It’s Time to Move On

[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.

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About AIWAC

Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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10 Responses to It’s Time to Move On

  1. It is difficult for me to understand that any of this can pose serious problems for people who hear/read it for the first time. When I first heard the theory of “multiple authors”, all I said was “That’s interesting”. None of it made me feel as though my world of beliefs were tumbling down before me. It didn’t shake my world that someone came up with a theory that disproved others beliefs in religion. That IS the essence of post modernism, and what it’s so good at. If one’s belief was previously only based on pure logic, and now that they have “proof” (mind you, nothing scientific) that the Torah was compiled by a few people throughout history, then their faith was flawed to begin with and they should look further back into their journey of “Emuna”.

    Same goes for Evolution. We never said that the Torah is a story book. And details don’t ALWAYS present the actual events. They are lessons in behavior and lifestyle. Ve’tu Lo.

  2. Shlomo says:

    HS101:

    What separates you from a non-frum religious person (Christian or Buddhist, or if you insist on halachic observance, “Messianic Jewish”)? It’s good that you have emotions and motivations, but exactly which emotions and motivations do you have?

  3. AIWAC says:

    The difference is she believes in the Orthodox tenets – just in a more nuanced fashion. I fail to see why this mandates such a severe attack.

    Avi

  4. Shlomo says:

    I didn’t mean to be attacking – apparently it’s hard to convey tone in a short written comment. But I think my point stands: from her comment, it is hard to know what, if anything, makes her Orthodox rather than Orthoprax. Not trying to judge her personally, just to say that we need SOME kind of attitude or definition of what it means to be Orthodox. It is circular reasoning to say that anything religious which an Orthodox person does is Orthodox.

    Another point. Whether the DH or a similar theory is “true” or “false” in a Platonic sense, there are certainly some people who find it “compelling”. This forces them to either accept it, or live with the feeling that their religiousness is based on lies and fraud. The Rogotchover could live without an understanding of one Tosfot because he did understand hundreds of other Tosfots. If the issues without answers seem to you to be the majority, then it may not be realistic to just “move on”.

    • AIWAC says:

      Shlomo,

      I agree w/you re: the necessity for some defintion of Orthodox, but I didn’t get the impression HS101 was advocating cancelling the red lines.

      Re: DH. I know there are people who find DH to be unavoidably intellectually compelling – that’s why I mentioned the “Rav Kook exit”. I just think it’s better to take that approach and “move on” rather than stagnate religiously for the rest of your life (or, like you said, think you’re living a lie).

      I disagree w/ej’s approach on this (living a compartmentalized, “pragmatic” life), because I know very few people who can really pull it off. Most of us unequivocally adopt naive realism and Western logic for better or for worse, including in the Charedi world. Better to find ways of coping w/the issues than pretend they don’t exist in the “religious part” of our life. The elephant(s) in the room will eventually have to be noticed.

    • AIWAC says:

      BTW, I never said that the majority of problems are without answers. Far from. Just that the answers are not decisive, deductive answers – the kind that “disprove” alternative explanations. Much like it is impossible to deny the philosophical possibility that there is no God (or no revelation &c) it is not possible to deny DH as a possible (but not the only) explanation for discrepanacies in the Chumash.

      Check out parshablog – you’ll see that there are more answers (non-DH) than you may think.

  5. Shlomo says:

    In what way is R’ Kook’s approach (which we presumably find acceptable) different from the Conservative and Reform approach (which we presumably don’t)?

    • AIWAC says:

      Shlomo,

      1) I am not an expert on Rav Kook. I suggest you see the referenced sources for yourself and/or get in touch with Prof. Dov Shwartz from Bar-Ilan who can probably tell you more about this.

      2) As an educated guess, I’d say as follows:

      Rav Kook never conceded to BC or deny TMS and Sinaitic revelation. Indeed, he tried to prevent Hebrew U from teaching it. He was trying to come up with a theological temporary emergency stopgap to prevent mass desertion of Judaism (this is something I stressed repeatedly in my post). It was only meant for those who felt absolutely forced to accept the arguments of BC. The idea was to “hold the line” until TMS could be re-established and BC disproved. Furthermore, this stopgap did not have any halachic ramifications.

      Conservative Jewry, OTOH, accepts BC/DH lechatchila (many deny Sinai’s historicity as well). In addition to changing the traditional coneption of God and revelation, IIUC this also had ramifications re: Conservative halacha (correct me if I’m wrong).

      All the Best

      Avi

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