What is R’ Zev Farber Trying to Do? And What Should Be Our Response?

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The most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Zev Farber. The articles have been deemed heresy by R’ Gordimer on Cross-Currents. If you are averse to reading anything that might touch on issues and ideas that are possibly heretical please stop reading and pick up a Nesivos Shalom or something.

Still here? Okay. The two articles say different things so I’d like to briefly address the Cross-Currents post as it relates to the “short article.” This article went through two versions. R’ Gordimer’s article used the first version which was more objectionable. R’ Farber’s article was edited a full week before the article on Cross-Currents was published. I find this to be egregious. If you are going to call someone a heretic, possibly the worst thing to call an orthodox Jew, you best be sure that every detail of your case is accurate.

The original version said this:

The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience.

and this:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there is no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. Whether it be the description of the scout story, the reaction of the Edomites and Moabites to Israel’s request, or the legitimacy of dwelling in the Transjordan, the two versions work with contradictory assumptions.

I can see why R’ Gordimer thinks this is heresy. I don’t think it has to be as will be discussed later. But the second version is almost certainly not heresy. This is the revised version:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there appears to be no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. The simplest literary approach is the academic one which posits multiple authors with multiple traditions. How such an approach meshes with traditionalist belief requires serious thought but it is necessary to start by recognizing the simplicity and straightforwardness of the academic approach.


There is nothing remarkable about this statement. It simply states that the academic approach is simpler. Simpler is not necessarily more truthful. Thus, there is no value judgment on whether the academic approach is preferable. I hope that if this was the only thing R’ Farber said, it would not have created a controversy. I hope. For this reason, I am disappointed in the Cross-Currents article.

However, whenever I raise this point I am reminded of the other “long article” where the heresy is stronger and harder to wiggle out of.

On to the second article.

This is R’ Farber’s worldview. It is his Grand Theory of Everything. His goal is clear. R’ Farber wants very badly to harmonize all the things he has taken for granted as an orthodox Jew, his adherence to halacha and social orthodoxy, with modern Biblical Criticism. This is his goal and it is important to begin with an appreciation of his assumptions.

R’ Farber takes the challenges presented by Bible critics very seriously. It’s hard not to take them seriously. They are asking good questions. It’s true that we have “frum” answers for most of these questions and some of the questions are not so bothersome. Yet, the challenges exist.

The maximalist Bible critic answer is the text is not Divine. It is a text that comes from people and therefore any anomaly is understood as poor editing by a later redactor. The various writers have different agendas and their works reflect their personal biases.

The maximalist orthodox Jewish answer is that the text is Divine. It is a text that comes from God and therefore any anomaly is understood as part of the infinite wisdom of the Author of the Torah. The different versions of stories and laws reflect Divine intent to teach us everything we need to know.

There is a huge chasm between these two approaches. They share nothing other than the questions that they ask.

But most thinking people know that the maximalist orthodox Jewish position is untenable. No one really thinks that. The people who do are “mesorah maximalists” who will hide from the truth to support their position. The Talmud discusses the last few verses of Devarim. Chazal had a different midpoint to their Torah scrolls. Ezra reconciled the texts of several versions of Torah scrolls. Maimonides reconciled errors he found in Torah scrolls using the Aleppo Codex. Rashi had at least one discrepancy in his Torah scroll. Ibn Ezra famously said that there are twelve places in the Chumash that speak in present tense and those were not written by Moses.

In other words, we know that some parts of the Chumash were not spoken by God to Moses. That’s certainly acceptable in orthodox Judaism.

We also know that there is a dispute about the very nature of the book of Devarim. The Ramban says it was given word for word from God to Moses at Sinai. Others say Moses spoke these words as prophecy. Contrasted with the rest of the Chumash, it is more similar to the books of the prophets than Sefer Vayikra in this respect. The Avnei Nezer says that Devarim is a bridge between the Written Law and the Oral Law as it is Moshe’s discourse where he darshens the first four books of the Chumash.

The point is obvious. Devarim is treated differently by the Medieval commentators. The maximalist orthodox Jewish answer is not a reasonable position. Legitimate sources recognize this and we must recognize this as well. The question I wish to address is why. Why do we find these sort of opinions about Devarim and other scattered examples throughout the Chumash?

There are two possible answers. I think here we find a difference of opinion loosely based on affiliation. Charedim subscribe to one view and non-charedim subscribe to another.

Charedim are more apt to say that God included all aforementioned items when God gave the Torah to Moses. God told Moses to make the book of Devarim sound different. It was part of God’s plan that errors rf anachronisms creep into the text for the sake of the answers that would be given later. They were latent in the text the entire time but were waiting for the right people to reveal them.

Non-Charedim are more likely to take a different approach. This alternative approach holds that things may have happened after revelation and great Torah authorities used their wisdom and Torah knowledge to answer the questions in the best way they know how. This means that the issues that forced the hand of the great sages were the result of history, scribal errors, or any other circumstance that could have caused the problems. The answers are true to Torah because of the people who said them and their universal acceptance by the greater Jewish people.

We could say the same thing about the drashos we find in Chazal whether they be Halachic or Aggadic. One way of looking at it is that these drashos were latent in the text, they were always there, they were always kept, they were just “revealed” by the various tanaim and amoraim. The other view is that these drashos were Chazal’s way of dealing with textual and perhaps social or religious issues. They could have learned differently, but they chose to learn this way. The drashos that gained consensus became Torah. This approach certainly rings true when studying the Talmud.

Why did one opinion in the Talmud say that the last verses in Devarim were not written by Moses? Because he had a mesorah? Or was it simply the easiest solution to a very obvious problem? I think it is more elegent to say that he saw a problem and this was his solution. To say otherwise means that at some point the mesorah was lost and a disagreement developed and the rabbis were merely reporters of their tradition as opposed to Torah giants with ideas of their own.

It is possible that the version I ascribe to more charedi orthodox Jews is correct. But I don’t think it is correct. It’s hard to believe that Chazal came along and just explained what was already known to everyone. But even if the charedi version is correct with regard to Chazal, it is almost certainly not correct with regard to the rishonim.

I’ve heard people say that Rashi on Chumash is a semi-prophetic work. Rashi was Divinely inspired to comment on each verse and his commentary reflects God’s intended interpretation of the verses. This is a disservice to Rashi. It seems to me that Rashi saw inconsistencies or anomolies in the text and he chose his preferred interpretations from his vast knowledge of Chazal’s teachings. Rashi saw a problem and Rashi provided the solution.

I think it’s easier to see where this is taking us by looking at Ibn Ezra and Rambam. Why did the Ibn Ezra say that there are 7 places in the Chumash that are not original to the text? Was it something handed down to him from his teachers? I don’t think so. I am fairly certain that Ibn Ezra saw a problem in the text, there was evidence that contravened the accepted (or maybe it wasn’t accepted at that time) wisdom that every word of the Torah was given to Moses by God and those were the exact same words they had in the 11th century Torah scrolls. His solution was to accept the evidence and change the dogma. Religion cannot contradict truth so Ibn Ezra adjusted the religion accordingly.

Rambam managed to make the Torah consistent with Greek and Arabic philosophy. Do we think that Rambam thought that Greek and Arabic philosophy were handed to Moses from God at Sinai? That’s preposterous. Rather, Rambam held that the maxims he accepted in those non-Jewish sources were the truth. If they are true, then the Torah must work with Greek and Arabic philosophy. Rambam made it work. It’s the same idea. Rambam accepted external evidence and then conformed the Torah to make sense in the context of his truth. Truth cannot be changed. But sometimes religious dogma can be changed. Even more surprising is that Rambam did not say “prove Greek and Arabic philosophy to me and then I will work out the Torah but until then I accept the Torah as truth and all this secular stuff is obviously wrong.” He simply accepted the secular wisdom as true and conformed Torah to that truth.

This is how the rishonim and Chazal dealt with Torah vs. evidence.

Similarly, when both Chazal and rishonim encountered a verse or section that seemed too unlikely to be literal, they interpreted it metaphorically. We don’t circumcise our hearts because that verse was deemed allegorical. Rishonim, like Ralbag and Rambam went even further by turning sections that contradicted their common sense into dream-sequences or metaphors. Many rishonim and even some achronim have done the same thing with difficult passages in the Talmud. If it can’t be explained literally because of evidence then it could be allegorized. (Granted, some achronim felt no pangs of guilt by simply saying that Chazal were incorrect.)

The point to all this is to demonstrate how things have changed. The achronim lived in a time where science and other evidence was used to counter religion, not bolster it. In turn, they began the trend of lifting religion above the fray and arguing that the science or other evidence must be reinterpreted to fit religion. If it could not reinterpreted, it was wrong. This is the paradigm of almost all religions since the Renaissance and Enlightenment. There were exceptions to this rule, but for the most part this rule has held firm for several hundred years. Evolution doesn’t seem to fit in with Biblical narratives? Despite much more evidence than there is for the erroneous astronomy Rambam used in the Mishneh Torah, religious people all over the world are fighting against evolution. The Bible seems to be a composite work? Religious people reply that it’s impossible. Chazal seemed to be mistaken about medicine or science or math? Our modern thinking must be wrong, or alternatively the Talmud meant something else, or alternatively nature has changed.

It’s such a different attitude from the way Torah scholars approached evidence for almost 2000 years.

We don’t learn Chumash the same way the rishonim learned Chumash. Instead we learn what the rishonim said about the Chumash. This handicaps us from being too innovative on the one hand and has a way of maintaining tradition on the other hand.

I believe, what R’ Farber is trying to do is to relaunch the ancient way of studying Chumash. How would Chazal or some of the rishonim reacted to the evidence presented by Biblical Criticism? If they were consistent, I believe they would have done something like R’ Farber has done in his long article. I am not commenting on R’ Farber’s academically leaning conclusions. There are other conclusions that could be reached by the questions raised. But his version is certainly a valid conclusion, especially when one only takes the academic data and for the sake of argument ignores the religious approach.

In his long article R’ Farber allegorizes some things. Other things are seen as products of editing over time. We have seen that allegorization is an acceptable form of interpretation. We have also seen that it was obvious that to Chazal and rishonim that the text of the Torah had been edited. R’ Gordimer and others take issue with both of these devices.

Allegorizing too much of the text could create a problem for people. It might be seen as cannibalizing the Torah. If the narratives are not literal then are they meaningful? R’ Farber says yes. Others seem to say no. I don’t see a reason to say no. I only see a fear of what might happen if we say no. R’ Farber is trying to lay the groundwork for allegorization not to be a problem.

As to the issue of subsequent editing of the Torah I don’t see how it’s a huge problem. R’ Farber is not saying that random people came around and edited the Torah. I think R’ Farber is saying that the edits were made by prophets. The same way we take the works of the prophets seriously and we take them as divine books, we can take edits to the Bible. Our Tanach is filled with various voices that sound very different. Sometimes these books contradict one another. But it’s okay because we know that they all came from God and God speaks through each prophet in a different way. If prophets did the same thing to the Torah, it’s true that this would be a very different way of looking at Torah, but in the end, it’s just as binding on us. It’s equally the word of God. There is a rishon who says something like this with regard to the stories in the Torah.

R’ Farber’s approach completely changes what we mean by Torah M’Sinai as well. But is the belief in our version of Torah M’Sinai a necessary belief for orthodox Judaism to work? Perhaps not.

The most difficult part of R’ Farber’s worldview is the articulation of how Revelation and Torah M’Sinai works. Professor Tamar Ross makes an attempt at this, and I don’t think it satisfactory (see: Torah M’Sinai According to Professor Tamar Ross ) R’ Farber articulates his beliefs at the end of the article:

  • I believe in Torah Min Ha-Shamayim, that the Torah is from heaven, and that the entirety of the book is nevua (prophecy) and represents the encounter between God and the people of Israel.
  • I believe in Torah mi-Sinai, meaning the uniqueness of the Torah as being of a higher order than any other work in its level of divine encounter. The story of the revelation at Sinai in the Torah I understand as a narrative depiction of a deeper truth—the Torah is God’s book and the divine blueprint for Israel and Jewish life.
  • I believe that the Torah is meant to be as it is today and that all of its verses, from “Timnah was a concubine” (Gen. 36:12) to “I am the Lord your God,” are holy.
  • I believe that halakha and Jewish theology must develop organically from Torah interpretation and not by excising or ignoring any part of the Torah or Chazal’s interpretation.

They sound pretty safe and pretty reasonable. But I also think that this kind of Torah M’Sinai is too nuanced to catch on and it sounds too heretical to gain traction.

It seems to me that R’ Farber is trying to use orthodox principles to push orthodox Judaism into a discussion about our sacred texts.

If this is what R’ Farber is doing, and I am pretty sure it is, we can say that he has good intentions. We can also say that it deserves a conversation and not to be shot down as heretical immediately. I was particularly upset that the article on Cross-Currents did not articulate the objections to R’ Farber’s statements. Instead quotes were mined and the audience was expected to simply conclude that the statements were heretical. It is symptomatic of a larger problem in orthodox Judaism where reason and debate are stifled. Dogmatic proclamations are very much in style. Well argued responsa died with R’ Moshe Feinstein.

Purely for the sake of honest religious debate, I think that R’ Farber’s approach demands a discussion and not condemnation. But for the social reasons I think there is even more benefit to an inclusive approach. We should not be rooting for a breakaway from orthodoxy by the Left, nor should we even give the appearance of rooting for it. One thing that Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and its community do well, is inclusivity. The times we live in are dark in some ways, but people are more capable than ever before to think on their own and formulate their judgments. I see no benefit to jettisoning an entire group of people and the people who are sympathetic to them because of controversial statements. I am aware that this is a time-honored custom of Jews and religious people everywhere. I just don’t see the utility in it anymore. Our best defense against losing the battle vs. complete secularism is not insularity and narrowing the playing field. Our best defense is the exact opposite.

If we want to have a small narrow-minded cult that ignores the outside world and in turn is ignored by the outisde world we should continue the trend of ousting people and movements from orthodox Judaism. If we want to keep a foothold in the outside world and carry weight and influence in a world that could certainly use some of our wisdom, we need to keep the broadest base possible.

I hope that R’ Farber’s article and the entire theTorah.com website can become a springboard for education and discussion. Inclusivity to the maximum should be our goal.

  • charliehall

    A relevant statement by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, Rabbi Farber’s Tanakh teacher, published last year:

    “It is clear that adoption of the theological underpinnings of classical biblical criticism – that is, the notion that the Torah as a composite work written by various human authors in different historical time periods and locales with differing theologies and perspectives and without divine inspiration – is clearly outside the pale of any Orthodox notion of Torah Min HaShamayim. Adoption of such a worldview has no place in an Orthodox religious framework. The adherents of such a position, their personal commitment to observance of mitzvoth notwithstanding, cannot honestly lay claim to any mantle of traditional justification.

    The more complex issue relates to people who maintain that the Torah is a composite work from the hand of various human authors in different historical settings, but that these authors were divinely inspired – that is, those who view the Torah as equivalent to the writings of the prophets. This perspective, while arguably not technically rendering one as “denying the divine origin of the Torah” as articulated in the mishna in Sanhedrin (90a), undermines the uniqueness of the Torah in contrast to the rest of the Bible, as well as the uniqueness of the Mosaic prophesy. According to some views in [Ch]azal and some of the Rishonim, belief in the latter is an article of faith, and denial of it potentially shatters the foundation of the entire structure of the binding nature of Torah. There clearly were Rishonim, such as the Sephardic exegete Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Ashkenazic pietistic scholar Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid, who maintained that an isolated section of the Torah was post-Mosaic, a gloss from the pen of a subsequent prophet. However, the notion of the entirely composite makeup of the Torah has no precedent in classical Jewish sources, and it is therefore impossible to term such a theological understanding as Orthodox in any meaningful sense.”

    *Mikra and Meaning: Studies in Bible and Its Interpretation*, page 40.

    • charliehall

      I’m not learned enough to have a vote, but adopting the idea that the Torah is similar to the rest of the prophetic writings would clearly seem to be problematic to the halachic system that makes such a big deal regarding the difference between d’oraitas and d’rabbanans. It is distressing though that writers in places like Cross-Currents have not railed against halachic abuses such as Rav Sherman’s infamous ruling that pasuled thousands of conversions *en masse*, violating explicit statements in the Bavli and overturning thousands of years of halachic precedent. Pots should not be pointing out the alleged darkness of kettles.

      • daized79

        They aren’t black pots unless they actively support Sherman. Regardless, take each argument on its own. You can disagree with Sherman and still say Faber is heretical. And when you have your own blog you can write about the topics that interest you.

    • IH

      But, this description does not reflect what R. Farber has written, so I’m not sure it adds much to the discussion of his paper. And. btw. “the difference between d’oraitas and d’rabbanans” is itself d’rabbanan — and as you know from Daf Yomi, it is not always an objectively obvious assignment.

    • Benignuman

      Farber’s position matches what Rabbi Helfgott says is “impossible to term . . . as Orthodox in any meaningful sense.” Read more of his writings. He clearly views the Torah as being the product of multiple prophets “tapping into the divine” as evidenced in the following quote:

      “If there are contradictions which cannot be answered by literary readings, this is because they reflect the respective understandings of different prophets channeling the divine message in their own way; each divine encounter refracts the light of Torah from the same prism but in a distinct way. To adapt an idea I heard from a wise mentor, if the Borei Olam (Creator) can fashion a universe in which pond-scum can eventually evolve into Rabbi Akiva, then how much more so can God create a mesorah in which distinct documents, traditions, redactional comments, and other sources can evolve into the Torat Hashem (God’s Torah).”

      I understand the instinct to defend accusations of apikorsus given how broadly, lazily and improperly that term is tossed around nowadays. But there are theological positions that are beyond the pale of Judaism and Rabbi Farber has crossed that line.

      • gertzedek

        The problem is that the external evidence for Farber’s point of view is overwhelming and the evidence for the traditional point of view is almost nonexistent. Fink is here pointing out that the Chazal and Rishonim responded to problems with the Torah by being flexible with their beliefs and were willing to reevaluate based on new evidence. Today, we are faced with much the same problem, and the Orthodox community is trying to solve that problem by pointing and shouting “apikorus!” at anyone who dares suggest the academic point of view might be right. There’s only so long one can base a worldview on the premise of a worldwide conspiracy of biased academics to undermine religion, especially when you consider that finding evidence *for* the Torah would be a career-defining achievement for any archaeologist.

        Dismissing out of hand an intellectually honest effort to reconcile modern scholarship with Torah learning is a dangerous strategy. If you position Torah against scholarship, most people will choose scholarship, and that will make the wider world see Jews as fools and the Torah as falsehood. Rather than engaging in a religion of denialism, there’s good reason to intellectually engage modern scholarship from a Torah perspective.

        • Exactly.

        • Benignuman


          You are misunderstanding my point and that of Rabbi Gordimer. We are not dismissing Farber’s arguments out of hand; academic questions should be answered (and the vast majority of them are answered in traditional sources). Rabbi Farber is free to make his honest effort to reconcile modern scholarship with his religious ideals, but if his result is to adjust his religious beliefs such that they are no longer within the Orthodox camp it is improper to continue to portray himself as Orthodox and/or within the traditional Torah camp. You can only be so flexible before you reach the point that you have no shape at all.

          No one is suggesting a worldwide conspiracy of the academia, they just operate within a different paradigm. Their base assumptions are completely removed from ours, such that most conversations just involve us talking past each other. (I have read many argument that are poor even within their paradigm but that is a different story).

          As an aside, there have been plenty of archeological finds that have substantiated portions of Tanach (or at least archeologist have interpreted them as such) other finds go the other way. But archeology (like many academic disciplines) as a field of science is quite soft, relying on inferences piled upon inferences allowing various camps to form, each trumpeting the evidence that supports its position while explaining away the evidence for the other side.

          • Guest

            I think we’re back to the interaction between Eli Fink and
            e. pruzhaner. My reading of R. Farber’s
            article is that he believes Yetziat Mitzriam to be religious truth, even if not
            historic truth, so I don’t see a problem.
            See also Prof. Halbertal on Mechuyavut Phonetit.

            Le’havdil: Like most Americans, I suspect you believe the etiological myth of
            the founding of the United States is true at its essence, despite e.g. that
            slavery was enshrined in the Constitution.

            [Tangentially: on OC 625:1, are you perhaps conflating the Mishna Brura with
            the SA?]

            • Benignuman

              The issue is authorship not the sort of truth we are dealing with (not that I think the “religious truth” track is really tenable for Yetziyas Mitzrayim and Maamad Har Sinai).

              Saying G-d wrote something as an allegory/moral truth and saying a human wrote something as allegory are very different things.

              • He’s saying a prophet wrote it.

                • Benignuman

                  A prophet is a still a human, subject to subconcious biases and misunderstandings. The difference between the Torah and the rest of Nach is primarily that the former is written by G-d itself and the latter were written by prophets in their own words as they understood their visions and prophecies.

                  He is also saying that multiple prophets wrote it, who were using different traditions (he is not clear, but it sounds like he means oral traditions). It seems therefore that he is not maintaining that every word was written through prophecy but rather that the prophet wrote down his traditions (in addition to any prophetic insight).

            • IH

              This is a bogon repeat of the comment in the correct place. Please delete when you get a chance. Thx.

          • IH

            On archeological evidence, I would be interested in hearing the list of finds that corroborate anything in the Chumash in line with our tradition. You know about
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deir_Alla_Inscription right?

            • Benignuman

              Yes. The Deir Alla inscription is one of the things I had in mind. I wrote Tanach, however, because most of the corroborating evidence is to Neveim and Kesuvim.

              Off the top of my head:

              1) The Merneptah Stele refering to Israel as a nation in Canaan well before the founding of the Davidic Kingdom.

              2) The discovery of Ninveh and the Taylor prism where Sancherib boast of his seige of Jerusalem, but doesn’t mention his conquering of the city.

              3) There was a recent discovery of what is claimed to David HaMelech’s palace

              4) The Tel Dan inscription refering to the “house of David.”

              5) Chizkiyahu’s tunnels and the inscription describing how they were dug and the water was diverted

              6) the Monolith that references the army of Achav, King of Israel

              7) the picture of King Jehu (who overthrew Achav and Izevel) on an obelisk of one of the Assyrian Kings.

              There are more, but I would have to go back through my issues of Biblical Archeology Review to find them.

              • IH

                You are in Nach, and the discussion is about Chumash.
                See also footnote 10 in R. Farber’s article.

                • Benignuman

                  I wrote “Tanach” above. There have been other findings that don’t speak directly to incidents in the Torah but substantiate the Torah’s descriptions of time and place. E.g. The description of the indepence of the Egyptian priesthood and its control over death right; the description of the domesticated camel (originally thought to be anachronistic, evidence of camel domestication has since been discovered dating back between 3000 and 2000 BCE); the existence of regular trade routes between Egypt and Canaan; the practice of marrying a maidservant when the wife could not bear children; etc.

                  My main point however was that prior to archeological discoveries substnatiating portions of Nach (like the existence of King David) these too were considered as myths. Archeology, especially in what it doesn’t find, is not exactly a firm basis for any practical decisions or statements of scientific truth.

                  • My rebbe-chaver, R’ Jack Love (Chair, Department of Halakha, YCT), noted that the camel is even more telling than that. There are three Wife-Sister (“she’s not my wife, she’s my sister”) stories. The only one that actually includes the detail of camels is the trip down to Egypt. The trips to the Gaza Strip do not include that detail, which is consistent with the period about a detail you wouldn’t expect them to know centuries after Avraham and Yitzchaq.

                    • IH

                      As Alan Brill comments in the introduction to his interview with David Carr: http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/interview-with-david-m-carr-current-state-of-bible-scholarship/

                      if the religious community wants to respond to Biblical criticism, then it should know what it is talking about. It has to stop create homiletics about repetitions and thinking that it answers anything at all.

                    • But I don’t think the religious community feels challenged by Biblical Criticism enough to really want to engage it. From the traditional perspective, the chumash is the written notes of a corpus of knowledge that is mostly oral, written by something Infinitely Other than man. The whole question of why it looks so different than the way I’d write a book, or why the findings in the ever-changing field of biblical archeology today say this (and tomorrow say that) really doesn’t come up. We generally don’t have reason to doubt the current belief system, so we sort of expect it’ll all work out in the end. I’m just not worried about the possibility that some of the foundational assumptions of the halachic process are false. Simply because my faith — and in truth (the Kuzari and Kant argue) everyone’s faith — is built on what fits my life experience. And then I allow myself to be convinced by the philosophy that justifies it. There is always an equally sound philosophical theory out there to prove the opposite. (Kuzari 1:13, 63)

                      You’re throwing down a gauntlet, but what if you’re the only one who cares?

                      That’s why I stuck to the question of whether R’ Farber’s position places him in one of the halachic categories of disbelievers. Not how we know he’s wrong.

                  • IH

                    I am no expert, but there is no convincing archaelogical evidence to support the Chumash of which I am aware. The closest of which I am aware is the very cool: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketef_Hinnom but even that is problematic because the texts are not precisely the same (which is relevant if one takes Rambam’s 8th Ikkar literally).

                    Further, we have contemporaneous records of other cultures from the region — but none from the Israelites. See http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/prof-joshua-berman-returns-for-a-follow-up-interview-on-biblical-law/ for an attempt to use those texts to mitigate some of the older Bible criticism.

                    All in all, there is plenty of reason for otherwise normative Orthodox Jews to be skeptical of the historicity of the Chumash and R. Farber has been courageous in trying to create a path in which to have that discussion.

                    It is no surprise that some find this discussion difficult and also that some are jumping on this to further other political agendas. But, at the end of the day, there are many Orthodox Jews who struggle with these discrepancies, just as Jews always have. Let’s finally have the discussion within Orthodoxy rather than push people out:

                    כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר – לא להתפחד כלל

                    • Benignuman

                      I didn’t use the Ketef Hinnom aumulets because they are not outside descriptions of Torah events, they are paraphrases of pesukim (non-narrative ones at that) and therefore do not confirm anything. The Deir Alla inscription is not the same nevua as the one in the Torah. It only shows that Billam was a well known prophet and that there were other recorded prophecies from him. I don’t know why you consider it problematic but I should note that the standard translations of it that you read assume that Elokim means gods in the plural, and that “El” and “Shadai” are the names of other gods. The inscription would be translated very differently from a Torah perspective.

                      I don’t think lack of archeological evidence means very much at all. Finding archeological evidence is in large part a product of luck (a place needs to be well preserved, not reinhabited or razed or plowed over, etc.) and interpreting the evidence (and lack of evidence) that is found is extremely speculative.

                      My point with the evidence that I presented was to demonstrate that the absence of archeological evidence during a particular period should not be the basis of negative conclusions. Prior to the finding of the Tel Dan inscription there were those who maintained that King David never existed or if he existed he was a minor tribal chieftan (some still maintain this). Prior to evidence of early camel domestication, there were those who maintained (and some still maintain) that the Torah’s reference to camels in the time of the Patriarchs was anachronistic.

                      I have nothing against Orthodox Jews grappling with biblical criticism or archeology. And if as a result of that grappling they conclude that the academics are right and we are wrong, then so be it. If it’s not true, it is not true. But Farber is trying to have his cake and eat it too. He is mixing paradigms (and thereby opening himself up to criticisms from both sides) and claiming that he is still Orthodox when he is not.

                    • IH

                      The point of R. Farber’s essay is that your last paragraph is a false dichotomy.

                      As I commented on Brill’s blog on Motzei Shabbat: R. Farber offers a meta-theory that is accessible, credible,
                      constructive and yet also achingly honest. One can quibble with various details, to be sure, but that misses the
                      forest for the trees.

                      The Modern Orthodox amcha is wise enough to figure out what is in-bounds and what is not.

    • So then the question is whether R’s Helfgot and Farber will sit on the same beis din, or whether — consistent with what’s said above — Helfgot would be forced to conclude that Farber doesn’t qualify as a dayan. (A beis din must consist of three observant Jewish men who actually believe in the Torah’s religious framework.)

    • ephraim helfgot

      I completely agree with Rabbi Helfgot’s position– and not just because he’s my father :). It’s nice to know that while some on the very left (some might say separated from) Modern Orthodoxy aim to accommodate biblical criticism at the expense of Torah, my dad is a clear supporter of Torah and Hashem. May I be zoche to follow in that path.

  • IH

    Kol ha’Kavod for this thoughtful post.

  • Benignuman

    “The maximalist orthodox Jewish answer is that the text is Divine. It is a text that comes from God and therefore any anomaly is understood as part of the infinite wisdom of the Author of the Torah. The different versions of stories and laws reflect Divine intent to teach us everything we need to know.”

    “But most thinking people know that the maximalist orthodox Jewish position is untenable. No one really thinks that.”

    I think you are misunderstanding the “maximalist” position, because it is absolutely tenable. The issue is not whether or not discrepancies crept into the text over time, or whether a few pesukim were written down by Yehoshua. The issue is whether or not the Torah was dictated by Hashem to Moshe (and according to one shitta Yehoshua for a few pesukim) or whether the Torah was written down well after the fact by humans who were merely “tapping into” the divine and therefore the text reflects the writing styles and maybe even biases of of the human “prophet.”

    Farber holds of the latter position. This latter position is a Christian view of the Torah and is not found, as far as I know, in any Rishon. It is also apikorsus according to the Rambam and contradicts express pesukim in the Torah.

    • e. pruzhaner

      Also, Farber believes the entire narrative of the Torah is false, a point that his defenders seem uncomfortable mentioning.

      • False is not the opposite of the word of God given to Moses 3500 years ago.

        • e. pruzhaner

          If you didn’t get that, you didn’t understand the article. Go back and read the parts about “mnemohistory.” Farber’s point is to accept all of biblical criticism–if bible critics say there were no patriarchs and no slavery in Egypt and no exodus and desert wandering, then we shouldn’t believe that they happened.

          • Ahistorical is not false either.

            • e. pruzhaner

              Instead of debating semantics of the word “false,” just say you are religiously comfortable with the idea that none of the events described in the Torah took place.

              • Holy Hyrax

                This a great comment IMO. Ahistorical is not false either?

                Why don’t we take this to the next logical outcome of this. IF FInk is ok with allegorizing or false information, how far does that go? Lets take some in the Christian community that believe evangelical Christianity MUST accept the results of evolution and biblical criticism. Peter Enns from Patheos.com is a great example. By following the evidence he has come to the conclusion that there was no biblical Abraham, YET, he still believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ. When confronted with the idea that you can’t have a Jesus without the the idea of a covenant with Israel beginning Abraham he simply starts with his apologetics and dancing around the issue. Whats the difference between farber and Enns?

                Fink, this seems to be the same issue that Kugel had and I will repeat a criticism lodged against him. How much can you rip apart the walls, the tiles, strip the copper wiring and plumbing and still call it a Judaism that actually represents an ACTUAL event in history that God talked to the Jewish nation? Why not allegorize that as well? And once you start doing that, ask yourself how much of anything authentic is left to motivate people to keep any of the traditions?

                • ksil

                  whats the point of your last question

                  • Holy Hyrax

                    Sorry, more of a statement. Not a question.

              • davidbenjaminkopp

                Every serious Jew should admit that belief (in any given event or “fact” as related by Tanakh) is not central to Judaism. Indeed it can be terribly distracting and lead us astray from God’s path for us.

                The Shadal, Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_David_Luzzatto) once explained very clearly in a letter to a struggling congregant that a Jew is not required to believe in any particular thing stated in Tanakh. Shadal brings his proofs,

                • “Moses did not dictate articles of faith, because God does not command belief, that is, He does not command that which cannot be commanded.”
                • “[Moses’ transmission of the Torah] does not teach a new morality, but dictates a code that does no more than develop and sanctify the principles of humanity and justice that Abraham taught.” In other words: All Jews are expected to believe in are the principles of humanity and justice that Abraham and Sarah taught. These principles are not legitimized by any events, but by the kind of rational kindheartedness for which Abraham was praised and made founding father.
                • God assigns punishments for many transgressions but never mentions the sin of disbelief
                • God never categorizes anti-religious speech as sin (unless it leads to idolatry, or cursing God, which themselves leads to *actual* sins)
                • The prophets and ancient rabbis never mention articles of faith
                • Regarding atheists, “Scripture detests the atheist, but the atheist of depraved conduct.” In other words: Scripture only detests atheists who act badly as a result of their atheism.

                Source: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2010%20Klein.pdf

  • Benignuman

    Rabbi Fink,

    I believe you are misunderstanding the Ibn Ezra. When he refers to the “secret of the 12” he is not talking about twelve places in the Torah that talk in the present sense, he is talking about the last 12 pesukim of the Torah which the Ibn Ezra believed were written by Yehoshua.

    I think you are also misundertanding the Chazal about the midpoint of the Torah (in terms of letters and words). That Chazal cannot mean ordinary letters and words. The count given in that Gemara is so far off the Torah we have that it would have to mean that Chazal had many more words and pesukim in their Torah than we do. And while we find the occassional drasha of a Hey or a Vav that we do not have, we never find Chazal quoting a pasuk from the Torah that we do not have (there is one instance I know of where Chazal quote a pasuk in Kesuvim that we do not have). Rather pshat in that Gemara is probably what Rabbi Yitzchok Zilber explained (the “vav of gachon” is the middle letter of the offsized letters in the Torah, darash darash are the middle words of double language in the Torah; it is worth reading Rabbi Zilber’s piece in its entirety).

    Finally the more minimalist position that you are ascribing to some Rishonim/Acharonim regarding Devarim does not make a difference with respect to Rabbi Farber’s issue. Those Rishonim agree that G-d told Moshe to write down Sefer Devarim and to include it as part of the Torah. No Rishonim claim that Devarim was written by a different prophet who held a different tradition.

    • Re 12 I was working from memory. I think he has 7 examples. I’ll amend the post. The rest had to wait until I’m at a computer.

    • It’s not even clear it means either, given how the IE himself has choice words for a R’ Yitzchak Hay?sh?sh (anyone know the right vowels?) for saying the list of Edomite kings was added later because it runs past Moshe’s lifetime. However, Spinoza, the Yam Shel Shelomo and the Tzafnas Paneiach do understand his secret as being about later interpolations. Shadal says otherwise. And it’s 8 pesuqim which run past Moshe’s death, not 12.

      Anyway… I think there is a fundamental problem with the shift from saying there were a couple of ammendments (which personally I’m not comfortable with either) and saying the text as a whole wasn’t dictated. The latter changes the nature of derashah from being an artifact of Divine writing style to a game rabbis play. Which then does havoc with the roots of halakhah. If Torahitic laws derived or proven by derashos have no ab initio basis, then todays rabbis are given license to also turn halakhah into a game of justifying what they or their people already want done before encountering the Torah. I have similar problems with Historical School thinking and laws of both Torahitic and Rabbinic categories, and think that the Conservative movements derivation from the Historical School and taking Document Hypothesis into the curriculum has much to do with how far their legal process diverged from anything an Orthodox Jew would consider halakhah.

      On a purely halachic non-ideological plane (nothing about the concept of kefirah, ie the limits of heresy with respect to the nature of the Torah and revelation)… Numerous mitzvos were given “so that you should remember the time I took you out of the land of Egypt.” Can someone who relegates the Exodus to “mnemohistory” fulfill any of them? (Mnemohistory sounds to me like a term someone invented because the term “myth” carries the wrong connotations among people who don’t know what the word really means.)

      As for the final verses, HaRav Meir Simchah haKohein miDvinsk zt”l is so sure that all of the Torah must come from Moshe, he argues that the whole discussion is only possible because those pesuqim are part of the Sefer Torah, necessary for a scroll to be kosher, but not part of the Torah itself. An obligatory post-fix, to teach how learning Torah is all about passing it on to others, and is not to be a narcissistic spirituality. Okay, it’s not a concept on the same plane of discourse as the rest of this discussion, but it’s a beautiful Meshekh Chokhmah (Devarim 28:61) that I translated:

      It does show where standard thinking was in Litta on the subject, and that’s in the writings of someone from the Chovevei Tzion end of the religious spectrum.

      • Benignuman

        The machlokes in the Gemara is about the last 8 pesukim, but the Ibn Ezra in his pirush writes that Yehoshua wrote the last 12 (and the Ibn Ezra implies that Yehoshua added other pesukim at the end of his own life). I think pshat in the Ibn Ezra is that he held that Yehoshua was higher darga of Navi, and considered an extension of Moshe, who was allowed to complete the Torah at the command of Hashem.

        • Conjecture.

          • If you mean Benigmen’s parenthetic that the IE’s “sod 12” refers to the 12 verses (although 12 could be a lot ofthings) therefore that those other references refer to other things he added, yes, I would agree that “Benignuman” is giving his (and those I mentioned earlier) conjecture. Shadal didn’t find it compelling. And given his aforementioned diatribe about the kings of Edom, it’s clear he is no precedent for placing anything AFTER some short period after Moshe’s death. So it’s of theoretical interest that has little to do with this discussion.

            It could be that he held that the pre-settlement period required a different kind of prophecy, and therefore Yehoshua too experienced it when he first took charge. That would explain why the idiom is “Torah miSinai” (referring to the trek which was primarily through the Sinai Desert, not the mountain) rather than insisting on “Toras Moshe”, something that’s more of a stretch if it lasted through the rest of Yehoshua’s lifetime.

            • Benignuman

              It is the best explanation (I think) for what the Ibn Ezra means. It could be wrong, but then we have to just throw up our hands and give up knowing what the “sod 12” are.

              • Oh, I agree. Either the Tzafnas Paneiach is correct or Shadal is. I don’t know enough IE to decide if the conjecture is compelling. I just know that people who did took both sides of the debate.

                BTW, there are Chassidic groups who believe the Tzafnas Paneiach was correct, and therefore they also conclude that the IE was either a heretic or close to one, and they excised his commentary from the “canon” of rishonim.

            • daized79

              Including arvot moav.

              • There is a machloqes between R’ Yochanan and Reish Laqish about when the Written Torah was given. R’ Yochanan says it was given piece by piece during the period from Horeb (Mt Sinai) until Moshe’s death in Arvos Moav. According to Reish Laqish, it was given all at once at the end of Moshe’s life. (My mnemonic: R’ Yochanan was an “FFB” and acquired his Torah in a life-long process. Reish Laqish was a “BT” and picked up his Torah later in life.)

                Toras Kohanim on the title verse of Parashas BeHar famously (thanks to Rashi) tells you that the entire halakhah was given at Mt Sinai. (I assume this refers to the process, not every since law. See the aggadic story about Moshe Rabbeinu visiting R’ Aqiva’s class, where he didn’t know every law, and “ein beis medrash belo chidush — there is no study hall without innovation”.)

                In any case, notice thst all agree that the Oral Torah came first. The Written Torah captures some part of what was already given, and does not according to any of the above represent the first giving of the ideas.

                Which is really my primary problem with this whole thing… If you really believe that Hashem gave us the Written Torah as a seed for the halachic process, that the text has a non-smooth side because we’re supposed to grapple with it and find Oral Torah, then what would be the motivation for accepting a Document Hypothesis (of any variation) to begin with? There is no question for it to answer.

                • daized79

                  First on-topic: Farber is NOT saying that hashem gave us a complicated tora so we can grapple with it. He is saying that n’viim over time wrote down the tora. That much of the lack of smoothness is as a result of their human input and different perspective, just like n’vua in n’viim. Does that mean we can learn anything like the d’rashot that are used by khaza”l? I wouldn’t think so, but apparently he doesn’t want to throw out halakha as is. Maybe he has a more Halivni worldview that halakha was preserved orally and the tora shebikhtav was corrupted. Lord knows. Because at the same time he also wants to change halakha radically through reexamination of the original texts. I’m not sure hie theory was ready for primetime, but that’s just me. I still say dropping the whole Jewish thing is the only natural thing to do if you believe any of this.

                  Off-topic: did r’ akiva learn halakhot out of the tagin or just “tora” (not sure what I even mean by that)? I mean we don’t have any Talmudic literature that says anything about the tagin, which you think would be important if it was halakha, or am I wrong and we do have such literature?

                  • R Micha Berger

                    On topic: That’s been my point repeated ad nauseum on this comment chain. There is no definition of kefirah that can accept an adaptation that robs halakhah its roots. Which Farber does. And he follows up by saying we need to rethink halakhah in this light: In my view, Judaism is essentially a wave that eternally sends the messages of God. However, in order to understand how to apply these messages we must understand how any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel. When we understand this, we can “subtract” the societal elements to see the ideas in their relative purity and reapply them to our times.

                    The Jewish community already tried that experiment, combining bible criticism and historical school to justify a different legal process. And its followers have been trying to pull out of a nosedive for about a decade now. (LA Times: 12-Apr-2011: “Leaders of Conservative Judaism press for change as movement’s numbers drop”)

                    Off topic: I think that medrash refers to a fundamental machloqes between the two schools of medrashei halakhah. In R’ Yismael’s beis medrash they taught that “the Torah speaks in the language of man”, and what was relevant to derashah was the meaning of clauses, not the word choice. In R’ Aqiva’s beis medrash, they darshened based on specific words (eg “akh” is a limiting term, every “es” adds something despite being needed by the grammar of the verse, etc…) And so, Rabbi Aqiva learned “piles and piles of halakhos” out of the letters and tagin of the Torah, in contrast to Rabbi Yishmael. I blogged about the schools of medrashei halakhah and the books they left us over on Aspaqlaria.

                    • daized79

                      Off topic first (it’s shorter): but your examples are akh and et. Those are mentioned in midrashe halakha etc. What about tagin?

                      On topic: So that’s why I responded to specific arguments you were making that i thought were faulty. Stick to your main argument. I’m also not sure in intellectually honest discussion how many members we retain is so important. What if Reform worked? Certainly Christianity worked. That doesn’t mean we say we should abandon halakha and support Christianity. So if Conservative were true and it still lost members, it wouldn’t stop me from being Conservative. “kiruv” needs to be within the guidelines of what hashem wants from us. Or the authors of the tora. ;P (rakhmana litslan)

                      But yes, you quoted exactly what I was referring to. First he starts of by saying the tora shebikhtav was written with human prophecy. Then he says that Judaism is an “eternal wave.” So when did revelation stop? Or is it ongoing? And is more like Mormon revelation (continuing prophecy) or Protestant revelation? We each get to decide and interpret what we think the tora means (obviously with divine inspiration we are all gifted with)? And what if that led us to the conclusion we should initiate human sacrifice or literal ayin takhat ayin? What if that meant we should still be stripping suspected adulteresses in public? What else does looking at the text in its original purity mean? How can it always mean whatever the Progressive Left says? Are these atheists now the only humans on earth still receiving n’vua? With all respect to R’ Fink, I just don’t see a shred of intellectual honest or courage from this guy.

                      Here’s what I posted elsewhere here an on Brill’s blog:

                      Is Farber serious when he thinks that the g’dolim of each generation have been guided by prophecy or ruakh hakodesh? In other words, is this an argument for continuing prophecy of some select individuals ala the Mormon church or some kind of Lutheran-Protestant idea that we are each individually given the gift of divine inspiration in our reading of the tora? I assume it’s the former (and encompasses everyone who the community has followed until now. Because if it’s the latter, we wouldn’t have much of a community and halakha wouldn’t make much sense (why follow what someone else had as divine inspiration when I have it too and it mine says something completely different).

                      But then, if I understand this correctly, shouldn’t we be even more dogmatic in our approach to halakha/hashkafa? In other words, if hashem is guiding how we have interpreted the tora until now (and how it was stitched together when we go back to the written text), then we can’t really look back at anything historically and decide to interpret it differently now. Or if some of us do, they may turn out in a few hundred years to have been wrong because hashem will have the community following someone else…

                      My only guess is that eh believes this ruakh hakodesh period ended at some point. But when? After khumash? After y’hoshua? After ester? After ezra? After r’ y’huda hanasi? After ramba”m?

                    • R Micha Berger

                      I’m not being as literal as you’re assuming. I took “tagin” as an idiomatic way of referring to the details of the text as written. After all, we have no record of a single derashah of Rabbi Aqiva’s based on tagin, not even one attributed to him in the Zohar.

                    • daized79

                      Right… That was my point. But yours is better. If the Exodus can be allegory so can tagin. 🙂

                    • R Micha Berger

                      Except that there is no pre-Reform source that thought medrashim had literal validity, AND you’re conflating idiom with metaphor. Idiom is a non-literal turn of phrase, but what is being described actually happened. So even as an atteempt at dark humor, it doesn’t work.

                      In any case, no one (again, until the counter-reformation) assumed medrashim were historical. They’re supposed to be metaphor ACCORDING to the Oral Torah itself. The same is true of Bereishis 1. Find me a rishon who believed that 7000 years ago, the universe didn’t exist yet. I can’t find one who didn’t drop a statement or two otherwise. But even if both opinions were documented (I realize there are people who would chafe at my claim), at least we could say the Torah doesn’t /insist/ on a young universe. Only the Written Torah does. Again, unlike Yetzias Mitzrayim.

                    • R Micha Berger

                      I stated that first clause too strongly… There is no source before the counter-Reformation that thought the recorders of mesrash cared about which stories were historical, and which not. And numerous that state outright that they didn’t. Therefore, we can’t assume any of them actually describe a claim of what really happened. (Although some might.)

                    • Dan

                      The Rambam records that in the tefilin the use of tagin was to highlight certain letters in certain parshiot. This may have been the original use of tagin. The tradition has been lost. Now all of the same letter have all the same tagin always.

                    • You are either mistaken, or would have to assert that that this original tradition was lost and replaced with tagin being a standard part of the letter some time after that medrash was told about Rabbi Aqiva but before the discussion on Shabbos 104b-105a.

                    • daized79


          • Benignuman

            It is best explanation for the facts that I can see (without claiming the Ibn Ezra was disengenious, stupid or forgetful).

            The Ibn Ezra writes that Yehoshua wrote the last 12 pesukim, and he speculates that Yehoshua did so at the end of Yehoshua’s life (Ibn Ezra to Devarim 34:1, 6). The Ibn Ezra also writes (Devarim 1:2), albeit opaquely, that the “truth” of the 12 and a few other pesukim is one and the same. On the other hand the Ibn Ezra wrote that the book that speculated that a portion of sefer was B’reishis was written in the times of Bayis Rishon should be burned because “chalila, chalila lomer kain.”

            I can think of no way to reconcile these three statements other than what I wrote above. Furthermore, if the Ibn Ezra was open to claiming later authorship for some parts of the Torah, why limit the “ad hayom hazeh” (regarding the place of Moshe burial) to Yehoshua, after all Yehoshua himself did not die that many years later. The “ad hayom hazeh” would be much more significant if the Ibn Ezra could attribute it to a period hundreds of years later.

            • Benignuman

              An additional smach that the Ibn Ezra held that Yehoshua had a unique level of prophecy and leadership can be found in the Ibn Ezra to Devarim 34:9.

              • The point is not whether IE held Yehoshua was different. The point is that he had to say something and this is what he said. If he knew it could not have all be Yehushua he would have said something else.

                • Benignuman

                  My pshat was to explain R’Berger’s citation to the Ibn Ezra holding that to postulate an addition to the text during Bayis Rishon is kefira, while at the same time holding that Yehoshua added to the Torah. That wasn’t meant as a comment on your point (just a question of accurately stating the Ibn Ezra’s position).

                  However, to claim what the Ibn Ezra would have done if for some reason he couldn’t use his Yehoshua pshat, is conjecture. (Obviously he would have said something else, but that something else might have been more in line with the more standard Rishonim)

        • Yehoshua

          Sorry so late, but it is not the last 12, or the last 8. It is pesukim 1-8 in chapter 34, which are the ones that (according to one opinion) could not have been written by Moshe.

      • IH

        It’s fascinating watching all the defensive memes come out. In regard to:

        Numerous mitzvos were given “so that you should remember the time I took you out of the land of Egypt.” Can someone who relegates the Exodus to “mnemohistory” fulfill any of them?

        the slippery slope conjecture while oft-repeated is empirically false: e.g. right-wing Conservative Rabbis who are Shomrei Mitzvot.

        As Prof. Halbertal nicely summarizes: איש לא נכנס לחיי מצוות עקב אישור אמונת היסוד, ולכן גם היציאה אינה עקב ערעור של אמונת יסוד. צורת החיים הדתית כל כך מעורבבת באמונת היסוד, כמו גשר דו כיווני, לא כמו יסוד לבנין

        • You misunderstand me. I’m not arguing what’s right, so I’m not defending anything, not talking about slippery slopes, or anything of the sort.

          I am asking about the limits of the halakhah. Not “is this true?”, but “is this kefirah?” It is possible for someone to belief that this notion is both true and kefirah, it would be imply a judgment on this particular halakhah, or perhaps the system as a whole. But it is internally consistent.

          • IH

            I still don’t understand then. Let’s try another example from this past week’s Parsha: כַּבֵּד אֶת-אָבִיךָ וְאֶת-אִמֶּךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר
            צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיכֻן יָמֶיךָ, וּלְמַעַן יִיטַב
            לָךְ, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

            If you don’t believe the stated לְמַעַן’s are literally true, can you fulfill the mitzva?

            • It’s not the “magic word” lema’an. It’s the idea that action X is to remind you of Y, and someone relegated Y to mythos. Unlike your case, where the lema’an is causality on Hashem’s part, here it’s causality on the performer’s part that this performer is incapable of. E.g. the SA mentions Hashem’s protection in the desert as a se’if (OC 625:1). Is he saying that intent is a mandatory part of the mitzvah? Or that the possibility of reaching that intent is an inherent part of it?

              • IH

                I think we’re back to the interaction between Eli Fink and
                e. pruzhaner. My reading of R. Farber’s article is that he believes Yetziat Mitzriam to be religious truth, even if not historic truth, so I don’t see a problem. Refer also to Prof. Halbertal on Mechuyavut Phonetit.

                Le’havdil: Like most Americans, I suspect you believe the etiological myth of the founding of the United States is true at its essence, despite e.g. that slavery was enshrined in the Constitution.

                [Tangentially: on OC 625:1, are you perhaps conflating the Mishna Brura with the SA?]

              • daized79

                I hate having to argue a position I disagree with in the end, but…

                (1) SA obviously did not believe what Faber is saying, so don’t quote him in this argument;

                (2) Why can’t hashem tell us to do something to remember the allegorical principle? Let’s say that the Exodus never happened (not my belief!), but is an allegory (or prophetic interpretation of reality) of how hashem formed the Jewish people as we know it by saving us from the yoke of hedonism and commanded us to remember that every year with lots of awesome ritual? This isn’t a very good attack on Faber’s worldview.

                • Well argued.

                  • daized79

                    And I keep getting his name wrong. That was not an intentional dis. I promise.

                  • daized79

                    I did once get R’ Adlerstein to admit that belief in the Exodus as allegory wouldn’t make one a heretic. But I did not go as far as matan tora.

                    At any rate, R’ Fink, the thing that makes Farber out and out heretical is not how much of the tora is allegory but how much was not given to us directly by hashem, but through the agency of multiple prophets down through the ages.

                    This is what I got out Farber’s article (posted on Brill’s website):

                    Is Farber serious when he thinks that the g’dolim of each generation have been guided by prophecy or ruakh hakodesh? In other words, is this an argument for continuing prophecy of some select individuals ala the Mormon church or some kind of Lutheran-Protestant idea that we are each individually given the gift of divine inspiration in our reading of the tora? I assume it’s the former (and encompasses everyone who the community has followed until now. Because if it’s the latter, we wouldn’t have much of a community and halakha wouldn’t make much sense (why follow what someone else had as divine inspiration when I have it too and it mine says something completely different).

                    But then, if I understand this correctly, shouldn’t we be even more dogmatic in our approach to halakha/hashkafa? In other words, if hashem is guiding how we have interpreted the tora until now (and how it was stitched together when we go back to the written text), then we can’t really look back at anything historically and decide to interpret it differently now. Or if some of us do, they may turn out in a few hundred years to have been wrong because hashem will have the community following someone else…

                    My only guess is that eh believes this ruakh hakodesh period ended at some point. But when? After khumash? After y’hoshua? After ester? After ezra? After r’ y’huda hanasi? After ramba”m?

                • My question was whether anyone but Farber would think that he could fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah as per this Shulchan Aurkh and perhaps a good number of mitzvos like it. I was making the argument that his position stands apart not “only” on hashkafic grounds, but that it would have halachic ramifications in a large number of chovos ha’eivarim (obligations of the limbs, in contract to mitzvos of belief and attitude, chovos halvavos) as well.

                  • daized79

                    I don’t imagine you aren’t fulfilling the mitsva if you sit and eat in sukot and think of how hashem protected us on our journey from idolatry to being the am hanivkhar. What if you just sit and eat in a suka and most of the time think about nothing in particular like me and most Jews? What we call “stam daas” in Yeshivish.

                    I don’t know that there need be any direct halachic implications. But Farber gives away his corrupt hand when he does try to extend his belief system into halakha and say that now we need to go back and re-evaluate halakha in light of his new system. Why is that? If this is what hashem said through n’vua and it has been interpreted by the rabanan, etc., etc., why would that have any impact on halakha? And, further, as I mentioned, I am going out on a limb here and saying that when he reinterprets halakha he isn’t going to be arguing for a stricter interpretation of ayin takhat ayin but rather for a more lenient interpretation of mishhkav zakhar. And that gives away his whole project as a push for Progressivism rather than an intellectually honest reevaluation of matan tora.

        • daized79

          All 12 of them…

      • S.

        “And it’s 8 pesuqim which run past Moshe’s death, not 12.”

        The reason for assuming Ibn Ezra was saying the 12 could not be written by Moshe, not only the 8 which Chazal already said could not be written by him, is because the last 12 has him ascending the mountain, even though he does not die until the last 8. But if he ascended the mountain, how then did he write it and we received it? He rolled the scroll down the mountain behind him? IMO this is a reasonable explanation as to why Ibn Ezra did not think Moshe could have written anymore from וַיַּעַל מֹשֶׁה, rather than from וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה which, as we said, Chazal already recognized would not seem to have been written by Moshe.

  • TorahStudent

    Rav Fink, I have some questions for you. One, what are your thoughts with regards to R. Farber’s understanding of Sinai (i.e., that the event never took place). It is pretty clear from the Torah that the event itself is crucial to belief in the validity of Torah and to the obligation to follow Torah law (Ramban even includes the teaching of the details of the event as one of the 613 mitzvos). Also, doesn’t it seem odd that we are obligated to retell the events of Sinai that point to God’s control over the universe even though (as per R. Farber) these events never transpired? Finally, I see that you are a talmid of Rav Moshe Brown, does he share your views with regards to R. Farber?

    • This article is not about what I think. Nor is it about what Rabbi Brown thinks.

      • TorahStudent

        But isn’t a denial of the validity of the events of Sinai problematic for our belief in Torah and our obligation to observe mitzvot?

        • Not really. If God wanted this story to be told to the Jewish people it is “true” in the sense that it is what God wants from us regardless of the historical accuracy.

          • TorahStudent

            So God wants the Jewish people to prepetuate a lie?

            • TorahStudent

              How can God expect us to pursue truth at all costs, when He gave us a document that’s a complete lie?

              • You’re using the word lie incorrectly.

                • TorahStudent

                  It says in the Torah the event at Sinai occurred. The Jewish people saw visual phenomena and heard audible sounds that was clear to all that it was the word of God. Moshe admonishes the people and reminds them that God’s revelation never included a form and therefore, they should desist from idolatry that tries to give God an image. According to you this never happened. How is this not lying?

                  • TorahStudent

                    Also on this topic, how can R. Farber know that the individuals who redacted the Torah were prophets? There is no evidence for this. Why believe in prophecy at all? There is no evidence that God communicated to man!

                • Holy Hyrax

                  No he’s not. He is using it exactly as it is understand. You are just REALLY uncomfortable with the consequence. If the very pillar of the religion never happened then perpetuating that story as an event that actually happened is a lie. Also, if the pillar never happened, why would you even believe in a god called Hashem. The only document that testifies to that diety is a the very document in question.

                  Think about it from another perspective. Here is God, seeking to share his wisdom with the world. It’s been workign out for a couple of thousand years. One basic story has been passed. Now, we evidence counters it. Doesn’t God think this is going to make him look REALLY bad. Why would he perpetuate somthing that humans later are simply going to scratch their heads and come to conclusions that he didn’t give them any truth at all? Wouldn’t God know humans would eventually evolve to an evidence based life form and seek truth through empirical testing. Surely God would prepare for that and give a story that can survive anything. At least the reform are honest and simply say man made this up to the best of their ability to tell the story of their God. That’s it. NO KVETCHING.

                  The story of Sinai was never to be taken as allegory. The only reason you would accept it and still claim it as some “truth” is testament to how far Judaism has fallen.

                • TorahStudent

                  Rabbi Fink:

                  Please note the following passage from Baba Basra 14A that I am sure you are familiar with:

                  “A certain Rabbi was sitting before R. Samuel b. Nahmani and in the course of his expositions remarked, Job never was and never existed, but is only a typical figure. He replied: To confute such as you the text says, There was a man in the land of Uz, Job was his name. But, he retorted, if that is so, what of the verse, The poor man had nothing save one poor ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up etc. Is that anything but a parable? So this too is a parable. If so, said the other, why are his name and the name of his town mentioned?”

                  Clearly, the position of the Gemara is that one is not allowed to “wili nilli” maintain that certain verses or events are allegories, unless there irrefutable evidence that it was meant to be allegorical. In the case of Eyov, if the story was meant to be a fable, there would be no need to mention the individual’s name or where he was from. These have no purpose in teaching the ideas that the story was meant to convey. Therefore, if it was included, it was to demonstrate that Eyov was a real person who actually existed. How much more so would we maintain with regards to the entire Torah that one should not maintain that it is merely allegory and that these events never occurred.

                  • daized79

                    TorahStudent, I agree with your main points, but how can you tell us that the g’mara is definitively saying iyov wasn’t an allegory when there is an opinion that it was? That hurts your case. In other words, even though it says what town iyov was from, it was still an allegory…

            • It’s not a lie. Let’s try a different example. Those who say the Breishis story is allegorical would have to answer the same question. And the answer is that on a level of truth this is what we need to know. But how many times did you hear in Yeshiva that the Torah is not a history book?

              • TorahStudent

                But it’s not allegorical in the same way; creation really happened — no one disputes that. The details of how it happened may not be clear — six “days’ may not be days in the literal sense. However, with regards to Sinai you are saying that the whole event never occurred. Totally different

        • The problem would be if it was invented by people.

          • I already asked how the halachic process is consistent with the assumption that the words being darshened weren’t dictated by the Almighty. I think this position makes Conservative legal processes inevitable.

            • IH

              Ah, so you are arguing slippery slopes after all 🙂

              • Again, I’m not even discussing the topic you insist on casting my words into. My question is halachic, not truth.

                The normative (IMHO) view is that the limits of kefirah are some loosened form of the Rambam’s articles 6 through 9. He codifies the law as such (when you need to know who you must relate to as a kofeir) in Teshuvah 3:8 (3:17 in Yemenite editions). This is also the position of R’ Yosef Albo, who would call it iqar #2, which has 3 shorashim (mandatory beliefs that are consequences of that iqar) that cover the same territory. The Iqarim has one shoresh about the Torah being from heaven and it never being changed or replaced, where the rambam numbers those 8 and 9, separately.

                The other possible definition of the limits of apiqursus, kefirah and/or meenus would be the minimum set of beliefs necessary to justify an observant lifestyle. This idea was promoted by R’ Melekh Shapiro, for example. Although I haven’t seen a noted halachicist take the position. The idea is that historically we rarely if ever quizzed people on their beliefs; we assumed that if they observed Shabbos to the best of their willpower, they were Jews in good standing.

                So, given the above, back to what I wrote earlier:

                By either definition, Farber’s position is kefirah. It violates the 8th iqar, and it denies a belief necessary to justify Shabbos observance as halakhah defines it because it takes the legs out from under a sizable chunk of the halachic process.

                It’s not that I’m aghast at someone believing something that will in turn lead to a problem in halachic development. It’s that a belief that runs counter to the assumptions behind the halachic process is itself prohibited.

                • See this post on Seforim Blog:

                  R. Yuval Sherlo was recently asked if it is acceptable to posit post-Mosaic authorship of passages of the Torah, following in the paths of R. Judah he-Hasid and Ibn Ezra.[5] Rather than reject the latter viewpoint, he claims that it is important to stress the ikkar ha-ikkarim, namely, that the authority of the Torah does not depend on who wrote it. What is crucial is that it was given by God. Even if there are verses that were written by someone else other than Moses, as was held by R. Judah he-Hasid and Ibn Ezra, this is not heresy, unless one assumes that these portions were not written through Divine Inspiration. Sherlo himself acknowledges that there is a good deal of evidence apparently pointing to the fact that some verses are post-Mosaic.

                  ישנם סימנים רבים בתורה שלכאורה מעידים על כך שחלק מפסוקי התורה נכתבו לאחר משה רבינו

                  He concludes:

                  על כן, בשעה שמאמינים במוצא העליון המוחלט של כל פסוקי 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.

                  Needless to say, this is in direct contradiction to Maimonides’ Eighth Principle, and is an opening for Higher Biblical Criticism to enter the Orthodox world. For those who don’t read Hebrew, what Sherlo is saying is that Mosaic authorship does not matter, as long as one accepts that the Torah is divine. This is a huge theological step (a “game changer”), which for those who accept it entirely alters the playing field. This is such a break with the standard Orthodox view that I don’t know why Sherlo’s position has not received any publicity. Let me say it again, in case people haven’t been paying close attention: Sherlo’s argument permits Higher Criticism, as long as one asserts that the entire Torah is divinely inspired.

                  Sherlo is not some fringe figure. He is Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Petah Tikva and a major personality in religious Zionism. (In the next installment of this series I will present further evidence that in some parts of the Modern Orthodox world the old taboo against Higher Criticism has begun to fade.)

                  Not surprisingly, Sherlo’s position was challenged by some commenters and he in turn defended what he wrote. Interestingly, one of the commenters writes about Ezra editing the Torah, and Sherlo does not reject this. Instead, he asserts that whoever arranged the Torah did it with prophecy that was the equal of Moses’ prophecy.

                  מי שסידר את התורה אף הוא עשה זאת בנבואה [!] התורה ולא בנבואה שהיא פחות מנבואת משה רבינו

                  In other words, Sherlo has adopted Rosenzweig’s point that “R”, instead of standing for “Redactor”, really means “Rabbenu.”[6]

                  When this formulation was challenged, since how could there be prophets of the level of Moses as this would contradict the Seventh Principle, Sherlo was unperturbed.

                  [שאלה] מה פירוש נביא שסדר את התורה עשה זאת בנבואת משה רבינו. האם היו עוד נביאים כמשה? הלא מעיקרי הדת שלא היו.

                  [תשובה] לפי הרמב“ם אלו עיקרי הדת. ברם, אפילו אמוראים סברו אחרת לגבי הפסוקים האחרונים בתורה

                  In other words, since there are amoraim who disagree with Maimonides’ Principle, it is not binding.[7]

                  In speaking of the Torah, Sherlo uses this provocative formulation (emphasis added):

                  ניסוח התורה הוא ניסוח שאנו מתייחסים אליו כולו כאילו כולו יצא מרבונו של עולם בדרגת “תורה” ולא בדרגה נמוכה ממנה.

                  One of the commenters asks as follows (and both of the possibilities he suggests are far from traditional):

                  הרב כותב כי “ניסוח התורה הוא ניסוח שאנו מתייחסים אליו כולו כאילו כולו יצא מריבונו של עולם”. האם זהו רק יחס שלנו, והיינו שיש לכתוב סמכות של תורה, או שבאמת אלוקים דיבר וסיעתו של עזרא כתבה?

                  Sherlo replies that he simply does not know, and that we don’t know what the Torah looked like in the years after it was given (until the days when the Torah she-ba’al peh was written down, and quotations of the Torah are found there). In other words, it might be significantly different than the Torah we have today:

                  אנחנו לא יודעים. יש חור שחור בתולדות מסירת התורה, כי אין לנו בדיוק מושג מה היה באלף השנים שבין מתן תורה לבין כתיבת התורה שבעל פה. לכן התנסחתי בנוסח זה.

                  In a previous post I already called attention to a comment by the great R. Solomon David Sassoon, who wrote as follows (Natan Hokhmah li-Shelomo, p. 106 [emphasis in original; I learnt of this passage from R. Moshe Shamah]):

                  אבל אם יאמר פסוקים אלה נביא אחר כתב אותם מפי הגבורה ומודה שקטע זה הוא מן השמים ומפי הגבורה, אדם שאומר כך אינו נקרא אפיקורוס, מה שהגדיר אותו כאפיקורוס אינו זה שאמר שלא משה כתב את הקטע אלא בזה שהוא אומר שדבר שזה מדעתו ומפי עצמו אמרו ושאין זה מן השמים

                  This too can provide a religious justification for Biblical Criticism.


                  • I’m not comfortable with R’ Sherlo’s position, but he is still including as Orthodox something far short of what we’re discussing. R’ Sherlo is discussing the insertion of a pasuq here or there. R’ Faber is dismissing the sort of textual transmission that is necessary to justify derashah being more than a word game. Without divine dictation, “motzi ‘Piv’ hamuchlat shel RBSO” halakhah ceases to be a creative partnership with the Almighty and becomes a human construct.

                    I don’t care about opening the door to Bible Criticism. It’s not Bible Criticism that’s the enemy; it’s its implications about the nature of halakhah. Something the IE, R’ Yehudah haChasid and R’ Sherlo don’t go anywhere near. There is a qualitative difference, it’s not just scale.

                    And frankly I can’t see how anyone for whom halakhah had a major impact in their lives can consider any theory that undercuts its basis to be plausible.

                    • It’s just a matter of scale. THAT is up for debate.

                    • daized79

                      I think that Sherlo is extending the pasuk or twelve of the rishonim to large swaths of the tora. But I hope you’re right, R’ Berger.

                  • TorahStudent

                    So we are accepting the authority of Rav Yuval Sherlo over the Rambam. Hmmm..

                    With all respect, I believe the issue here is that neither you or Rav Sherlo fully appreciate the ramifications of doing away with God’s revelation at Sinai. R’ Micha Berger has started to make this argument. It would take an entire article to make the point. But I suggest that one go through the Rishonim regarding Har Sinai (particularly the Ramban) and understand why that event is so crucial to our religion. It’s the reason why the other two major religions of the world make recourse to it. Think about that, why would another religion make recourse to the Jewish revelation at Sinai???

                    • TorahStudent

                      See the following quotes regarding Rav Sherlo (or Cherlow as it is spelled there) from wikipedia that are interesting:

                      “In 2012, Cherlow called on the State of Israel to recognise non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and Reform conversions. In response, Tzohar distanced itself from his remarks.[6] Yizhar Hess of the Masorti Movement in Israel has suggested that Cherlow does not represent the mainstream of Zionist Orthodoxy in Israel and Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira described Cherlow as a “neo-Reform rabbi in the Orthodox sector.”[6]”

                    • daized79

                      This is so interesting. I was thinking the other day that if Reform wanted to succeed in Israel then a rabbi just had to get s’mikha and not call himself Reform. I never heard of this Sherlo before. R; Fink considers him important, but what he says is obviously heretical. Not even Marc Shapiro amu”sh could come up with someone who said sinai didn’t happen in his great book on the ikare emuna.

                      The question is was the majority of the substance of the tora directly given by hashem to moshe (as opposed to individual p’sukim here and there) or was it a divinely inspired book? Did all the Jewish people encounter hashem directly in a public event or is that some lame allegory for people studying the natural world and discovering G-d together? Jewish belief has always been that the n’viim couldn’t add or subtract laws (as it says in Deuteronomy). But if the whole thing is just a bunch of n’vua…?

                      Sadly people like Sherlo only back up the ridiculous kharei claim that dati l’umi are r’shaim. b”h Tzohar distanced itself.

                    • I am not relying on authority here. RMB asked for it so I provided it.

      • This is not 100% true. It’s about what you think R’ Farber is accomplishing. You think his opening a dialog about Torah miSinai is a good thing, and that there was something wrong with CC just assuming it’s heresy not worth discussing.

        The idea is clearly heretical. This isn’t a gray-area issue. We can discuss the idea, perhaps in a forum about deeper hashkafah. But discussing its inclusion in Orthodoxy renders the term “Orthodox” meaningless. We are talking about a notion of the origin of the Torah that not only defies the loose version of the 13 iqarim (Ani Maamin or Yigdal) that we have been treating as the legal limits of “a Jew in good standing”, it pulls out rational basis for most of the halachic process.

        The amount of dialog the question of acceptability engendered among members of the Orthodox community distresses me.

  • RJM

    I don’t understand how you can compare “some editing” and “some post-Mosaic changes” to “the Exodus, Revelation and Conquest didn’t happen, and JEPD could be true”

    • Because the same principle that resulted in A 1000 years ago would result in B today. That’s the point of the article.

      • e. pruzhaner

        You seem to have forgotten that the Rambam rejects Aristotle’s view on the eternity of the world because it undermines the Torah (see e.g. Guide 2:25). One cannot take any currently popular opinion that goes against the Torah and claim to be doing what the Rambam did. If Rabbi Schmarber, a noted expert in hatarat bekhorot of Yeshivat Shovevei Torah followed the contemporary scientific belief advocating creation of the world by a Flying Spaghetti Monster, some people would defend his orthodox credentials, because after all, R. Moshe Taku once said something and the Ra’avad says gedolim ve-tovim mimenu. Everyone else would recognize that advocates of creation by flying spaghetti monster are no longer orthodox Jews.
        If the term “orthodox Judaism” is to have a meaning, it must have limits, which is so sad because it is mean to the people who choose to put themselves outside those limits. This is something that even Marc Shapiro recognizes, as evident in the title of his book “The Limits of Orthodox Theology.”

  • Ari Kahn

    The Rambam used the “Aleppo Codex” (before it was in Aleppo – he calls it the “Ben asher”) for petuchot
    and stumot – pagination – not the text or letters – your statement is misleading at best

    • I remember seeing that he used it for more than that. But I can’t seem to find it. Regardless, he writes that he did have to be machria between various texts. If he didn’t use the Aleppo Codex for that, the only question is why not.

      • Ari Kahn

        many have misquoted this source – if you find something else please tell me – I suspect you will not

        • Benignuman

          Either way it is undeniable that copying editors have crept into Torah scrolls over time. The standard way of dealing with this problem was coparing as many scrolls as possible and going with the majority to produce a new “master” scroll. I believe this was done over and over throughout the generations, and it serves to correct most of the mistakes that crop up. Obviously some still remain because there are some differences between Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Teimani scrolls.

          • Yes. I doubt R’ Kahn is arguing the substantive point. Just the source.

          • Although it is interesting that not one of the 0.004% of the Toral number of letters that we disagree on actually impact translation OR established derashos.

            Besides, well before there was an Ashkenaz or Sepharad, R’ Meir wrote that the sifrei Torah of his day we not accurate in full vs plene spellings. That plus his own experience with the Ben Asher manuscript and his knowledge that the mesoretes of Ben Naftali differed, I don’t think the Rambam meant an obligation to believe we got the spelling right. Besides, his article of faith also includes the continuity of the Oral Torah from Sinai to the believer, which is clearly about content, not spelling.

          • IH

            Worth pointing out what Prof. Schiffman (now at YU) writes on pp. 37-8 in Qumran and Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2010):

            Among the most significant of the Qumran scrolls are certainly the biblical manuscripts. These documents will shed important new light on the history of the biblical text in Second Temple times.

            The last statement is itself much more important than meets the eye. In the early years of Qumran studies, it was thought that the biblical texts from Qumran would somehow illuminate the “original” text that emerged from ancient Israel. This entire notion has been proven wrong. It is now clear that the biblical text has a history of transmission, and that major parts of this history, which indeed testify to the place of Scripture in the Judaism of the post-biblical period, are to be understood from the scrolls. Indeed, we now know that many textual variants result not only from transmission, but from interpretation and linguistic updating, phenomena that, before the discovery of the scrolls, could not have been understood.

          • Ari Kahn

            “copying editors” or copyists?

  • Ari Kahn

    I would edit you statement as follows : Ibn Ezra famously hinted
    that there are twelve places in the Chumash that speak in present tense and either
    implies that they were not written by Moses, or at least they give that
    impression (at the end of the day,
    prophesy can solve all kinds of problems)

  • Adam Kenigsberg

    Mai Nafka Mina?

    What is the end goal of R’ Farber?

    To change halacha d’oraisa, because it isn’t really d’oraisa?

    We’ve never believed in a literal understanding of Tanakh anyway.

    The Tanakh isn’t literally true. It’s Masoretically true.

    Our Mesorah, handed down from Mount Sinai until today, instructs us on how to understand each verse, each word, even each letter. Only our Mesorah can teach us which stories are literal (crossing the Red Sea, receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, etc.) and which are allegorical (Reuven sleeping with Bilha, possibly the entire book of Job, etc.)

    If he doesn’t want an excuse to change halacha, then again, what is the end goal?

    To fit in with Gd hating academics?

    If there is a purpose to this exercise, I’d like to know what it is.

    If there is no purpose, then it’s a waste of time.

  • Morganfrost

    Well said.

  • I

    Rabbi Fink,

    Yasher Koach for a well-written perspective on this issue.

    In all, we are instructed “Da Mah L’hashiv”. If, indeed, R’ Farber is an apikores.

    What is nice is that all of this discussion forces us to really think this through. My (typical) day-school/yeshiva educated mind defaults to the maximalist views you elucidated, out of convenience. I am quite willing to nuance my thought, when I bother to think about it.

    What is also nice is that you served up a heaping dose of limud Zechus to R’ Farber. He, and every other Jew, deserve that.

    What is not so nice is that more of R’ Farber’s writings are coming to light, and they are less nuanced. See R’ Gordimer’s latest post. http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/21/torah-min-hashamayim-a-reply-to-rabbi-nati-helfgot/#ixzz2ZoO6V0Sm

    It also seems that R’ Farber is attempting to backtrack on some of it:

    “(Rabbi Farber’s discussion of rape on Deuteronomy was accidentally included here from an older draft. At his request, it has been removed and will appear as a separate post, with more elaboration in the near future. – David Steinberg)”

    Where there is smoke, there is fire.

    • daized79

      I have to admit i don’t appreciate much of what R’ Fink writes, but I try to give it a fresh eye each time. With that caveat, the beginning of this post was ridiculous. He attacks Cross-Currents on the theoretical question, “What if all that Faber ever wrote was the first short post?” But that’s not all he ever wrote, and when he said the simplest answer is the academic one he meant he liked that answer and found the traditional one unstomachable. Now that’s worse than the Jewish Maximalist position…

      • It was all he wrote on the subject when they had already written him out of orthodoxy. Pretty scary if you ask me.

        • daized79

          Thanks for responding despite my caveat. And I’m sure that it’s only because the articles I’m being sent are the “controversial” ones. 🙂 I should read some your regular divre tora when i have the chance.

          Anyway, back to the point. Don’t you think it’s a fair assumption (if not obvious) that when he is citing the academic view as simpler it is laudatory and reflective of where the author was leaning? Otherwise, what’s the uproar? Plenty of people have said the academic approach is simpler. It often is. That’s just factual. And as you said, it doesn’t make it true, just “simpler.” Obviously an honest reader knew where Faber was going (and even you admit that reader was correct in retrospect if not aforehand).

          • daized79

            You can prefer it (like R’ Yitzchok Levi), but that doesn’t make Cross-Currents bad for going for rational inference.

            • It’s not rational inference. It’s alarmist inference.

        • Only if the opinion was formed solely on the basis of the article. Given that R’ Avraham Gordimer’s accusations turned out to be correct, and that the RCA had a hand in causing the IRF to have its own beis din legeirus (by drumming out certain members in order to have their geirim accepted by the rabbanut), it is quite likely they knew the players by other means. Your concern would then boil down to RAGordimer choosing to publish before he had enough evidence he could share with the reader.

      • Right. It’s all speculation at that point and I prefer to err on the side of inclusivity where things are ambiguous. That’s just my thing. Read today’s post. No controversy and actually pretty interesting.

  • Holy Hyrax

    Did any one bother reading Farbers entire article. I really couldn’t stomach reading the whole thing. Simply because I can’t stand his weaseling around. He starts with a conclusion: Traditional Judaism is false. Now, the race to find nonsensical quotes and historical moments of paradigm shifts. He quotes chazal as calling the Torah as Torat Chayim as if that is supposed to really support his conclusion. Then he starts bringing up geocentricity as if it is supposed to mean anything. Those paradigm shifts are nothing compared to what he wants from us: to accept his conclusion. Those paradigm shifts did not attack the very foundation of the religion. So these are meaningless paradigm shifts don’t come close to him wanting us to move on from believing the events in the Torah did not happen.

    R’ Farber, we get it. You love Judaism. It is your identity. You see the writing on the wall that basically we are living in the time of seeing the end of traditional Judaism and you want to do somthing about it.

    Oddly enough, I think, Christianity might do a bit better surviving the onslaught of academia. Christianiy’s contact point is with Jesus. Jews’ contact point is the Torah. I have spoken to many devote Christians who simply believe the OT is inspiration. But as long as the notion of Jesus surviving, they are ok. This is probably because as much as you can have theological issues with Jesus, his divinity is not really empirically testable…..so evolutionary speaking, they are much more adaptable. Traditionally Judaism is empirically testable because it rests on historical events and a book. Judaism is a lot less adaptable in this sense because of its testability.

    Farber perhaps is trying to take his cues from Christianity and sort of regulate the Torah as a “truth” the same way Christians see it. This is bound to fail because the OT is simply not as critical to Christians as it is for Jews. Christians have Jesus to rest their heads on just in case. Jews have nothing else

    • daized79

      Reminded me of the Left’s Living Constitution. Amazingly enough if you believe in Faber’s idea of a prophetic tora, halakha suddenly follows every Leftist Progressive tenet… There’s no way that’s intellectually honest..

  • Avraham

    Rabbi Fink – while I generally support your approach to most issues I fear that in this instance you are allowing you emotions to over ride your intellect. I too worry about how narrow Orthodoxy is becoming and reflexively wish to defend progressive thinkers from unfair attacks. However, when I took a step back and carefully read Rabbi Farber’s initial long article the conclusion was inescapable. Zev may personally be a wonderfully learned man who personally keeps mitzvot and truly believes that his efforts are pure, but his words are heretical and if taken to their logical conclusion simply undermine halacha as we know it. He is not merely taking Rav Yoel and Rav Yuval a step further; after all the semantics and sophistry he is denying Torah Misinai and advocating an illogical Judaism where keeping mitzvot would be a nice idea but not obligatory. (I am sure that Zev himself can live with the dissonance but I can not imagine any high school student who hears his theory and would think that there is any reason to believe in Judaism more than any other religion.)

    Moreover, I was shocked by the questions that he found unanswerable that required his radical suggestion. I will highlight two them and note that if this is what Biblical Criticism hangs its hat on then the discipline is really deserving of derision. Rabbi Farber is troubled by the fact that Sarah can laugh because she is too old to have children but can still be considered attractive to Pharaoh.To quote the SNL routine – really? Without being vulgar can we not name women who are over 70 (and are not having children) but are still attractive. (Has anyone seen Raquel Welch or Jane Fonda recently).

    In a comparable vein he is bothered by Yaakov having 11 children in seven years – even though it is with four wives – and he is particularly surprised that Leah herself has seven of them. Once again I must say – really? Do we all not know Charedi families that have children every year; is that so surprising that our only conclusion is that the Avot never existed nor did Revelation at Sinai occur?

    Now I know that he brings up other questions but the two I noted are sadly not exaggerated or taken out of context. Once again, I do understand your reflexive reaction but if you show his article to a person without any agenda I believe the only conclusion that can be drawn is that his words are inconsistent with Orthodoxy.

    • Avtalyon

      “Rabbi Farber is troubled by the fact that Sarah can laugh because she is
      too old to have children but can still be considered attractive to

      Wow, this Farber guy is really THAT stupid?

  • LL

    The lesson here is that if you don’t have a simple and clear answer to something, don’t start getting too wordy, or perhaps don’t address the issue in the first place!


  • davidbenjaminkopp

    Every serious Jew should admit that belief (in any given event or “fact” as related by Tanakh) is not central to Judaism. Indeed it can be terribly distracting and lead us astray from God’s path for us.

    The Shadal, Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_David_Luzzatto) once explained very clearly in a letter to a struggling congregant that a Jew is not required to believe in any particular thing stated in Tanakh. Shadal brings his proofs,

    • “Moses did not dictate articles of faith, because God does not command belief, that is, He does not command that which cannot be commanded.”
    • “[Moses’ transmission of the Torah] does not teach a new morality, but dictates a code that does no more than develop and sanctify the principles of humanity and justice that Abraham taught.” In other words: All Jews are expected to believe in are the principles of humanity and justice that Abraham and Sarah taught. These principles are not legitimized by any events, but by the kind of rational kindheartedness for which Abraham was praised and made founding father.
    • God assigns punishments for many transgressions but never mentions the sin of disbelief
    • God never categorizes anti-religious speech as sin (unless it leads to idolatry, or cursing God, which themselves leads to *actual* sins)
    • The prophets and ancient rabbis never mention articles of faith
    • Regarding atheists, “Scripture detests the atheist, but the atheist of depraved conduct.” In other words: Scripture only detests atheists who act badly as a result of their atheism.

    Source: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2010%20Klein.pdf