Rabbi Richard Hirsh, Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association:
I don’t like the way the question is worded. It is, as Lenny Bruce might have said, a “goyish” question. First, whether traditional or modern, Jews assign different degrees of sanctity to the Torah than we do the entire Tanakh (gee, I’d love to hear that in a debate: “Rev. Huckabee, do you believe in the Tanakh?”).
The prophets and the writings contain sacred literature, but tradition does not claim Sinaitic origin for them.
Second, Jews don’t “believe” in the Torah, we try to live by it as it is interpreted and applied. The whole point of halacha (Jewish law) is to spell out what it means—for example, to honor one’s parents, or to observe the Sabbath, or what constitutes “murder” as in “Thou shalt not murder” (note to those who can’t read the Bible in the original language: It’s “murder,” not “kill”).
Third, since the Tanakh is an anthology of collected writings of human beings over a period of 1,000 years, we should not expect and will not find consistency, and we often find contradictions, which sort of makes it hard “to believe” in every word.
And last, there are parts of Scripture from which I happily dissent, such as stories that imagine God commanding the Israelites to commit genocide (see Deuteronomy 20:17) or parents to stone a rebellious child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
A better question would be: What rights and respect should a president ensure for those Americans who do not believe in this book?
Those wacky Reconstructionists!
The joke is that they pray “to whom it may concern!” ;-)
Anyhow, most rabbis agree we are to interpret the words of the Torah. Here’s the Orthodox view:
Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America:
I believe that every word in that book (assuming it’s a Hebrew Jewish Bible) is holy. The Torah represents the word of God as transmitted to Moses. But if by “believe every word” you mean “believe that all of its words are intended by their Author to be taken literally or in their simplest sense,” then no, I do not believe that.
Because my belief—the Jewish belief since Sinai—is that in addition to the written law of the Torah, there is an indispensable oral law that accompanied it and has been handed down by Jewish scribes and scholars through the generations. That oral law acts as the key to unlocking the intent of the written word, and its teachings underlie how Jews like me endeavor to live their lives to this day.
This is helpful, meaning we’re not stuck with trying to justify the existence of a 6000-year old Earth versus the dinosaur fossil record, etc.
“Intelligent Design” and other creationist crapola need not apply.
And it’s timely, too, because science not only votes for Darwinian evolution, but is also proud to announce that the process of evolution is actually speeding up!
Explosive population growth is driving human evolution to speed up around the world, according to a new study.
The pace of change accelerated about 40,000 years ago and then picked up even more with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, the study says.
And while humans are evolving quickly around the world, local cultural and environmental factors are shaping evolution differently on different continents.
“We’re evolving away from each other. We’re getting more and more different,” said Henry Harpending, an anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City who co-authored the study.
For example, in Europe natural selection has favored genes for pigmentation like light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. Asians also have genes selected for light skin, but they are different from the European ones.
“Europeans and Asians are both bleached Africans, but the way they got bleached is different in the two areas,” Harpending said.
He and colleagues report the finding this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Based on the gigantor sizes of the people in my office building—tall and growing taller—I sort of suspected there was something going on. And what are those blinking metallic-looking growths on their ears?
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