Jewish Journal


July 19, 2010

Taking Judaism Seriously Again


Jonathan Zasloff’s article “What Are You Doing for Asarah B’Av?” might have come as a shock to some readers of the Jewish Journal. Opening with the provocative summons to have a Jewish hoedown on the 10th of Av (a day, not incidentally, when our Temple continued burning, for which reason certain halachic restrictions remain in force on the morning of the 10th of Av), Zasloff writes: “The time has come for us to acknowledge the dirty little secret of Tisha B’Av: The destruction of the Temple was one of the best things ever to happen to the Jewish people.”

He adds: “Had the Temple actually survived, it would have meant the destruction of the Jewish religion. Our religious and spiritual practices would have centered not on Torah, but rather on bloody sacrifices,” when Judaism was a cultic worship propagated by a “priestly cult,” making Tisha B’Av “not a tragedy but more akin to our people’s bar mitzvah.”

There is nothing in these sentiments that should surprise anyone; they reflect the well worn beliefs of progressive Judaism and its outlook on the Torah, i.e. the idea that the Torah is a fraud that is not what it purports to be. For roughly 200 years there have been just two mutually exclusive perspectives regarding the Torah. (1) The Torah was written by Moses; or (2) the Torah was originally written by multiple authors who never met each other, who contradicted each other, who even hated each other, and who invented their stories for political purposes.

The first perspective is generally accepted by Orthodox Jews and the second perspective is believed by academics in universities throughout the Western world and liberal Jewish rabbis who teach or are taught that the Bible is an amalgamation of contradictory sources and myth, jam-packed with ancient and outdated practices.

So which of these competing views is correct? The answer to this question matters a great deal to religious and secular Jews, and to anyone who loves truth. If the Bible had multiple authors, there is no reason for anyone to take it seriously since, at a minimum, multiple authorship would establish that the Torah is untruthful about its own claim that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, led them to Mount Sinai where they heard the Ten Commandments, and then wrote the entire Torah over a 40-year period.

And if the Torah is not the book that Moses wrote (by Divine dictation), but rather a book that Hebrew politicians — or members of a priestly cult — wrote to feather their ancient nests, why should you or I live by its onerous demands? Let Zasloff and his friends chant Rambam in Arabic (as he proposes) to the tune of Kumbayah. We (who are Orthodox Jews) will take off our kippot and drive to the beach on Shabbat, or catch a movie, or something other than sit in shul all day and learn difficult texts in a foreign language — if Judaism is nothing but a bunch of made up fairy tales

The destruction of the Temple was a great national tragedy. The great leaders and Torah sages of the time instituted observances that would help us focus on the underlying reasons for the destruction — the baseless hatred, the failure of our people to love our fellow Jews as ourselves (news flash to Zasloff: our religion was based on Torah, not “bloody sacrifices,” as his own citation of Rabbi Akiva’s scholarship makes abundantly clear). Zasloff would be closer to the mark if he said only that we can derive good from this tragedy by learning these lessons and uniting according to Torah precepts and values.

The biggest barrier to doing so today is the fact that many, if not most, Jewish religious leaders no longer believe in the Torah’s authenticity. If progressive Jews, following the academic view of the multiple authorship of the Torah, are correct, then the Torah is fictitious, unreliable and unworthy of the demands it makes of us. Caught in the crossfire are synagogue members and college students who trust in their leaders (clergy or professors) a little too much, fearing to delve into esoteric concepts and make up their own minds.

Contemporary American Jews owe it to themselves to investigate whether or not the Torah is a fraud, and to ask their religious leaders their answer to this question. Then they can decide for themselves whether they want to gyrate to the Kaddish d’Rabbanan with Jonathan Zasloff, or take Judaism seriously.

Eyal Rav-Noy, director of the Jewish Learning Academy, an outreach center in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, and journalist Gil Weinreich are authors of the new book Who Really Wrote the Bible: and Why It Should be Taken Seriously Again. They can be reached at www.WhoReallyWroteTheBible.com.

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