[I write this post with great trepidation; hoping that people will not misunderstand what I am trying to say, but knowing that some probably will. So, please, read what I wrote carefully before responding.
Also, this blog is not meant to be a forum for yet another debate on the correctness/incorrectness of TMS/DH or creation, so please refrain from doing so in the comments. Those interested in an open discussion of these matters are invited to go to the forum “Stop! Here we think!” (Hebrew or English) where you’ll find a lively and well-informed group of intelligent and knowledgeable people to talk to. – AIWAC]
I hope you read the homework assignment. It is quite possibly the most succinct and well-written summary of the two faith issues that are discussed to death on the internet among Orthodox Jews: the age of the universe (and by extension, evolution) and the debate regarding the authorship of the Chumash known as the TMS/DH debate (Torah MiSinai/Documentary Hypothesis). Indeed, Mississippi Fred McDowell, owner of the blog On the Main Line (more on him later), once stated/complained that these debates take up an inordinate amount of time on one of his mailing lists.
So why are these two issues the ones debated most frequently? After all, we’re talking about only one and a half (one can still believe in creation even if one accepts the scientific explanations for its later development) of the 13 ikarim.
I think it has much to do with the fact that these questions are the two key Orthodox Jewish issues which can in theory be proven or disproven using solely what are known as “analytical methods” – i.e. formal logic and empirical evidence or facts. Indeed, the arguments for both sides of the debate are framed in those terms. Usually, the mode of thinking is deductionist/reductionist, i.e. either it’s completely true or completely false.
While I agree that the age of the universe question is settled, and requires reinterpretation of Bereshit along the lines of what Rav Bin-Nun stated in his article, the Torah authorship issue is not necessarily so clear-cut. It is true that it is impossible to hold to a deductionist position on the issue after learning even some of the complexities in the text (at least if one wishes to be honest with oneself).
Nevertheless, it is possible to hold to an inductionist position that concedes the existence of problems and that multiple authorship is a possible explanation but tries to find alternative explanations, so it is not the only possible explanation. Rabbis Bin-Nun, Bazak shlit”a and Rav Breuer a”h as well as YCT do exactly that. Another fascinating example is Rabbi Josh Waxman of parshablog, who combines a breathtakingly wide knowledge of Tanach and mefarshim as well as Lower and Higher Criticism in dealing with the various issues that come up in the Chumash and finds various ways of coping. Another person who does so is Dr. Josh Berman of Bar-Ilan University. Would that we had many more people tackling questions like this.
Ah, but what about those who nevertheless feel absolutely compelled to accept multiple authorship – both lay Jews and scholars? For them, there is the “Rav Kook emergency brake” mentioned in the article – basing the authority of the Torah on the acceptance of the Jewish (actually Israelite) people. To be sure, this solution was only meant as a temporary stopgap until DH was disproved. Also, it is clearly a measure to be used only in extreme emergency. Nevertheless, if push comes to shove, better to use an emergency brake than let the emunah train run off the cliff.
I mention all this because I think these two debates, and especially the second one, has paralyzed discussion of the inductive/synthetic aspects of Jewish theology: e.g. God’s involvement in history, the meaning of creation for us today, our relationship with Him &c. The result is that many of us are getting stuck into theological quicksand. The most poignant demonstration of this for me is the above-mentioned Mississippi Fred McDowell. A while ago, he started to discuss his attitude towards the 13 ikkarim one by one. Once he ran into the 8th ikar, he stopped cold and has not budged from there since – this in spite of his clearly wide knowledge of sources and erudition.
I recently heard an interesting story about the Rogotchover that might explain my attitude on this. A Rabbi wrote the Rogotchover asking him to explain a particularly complicated Tosfot which he could not decipher despite his best efforts. The Rogotchover wrote back to him with a long letter outlining various other Tosfots. In his reply, the Rabbi complained that the Tosfots in the letter had nothing to do with the Tosfot he was working on! The Rogotchover replied that this was precisely his point – the Baalei Tosfot were able to move on to other issues when they got stuck; you should do the same.
The same is the case w/regard to ikarei emunah. Many devout and learned Jews no doubt struggled with or felt they could no longer hold to certain understandings of ikarim throughout the ages. This was the case be it the question of theodicy (esp. after the Churban [first and second], pogroms and of course the Holocaust) or the coming of the Messiah after various dates came and went without redemption. Yet they stayed frum and worked to develop their relationship with God in different, more productive ways. I don’t see why this should be any different. One can only dig oneself into such a hole for so long before you find there’s no way out.
So take whichever option you can live with that I mentioned above, get out of the hole, and join me as we try to explore the wonderful and often mysterious world of our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.