Monday, May 12, 2008

In The Beginning

Much of the recent discussion in the comment threads has revolved around the nature of the Genesis narratives and their purpose. In this admittedly off-the-cuff post, I would like to clarify my own take on this crucial issue.

The instructional objective of the Torah is essentially twofold. First and foremost, the Torah provides us with a worldview, an outlook on the Universe, the human condition, and the values that should guide our lives. In his commentary on the Humash, the famous Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno refers to this aspect of the Torah's teaching as "heleq haiyuni", the intellectual component.

Second, the Torah offers a program of mitsvot, the observance of which is based upon that worldview and the goal of which is to implement the values that derive from that worldview. The Seforno calls this the "heleq hamaasi", or practical component.

When it comes to the intellectual component of the Torah's instruction, the vehicle of choice is the story. Stories are inherently engaging and are accessible to human beings at pretty much any level of cognitive and moral development. We often revisit literature later in life and discover dimensions of depth and nuance we never noticed when we studied it in our youth. Moreover, not infrequently, aspects of the plot, drama or message of a story that appeared most significant to us previously may, upon a fresh reading, fade in comparison to other elements that capture our more mature attention.

The Torah opens with a series of stories that present us with four processes of tremendous importance to its purpose: The Creation of the Universe, the Creation/Emergence of Man, the Creation of Society and the Creation of Israel.

The creation of the Universe is described in order to establish that the Universe is a lawful, harmonious product of the will of a transcendent God who put it into motion.

The creation of Man is explored in order to enlighten us as to the peculiarities of the human condition - being a part of the natural world yet capable of transcending our natural drives, possessing biological instincts as well as an intellect, struggling both with our environments and within ourselves. Unlike the elegance and harmony reflected in the cosmos, the human realm is messily complicated, and the challenges that face Man, with his unique combination of heavenly and earthly characteristics, are daunting.

Individual human beings living in isolation from one another, each man fending for himself, is a chaotic state of existence. Indeed, this circumstance eventually spirals out of control and leads to the Mabul, or Flood, which yields a new kind of "Adam" in the person of Noah. Without entering into the details of Noah's life, what follows from him is a new phenomenon altogether - society - replete with kings, cultures, languages, etc. Society and its lawfulness are necessary to keep the pre-Flood anarchy from rearing its ugly head once again.

Hence, the "new order" - human beings living not as individuals but as members of a state or community - preserves the essential civilization of humanity and prevents it from sinking so low as to lose all sense of conscience or morality. Seventy nations, each with its own identity, coalesce and become established.

Nevertheless, the compromise inherent in societal structure has its downsides as well. Being part of a community means sacrificing a measure of intellectual freedom and independence, and makes one vulnerable to "groupthink". The story of the Tower of Bavel teaches us that a united humanity is a dangerous thing for this very reason.

Having a multiplicity of languages and cultures is a benefit because it does not allow any one human vision of life to dominate all others and achieve "absolute" status. The mere fact that we know our culture is Western culture, for example, as opposed to Eastern, means that we recognize that many of our judgments, opinions, attitudes and mores are conditioned by our participation in a specific human community and are not universal or inviolable. This keeps our minds open to new ideas and fresh possibilities at all times.

This very flexibility is what leads to the next "development" in Genesis - the emergence of Avraham. Avraham comes on the scene in a world very different from the one observed by Adam or even Noah - a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural human world with a proliferation of customs, languages and gods.

Ironically, society, which serves an important global function of maintaining lawfulness and keeping civilization afloat, is an impediment to Avraham's development as an individual. In order to actualize his potential, Avraham must break away from the very structure of human community that Noah initiated for the good of mankind and that took so many years to become fully established.

The difference in the case of Avraham, however, is his purpose. He separates in order to unify, he tears away in order to build. An Adam-like figure in many respects, Avraham is fiercely independent intellectually, and single-handedly rose above the influences of his parents and peers to discover Monotheism in all of its glory.

On the other hand, Avraham is the successor of Noah - he is a builder who intends not to live apart from society but to establish a new and unique kind of society. Unlike the society of Noah, however, which was founded on the expediency of cooperative living, Avraham's community would be a covenantal community, a nation founded on its relationship with and responsibility to the Creator.

Just as Noah's labor led to his descendants' creation of seventy nations, so too Avraham's vision and self-sacrifice were the unifying force that made a nation out of his seventy descendants. Just as the seventy nations of Noah provided a model of unity in diversity - their common human needs bound them together even as cultural differences distinguished between them - so too did the seventy descendants of Avraham, each with his own unique character and personality, bind themselves to one another through their common understanding of God and sense of purpose.

In short, the emergence of the Jewish nation is Hashem's "third try" at bringing humanity into line with His plan. First Adam, the individual qua individual, failed because of his susceptibility to egoistic and hedonistic temptations.

Secondly Noah, the community man par excellence, failed because the seventy communities he spawned became instruments of human power rather than vessels dedicated to the service of God.

Finally, Avraham the individual community-builder, begat seventy individuals dedicated to God, each of whom played a part in the formation of a remarkable nation that was chosen to be a source of wisdom and guidance to all other nations on Earth.

As we can see, then, the narrative structure of the beginning of Genesis - sketched very briefly here - is the platform upon which the entire Torah rests. Obviously, each component here could be the subject of dozens of posts fleshing out its details and the richness of its nuance, but I felt it was important to lay out the basic framework for us to consider moving forward.

50 comments:

David Guttmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Guttmann said...

very succinct presentation. Yeyashar Kochacha.

I think that one of the issue that bothers many is that they are convinced that the Torah is teaching the history of mankind rather than interpreting it and giving a macro view of the human condition. Just like there are fundamentalists who insist on literal reading there are "scholars" who insist on a literal reading from a different perspective.

SYL said...

What was the deleted comment, if I may ask . . . It was either the Katon rearing his ugly head in here or FedUp asking how you have time to write such a long post but no time to write responses in the other thread . . .

david a. said...

thank you for your view on a very complex subject. i can appreciate the lessons to be derived from breishis and that the vehicle is "the story"

but are these stories fact or fiction?

Yehuda said...

Beautiful overview.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

SYL,

To be fair, it was just David Guttmann's first comment, which he edited and reposted.

David A.,

I believe that the Torah's narratives up to Avraham are based upon real historical events that have been summarized, simplified, and possibly reworked and recast in a literary framework in order to achieve their purpose. For example, it is quite possible that there were 71 nations rather than 70, but that the Torah wanted to teach us a lesson by using the number 70, etc.

I furthermore maintain that this is exactly what Hazal thought in essence, as evidenced by their homiletic approach which is very, very far from literal rendering of the text, and, in fact, is quite ready and willing to dispense with the surface meaning in order to derive a lesson or reconcile an apparent discrepancy in the text.

True, the Rabbis may have thought some aspects of the Torah were more fully historical that we do not accept in that vein - for example, they may have assumed that the generation lists between Adam and Noah, etc., are exhaustive records as opposed to telescoped summaries, or they may have taken the 6 days of Creation as literal 24-hour days (although I think this very unlikely), or that Adam and Eve were the only humanoids on Earth when humanity emerged - but the foundation of their methodology is that the ideational takes precedence over the empirical, the Torah is not a chronological document, etc., so they would easily have adapted themselves to newly discovered scientific and historical facts, utilizing the tools of derasha to plumb the depths of the text and to account for any factual disparities, etc.

As the Gemara says in Gittin, it is a person's methodology of thought and analysis, and not his possession of or lack of pertinent pieces of information, that define him as a great thinker and scholar.

What information we have is highly dependent on the time and place in which we live and the experiences we have, whereas our approach to thought, depth of reasoning, etc., comes from within and determines what we will learn and what insights we can derive from the facts we are presented with.

FedUp said...

Hey SYL,

No Fair! I've been very patient. Unfortunately, I've lost my initial enthusiasm but I check over here every so often since it seems we've moved away from the post where I joined the discussion.

RJM,
I'm starting to understand your mehalech. I do believe that the Torah's intention was to provide a particular theology and morality. The original authors had a message to bring to it's readers. That message has evolved through interpretation and thousands of interpreters till the present day. That message has some very major problems IMHO, but I agree that historical and scientific fact weren't a major concern for it's authors.

I do have a more succinct question for you. I see that you are willing to understand in a primarily allegorical fashion parts of the Torah when the historical evidence points to such an understanding. Besides for being very foundational to Orthodox Judaism, what stops you from applying that method to TMS?

Rabban Gamliel said...

FedUp what you don't realize is that it can't be applied to TMS if what you mean is to deny that G-d revealed his will to Israel at Sinai for the simple reason that secular historical studies can't prove or disprove that by definition. So even if RJM would be receptive to it ther is no method for such a thing.

Polycarp said...

Excellent post, Rabbi. Although I take a more literal stance, I still see your point and thoroughly concede the fact that there is plenty that is left untold in the narratives of Genesis. As another commenter said, this is a beautiful overview. Thanks for this.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Fedup,

I don't understand your question. What scientific evidence is there to disprove the assertion that the Torah is the product of a prophetic communication?


Thanks to all for the positive feedback.

avrum68 said...

but I agree that historical and scientific fact weren't a major concern for it's authors.

Nor is it an issue for many of us today. Here's a few examples:

1) Marketing/Consumer Behavior
2) Mental Health/Psychiatry**
3) How we choose marital partners
4) The arts
5) The ethics/values we choose

**I added this as a perfect example of why/how skeptics should be sketpical of assumed scientific statements and pronouncements. If you're in the field, you'll understand my point.

avrum68 said...

What scientific evidence is there to disprove the assertion that the Torah is the product of a prophetic communication

But couldn't the same be said for Jesus, Buddah, et al?

FedUp said...

RJM,

As we all know absence of evidence is not evidence for absence, however there hasn't been any evidence in favor of such a claim. Even if we say that the numbers of the Torah for the Exodus were greatly exaggerated, we should have some kind of evidence of a significant number of people that left a forsaken Egypt to come to a mountain to hear the voice of God. I don't recall exactly where but IIRC, all the nations were offered the Torah and/or had heard about the miracles and Har Sinai. There are no external confirmations of this that I know of. All the evidence we do have would seem to point in the other direction.

There is also the problem of having a theory that cannot be proven false. If the Torah was transmitted through prophecy, how could one disprove such a claim?

It seems there are several paths. 1)Accept the Torah's historical account unless there is evidence that points to the contrary. 2)Accept the Torah's historical account regardless of the evidence.
3) A mixture of the two.

The Torah made not so factual claims in regards to the Creation and the Flood. Is in not likely that it did the same with the Exodus and the Divine Mass Revalation?

Even if we say that something happened at the mountain, how can we be sure that it was in fact God speaking to Moshe? How do we know that Moshe wrote down exactly as God wanted him to? According to the Rambam, only Moshe ever actually heard God at Har Sinai, though there is a Midrash that says that everyone heard the first two statements. Even this seems to give us no reason to trust the prophecy of Moshe. Even if Moshe wrote the Torah and my ancestors accepted it, they also accepted the fact that their was a global flood, and a six day creation. They were not privileged to know the science and historical evidence that I know. Everyone of that time believed in some sort of supernatural being(s) for all sorts of reasons. Moshe had supposedly just redeemed them from slavery. They would be very likely to accept anything within ancient standards of reason.

My point boils down to this. What evidence do we have that points toward the prophecy of Moshe being from God as written in the Torah, especially when we now know that the Torah was inaccurate in regards to other foundational beliefs like the creation of the world? I see no evidence for an exodus, a divine mass revalation, prophecy, Moshe, God, and the divinity of the Torah.

David Guttmann said...

Fed Up -

How about defining first what the word "divine" means? "Prophecy" means?

Considering that God is purely transcendental what does "exist" mean when attributed to Him? You see if you want to understand what divinity of Torah means you have to first figure all the rest out. I hope you have enough respect to the brilliant thinkers in our past that they were not fools with childish beliefs about God.

BTW Rambam says in Yesodei Hatorah "vehom shome'im emor lahem kach vekach".

Again you have to define "shome'im".

FedUp said...

David G,

It's incredibly coincidental that you should make that comment about "childish beliefs about God" today. Einstein said just that. See http://www.jewcy.com/post/einsteins_atheism

In regards to defining words, please feel free to share. I think I have a workable definition that I have from the a combination of the Rambam and a bit of the Ramchal and learning navi. I'm not a big fan of semantics but if you feel it's necessary, I'll let you start.

David Guttmann said...

>I think I have a workable definition that I have from the a combination of the Rambam and a bit of the Ramchal and learning navi.

That is the problem! and it is the problem with most people as they try to defend something they don't understand and have not defined. It is not semantics but concepts that are misconstrued and misunderstood and therefore seen as false.

If you are interested in the subject visit my blog where I have written extensively on the subject.

I saw Einstein's comment and his opinion about Judaism has the same validity as mine would have about physics and relativity.

FedUp said...

David G,

Don't take this offensively, but I have no interest in reading your blog to understand your personal definition of prophecy. If you care to, please share a brief description of your opinion.

Rabban Gamliel said...

FedUp said:
“however there hasn't been any evidence in favor of such a claim.”

So you say. The fact is that Judaism was out of time and place. Pharaoh Akhenatan just made his faith for Egypt and it was nothing more than a state religion with worship of the sun as a slightly higher conception. All you offer on your website are comparisons that don’t take into account which came first or significance.

“Even if we say that the numbers of the Torah for the Exodus were greatly exaggerated, we should have some kind of evidence of a significant number of people that left a forsaken Egypt to come to a mountain to hear the voice of God. I don't recall exactly where but IIRC, all the nations were offered the Torah and/or had heard about the miracles and Har Sinai. There are no external confirmations of this that I know of. All the evidence we do have would seem to point in the other direction.”

You are confusing the issue. The issue is TMS, Torah from Sinai, the revelation from G-d of the Torah at Sinai. The rest is details.

“There is also the problem of having a theory that cannot be proven false.”

You don’t believe in G-d and you do believe in morality. How can any of that be proven false? You claim to be real. How can that be proven false?

David Guttmann said:”Considering that God is purely transcendental what does "exist" mean when attributed to Him?”

You are right. We can hardly ignore it at the level of an atom so how can we ignore it for G-d?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avrum,

But couldn't the same be said for Jesus, Buddah, et al?

True, but the reason we don't accept their claim to divine revelation is not because it has been scientifically disproven. There are simpler reasons for discounting them.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Fedup,

I think you are confusing the acceptance of a text as Divine and the specific content of the text. Once a text is determined to have been the product of prophetic inspiration, the job is left to us to examine, study and clarify its meaning.

You attempt to prove that the Torah is not divine by referencing its descriptions of the Creation and Flood; however, as I have explained, those descriptions are didactic and not scientific or historical, so your point is circular. You assume the Torah is not divine, therefore the texts were intended literally, and since they are not accurate, the Torah is not divine.

One must also distinguish between the Jews' acceptance of the stories of Creation and the Flood, which they accepted on the authority of the Torah, and their acceptance of the events of Exodus and Sinai, which they witnessed directly as a fully constituted nation and then transmitted the report of their own experiences to their descendants.

Daganev said...

I feel ashamed that I never made the connection between the 70 nations and the 70 bnei Yisorel (children who struggle with G-d)

Very well written.

FedUp said...

You attempt to prove that the Torah is not divine by referencing its descriptions of the Creation and Flood; however, as I have explained, those descriptions are didactic and not scientific or historical, so your point is circular. You assume the Torah is not divine, therefore the texts were intended literally, and since they are not accurate, the Torah is not divine.

I don't attempt to prove that the Torah is not Divine. I attempt to get you to prove to me that the Torah is Divine. I do assume that the Torah is not divine much as I would assume that the New Testament, the Koran, The Vedic Traditions, and any other book with such claims, as not divine. Man-made until proven divine is the best policy, otherwise we'd be very busy disproving all kinds of texts.

I thought it safe to assume that God would make sure the Torah was a perfect book in every respect. Perhaps that's my fundamentalist upbringing. Torat Hashem Temimah... Edut Hashem ne'emanah... mishp'tei Hashem emet, tsadku yachdav...shgiot, mi yavin?!
Redak says "...Because there is no man that knows and understands everything..."

their acceptance of the events of Exodus and Sinai, which they witnessed directly as a fully constituted nation and then transmitted the report of their own experiences to their descendants.

Excellent point. Can you prove to me that that is what happened? Most scholars date the Torah between 1000 and 600 BCE for a variety of reasons from language, vocabulary, geographical references etc. See "How to Read the Bible" by James Kugel.

Also why should I trust their personal experience? Mass traditions are not always trustworthy, especially when they make extraordinary claims. Would you trust the following claim? "Marian Apparition; Zeitun, Egypt, April 2, 1968 At the Coptic Orthodox church in this suburb of Cairo began a series of apparitions that were seen by an estimated 4 million people. Over a period of two years, people of all faiths gathered in crowds to witness the appearance of the figure of a luminescent woman over and about the top of the church of St. Mary. These appearances occured several times weekly and at times, luminescent doves flew around the church also. No message was involved, only the apparitions. Many healings were reported to have occured as a result."

You of course know of the Aztec Revalation that you discussed on Orthoprax's blog.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I thought it safe to assume that God would make sure the Torah was a perfect book in every respect.

Correct. Perfection, though, is only meaningful with reference to the purpose of a thing. A perfect table doesn't have the same characteristics as the perfect baseball field. So one must define what one means by a 'perfect book', and clarify what would constitute a defect in such a book.

A perfect book designed to educate mankind theologically, philosophically and ethically shouldn't be expected to have the same properties as the perfect world atlas.

Excellent point.

As a matter of fact, this point undermines a major element of your argument, yet you appear unphased!

Can you prove to me that that is what happened? Most scholars date the Torah between 1000 and 600 BCE for a variety of reasons from language, vocabulary, geographical references etc. See "How to Read the Bible" by James Kugel.

Big deal. The people who actually possessed, studied and followed these books for millenia unanimously believed them to have been composed by Moses in the 15-13th centuries BCE. Our piecemeal knowledge of the ancient world is insufficient to overturn the tradition, repeated again and again in other books of Tanach composed at various times and in various places. It is easy to come around 3000 years after the fact and develop all kinds of theories; in fact, if not for the chance discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is no question that the speculation about the canonization of the Hebrew Bible would be even wilder. The truth is there is no evidence for the speculations so the tradition stands.

Also why should I trust their personal experience? Mass traditions are not always trustworthy, especially when they make extraordinary claims. Would you trust the following claim?

First of all, that was not a mass revelation, it was an occurrence that was experienced by different people (individuals or small groups) on several different occasions. That does not constitute a national revelation by any means.

Second, there is in fact no doubt that something singularly inexplicable happened there; the question is what happened, and, given the circumstances, people interpreted it as the Virgin Mary.

Third, there was no communication here, just an appearance of light interpreted in religious terms.

You of course know of the Aztec Revalation that you discussed on Orthoprax's blog.

Yes. It is a story that is not at all explicit about the "national" revelation involved. Nowhere is it clearly stated that every single Aztec heard the god speak.

Furthermore, the text indicates that they had no idea how the idol spoke to them, and that the leaders interpreted the speech for them, which strongly suggests that it was a ventriloquist's trick used in the service of the leaders' agenda.

This is why the large-scale meteorological disturbances that occurred on Mount Sinai, and the unmistakable voice from Heaven heard by every single Jew, were crucial parts of the Sinai event.

The various convergent aspects of that experience could not have been orchestrated by man, could not have been fabricated after the fact, and left an indelible impression on Jewish and human history for all time.

FedUp said...

Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

A perfect book designed to educate mankind theologically, philosophically and ethically shouldn't be expected to have the same properties as the perfect world atlas.


Agreed. That of course is a very big claim. Wouldn't perfection leave no room for questions or doubt, meaning wouldn't it be perfectly understandable? Yet there have been countless books explaining and interpreting the Torah in exclusive ways for thousands of years.

Wouldn't a such a book be immediately recognized by the world as such? Yet it has been disputed by all, including it's followers, throughout the generations.


Wouldn't such a book be complete? Yet it is supplemented by the "Oral Torah" and countless commentaries.


Wouldn't such a book stand the test of times? Yet most people today find the cruelty towards the Amalekites, Egypt's firstborn, it's attitude toward slavery, the laws of agunah, and much more to be highly unethical.

Wouldn't such a book be especially unique and not have glaring similarities from other ANE texts including the Code of Hamurabi, the Enuma of Elish, the epic of Giglamesh and other similarities.


On the particular of theology, I dont' understand the whole concept of theology when God is completely unknowable, according to Rambam.


IMHO, the Moreh was a much better book on theology, philosophy, and ethics and Spinoza's works were better still. That of course is none of our concern.


As a matter of fact, this point undermines a major element of your argument, yet you appear unphased!

I'm not so easily phased and it didn't undermine my argument if you accept the evidence brought that the Torah was written much after the Revelation at Har Sinai.


Big deal. The people who actually possessed, studied and followed these books for millenia unanimously believed them to have been composed by Moses in the 15-13th centuries BCE. Our piecemeal knowledge of the ancient world is insufficient to overturn the tradition, repeated again and again in other books of Tanach composed at various times and in various places. It is easy to come around 3000 years after the fact and develop all kinds of theories; in fact, if not for the chance discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is no question that the speculation about the canonization of the Hebrew Bible would be even wilder. The truth is there is no evidence for the speculations so the tradition stands.

It was believed for millenia that the world was flat and that the flood was global and countless other misconceptions of the world held by everyone since the beginning of our race. Perhaps we shouldn't discount such claims based on evidence? If you are willing to dismiss the evidence brought by hundreds of scholars over about one hundred years in the most advanced time of technology and methodologies, from different lines of study, then perhaps we should regroup and discuss some more basic questions. Repeating a false claim doesn't make it true.


First of all, that was not a mass revelation, it was an occurrence that was experienced by different people (individuals or small groups) on several different occasions. That does not constitute a national revelation by any means.

There were 40 million people there and the experience was repeated over the course of several days. This makes it all the more believable, though IMHO the entire ordeal is very unbelievable.


Second, there is in fact no doubt that something singularly inexplicable happened there; the question is what happened, and, given the circumstances, people interpreted it as the Virgin Mary.

I would like to propose the same argument for Har Sinai. I'm highly skeptical of such an event being anything more then a mass hallucination or a complete fabrication but I'd find it more doubtful still that something happened at Har Sinai because it happened so long ago when humankind were all the more open to supernatural experience, happened in the desert where mirages are frequent and wasn't documented till hundreds of years later and was not independently recorded. Nonetheless, I'd propose that given the circumstances, the Ancient Israelites interpreted the Har Sinai event as divine when in fact it was nothing more then a mass transcendent experience that led to an altogether human attempt to codify their experience based on the current times, was to be improved upon as evidence and experience gave way to better understandings of theology, philosophy, and ethics etc.(I would add history and science etc). This would be a more believable and arguable claim.


Third, there was no communication here, just an appearance of light interpreted in religious terms.

According to the Rambam, there was no communication to anyone but Moshe. Also, IIRC, prophecy is not communication in the traditional sense of the word. It's more like an experience interpreted in religious terms.

Yes. It is a story that is not at all explicit about the "national" revelation involved. Nowhere is it clearly stated that every single Aztec heard the god speak... Furthermore, the text indicates that they had no idea how the idol spoke to them, and that the leaders interpreted the speech for them, which strongly suggests that it was a ventriloquist's trick used in the service of the leaders' agenda.

Nowhere in Shemot does it clearly state that every single Israelite heard God speak, and this holds true according to the Rambam. In Devarim, Moshe tells the people, presumably sometime later, that everyone heard God speak and what he told them. This claim however wasn't confirmed as far as we know by the other Israelites at that time and as you suggested, it may have been a ventriloquist's trick in the service of Moshe's agenda.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Agreed. That of course is a very big claim. Wouldn't perfection leave no room for questions or doubt, meaning wouldn't it be perfectly understandable? Yet there have been countless books explaining and interpreting the Torah in exclusive ways for thousands of years.

I don't understand why we should assume that a perfect book should be immediately understandable. In fact, if it were so simple as to be immediately and totally understandable, it would be terribly superficial. I don't see any reason to assume your premise.

Wouldn't a such a book be immediately recognized by the world as such? Yet it has been disputed by all, including it's followers, throughout the generations.

Again, no. Most people are not seeking philosophical and ethical enlightenment, nor are they attuned to discover it, so they are more qualified to identify the perfect movie than the perfect guide to rational living.


Wouldn't such a book be complete? Yet it is supplemented by the "Oral Torah" and countless commentaries.

You don't understand what the Oral Torah is, or what commentaries are for in general, whether with respect to the Torah or otherwise. The purpose of these bodies of knowledge is to elucidate and derive meaning from texts, not to supplement them. They enable us to perceive new insights from the texts. Can you really imagine a book in need of no interpretation or explanation? No such text exists, we all rely upon oral tradition, context, analytical thinking, etc., to arrive at the meaning of the written word.


Wouldn't such a book stand the test of times? Yet most people today find the cruelty towards the Amalekites, Egypt's firstborn, it's attitude toward slavery, the laws of agunah, and much more to be highly unethical.

People's sentiments are not a reliable guide, especially since we can see that, in previous centuries, such attitudes were not perceived as negatively. These feelings are subjective, hence they vary with time, place and cultural setting.

Plagues against evil despotic oppressors who are duly and repeatedly warned in advance don't seem unethical to me at all.

Moreover, I doubt the average person has a clue what the halakhic principles are that result in the agunah problem, such that they can sit in judgment of those principles. They merely complain about the consequence without even trying to comprehend the cause.

Wouldn't such a book be especially unique and not have glaring similarities from other ANE texts including the Code of Hamurabi, the Enuma of Elish, the epic of Giglamesh and other similarities.

Not at all. Again, you are asserting a premise without proving why it should be so. I could just as easily argue that, since the book needed to be revealed at a particular place and time, it had to speak the language and in terms of the cultural referents of that setting in order to be understood. This would then be part of its perfection, not the reverse.


On the particular of theology, I dont' understand the whole concept of theology when God is completely unknowable, according to Rambam.

Don't know the relevance of this point. Are you saying the entire Moreh can be summarized in one sentence? Read it, the Rambam explains quite clearly why theology is meaningful even though we cannot comprehend God's essence. There is a lot more to the science than solving that particular riddle.


IMHO, the Moreh was a much better book on theology, philosophy, and ethics and Spinoza's works were better still. That of course is none of our concern.

You're right, it isn't, and I am in the dark as to why your subjective evaluation of the relative merit of these philosophers should even be mentioned here. Bear in mind that a great deal of philosophical progress has been had since Spinoza, so a modern like yourself would be expected to have rejected his backward, metaphysical thinking for postmodernism or something.


I'm not so easily phased and it didn't undermine my argument if you accept the evidence brought that the Torah was written much after the Revelation at Har Sinai.

I meant the fact that you missed the obvious distinction between the Creation and Flood, accepted by Jews because it was written in the Torah, and the Exodus that they claimed to have witnessed themselves.


It was believed for millenia that the world was flat and that the flood was global and countless other misconceptions of the world held by everyone since the beginning of our race. Perhaps we shouldn't discount such claims based on evidence? If you are willing to dismiss the evidence brought by hundreds of scholars over about one hundred years in the most advanced time of technology and methodologies, from different lines of study, then perhaps we should regroup and discuss some more basic questions. Repeating a false claim doesn't make it true.

I hope this is not intended seriously. It is a pure piece of sophistry.

The identity of a book's author and a book's history are matters of fact, generally preserved within the culture that possesses and refers to the book in question. This is why traditions of authorship, especially longstanding ones challenged millenia after the fact, deserve the presumption of accuracy.

By contrast, people's beliefs about the physical universe were based either upon their own speculation, investigation or imagination. These speculations were refined and data was collected over time, rendering previous hypotheses obsolete. Humanity didn't have a tradition about empirical science that was handed to them in antiquity and that we are undermining; we are in fact continuing the process of discovery that they initiated and never finished.


There were 40 million people there and the experience was repeated over the course of several days. This makes it all the more believable, though IMHO the entire ordeal is very unbelievable.

The fact that something happened is well documented. Its interpretation is up for question.

I would like to propose the same argument for Har Sinai. I'm highly skeptical of such an event being anything more then a mass hallucination or a complete fabrication but I'd find it more doubtful still that something happened at Har Sinai because it happened so long ago when humankind were all the more open to supernatural experience, happened in the desert where mirages are frequent and wasn't documented till hundreds of years later and was not independently recorded. Nonetheless, I'd propose that given the circumstances, the Ancient Israelites interpreted the Har Sinai event as divine when in fact it was nothing more then a mass transcendent experience that led to an altogether human attempt to codify their experience based on the current times, was to be improved upon as evidence and experience gave way to better understandings of theology, philosophy, and ethics etc.(I would add history and science etc). This would be a more believable and arguable claim.

This is a faulty proposal for many reasons:

1) No such thing as a mass hallucination has ever occurred or been reported in history

2) It would be remarkable, bordering on the ridiculous, for the revolutionary ideas, especially the aniconism of Judaism, to have emerged from such a psychedelic experience

3)The report of the revelation is so simple and pristine, it belies the suggestion that it was fabrication, elaborated on or exaggerated later

4)The Jews' historically consistent resistance to the message of Sinai makes it particularly unlikely that they would have either participated in the evolution of this myth or accepted it in its evolved form.

According to the Rambam, there was no communication to anyone but Moshe. Also, IIRC, prophecy is not communication in the traditional sense of the word. It's more like an experience interpreted in religious terms.

The Torah is explicit that the Jews physically witnessed and heard supernatural phenomena. The Rambam maintains that they heard sounds but could not decipher the actual speech. This doesn't take away from the main point that the revelation was experienced by all.

Nowhere in Shemot does it clearly state that every single Israelite heard God speak, and this holds true according to the Rambam.

Factually wrong.

First of all, throughout the preparations for the revelation, it is clear from the instructions Moshe receives (everyone becoming purified, everyone warned not to approach the mountain, etc.), and from the purpose of the event - establishing Moshe's prophetic credentials - that the "am" (nation) will be experiencing it together.

Furthermore, at the end of Parashat Yitro: "And the entire nation witnessed the thunder, the fire, the sound of the Shofar and the smoking mountain..."


In Devarim, Moshe tells the people, presumably sometime later, that everyone heard God speak and what he told them. This claim however wasn't confirmed as far as we know by the other Israelites at that time

So he got up and told the people something that a significant percentage of the nation knew to be a baldfaced lie (remember, anyone under twenty at Mt. Sinai was still alive in Sefer Devarim, and surely, in the course of their 40 years of life in the wilderness in very unusual circumstances, parents and grandparents who did not survive shared what they had/hadn't witnessed with their offspring before their deaths), and he expected this to serve as a source of inspiration for the people and not to be contradicted???

Oh, and incidentally, the literary scholars of the Bible believe that the Book of Devarim doesn't represent a speech that Moshe gave once at the end of his life. They interpret the opening verses (b'ever hayarden, bagai, mul bet peor, etc.) to mean that Moshe gave the same exhortation many, many times, and that he conveyed it one final time before his passing. See Menachem Leibtag's wonderful analysis of these texts for more insight. I know, I know, you're not interested; I am being facetious.

and as you suggested, it may have been a ventriloquist's trick in the service of Moshe's agenda.

Cute. I wonder how he pulled off the thunder, lightening, fire, and smoking mountain trick.

FedUp said...

RJM,
We could go on forever, back and forth like an eternal tennis match. I'm enjoying myself thus far but my hope is that you will either 1) admit that your claim is based on faith, not evidence or reason, 2) accept the evidence and reason and reject your claim. I'm sure that you wish the same. For now...service.

I attempted to portray a perfect book. It would be understandable, complete (in no need of extensive explanation or interpretation), entirely ethical throughout time, unique, and recognizable. Perhaps you could describe a perfect book and we could discuss that.

You don't understand what the Oral Torah is, or what commentaries are for in general, whether with respect to the Torah or otherwise. The purpose of these bodies of knowledge is to elucidate and derive meaning from texts, not to supplement them. They enable us to perceive new insights from the texts. Can you really imagine a book in need of no interpretation or explanation? No such text exists, we all rely upon oral tradition, context, analytical thinking, etc., to arrive at the meaning of the written word.

I can certainly imagine a book with no need of interpretation and further explanation but I don't know of any. Certainly many books written by humans are in need of interpretation and explanation. I just wouldn't imagine a Divine Text to be in need of such things.

Plagues against evil despotic oppressors who are duly and repeatedly warned in advance don't seem unethical to me at all.

I'm sorry to hear that you are unconcerned for the lives of innocent babies getting caught in the crossfire of your God's vengeance against His people's oppressors.I don't mean to excuse Pharoah but I also don't mean to excuse God for acting in a similar fashion.

Moreover, I doubt the average person has a clue what the halakhic principles are that result in the agunah problem, such that they can sit in judgment of those principles. They merely complain about the consequence without even trying to comprehend the cause.

I am no halachic expert but at the end of the day there are women that are stuck in marriages to a husband that may not be alive or has abandoned his wife. You've already shown your lack of concern for the lives of innocent babies, but your view extends to women in such a terrible condition? Also you haven't yet addressed slavery.

Don't know the relevance of this point. Are you saying the entire Moreh can be summarized in one sentence? Read it, the Rambam explains quite clearly why theology is meaningful even though we cannot comprehend God's essence. There is a lot more to the science than solving that particular riddle.

I was just hoping you could give me some clarity. Is there a simple answer?

You're right, it isn't, and I am in the dark as to why your subjective evaluation of the relative merit of these philosophers should even be mentioned here. Bear in mind that a great deal of philosophical progress has been had since Spinoza, so a modern like yourself would be expected to have rejected his backward, metaphysical thinking for postmodernism or something.

I mentioned it because you seemed to say that the Torah was perfect which to me implies that there could be no better book on the subjects of it's purpose, namely theology, ethics and philosophy. I was merely pointing out that other books in the genre by Jewish authors were better IMHO. I'm not the Rambam's or Spinoza's biggest fan but IMHO they're literature is better then the Torah.

The identity of a book's author and a book's history are matters of fact, generally preserved within the culture that possesses and refers to the book in question. This is why traditions of authorship, especially longstanding ones challenged millenia after the fact, deserve the presumption of accuracy.

Generally, I would agree unless a better theory comes up as to otherwise. Also as I said before "I do assume that the Torah is not divine much as I would assume that the New Testament, the Koran, The Vedic Traditions, and any other book with such claims, as not divine. Man-made until proven divine is the best policy, otherwise we'd be very busy disproving all kinds of texts." If your claim was merely that Moshe's human hand wrote the Torah, unguided by the supernatural, we'd be having a very different discussion.

1)No such thing as a mass hallucination has ever occurred or been reported in history

Please see http://www.csicop.org/si/2000-05/delusions.html

2) It would be remarkable, bordering on the ridiculous, for the revolutionary ideas, especially the aniconism of Judaism, to have emerged from such a psychedelic experience

I don't find them so revolutionary. This brings us back to our original discussion. Anyhow, group meditations and similar things can be very meaningful and give birth to great ideas. Something like group therapy. This may sound absurd but when people get together in great numbers to experience something, strange things can happen. See that article above.

3)The report of the revelation is so simple and pristine, it belies the suggestion that it was fabrication, elaborated on or exaggerated later

I quote you on this one "at the end of Parashat Yitro: "And the entire nation witnessed the thunder, the fire, the sound of the Shofar and the smoking mountain..."" That seems like a pretty simple, pristine event if I ever heard one. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just natural occurrences like thunder, lightning, shofar sounds and smoky mountains.

4)The Jews' historically consistent resistance to the message of Sinai makes it particularly unlikely that they would have either participated in the evolution of this myth or accepted it in its evolved form.

I'm assuming that you are referring to the constant waywardness of the Jews from the Torah's precepts throughout history as it is presented in the Tanakh. A very good point, and I hoped to use it against you in regards to the Oral Torah at some point. However, I think that in this context, there is no need for the people to participate. Whoever wrote the Torah believed it and that's all we need. The people of Israel were swayed back and forth from the Torah's commandments to idol worship. They may have been just as enthusiastic when they were "frum" as when they were "OTD." This is admittedly, speculation but it is possible and I think exactly what happened, in regards to the written Torah's accuracy. The ancients believed a great many things and when the package comes with peace in one's homeland then such a notion would have been likely to have been accepted. Why not?

The Torah is explicit that the Jews physically witnessed and heard supernatural phenomena. The Rambam maintains that they heard sounds but could not decipher the actual speech. This doesn't take away from the main point that the revelation was experienced by all.

This doesn't seem to help your argument. I could say like you did for the Marian Apparitions "Its interpretation is up for question."

Factually wrong. Please bring a pasuk that shows that the entire nation heard God speak not supernatural phenomena. There is no such pasuk that I am aware of.

Furthermore, at the end of Parashat Yitro: "And the entire nation witnessed the thunder, the fire, the sound of the Shofar and the smoking mountain..."

That's not God speaking, those are natural phenomena, interpreted by you to be God speaking. Rambam was unwilling to make such a claim and I am frankly surprised you don't notice that it doesn't say the entire nation heard God speak.

So he got up and told the people something that a significant percentage of the nation knew to be a baldfaced lie ... and he expected this to serve as a source of inspiration for the people and not to be contradicted???

Hey, politicians do it all the time.

Cute. I wonder how he pulled off the thunder, lightening, fire, and smoking mountain trick.

"They stopped dumbstruck. Far below stretched the high plateau, dotted with lakes and bordered by mountains. It was, the ancient legends tell, a "Field of Dazzling Whiteness". Everything seemed to be brilliant white: the trees, the reeds, the meadows, the water - even the fish and the frogs. Were they really all so white, or was it simply that the new Mexicans were blinded by the beauty unfolding before their eyes?"

I'd say that's quite the madic trick also. Anyhow I don't see any of those things brought down in the Torah at Har Sinai as supernatural. Is thunder and lightning supernatural? I'm sure you know of the "smoky" mountains and that volcanoes smoke. People hear strange things that the closest comparison would be a shofar. And I'm sure Moshe or someone else could have blown a shofar. Priests and Levites were known for such things.

My point is this. There have been many mass experiences that have been shown to be fabrications or gross misinterpretations. This one may have been different in some respects but so is every other mass experience. Being Unique isn't very unique. This one is especially difficult to argue because it happened so long ago and may not have even happened. Also there are perfectly reasonable natural explanations, begging the question "Why bring in the supernatural?"

Rabban Gamliel said...

"I don't attempt to prove that the Torah is not Divine. I attempt to get you to prove to me that the Torah is Divine. I do assume that the Torah is not divine much as I would assume that the New Testament, the Koran, The Vedic Traditions, and any other book with such claims, as not divine. Man-made until proven divine is the best policy, otherwise we'd be very busy disproving all kinds of texts."
RJM is not assuming Divinity unless proven otherwise. He is just being open to Divinity and feeling it proven enough in the case of the Torah's origin. You by contrast say that in the absence of proof you have to assume no Divinity and then you discount the proof and say that that proves no Divinity involved. You are making a leap when a nonleap would involve you not taking a position. You fail to realize that you making an assumption of no Divinity in the absence of proof is arguing from doubt to then saying that it is for sure then not true. You're missing the leap you are making in your logic. Further you are not endlessly postulating Divinity when you have decided on one claim as that precludes any other. By contrast RJM admits there is no scientific proof but admits that just as you are making a leap based on arguments seeming reasonable to you he is making such a leap for him. You want so much to have an all simple and powerful argument for yourself that you fail to admit that you have to engage in argumentation the hard way. On your site you say that Christianity has apologetics and so does Judaism. This is irrelevant to your argument for Judaism's nonuniqueness. All apologetics are are arguments on behalf of something like what you do Fedup, and not a part of the uniqueness claimed by a faith. Apolegetics discusses such uniqueness it doesn't claim to be a part of it. The idea that atheists cannot be engaged in apologetics is semantic nonesense. It is not making sense to imply with TalkReason that apologetics is a sign of being wrong as it just means making arguments on your behalf and TalkReason is one hyperapologetic site. The idea of saying that your side needs no arguments and therefore has no apologetics is nonsense. You are then saying your side which claims to be based on reason need not be examined.
"Agreed. That of course is a very big claim. Wouldn't perfection leave no room for questions or doubt, meaning wouldn't it be perfectly understandable? Yet there have been countless books explaining and interpreting the Torah in exclusive ways for thousands of years.
Wouldn't a such a book be immediately recognized by the world as such? Yet it has been disputed by all, including it's followers, throughout the generations.

Wouldn't such a book be complete? Yet it is supplemented by the "Oral Torah" and countless commentaries."
You are making assumptions that would involve making people supermen. If we are to have meaningful morality and law it will have to involve complexity and that means forcing us to think and struggle for the meaning of what is being said. There is no growth with it being all easy with no struggle.
"Wouldn't such a book stand the test of times? Yet most people today find the cruelty towards the Amalekites, Egypt's firstborn, it's attitude toward slavery, the laws of agunah, and much more to be highly unethical."
Who determines the test? Those whose morality involves changing the time's morality to involve killing and allowing the suicide of those who are sick? Is it those who like Dawkins or especially some environmentalists who cannot see anything morally special about a human over a cow. The only evidence for Amalek's existence last I heard is from the Tanach and yet that is unquestioned by those seeking to defame us. In reality Amalek was continually being at war with us and we did not wipe them out and still Shmuel only condemned Shaul for sparing King Agag. He did not ask why Amalek was not literally wiped off the map. As for Egypt's firstborn if you are G-d you cause people to die and have other disasters and you can because you are G-d and you utilize the natural to your ends. He can do what towards his ends we cannot. As for slavery it was hard enough and there was lack of success shown at times too in having there be no Jewish slave class but even a Gentile slave was considered a human being working for you. The classical Greek philosophical conception was of a slave as an animated tool. As for the laws of Agunah when a man is lost we want to make sure he is really dead before she remarries. It is a balance and it is one in which the Rabbis exercised great sensitivity. You were not there to see it done time and again through Crusades, inquisitions, Pogroms and the Holocaust and other calamities. If one spouse is denying a divorce to another then complication begins just as in any legal system and it is likewise traditionally dealt with sensitivity by the rabbis. In any event the death penalty is something regularly imposed in the United States when by contrast in Israel it is not imposed and that is because of the force of religion and that based on the Talmudic Rabbis who endeavored to have it be so rare that it either was not imposed by them or else was almost never. Even in the days of the Tanach we find the enemy saying let us surrender to the King of Israel since we heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. The king was yet an idolater, King Ahab and yet he was still used to certain behaviors. Elijah condemns him to his face, Naboth doesn't give him his vineyard and yet it is only Ahab's Gentile wife who thinks of plotting against them. When a Prophet spoke in the name of G-d he dispensed with niceties to royalty. I am as yet unaware of such parallels. It is interesting that you FedUp are arguing against Judaism's uniqueness and yet you pile up it's supposed sins as if it's uniqueness is that it is evil. So instead of your argument being what is the probability you have the true faith you are arguing the faith you were a part of must for sure be really bad but Taoism for instance which you were not born into can be spared because of that accident.

"Wouldn't such a book be especially unique and not have glaring similarities from other ANE texts including the Code of Hamurabi, the Enuma of Elish, the epic of Giglamesh and other similarities."

It would have similarities too if it wants to have any relationship to the people as they are. Further there are many points of dissimilarity and the similarity is exaggerated if not outright untrue in many cases. Where is the conflict between G-d and others in the Creation story we posses? Where is the gruesome violence in it?

"On the particular of theology, I dont' understand the whole concept of theology when God is completely unknowable, according to Rambam."

You misunderstand the Rambam. He did not say G-d is completely unknowable. To whatever extent the Rambam said we cannot know about G-d it is that there is nothing for us to be physically capable of picturing with G-d. If I say you cannot understand the fourth dimension I only mean you can form no picture of it not that there is nothing told of it but if there would be we could picture it. On the contrary we cannot picture even in principle more than three dimensions as those are the only spacial dimensions we posses.

"IMHO, the Moreh was a much better book on theology, philosophy, and ethics and Spinoza's works were better still. That of course is none of our concern."

You are complimenting great rabbis including the Rambam by your comment as Spinoza was profoundly influenced in his conception of G-d. He however unlike the Rambam did not believe in the freewill to do right over wrong.

"If you are willing to dismiss the evidence brought by hundreds of scholars over about one hundred years in the most advanced time of technology and methodologies, from different lines of study, then perhaps we should regroup and discuss some more basic questions. Repeating a false claim doesn't make it true."

FedUp the theorizing of DH involves making assumptions about the Biblical text that would condemn the literature in the sourounding nations of the time to the same treatment and yet we know that would be false. Further the language of the Torah is not identical to later times. Friedman himself admits that that and he also admits that the foundations of DH as promulgated are not true but he still argues for DH by saying how much JED and P support DH. Of course JED and P were postulated by DH so of course they will help DH but yet no individual who is not a DH expert is allowed to postulate in its name. It is authoritarian not something any layman can postulate. If something doesn't fit and is noticed it may be switched by the DH experts to then conform. We have no tradition of JEDP and it has not been dug up and it is by now so filled with details that could not be thought up in advance that to think it could be dug up would be the same miracle as writing a novel and then finding it dug up by archaeologists and conforming word for word what you wrote centuries later. This would be a miracle that would violate causality in time much more serious than the splitting of a sea or a snake turning temporally into a staff in the palace of Pharaoh. The Biblical claim by contrast has the benefit of actually having been believed and passed down as the only belief that was claimed by those affected.

"There were 40 million people there and the experience was repeated over the course of several days. This makes it all the more believable, though IMHO the entire ordeal is very unbelievable."

The Aztecs did not claim to have had everyone see it. Nor is there trace evidence. With the Torah there is trace evidence. The Torah is out of time and place and whether given on a mountain is trivial. It is the trace evidence left behind.

"In Devarim, Moshe tells the people, presumably sometime later, that everyone heard God speak and what he told them. This claim however wasn't confirmed as far as we know by the other Israelites at that time and as you suggested, it may have been a ventriloquist's trick in the service of Moshe's agenda."

RJM suggested it concerning the Aztecs not Moses. Moses could not have done it as he was in open view. In any event the experience at Sinai and the going out from Egypt after being slaves there is referred to over and over again in the Tanach in such strong terms and as the very basis of Israel's existence and experience not as a piece of information and incidental but as known to all Israel with such clarity. There is a difference between that and being able to make up a visitation of Mary. It is avoiding the full issue to be pretending that any claim no matter how trivial to the experience of the people are equal.

Rabban Gamliel said...

"I quote you on this one "at the end of Parashat Yitro: "And the entire nation witnessed the thunder, the fire, the sound of the Shofar and the smoking mountain..."" That seems like a pretty simple, pristine event if I ever heard one. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just natural occurrences like thunder, lightning, shofar sounds and smoky mountains."

Ah FedUp that wasn't supposed to happen on Mt. Sinai and also as for a bald faced lie politicians do it when people don't know it is a lie.

Also FedUp the people heard even though Moses communicated what was said. Deuteronomy Chapter 5

1. And Moses called all Israel, and said to them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that you may learn them, and keep, and do them.
2. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.
3. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day.
4. The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,..."

Rabban Gamliel said...

FedUp your argument concerning the Oral law is weak. It is no argument to say that violation of the law meant the lack of it.

avrum68 said...

RJM,

I respect your willingness to discuss issues of Torah with your fans/foes on-line. And yet, perhaps debating outspoken atheists, who celebrate their new found atheism, while mocking religion isn't the best use of your time, or this blog.

Both FedUp's challenges and your responses are akin to watching the movie Groundhog Day. It's like XGH's site over, and over, and over again.

Heschel was right... there's too large a gap/valley, whereby the believer and the non-believer can ever see eye to eye.

Rabban Gamliel said...

RJM it is very interesting about the 70 Nations and the 70 descendents. It is interesting and realted how we have signicance in the number ten and in the number 7. Combining it sends a message. This seen even more since in the list of names of those who went down to Egypt we have 69 so mentioning 70 descendents is requiring some meaning behind it.

Daganev said...

"I can certainly imagine a book with no need of interpretation and further explanation but I don't know of any. Certainly many books written by humans are in need of interpretation and explanation. I just wouldn't imagine a Divine Text to be in need of such things.
"

Never read hop on pop by doctor sues? No explantion or interpretation necessary.

Another book up for the title of "perfect book" would be "See Spot Run"

Rabban Gamliel said...

Bad dog Spot. See Jane run. Yeah very clear. They were fun to learn when you didn't know English spelling. So let me see FedUp says that Spinoza wrote better and yet the better a work the more difficult it is to understand. Yet somehow a mirtacle is supposed to happen yet with books written thousands of years ago and we don't need explanation.

avrum68 said...

Daganev,

How is it that you avoid getting banned by XGH? For this accomplishment, I salute you :)

david a. said...

RJM,

Thank you your explanation on how you view the historical aspect of the Torah, especially the first few chapters of breishis. You write eloquently and I did learn from it. Yet at the end of the day, to an unsophisticated reader like me, it was mostly just a bunch of words. If I were to sit on a jury empanelled to decide whether the book in question is divinely authored, I would have to vote that little of what you said constitutes proof or evidence. All I get (if i understood it correctly) from your “testimony” is that we (traditional Judaism) have been wrong in interpreting the book, that it can’t been taken all that literally. And to me if chazal as well, were allegorical to a degree in their interpretations, why can’t we simply modify (a la R. Louis Jacobs or similar) their literal meaning of TMS and say that it was humanly authored, (maybe with some kind of inspiration) to conform to the more likely “truth” or reality. After all, stating that chazal can be mistaken in historical events, isn’t what happened at Sinai (if it happened) an historical event?

Fedup,

It seems you don’t learn much from these interactions. You keep confusing Judaism with the Torah. But you are most correct in pointing out the flawed commandments as an argument against TMS. And to me, the amendments, and improvements that Judaism, especially Talmudic Judaism made to the Torah constitutes an important argument that even chazal consciously or unconsciously knew that there were flaws to fix. (abrogation of the death penalty, killing amelek, interest, shmiitah loans, ben sorer, etc.)

BTW I know it’s trivial, but I believe the word you both wanted is “unfazed” not “unphased”, unless you Americans spell it differently than we Canadians.

avrum68 said...

But you are most correct in pointing out the flawed commandments as an argument against TMS.

I've yet to witness a better display of Chutzpah.

avrum68 said...

to an unsophisticated reader like me, it was mostly just a bunch of words

David A... what is a blog post if not "a bunch of words"? Surely you didn't anticipate that, after reading RJM's post, your laptop would spin 360 degrees, spew vomit from the screen, and talk in tongues (for the William Blatty fans).

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

David A.,

My post was not intended to demonstrate TMS, so I am not surprised that you didn't find it to be good evidence for TMS.

Sometimes it is appropriate to set aside the abstract question of divine authorship and actually study some Torah content.

Again, I never said Hazal were mistaken about the veracity of the historical experiences of the Jewish people. What I said was that their approach to interpreting the text of the Torah, and the specific details it presents, was not literal.

This is especially true of the early parts of the Book of Genesis, which chronicles not the national experiences of the Jewish people but the primordial evolution of mankind and civilization that forms the backdrop for the establishment of Am Yisrael.

david a. said...

RJM

you said their approach was not always to interpret literally. so, my question still stands. maybe the meaning of torah min hashomayim or torah m'sinai is also allegorical??


Avrum68

>>>>> I've yet to witness a better display of Chutzpah.

I'm not quite certain what you mean by this remark. But what I meant to say was that it is correct that a basic argument that people who don't believe in a divinely authored book posit the corollary of TMS that the Torah is "perfect" and timeless. but based on the knowledge, worldview, and moral attitudes of OUR time, the book and its tenets are far from perfect. chazal made "corrections" and over time judaism made some more. and even these "corrections" might be changed in the future as mankind changes.

david a. said...

correction: that should be "people who do believe in .... posit"

Rabban Gamliel said...

"avrum68 said...
Daganev,

How is it that you avoid getting banned by XGH? For this accomplishment, I salute you :)"

Well if XGH thinks Daganev can get whipped that would be one reason. If Daganev boosts up the the number of comments that would be another reason. Perhaps Avrum since you claim to be Conservative XGH has no use for you as a Fundie Conservative. See repent and become an Orthodox Fundie. :-)
Today I got unbanned by him.

Rabban Gamliel said...

David A it should be pointed out that Chazal were not presented with a set of books called the Bible preset with set interpretations and decided to alter the interpretations. Judaism always contained many traditions and books. Chazal determined which books and which texts for them to use for the Bible but they did not abrogate the right of various and conflicting traditions to have their say.

avrum68 said...

Perhaps Avrum since you claim to be Conservative XGH has no use for you as a Fundie Conservative

Actually, I don't consider myself Conservative, and think the movement (which I worked for) to be a mess. I don't really subscribe to any movement per se, though my beliefs are closer to Heschel.

Rabban Gamliel said...

Sorry for the mixup. I also don't think in terms of a movement at least if Orthodoxy is defined in denominational terms like in Hungary.

Daganev said...

"Daganev,

How is it that you avoid getting banned by XGH? For this accomplishment, I salute you :)

May 14, 2008 5:59 PM

"

I think its because I argue both sides of the argument sometimes.

Anonymous said...

"but are these stories fact or fiction?"

R' Maroof's analysis would be valid in either case.

shlomo said...

"I see that you are willing to understand in a primarily allegorical fashion parts of the Torah when the historical evidence points to such an understanding. Besides for being very foundational to Orthodox Judaism, what stops you from applying that method to TMS?"

"you said their approach was not always to interpret literally. so, my question still stands. maybe the meaning of torah min hashomayim or torah m'sinai is also allegorical??"

=====

The "point" of religion is not that we proclaim allegiance to certain specific verbal formulations, but that we act in certain ways. This orientation is apparent throughout the (Jewish) Bible, and it would seem obvious to all of us, were it not for the immense influence of Greek philosophy and Christianity on Western ways of thought.

Coming from that starting point, the limits on Jewish Biblical interpretation are obvious. The details of the Breishit stories have little to no influence on our life, so if necessary, we can explain them however we like. In contrast, most non-traditional explanations of the events at Sinai have the effect of removing all the practical implications of TMS from our lives. Therefore, we must reject them.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Wow, talk about resurrecting an old post - I would never have seen these new comments if not for the fact that the blog is linked to my email account.

Shlomo, I understand your point but I don't fully agree with your premises. Judaism has very much to do with ideas, values and principles. Simply performing mechanical actions is not sufficient.

It seems to me an unfortunate modern fallacy to proclaim that Judaism is about "deed not creed", when in reality, in human life, deed is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of creed. We are thinking beings and, as a result, our activities are inseparable from our ideas.

Indeed, one who subscribes to idolatrous beliefs, or declares his acceptance of other heretical notions, is treated no differently in Jewish law than a person who physically prostrates himself before a graven image. To distinguish between the two is to arbitrarily sever the concrete action from the worldview, values and goals it ultimately represents.

The prophets certainly did not exhort us to live lives in accordance with the law alone - they tried to inspire us to adhere to its spirit, which requires deep reflection and conviction in the philosophical and moral message of Judaism and not only its practical aspect.

However, your point that allegorical interpretation must stop when it crosses from the purely intellectual dimensions of Torah into the normative realm has a lot of merit and is well taken.

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