectuals has been reduced to the point that I wouldn't trust any argument that they make, unless I have the time and expertise to judge each piece of evidence on its own merits.

Please devote 5 minutes of contemplation to the reality that a large proportion of modern intellectuals bought into the whole Marxism-Leninism explanation of human conflict, which has now been revealed to be a lot of nonsense, fabricated for the purposes of grabbing power and rationalizing the wholesale destruction of traditional culture. These same people and others like them are the ones who have produced the higher criticism of the Bible, etc. Why should I believe anything they say on that subject, when on others they were proven not only to be wrong, but to be consciously wrong in a cynical attempt to use criticism as a means to carry out power grabs and cultural change.
Allen on July 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm (Reply)

I would appreciate it if you could point me to the chapter and verse that "expressly states" that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch? Forget the fact that Moses would have somehow documented a history beyond the time of his own death. Forget the fact that upon telling of Moses' death the bible says there has never been such a prophet among Israel since that time (clearly indicating that the story is being written well after the time of Moses' own death). So even if the bible did make such a statement its accuracy would be highly suspicious.

Orthodoxy firmly believes many things that are NOT WRITTEN in the bible. For example the bible never says that Abraham was the first monothiast. In fact more often than not orthodoxy directly contradicts scripture or attempts to explain away ideas and laws that would offend any modern man.

Consider reading James Kugel's How To Read The Bible. Kugel is an American born biblical scholar who taught at Harvard, Yale and now at Bar Joan in Israel. He is a practicing Jew who considers himself orthodox despite being branded a heretic like Rabbi Jacobs. In my opinion he's in good company.
Elliot Jager on July 14, 2011 at 8:06 am (Reply)
I would like to thank Chaim Yehudah for setting me straight after I muddled up which synagogue the followers of Rabbi Jacobs bought.

Elliot Jager
Madel on July 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm (Reply)
Allen and all other doubters:

Devarim 31:24-26 is one of a number of verses describing Moses's writing parts of the Torah, here alluding to Sefer Devarim. If you have a problem with the fact that two chapters of Devarim follow verses 24-26 and "ipso facto" couldn't have been written by Moses, you're being a little naive about God's ability to give Moses insight not only into his own death, but since he was being denied entry into Eretz Yisrael, maybe some insight as well into how he would be remembered 3300 years later. And as I said earlier in this thread, I can easily believe that the human element in Moses wrote the last two chapters of Devarim AFTER he wrote verses 24-26 without remembering that verses 24-26 would give ordinary mortals like us the doubt that he wrote the last tw0 chapters at all.
Allen on July 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm (Reply)

To me, you seem to have an unreasonable bias against the intellect. You focus on “Marxism-Leninism” but no doubt there is a bigger list of bad and damaging ideas put forth by quote… “intellects”. There are and will always be a lot of false, misguided and even evil people who call themselves intellects in this world and may even be intellectually superior in some manner. Intellect does not equal good, but it does not equal evil either. At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that there will always be a lot of false, misguided and even evil people who call themselves “religious” or “religious leaders” in this world. It is simply the state of humanity and that is why God or People (depending on which side of the debate you stand) saw fit to write a book of laws.

My issue with your post and my challenge to your way of thinking about this issue is that you seem ready to dismiss these intellects going as far as saying that “the integrity of modern intellectuals has been reduced to the point that I wouldn't trust any argument that they make”. Wow.. what to say about that statement !

I don’t know you, but I don’t really believe you. And it’s not that I think you are a liar, it’s that I believe you have a very specific definition of intellect, that is not in fact, accurate. I suspect with a 100% level of confidence that you use the ideas and creations of many an intellect and that for the most part you do trust them. You must use electronics including the internet, cell phones, computers; You go to the doctor and take sophisticated medications and medical tests; You trust the vehicles you travel in (air, car & train), etc… Not to mention your use of their conceptual ideas such as “mathematics” which is one of the tools they use to explain and simulate the creation of the universe in a manner that is in complete contradiction to the orthodox view of creation. In fact, it is the intellects that are building the technology that protects the nation of Israel, Britain and the United States from evil doers and I am sure you would join me in applauding them for that work too.

It seems to me that it is when it comes to traditional religion, or the ideas that we as human beings are heavily invested in that many people suddenly see “intellectual” as a dirty word ! I think it’s because the ideas of these intellects frighten people and destabilize our world view. But that does not mean they are wrong !

If we were to turn the tables, I am sure we can both create a huge list of devastatingly evil acts perpetrated on mankind at the command of religious leaders (who the religious see as intellects too).
If you ever get to read Spinoza (another heretic) , Einstein, and other Jewish intellects that have been villainized by many orthodox Jews and Christians yet applauded by much of the world, you will see no malice. These are good men who are unwilling to accept the word of ancient and mid-evil thinkers as the final word on God, his will and the intent of specific words that go supposedly chose (which never seem to mean what they clearly say and require human interpretation).

What is wrong with applying the ideas of scientific discovery to the bible ? what is wrong with exploring the possibility (I think reality) that Judaism has evolved and in the case of orthodoxy has accepted interpretation and often fabrication (much of the oral law) as God’s word ? How dare anyone expel or disqualify an individual from the community because they dare to question, form opinions and publicly discuss these opinions an ideas. Only religion and politics (often mimicking the feverous passions of religious dogma) takes this position. To Spinoza’s points:
- You cannot “make” people believe. They believe or they don’t. To force belief is a ridiculous concept. To force silence and obedience is doomed to failure.
- It is as if the orthodox have accepted a false G-d. This new God being the paper and ink in the form of the Bible and Talmud that are now thousands of years old. It seems that to question these documents and their Dogma is to question God himself.

Well maybe if there is a God who cares, he would like us to question these documents and improve upon the creation of ancient and mid-evil men.
Allen on July 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm (Reply)
Ellen and all other non-doubters;

Again, if you are open to the idea, read Kugel. He is an Orthodox doubter by some people’s standards – recently refused from worshipping at Yeshiva University at the demand of the rabbi’s there even though he was invited to speak by the student body.

Kugel is in no way hostile to orthodoxy, to the contrary he embraces it as his life style, yet he see’s things differently from the Orthodox party line. He does an excellent job comparing and contrasting the basis for orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim interpretation of the Bible. As an attendee of orthodox yeshivot my whole life, I think he did a good job at it too. He then shares the Scholarly or intellectual approach and lets you decide what you value. Kugel himself seems to respect and value all of these approaches but lives as an Orthodox man – at the end of his book he explains why and how he does so !
If I recall correctly, Kugel talks to this very subject. The assumption you make is that when it says “Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book” that this law and in fact the book are THE torah that we carry around with us today ! My use of the word “law” in the translation is based on the Machone Mamre translation which is an orthodox translation.
In fact, I believe it is the Israelite king that the tnach calls one of the greatest of kings who sends his secretary into the temple store rooms and surprises all of Israel when he finds “the book of law”. He immediately calls upon the people (much like Moses does here) and reads them this new (old) found book which many scholars believe to be a single component of the torah. This story happens in about 600 BC. The implications are enormous as this old found book seems to contradict earlier Israelite worshiping rituals and laws found elsewhere in the torah. After reading this book publicly Josiah has all alters (they were previously all over Israel) outside of the temple destroyed and literally seems to reform Judaism ! Many scholars including Kugel seem to see this as one of a few transforming moments in what we not know as Judaism. Many believe that Josiah had the book written and added it to the bible in an out-right effort to update what was then already an ancient religion. If you read the torah (and leave out all assumptions you were taught in Hebrew school) the scholarly explanation looks very reasonable. Is it right ? Who knows…. But to assume the Orthodox Rabbinical view is THE right view and those who do not agree are worthy of being called heretics, is extreme and in my opinion cruel and unjust. Somehow we Jews don’t like it when the non-Jewish world does it to us, but within our world, we seem to think we have that right ! People should be respected for an honest search not condemned for it.
By the way. In fact, there is significant evidence, much of it identified via the Torah itself that the torah we have today is not the original document. Even the Rambam clearly acknowledges the evolution of the words of the Torah and credits a Karite family with keeping the best and most accurate copy. We, Jews today, use that Karite version. But even our Codex’s (master copies which are only about 1,000 yrs old) have notes in the margins where the very scribes who penned them question the proper reading and accuracy of the text and provide multiple alternatives which differing words that translate to very different messages. What is worse, the Karite version is far from the most ancient version. Many older copies exist or existed. Scholars have mapped the versions and built a kind of family tree to show its evolution. Our copy is right in the middle of that tree. Not a very prominent position when it comes to authenticity.
As for your comment that “you're being a little naive about God's ability to give Moses insight not only into his own death, but since he was being denied entry into Eretz Yisrael, maybe some insight as well into how he would be remembered 3300 years later”. To this I can only say that I will resist being offended by you calling me naïve, if you will resist being offended when I say maybe it’s you who are naïve.
Avi on July 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm (Reply)
"Please devote 5 minutes of contemplation to the reality that a large proportion of modern intellectuals bought into the whole Marxism-Leninism explanation of human conflict, which has now been revealed to be a lot of nonsense, fabricated for the purposes of grabbing power and rationalizing the wholesale destruction of traditional culture."

Are they contaminating our precious bodily fluids by putting fluoride in the water too?

The actual cover up/ conspiracy is to be found in the successive translations and interpretations of the Torah which seek to obscure the evidence of collaborative authorship and editing over time. Jacobs' eminently sensible question was: how do we, traditionalists, respond to this knowledge? I have never really got to grips with what his answer was but the question is a profound one it seems to me.
Ellen on July 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm (Reply)

You are overlooking the obvious point that these intellectuals of which I spoke used and use the language of science when discussing an invented ideology that has no more compelling evidence supporting it than traditional religion. I wouldn't have any problem with left wing intellectuals who argue that they are inventing a new religion called "Marxism-Leninism", or for that matter "secular liberalism." David Mamet in his recent book accurately noted the similarity between secular liberalism and religion (both are based on assumptions that cannot be proven, and give their adherents a sense of moral rectitude and superiority). This is the problem with secular leftist intellectuals. They are no better than obscurantist rabbis, but at least the rabbis genuinely believed in what they sermonized about, and cared for their flocks. The same can most certainly not be said about the tenured faculty at your local university.

I have great admiration for the scientific method, especially so being trained as a scientist myself. What I don't like is the application of the scientific method to areas of knowledge to which it has no relevance.
Allen on July 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm (Reply)

I hear you and I agree to a large extent. When people adhere to any idea like a religion that has un-questionable dogma, it is bad. Everything can and should be questioned - answers should be approached with caution. That said, the basic idea of socialism (I intentionally avoid Marxism) is not necessarily evil (although it does not work when applied 100%). I do not accept that all involved in promoting such ideas are maliciously deceiving and focused on destroying traditionalism for the sake of it, although I do accept that some people may fit this category (just as some religious organizations try to squelch modernity and scientific thinking and do so in a zealous and malicious manner).

That said, it gives me no comfort to know that “at least the rabbis genuinely believed in what they sermonized about, and cared for their flocks”. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions ! The Rabbi's who would declare someone an Apikoret (heretic) for speaking to things that they believe and have to a large extent been proven using the scientific method are ethically WRONG. If while living a Christian state, Jews were stripped of honors (like Rabbi Jacobs was by his own people) because we believed differently than they do, we would all be up in arms – and rightfully so. The acts of mankind are what matter most, not the beliefs. If we did the math, religion would fare no better than the people you call the secular liberals when it comes to mass murder and repression (Judaism included – the use of excommunication, isolation from the community of those who do not conform, mass murder in the name of god as described in the bible and even recent calls in Israel from the ultra orthodox for violence against Jews and non-Jews). Religious fundamentalists and the kind of people some call intellects (a sad misuse of the term) are two of a kind.
Science was born out of philosophy, but they are different and philosophy, despite all the great efforts of many a genius can be used to develop ideas and even moral lessons that are difficult to prove-in as righteous. My personal favorite is Spinoza another renegade Jew who comes to the conclusion that man must live and let live, that to even try to force belief is not sustainable and will result in division and often violence. Yet in the case of Rabbi Jacobs, this is what the orthodox establishment has tried to do. No surprise since the orthodox once excommunicated Spinoza himself for asking the same questions as Rabbi Jacobs, in the late 17th century. In the case of Spinoza and Jacobs, these are immoral acts - as are the efforts of those who have repressed Jewish ideology and religion. Ultimately, I am trying to make two points:
1) Repression is bad and the active effort to push a modern-thinker out of the community is a bad and immoral thing. Just because for millennia religion says it ok, does not make it ok.
2) Intellects are not bad people masquerading and working to destroy traditionalism. Bad, immoral people and acts are bad and immoral and coning intellects as bad is as bad as coining rabbi’s as bad.
That said, I am still waiting for us, the Jewish people, to divorce ourselves or disavow some of the immoral laws and the ideas positioned as God’s ideas in our bible. For me, and for Rabbi Jacobs its pretty easy, after all we see the hand of man in the document. Unfortunately, those individuals who refuse to accept that maybe these ideas recorded in the bible are not purely God’s cannot do so and this fact is causing harm to many people as it gives the orthodox the perceived right to decide who is good and who is bad and the right to act against people like Rabbi Jacobs who in my opinion (yes I know it just that) could have done more good than harm. And so, immorality written in by man is accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims around the globe. Sad….
Madel on July 22, 2011 at 10:44 am (Reply)

Instead of debating Ellen with few specifics, why don't you give us a list, at least 2 or 3, of what you think are human-scripted, immoral laws in the Torah.
Allen on July 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm (Reply)
The bible is all human scripted in my opinion and the opinion of most of the world population even many, if not the majority of the Jewish people.
If you read The Code of Hammurabi you will see a set of laws that mirror those written in the bible, not only in the things this law is seeking to protect but in the actual language itself, even the tochahcha (curses that God promises to inflict if the Israelites ignore these laws) mirrors previous documents produced by the major civilizations of the Near East. When you compare these texts it seems as if one text was plagiarized from the other right down to the details of the curses. The challenge to the claim that the bible is authored by God is that the Code of Hammurabi pre-dates the bible even if you calculate the age of the bible according to orthodox claims and a biblical calendar. The ten commandment themselves are a mirror image of Hittite contracts that Kings had their subservient and conquered states sign. Again, from format to rhythm to many of the details. Too much so to be dismissed as sheer coincidence. Don’t take my word for it -read up on the topic in Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible”.
As for immoral. I am happy to provide a few examples of immoral laws, behaviors exhibited by God himself and required of the ancient Israelites. I do want to make something clear that seems to get lost when one does identify the immoral aspects of the bible. Specifically, I want to make it clear that the Bible does have good laws too. Just because some would seek to shed old and immoral concepts does not mean that they don’t see the good too. Here are a few top of mind items that strike me as immoral:
1. The idea that children are punished for the sins of their parents for 3 generations. There is nothing moral about that. No modern state would support such a concept, but in ancient times, this was common.
2. The acceptability of slavery. Imagine a world where a father can give his daughter away as a slave in order to pay off debt ? Now Eved Ivri (an Israelite Slave) is bad enough, but what about a non-ivri slave ? By the way, scripture was used in synagogues and churches around the world to justify slavery through the Civil War in America and beyond that time in other countries.
3. The labeling of a child as a Mamzer (Bastard) and the exclusion of this Mamzer and all of their decedents for all eternity from much of society including temple service. This is abhorrent to me. In fact, I suspect we are all Mamzers today. I have a friend who says “see ! What a good idea.. that punishment would scare any parent from having an extra marital affair !”. That idea that such a threat would prevent people from sinning is clear fantasy. IF, that was the intent, it may have worked for some people, but it clearly did not work all the time and since when is it ok to use threats that are carried out against a small group of innocent souls for the purpose of a greater good? By the way, the law of Mamzer seems to contradict the bible's claim that god punished for up to three generations.
4. The idea that sacrificing a child is acceptable - ever. In the books of the prophets an Israelite victor of war promises God on his way home that he will sacrifice the first living creature he sees upon arriving at home. Sadly, he sees his daughter first and yes, he does sacrifice her. Interestingly, there is no condemnation of the act ! What is that about ?
5. The man ways that the bible offers up for the execution of individuals who break certain laws. Somehow, we have found a means to kill cattle with little pain, but for people the bible seems to prefer stoning, the pouring molten metal down the throat, the force feeding barley then water to force a person’s stomach to explode, etc… These are biblical punishments. And to me it is immoral to kill in these ways. Amazingly, we all look at countries that kill via stoning and call the people who support such acts “barbarians”. But we forget that they got this approach to the death penalty from the same bible we use. It is purely circumstance and the lack of a Sanhedrin (a Greek term) that precludes us from using these punishments today.
There are entire books that focus on biblical law, it sources and occasional immorality. You asked for some samples. I gave you the first ones that strike me. But let me assure you that there are many more.
Madel on July 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm (Reply)
Allen, all your points take no note of the time-frame in which the Torah was given. You're imposing current ethics on a time when they would have made no sense to the primitive (by our standards) Hebrews of 3300 years ago. In fact, a primary premise of Yerachmiel ben-Yishye's eye-opening novel HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), published this year by Gefen of Jerusalem, is just that. And some things you just get wrong. For example, you mix Torah with Neviim, but only the Torah is Divine Revelation. As to your No. 1, the Torah specifically states that a child shall NOT be punished for the sins of the father. The verse that you discuss deals with the BAD influence a sinful father has on his young to the FOURTH (not third) generation, and in that sense the child is punished. As to your No. 2, slavery is NOT the preferred norm in the Torah. While providing for it in the absence of an ineffective judicial system, there is a major difference between the treatment of a Hebrew servant indentured for a civil wrong and a non-Hebrew slave obtained by conquest. As to your No. 3, the mamzer may be abhorrent to you, but the practice of exclusion continues today in most societies. In ancient civilizations, without viable birth control, exclusion of the mamzer was one of a very few weapons to maintain the integrity of family. As to No. 4, child sacrifice is barred in the Torah (verses on Molech), consistent with Abraham's test (the Akeidah) in the binding of Isaac. As to your No. 5, should God have dictated that death be by injection and give the ancients a dose of modern medicine, or does God work with the ways of death known in the time of Moses. You're confusing to realms of time in dissing much of what the Torah says. Again, read HAAZINU (LLISTEN UP) before you take the Torah to task again.
Allen on August 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm (Reply)

I am a bit tired and low on time, but I did want to respond so forgive me for any typos or bad grammar.
I am “Imposing current ethics” ? Are you kidding me ? Moral is moral, immoral is immoral – what is right, does not change with time. The entire reason that God supposedly gave man the bible was to educate us on Morals. As a young boy I was taught how god first offered the bible to all other nations and they rejected it because it asked to much of them ! One nation responded.. “what ? give up stealing ?” and others asked “what ? give up killing ? ”. I guess you and others are now arguing that had God expected the Jews not to enslave people it would have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back - Huh ? How convenient. But wait, if we really said Naaseh Vnishma (we will do it, and then hear it) how does your argument play ? Is it that the ancient Israelites would have accepted the laws blindly (as they supposedly did), but not kept those few additional moral laws that God could have included.. so he gave us immoral laws I an effort to protect us from his fury ? or the people’s inability to keep those few unpalatable laws ? Would it have been too much to be silent like he was on abortion ! This whole argument is interesting since the Israelites did a poor job f keeping any of the laws from what I read in the books of the prophets. Are you actually arguing that instead God gave us a half-moral/half-immoral set of laws that need to be adjusted over time ? By whom ? People ? I don’t buy it Madel. Not one bit and I don’t understand how you do either !

I have read many books like the one you point to. Just another in a long list of books designed to explain away what we know in the modern world. So far, none of these books strike me as credible in their arguments. They twist words, interpret on the fly and make assumptions about the meaning of scripture and the reliability of science that don’t hold water.
As for the things I just get wrong….. You point out that God punishes up to four generations - not three as I had stated. I’ll give you that. Your God is nastier than I gave him credit for. For some reason the book that you believe has no words that are not needed and is perfectly correct says that “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Machone Mamre translation). What’s with the third and fourth ? which is it ? Is god confused ? I am sure Yirchmiel ben-Yishye has a brilliant explanation (if an ancient interpreter did not beat him to it). The point is, that I don’t believe in a Jealous God – Jealousy is a human emotion, an emotion we spend our lives trying to control as it brings out the worst in us.
Now if we are talking about inaccuracies and misinterpretation, let’s not leave this one verse. Show me Madel, where does “ the Torah specifically states that a child shall NOT be punished for the sins of the father” ? It says no such thing ! The pasuk I read is pretty clear. It says that God is jealous and will visit inequity on the children. If it’s not God’s personal action against the child being discussed, why would God describe himself as Jealous ? and actively talk about him/god visiting the inequity ? The answer is obvious - because the author is threatening us !
As for your number 2, you say that “slavery is NOT the preferred norm in the Torah.”. How would you know this ? does it say so ? No… you just believe it because someone else who seems to be promoting your belief systems says so an thy say so only because given today’s morals, they need to. TheBbible does not “provid(ing) for it (slavery) in the absence of an ineffective judicial system”, the bible does offer up wht it considers to be the ideal judicial system ? how can you say this ? and you say “there is a major difference between the treatment of a Hebrew servant indentured for a civil wrong and a non-Hebrew slave obtained by conquest” – wow… I did not know that morality changed when it comes to war. Sounds like old world immorality to me !

As for number 3: You say “the mamzer may be abhorrent to you, but the practice of exclusion continues today in most societies.” I say this is still indecent ! you go on to say that “In ancient civilizations, without viable birth control, exclusion of the mamzer was one of a very few weapons to maintain the integrity of family”. Wow,.. where do you come up with this stuff ? It sounds to me like you are just arguing to sustain your belief. There is no backup in the torah for anything you say.
On Number 5 you say “, should God have dictated that death be by injection and give the ancients a dose of modern medicine, or does God work with the ways of death known in the time of Moses.”. I dot know.. how did Abraham slaughter his lamb’s ? How did the Kohanim kill their sacrifices ?All I am saying is that even sinners worthy of death could have been slaughtered with the same care and painlessness that animals are slaughtered with. No modern medicine or injections are required (and you know this, so I don’t understand how you can write what you do. You seem to think that god wanted these people to die the terrible deaths – immoral !
I won’t go on arguing but suffice it to say that your arguments are not logical - I learned them all. I studied in yeshiva for 12 years, my father was told that I could be a gadol hador with my Talmudic logic, I studied in Jerusalem in a mesiftah/kollel and somehow I still concluded that its just not real ! That is what I believe. Bring me proof otherwise and I will submit, but your arguments feel like excuses not proof and certainly not logical in nature. To me, blind faith is not honorable, specially when it empowers you to act against others !

All of the above stated, I don’t want the point of my initial post to be lost. My point is that poor Rabbi Jacobs was denied his place in HIS community because he dared to think outside the box drawn by men (not god) who lived thousands of years ago. Even if you believe in God and the Torah, you require layer on layer of rabbinical interpretation and mandate to come to a point where such a man can be removed from his pulpit and denied a simple aliyah at his daughter’s wedding because of the things Rabbi Jacobs said. If the subject matter in question was anything but religious in nature, no one would tolerate such behavior. Sadly, it is religion itself that in modern society gets a free pass on discrimination, repression and other nasty behaviors.
Ask your self this: should we non-believers be allowed to exclude orthodox doctor from practicing medicine since they think there is a higher power that will really decide who lives and who dies ? such a superstition is worrisome to people like me. We don’t want superstitious people entrusted with our lives ! What if they are in a rush to pray or party and leave it to god to heal me ? On the surface my comparison will no doubt anger people, but think about it, its no different that what the orthodox did to this man. And yet the religious would argue that it would be immoral for us to terminate doctors from their jobs because of their religious beliefs. A little consistency would be appreciated.
Finally, I see no point to continuing this discussion, although I did not want you to feel I was ignoring your post. If you can’t hear me and I can’t hear you at this point, then we probably will never hear each other. I do apologize if I came off as rude or mean, but its very frustrating to live surrounded by people who have suffered at the hands of other believers (Christians in the past) and are confident in dishing out judgments and suffering to others now that things are good.
Áëîã î ïóòåøåñòâèÿõ on September 28, 2011 at 2:13 am (Reply)
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