Saturday, August 15, 2009

Biblical Criticism and Orthodoxy

Modern scholarship on biblical history is starting to have an impact on the Jewish Orthodox world, although, on the whole - understandably - its still not a hot topic on in the Yeshiva world. Pirkei Avot does teach that one should know how to respond to a cynic. Not easy when the cynic is backed up with a wealth of evidence that might seriously challenge your theology.

I plan to write more about biblical history and its impact on Orthodox Judaism - for me it is an issue close to home. But for starters, I'd like to share a short translation of a paragraph from Chapter 1 of Rav Mordechai Breur's (z"l) The Chapters of Genesis. The topic at hand is "understanding the text's plain meaning" in light of the contradictions that exist between different parts of the Torah (Pentateuch). The question posed is how to reconcile the Talmudic assertion that the Torah was written to be understood 'simply' with the contemporaneous contradictions in the text:

The author of Shaagat Aryeh (The Lion's Roar) has already pointed out that in the book of Chronicles we find many contradictory statements, even though it says in the Talmud that the book had only one author, and that was Ezra. And on the problematic nature of these contradictions, he explained that Ezra didn't actually write the book of Chronicles himself, rather he "copied chronologies from different sources that he found... in one book he found thus and in another book he found thus, and copied what he found... and didn't want to change the words that he found."

This is how we are reconcile the Talmudic assertion that the Torah's "spoke simply" (Dibrah be lashon bnei adam"). It isn't that the complete text is written to be understood simply, but rather, that the Torah is written in language that was copied from different sources and collected together in one book. And this was the simple language that The Ineffable One's Torah spoke in. For the Giver of the Torah ("Noten Hatorah") found with hidden power individual books Self-Authored that reflected different Divine attributes, and copied the Torah from them. "In one book He found thus and in another book He found thus, and copied what was found... and didn't want to change the words that were found." This book was first written with black fire on white fire and afterwards he read it to Moses our Teacher on Mount Sinai, so that he could write it in ink. This is the Sefer Torah that is passed from father to son , from Rabbi to pupil, from the first generation to the last generation.