Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
I would like draw our attention to the other 75%. The approximately 75% of Jews who, according to the Pew report, do not attend a shul and do not feel that Jewish community or Jewish observance is a necessary part of being a Jew. We spend a lot of time thinking about, teaching, and interacting with the 25% who come to a shul, but how do we reach the majority of our people? What would make them want to be part of Judaism in more than name?
We all worry about this and many of us commit our lives to addressing this poor state of our people. We make our shuls more welcoming so Jews can easily come in, we offer Chanukah menorah lightings at the mall to bring Jewish ritual outward, and invite all who will come for Shabbat meals. But in fact we touch only a relatively small number of individuals this way. Our efforts have certainly not begun to stem the tide of assimilation, and worse the ingrained sense most Jews have that Judaism has little of value to offer them or the world.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggested, in a recent address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations, (thank you to my father for bringing it to my attention), a way of engaging the 75% that I think deserves our attention. Rabbi Sacks begins by pointing out what we all know -that many Jews today often see no good reason to be Jewish, and unlike in the past, no one from the Jewish or non-Jewish surrounding society is compelling them to practice, or to be labeled, as a Jew. They will connect only if there is a good reason to, if Judaism has something unique to say to their concerns and the concerns of the larger world.
If Judaism has a positive voice in general society, says Rabbi Sacks, if it can make people proud in the public arena to be a Jew, then it may have a chance of engaging the other 75%. Judaism can and must, speak loudly and publicly to the moral, intellectual, and spiritual challenges of our time. If we can bring a voice that non-Jews find compelling then jews will also.
Rabbi Sacks did this by spending a great deal of time as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth offering inspiring words in the national media and writing books about Judaism's deep and positive message for the larger world. Of course if one is the chief rabbi of a country, assuming one speaks well and has something to say, the job of bringing Jewish thought to the public is an easier one. But alas, one chief rabbi does not a Jewish renaissance make. What kinds of things can all of us do, the 25% of our people who are involved, to bring to society at large the deeply important messages Judaism is supposed to bring to the world, the guidance it can extend and light it can spread?
I think we live often as Jews today in response to the holocaust. We live as Jews in our homes but do not bring our Judaism into the public sphere. We tend to take an insular stance. We are not for the most part interested in sitting on local school boards, taking part in city politics, or being present at general city or community events, unless it can further our personal Jewish agenda. Some would say this is how it should be, that we should only be involved with the larger world when we must do so in service of the Orthodox community. But it is this attitude that stops us from engaging the larger world, being a blessing to it, and in our particular culture today -from engaging a wider array of the 75%.
Here are a few suggestions, though I am sure there are many more to be had.
1. Let us take advantage of opportunities to be present in interfaith environments. Meet the non-Jewish clergy in your area and find out how you can bring the Jewish voice to the religious and general civic community. America is a non-Jewish country in which Christian voices are present, but Judaism has a lot to say that is meaningful and our Christian neighbors often really do want to hear it.
2. Community service is a valuable venue in which the Orthodox and general Jewish community can be present in the bigger society and bring something to it. The common refrain, every time the opportunity for general community service arises that, “we need to help other Jews in our community first”, stops us from ever moving outside the walls of our own. Yes, we should help other Jews first, but if we do not ever get beyond our own walls we will not succeed in bringing a Jewish voice to the larger world. Perhaps we can think of fellow Jews as our brothers and sisters and non-Jews as our cousins.
3. Let us not be afraid to quote from our tradition. Why keep the Torah a secret? Next time you find yourself at a meeting within a non-Jewish or wider Jewish population and you think, “Pirkey Avot says something that would really bring depth and insight to this,” -say it. We must not hold back in today’s world from bringing our deeply Jewish selves into our workplaces or civic life. We live in a society that touts the benefits of multiculturalism, of the value of being an individual, let us help them, and us, live it.
There are many other opportunities to bring our Jewish selves and our Jewish voices into the public arena and the general culture. First though, we must realize how important it is, we must reach beyond our fears and our insularity, and we must know that God gave us the Torah so we could share it with the world and with fellow Jews. Let us not be afraid.
11.20.13 at 8:41 pm | 75% of Jews who, according to the Pew report, do. . .
11.11.13 at 1:50 pm | Appreciating the words of a Morethodoxy non-fan
10.31.13 at 12:08 am | We can't afford to be distracted
10.30.13 at 12:06 pm | Why nothing is neutral
8.18.13 at 4:46 pm |
8.15.13 at 2:54 pm | Understanding the message of Yom Kippur
12.2.09 at 11:12 pm | (28)
1.31.13 at 6:55 am | The Orthodox establishment should consider. . . (11)
11.20.13 at 8:41 pm | 75% of Jews who, according to the Pew report, do. . . (10)
November 11, 2013 | 1:50 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Garnel Ironheart is an avid – and mostly critical - reader of Morethodoxy. But I was very taken with a comment he submitted last week and reproduce it here in full (and I apologize for the negative remarks about Chabad. They do not reflect my views at all.)
Look, I’m not a big fan of Morethodoxy. Frankly I think it’s only about 10 years until you’re the right wing of UTJ, full-on Conservativism with a mechitza (hopefully). But in the interest of achdus let me give you some free advice.
Look at Chabad. If you think you’re having troubles with the Agudah then think about what they’ve gone through. The Agudah’s PR flacks attack you in print. Chabadniks have gone through physical attacks from that part of the Jewish community. You get called “Unorthodox”. They’ve been called heretics, non-Jewish and neo-Christians. Remember all the abuse heaped on the Rebbe, zt”l by Rav Shach, zt”l?
Yet years later, after all the abuse, after all the ongoing sex scandals, after all the messianism, Chabad is incredibly successful and growing stronger. Why? Because they have a message (Believe in the Rebbe and ye shall be saved) and they stay on it. They push the positive, drumming their ideology into anyone who will sit still long enough . They don’t take time to respond to outside attacks. They plow forward with their agenda no matter what. And it has worked for them in spades.
If you want this Morethodoxy thing of yours to amount to something more than a bunch of new-age feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love then you have to develop a concrete message and start pushing it. Playing defense all the time will just get you shoved into a corner.
I’ve never met Garnel (unless he also goes by some other name, in which case maybe I have!), and as I said, I don’t agree with all of what he says here. But I do appreciate the humanity and sincerity with which he wrote this. I read it as “words that emanate from the heart” (which, as we know, “enter the heart”) So here a few things that I’d like to share in response:
(1) I have never, and still don’t really think about Morethodoxy as being a “thing” - a movement, a distinct ideological sub-group. Like most of the “founding” Morethodoxy crew, I am a musmach (ordainee) of YU, a member of the RCA , and a full-time rabbi in an OU-affiliated shul. But I understand and appreciate the perspective that Garnel and many others have, namely that Morthodoxy is a forum for the ideas and religious philosophy that have become identified with the students of Yeshivat Chovevai Torah (YCT) and members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and that in reality -though not by conscious design - the three, along with Yeshivat Maharat and several other organizations as well, have effectively coalesced into a distinct movement within Orthodoxy. While I – and most of my friends and colleagues – reject this perspective, the perception is both significant and real. (And, in fact, I am the current president of the IRF, and my co-blogger Rabbi Gelman is a past-president.)
(2) I’m sure our wives and kids wish that we were just “feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love!” Like my Morethodoxy companions, and so many of the rabbis who are members of the IRF, we are out in the trenches, day and night, pastoring, teaching, programming and building, as rabbis of shuls, as teachers and principals in schools and as campus rabbis and chaplains around the country. In fact, this is a large part of why we lack the laser-like focus of an organization like Chabad. We are an integrated part of the Orthodox community’s multifaceted rabbinic leadership, serving in numerous and various institutions, each with its own complex set of unique challenges.
(3) Having said all of this, I think that Garnel’s challenge needs to be taken seriously. Not to satisfy our critics, and not as a means of carving out a place for ourselves as a distinct wing of Orthodoxy. Rather in order to better serve Klal Yisrael generally, and the Orthodox community especially, through bringing our vision forward in coordinated and concrete ways. We are reaching a critical mass in terms of the numbers of Orthodox rabbis and Jews who are passionate about living and teaching an Orthodoxy that is (choose your adjective) engaged / progressive / inclusive / connected , and for the sake of God, Torah, and Israel, we need to have greater focus in terms of agenda, message, and action. And - as Garnel implies - we mustn’t get pre-occupied with playing defense.
Is this easier said than done? Sure. But let’s get to work. I’ll do my share. It’s not upon any one of us to complete the work, but none of us is exempt from participating.
October 31, 2013 | 12:08 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
To my dear friends and fellow-travelers:
Whenever the waters get a little choppy, as they have this week, we need to remember only one thing. And that is, that we are serving God, and God alone. We are accountable only to God, and to our own souls and consciences. We believe – down deep in our spiritual core – in a vision of Orthodoxy that never throws up its hands in the face of human suffering, one whose eyes and heart are open to the friendship and thoughts and struggles of all Jews. A vision of Orthodoxy in which success is defined by the promise that “through you all the families of the world will be blessed”, and one in which Torah and Mitzvot are opportunities to be shared, not privileges to be protected. We believe – genuinely and unalterably – that this is what God has told us is good, and that it is this which He requires of us. We are accountable only to God. To God, to the people that we serve, and to ourselves.
Pursuing the path of God involves being open to advice and to constructive criticism. How else could we engage in the critical processes of introspection and self-improvement? But no less important than listening to friends who advise and criticize, is refusing to be distracted by the static of public attack. The public attackers are also sincere, and genuine in their words. But what they are asking is that we forsake God, and instead serve them.
In the end, we will succeed because we will create communities for whom Torah is the Tree of Life, the Mitzvot are sweeter than honey, and Halacha is the tradition with which we engage the human condition and dignify all those created in the Image. We have no energy to spare, or time to waste. The day is short, the work is great, and the Master expects much of us.
October 30, 2013 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
The Torah describes Sara our foremother’s death by enumerating the years of her life. Then the verse repeats, "…these were the years of Sara's life." Rash”i is bothered by this repetition, and comments, “All of them were equally for good.”
The Rebbe of Tosh, Rabbi Meshulam Feish Segal, may he live and be well, writes in the name of the Ariza”l, the great mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria, that there are things in our world which hide the Divine light so deeply (klipah) that we can not utilize them at all to raise up their divine potential. These things are forbidden in the Torah, such as the meat of a non-kosher animal. But there is a large range of things which the Torah permits us. These have the sparks of the Divine embedded within them in such a way that if we use them (really this applies also to deeds, speech and even thoughts) in the right way, with the intent to bring them and ourselves through them, closer to G-d then they are holy and the act or speech or thought is a mitzvah. If we do them just to fill our own desires then they are unholy and a sin. Thus, writes the Tosher Rebbe, nothing is neutral. Everything is either a mitzvah or a sin. To eat kosher food is not ok, it is either holy or unholy depending on how we eat it, what our intent is, what our reasons for doing so are. And so it is with everything. Every moment in life, every step, is pregnant with spiritual power, for good or not.
He concludes that Sara was unique among people in that she was able to use everything- all her time, her actions, her thoughts and her speech to raise herself up spiritually; and so all of her days were "equally good."
It is, I think, an important message for us living in today's world. I believe that we should be involved in the life of the world, bringing holiness and compassion to the people, culture and communities around us. Jews today have access to everything- the best restaurants, the best sports tickets, the best shows, the best cars, and the best vacations. But in all we do it is not enough to ask, “Is this forbidden or permitted?” We must ask, will this be a holy act, one that will bring me and the world to a better, more spiritual place, or not. May we merit, in great joy, to know G-d in all of our unique ways.
August 18, 2013 | 4:46 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
As Elul rushes toward Tishrai, my good friend Joey Lipner and I have penned a letter of apology to our classmates who were compelled to "wrestle" with Rabbi Finkelstein. In it, we apologize for never having said or done anything, even as we were quite aware of the bizarre things that were going on. If you were in MTA in those years, or if you know someone who was, please consider signing the letter and/or passing it along. We hope that it will bring some tikkun to this awful situation. Here's the link:
At the same time, we await the report that Yeshiva will be putting out revealing the results of its investigation. I have received assurances that it will be released in full to the public. This is of course a vital first step in fulfilling the spirit of up Rabbi Lamm's statement of apology.
August 15, 2013 | 2:54 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
This month of Elul leads up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of reflection and tishuvah, return, but with what should we emerge from this process?
Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the 10 Days of Tishuvah and Yom Kippur culminates in a service performed once a year on Yom Kippur itself, on the holiest day, in the holiest place, by the holiest person. But it was also, perhaps the strangest service in Judaism. As the Torah states in Vayikra/Leviticus 16:
ומאת עדת בני ישראל יִקח שני שעירי עִזים לחטאת ואיל אחד לעֹלה... ולקח את שני השעירִם, והעמיד אֹתם לפני ה' פתח אֹהל מועד. ונתן אהרן על שני השעירִם גֹרלות: גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל. והקריב אהרן את השעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל לה', ועשהוּ חטאת; והשעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל לעזאזל יָעֳמד חי לפני ה' לכפר עליו, לשלח אֹתו לעזאזל המדברה.
7. And he (the High Priest) shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the Tent of Meeting.
8. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel.
9. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be for Azazel, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go to Azazel into the wilderness.
This Yom Kippur service is the only ongoing mitzvah which specifically required a randomizer. In addition, these two goats from which one is chosen to be a sacrifice and the other, which in a truly strange seemingly un-Jewish act of wanton destruction is thrown off a cliff, had to be identical, in a way -twins. One no different that the other, no more deserving, no more holy, no more attractive; exactly the same but with diametrically opposite ends. As the Mishna in Yoma 62a states:
משנה. שני שעירי יום הכפורים מצותן שיהיו שניהן שוין במראה ובקומה ובדמים ובלקיחתן כאחד.
“The two goats of Yom Kippur had to be the same in appearance, height, and value, and they had to be purchased at the exactly the same time.”
Not only the two goats but the lots used to choose them had to be exactly the same, save the consequences engraved upon them. As the Talmud, Yoma 37a says:
וקלפי היתה שם ובה שני גורלות. - תלמוד לומר גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל, אין כאן לשם אלא גורל אחד ואין כאן לעזאזל אלא אחד. יכול יתן של שם ושל עזאזל על זה, ושל שם ושל עזאזל על זה - תלמוד לומר גורל אחד [לה' - אין כאן לה' אלא אחד, ואין כאן לעזאזל אלא אחד]. אם כן מה תלמוד לומר גורלות? שיהיו שוין, שלא יעשה אחד של זהב ואחד של כסף, אחד גדול ואחד קטן. גורלות של כל דבר, פשיטא! - לא צריכא לכדתניא לפי שמצינו בציץ שהשם כתוב עליו והוא של זהב, יכול אף זה כן - תלמוד לומר גורל גורל ריבה. ריבה של זית, ריבה של אגוז, ריבה של אשכרוע.
The lots must be the same. Not one of gold and one of silver, one large and one small. The lots may be made from anything but they must be identical.
The central service of the holiest day, the day of judgment and atonement, of G-d being most present, revolved around two completely identical goats, costing the same, looking the same, chosen by identical lots, yet with opposite, truly random destinies. One for G-d the other for Azazel, for wanton, seemingly purposeless destruction.
This service almost seems as if, G-d forbid, it were engineered by a cynic, a tongue in cheek Dadaist, mocking G-d and us and the world G-d created, by attempting to highlight, though an eccentric act of performance art, the seemingly banal randomness of good and evil, the arbitrary meaninglessness of life, human will, choice, destiny and purpose. Though exactly the same, one is randomly chosen for G-d, for holiness, for a sacrifice in the holiest place, and one to be thrown off a cliff in a barren place, alone, witnessed by no one, not even its executioner who had to turn his back to push it off the cliff to its death, torn limb from limb.
Why is such a thing performed? How in the world does such a ceremony so seemingly cruel in its randomness bring total atonement for the Jewish people? Indeed it seems to fly in the face of everything we believe in and hold sacred.
Imagine for a moment that you are one of these two goats in holy Temple, destined for, you assume, a sacrifice. Now a random lottery chooses one over the other. Very much like life. One goat is chosen for G-d, for the alter, the other goat watches as his “twin” is led to the ritual slaughter. Imagine you are the goat watching. Your twin has been chosen for a Temple offering. You are relieved; you are led out of the Temple, you imagine to freedom. You are calm, smug, only to be thrown from a cliff in the wilderness, in a Jewish ritual act unprecedented throughout the year.
Both goats die. In fact all goats die, and all of us will die. The question that matters of course is which has lived the nobler life? This is the lesson of the tishuvah process. Not to escape death for another year, not to pray for a physically good year, live what we have for G-d and not for Azazel.
Often we wish to escape from responsibility into an imagined freedom. But in this world in which we have no control, our freedom from life, from death, is an illusion. What we can do is aim, within all this randomness of our universe, to live a life of holiness and meaning. A life La’Hashem-for G-d, and not La’azazel-for naught. Yom Kippur and the process of tishuvah can not help us to control the coming year, but it can help our life and our inevitable death, be on the Jewish alter, in the temple, not in some forsaken spiritual desert.
If we the Jewish people understand the message of the two goats, then indeed they can serve as atonement for us. If not, then it is just another Yom Kippur spent to assuage our guilt, and whose temporary inspiration will erode by Chanukah.
August 8, 2013 | 11:15 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
(Readers are invited to find the numerous recent posts on this topic at www.morethodoxy.org)
I love my wife. And this love shapes my daily routine, and defines the contours of the way I live. I am aware of the scientific position that what we call love is in reality a complex set of bio-chemical reactions, refined over the millennium by a process of natural selection that favored those homo sapiens who were able to sustain faithful, long-term mating relationships, and that love is therefore a delusion, a deception performed by our genes. I am aware of this position. But it doesn’t in any way affect my belief that I am truly loving my wife. Nor does it alter in any way the set of rituals and behaviors through which I respond to this love’s call. I recognize the validity of the position and of the questions that it raises, but I am not troubled by them.
I of course cannot know what Rabbi Soloveitchik meant when (in The Lonely Man of Faith) he acknowledged his awareness of “the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest,” yet asserted that he was not “troubled” by them. Perhaps he was not troubled because he knew how to effectively refute the arguments of the Biblical critics, or because he had uncovered the flaws in their scholarship. Or, as is suggested by the fact that he never published further on the topic of biblical criticism, perhaps there was a different reason that he was not troubled. Perhaps he likened believing in the traditional view of the Scriptures to believing in the truth of love.
I am blessed (or lucky) to possess a strong experientially-based belief in the truth of Divinely-given Torah. It is an experientially- based belief that in no way addresses the weighty questions of Biblical authorship and historicity, questions whose existence I am acutely aware of. Yet, it largely shields me from their effects. When, for example, I act honestly even when this honesty comes at a personal cost, and I do so because it is written in the Torah that I should, I feel – truly and deeply – that I am responding to God’s voice, to the voice we all heard at Sinai. Or when I succeed in “doing the upright and the good,” my experience is that of responding to the words that are calling out from the Sefer Torah – the Sefer Torah to which we point as we say, “and this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.” Equally, on the occasions when I ignore the pasuk in Vayikra, and fail to guard my tongue from speaking lashon hara, my experience is that of having defied the word that God spoke to Moshe upon the mountain. This is what it feels like to me. The belief that I am in fact living in relationship with God’s word is no less real than the belief that I am in fact loving my wife.
I know that we are all different, and that there are many Orthodox Jews for whom this doesn’t work as well, for whom this kind of “compartmentalization” evinces a lack of intellectual and spiritual integrity. But I also know that I am far from alone in feeling and living the way I do. And so I write this short essay in the effort to describe this way of being – of knowing the questions and even finding them worthwhile and important, but not being “troubled” by them. I write, to ratify the viability of being intellectually aware and at the same time genuinely pious. For it is, I believe, no less viable than both recognizing the biological realities of hormones and neurological hard-wiring, and at the same time, being unquestionably in love.
July 21, 2013 | 8:58 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Torah Min Hashamayim: Some Brief Reflections on Classical and Contemporary Models
Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is on the faculty of the SAR High School and serves as the Chair of the Bible and Jewish Though Departments at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. He is the rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ and is on the steering committee of the Orthodox Forum. He is a member of the RCA and an officer of the IRF. He is most recently the author of Mikra and Meaning: Studies in Bible and Its Interpretation (Maggid/Koren, 2012).
He is also the author of Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Ktav, 2006) and served as the editor of Or Hamizrach and the assistant editor of the Meorot Journal.
1. For the last two centuries theories of higher Biblical Criticism have challenged traditional notions of the Divine authorship of the Torah. Classical academic theories claimed multiple human authors composing various portions of the Torah at different points in history, as a purely human creation.
This directly flies in the face of traditional notions of revelation and authorship of the Torah. The challenges of academic theories of the authorship of the Torah continue to engage the thinking of many believing Jews who struggle in their attempt to reconcile their faith commitments and the serious questions and dilemmas posed by critical study of the Torah.
At the heart of any traditional notion of Judaism lies the principle of Torah Min Hashamayim- the truth claim that the God is the source and origin of the Pentateuch. The Mishnah at the opening of the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin which states “Haomer Ein Torah Min Ha-Shamayim Ein Lo Cheilek Leolam Haba” itself does not spell out what the exact meaning of the phrase “Torah” is. In classical rabbinic literature the phrase Torah has a range of meaning from a narrow reference to the Decalogue, to the Five Books of Moses to the entirety of the Bible to the whole corpus of the written and oral law. From the Talmudic discussion it emerges that Hazal understood this unique dogma to refer specifically to the Torah proper. In one formulation in the sugya that discusses this concept, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a) asserts that one violates this principle if one maintains that the entire Torah comes from God except for “one verse which was not said by God but by Moses on his own”. This phrase is ambiguous as it may be interpreted to be focusing only on the Divine source of the Torah, or that notion plus an insistence on Mosaic authorship. In other words, is the Talmud insisting only on the Divine authorship belief or that this must be coupled with Moses being the vehicle for all of that communication. The practical ramification would be if one maintained that part of the Torah was directly from God but not through Mosaic authorship. (The original and primary valence of this passage has been discussed in the writings of Rav Hayim Hirshcenson z”l and in a seminal essay by the Jewish philosopher Shalom Rosenberg printed in the classic volume “Hamikra Va-anchnu”. This dispute in interpretation is at the heart of the famous dispute in the Talmud in Bava Batra (15a) as to whether the last eight verses in the Torah were written by Moses in anticipatory prophecy or were written by Joshua subsequent to Moses’ demise.
2. As is well known Maimonides in his Introduction to the commentary to the Mishna on the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin takes a very unequivocal position on this matter. In his famous 8th principle he maintains that Torah Min Hashamayim (Rambam's language-never uses the phrase Torah Mi-Sinai in the introduction to Perek Cheilek) asserts both the Divine origin of the Torah and its total and complete authorship by Moses as a conduit of God’s direct revelation of the text to be copied down. He further asserts that the text that we posses today is exactly the same text that was handed down to Moses. This last assertion touches on the question of what is termed lower Biblical criticism. This issue has been discussed at length by generations of masoretes, rishonim and aharonim and has been examined in various essays and books by Profs. Yeshayahu Maori, Menachem Cohen and R. Mordechai Breuer in the volume :Hamikra Ve-Anachnu and the Orthodox Forum Volume on “Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah” and in the volume by Prof. B. Barry Levy, “Fixing God’s Torah”. It is not my intention to discuss those issues below.). Maimonides rejects any and all claims that even one word of the Torah is post-Mosaic in its origin (including rejecting the position of those Tannaim that claim that the last 8 p’sukim of the Torah-were written by Joshua.)
There is no doubt that this position came to be the derech hamelech of traditional thought from the Rambam's time on throughout the ages and certainly was affirmed vigorously in the polemical wars of the 19th and 20th century between Orthodoxy and the heterodox movements.
3. We, today know that this position, while dominant, was not universally held by all rishonim. From the careful study of Ibn Ezra and his supercommentaries such as R. Yosef Tov Elem (Tzfnat Paaneach), and portions of commentaries from some rishonim in Ashkenaz such as R. Yehuda Hahasid we know that alongside the Maimonidean position there were other minority voices in the tradition that went beyond the explicit position of one of the Hazal in Bava Batra (15) that claimed that the last right psukim were written by Joshua (ostensibly in prophetic mode). These rishonim were willing to maintain that other words, phrases, psukim, and small parshiyot were also post-mosaic in origin, introduced into the text by later prophets. This material has been brought to the attention of the public in the last fifty years by rabbis, thinkers and scholars such as R. Yisrael Lange, Profs. Yisrael Ta-Shma, Louis Jacobs, Shnayer Leiman, Marc Shapiro, and most recently has been analyzed in the new volume by my dear friend, R. Amon Bazak, “Ad Hayom Hazeh” (Michelet Herzog, 2013) Ch. 2 and presented as two legitimate positions within the tradition. It is, of course, clear that rishonim such as R. Yehudah Hasid or Ibn Ezra, spoke of small passages and seem to have maintained that these passages had their origin in prophecy - (In contrast to the false claim of Spinoza that Ibn Ezra believed the Bible as a whole was not the work of God but the work of man without any divinity.)
The contemporary question, that has arisen in the last decades is the legitimacy of extending the basic principle laid out by these rishonim, that certain passages are post-Mosaic in origin, written by others in prophetic mode, to whole parshiyot and large swaths of the Torah. In other words can one claim that the Torah is Divine, but was composed of a number of prophetic revelations, some directly to Moshe and others to later prophets which were then edited finally into one book in the prophetic mode. This touches directly on the interpretation of the beraita in Sanhedrin 99 that we discussed above. This view of multiple authorship of the Torah by various authors who were prophets writing in the prophetic mode and thus does not undermine the notion of the Torah's divinity.
4. In dealing with the challenges posed by higher Biblical Criticism, I personally do not adopt this more radical view of revelation. I believe that the resolution of many of the issues lies in adopting a combination of some of the important work of U. Cassutto, Benno Jacob, R. David Tzvi Hoffman together with the basic approach of my teacher, Rav Breuer z”l and his shitat habehinot, (without signing off on each and everyone of his readings. This eclectic approach coupled with the insights of my teachers Rav Shalom Carmy and Rav Yoel Bin Nun and the literary-theological school can provide an intelligently cogent and religiously meaningful reading of Torah that seeks to understand the dvar Hashem with integrity and honesty.
I also was heavily influenced by Rav Breuer who very strongly rejected the more radical reading of the notion of Torah Min Hashamayim outlined above. He vigorously against it in the first part of the essay that was published in the Orthodox Forum Volume “Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah”. A decade later he returned to this topic in an essay in Megadim 30. In that essay he strongly critiques this expanded view of Torah Min Hashamayim as having no basis in traditional Jewish sources and being a “new belief system that has been entirely fabricated out of whole cloth”. A number of issues later in Megadim 33, Dr. Israel Knohl took issue with R. Breuer and forcefully argued that were solid sources for this expansion of the notion of Torah Min Hashamayim. This essay was printed together with a rejoinder from R. Breuer in that issue. A decade later Prof. Uriel Simon wrote an important piece in Megadim 51 analyzing the use by both R. Breuer and Dr. Knohl of the writings of Ibn Ezra on this topic and the merits of each one’s readings of Ibn Ezra. The reader is encouraged to read these important pieces which engage the issues in a serious manner.
5. Given all this background where does this leaves us today. The vast majority of Orthodox rabbinic leaders and thinkers, both Hareidi and Modern, at least publically, affirm the traditional notion of Torah Min Hashamayim as outlined by the Rambam. In addition, some writers and thinkers go further and maintain that the weight of Jewish history and the “consensus” of rabbinic statements in the last five hundred years have rendered the discussion moot. They maintain that Rambam’s view has been adopted as the only legitimate view and any other approach is heretical. Others do not take such a strong position, and thus while affirming the Maimonidean view, believe that someone who maintains the actual view of that the last 8 verses of the Torah are post –Mosaic from the pen of Joshua or that other isolated verses were post-Mosaic, are not maintaining heretical views. Indeed, Rav Breuer himself, while rejecting Dr. Knohl’s expansion of the view of Ibn Ezra and others, writes explicitly:
“I do not know if these words (of Ibn Ezra) were to the liking of the rabbis. In any event, they were uttered by Ibn Ezra, and we can therefore not reject their legitimacy”.
6. The more challenging issue is the attitude towards the view that expands and builds upon the view of these medieval rishonim to include wide swaths of the Torah. As in the previous paragraph, the mainstream Orthodox view maintains that such a position is out of the pale and cannot be part of traditional Jewish thought. On the other hand there are thinkers who do not take this view and have articulated a more nuanced view. Rav Hirscenson z”l almost a century ago, already noted that the Rambam’s read of the Talmudic passage in Sanhedrin was not the plain sense of the words. In recent years, Rav Yoel Bin Nun (in personal conversation) and Rav Yuval Cherlow, two leading thinkers/leaders in the Dati Leumi community, while not personally advocating the expansive understanding of Torah Min Hashamayim articulated by Dr. Knohl have maintained that someone who does has not violated the parameters of Hazal’s dictum of “Haomer Ein Torah Min Hashamayim”. This view has also been cited in print by a number of writers to the noted Rosh Yeshiva Rav Shlomo Fisher of Yeshivat Itri. Namely, he does not believe that maintaining such a position does not put one out of the pale. The key in this formulation is as Rav Yuval has written: ל כן, בשעה שמאמינים במוצא העליון המוחלט של כלפסוקי התורה אין איסור להרחיב את מה שאמרו חכמינו על הפסוקים האחרונים בתורה לעוד מקומות בתורה, בשל העיקרון הבסיסי הקיים בדברים אלה – התורה היא מוצא “פיו” המוחלט של ריבונו של עולם.
7. Given all this, and my general inclusivist inclinations, I would argue that we not write, people who maintain this more radical position, out of traditional Judaism. This is especially the case given the fact that if I were to look at large swaths of Orthodoxy today, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews who believe things about God and His actions, or His emotions and feelings or about prayer to intermediaries or the nature of the sefirot that would clearly put them outside of the pale in the eyes of the Rambam. I, of course, realize that the 8th principle of the Rambam was one of the central points of contention between Orthodoxy and heterodox movements in the last two centuries and thus has greater resonance and emotional power. However, if we are not going to read out of orthodoxy those who directly violate the fifth ikar of the Rambam or his clear words in the Guide to the Perplexed- Section 1:36 than I am reticent to do so in the case of those who do not adopt the Rambam's formulation in the 8th ikar, especially if they conform to the notion of the Divine origin of the Torah, a principle that has been rejected in-toto by so many modern Jews.
1. See, however, the formulation of R. Breuer in Megadim 33, pg. 131-132.
2. Many of the direct citations of Rav Fisher , Rav Cherlow and others can be found in the blog post of Prof. Marc Shapiro at: http://seforim.blogspot.com/2013/03/torah-mi-sinai-and-more.html