Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School
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Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

June 21, 2018 06:40AM
I point out that so far, all postings have not given specific examples but discussed generalities. First, I will cite two stories. Then I will answer the 3-5 issues raised.

STORY #1: I asked Rabbi Feldman, author of Birth Control in Jewish law, why despite his erudition and knowledge he left orthodoxy and joined the conservative movement. His answer shocked me: "I can’t believe in Torah Misinai. **Everyone knows*** biblical scholarship does not accept Torah Misinai." What shocked me was that he had given up his orthodox beliefs without even being able to state the specific reasons for what they said.

STORY #2: I once sat on a graduate course in statistics (Univ. of Louisville, Pat Cerrito instructor). Every day, students were asked to read a paper in the social sciences. Homework was to state, “What is right and what is wrong in method.” By the end of the course, the students all learned that even a paper in a refereed journal may not cite methods properly.

Both stories point to one thing: You should ask anyone who states a position, their methods and reasons. You don't have a right to accept it until you do. Now let us discuss the issues raised.

I: TORAH MISINAI: This applies to both written and oral law. The text of the Torah says that within 400 years of Abraham, there was enslavement, an exodus and a revelation. The text states that for example Leviticus was spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai through prophetic revelation at the "Tent of Meeting." If this is false, then a prophetic book contains false statements and should not be believed.

My mantra today is to ask why anyone says otherwise: Texts are usually dated by choice of grammatical conjugation and selection of words from synonym pairs. We would then conclude that certain parts of the Torah were written at separate times.

My response (A): Orthodox tradition says Moses is the final *authority* for Biblical law. We for example circumcise ourselves because Moses included the command to circumcise in the Bible (at God's request). But no one is denying that Abraham, himself a prophet, received an order from God to circumcise. He could have written it down. His narrative if taken as is by Moses would reflect different grammar and language. But that doesn't mean Moses did not write it! Nothing has been contradicted. Furthermore, I ***already knew*** that Moses unified many previous prophetic authors

My response (cool smiley: It is an accepted method of Biblical scholarship not to accept a book as written till one finds and dates a copy of it. For example, we do not have early copies of Devarim and Vayikrah that are early. We do have proof that Kashruth (mentioned in Vayikrah and Devaraj) was observed early since archaeological diggings show bones from what people ate but no pig bones.

Academic scholarship has not proven that books were written later; only that its standard of proof (an existing copy that is dated) has not been met.

II: “Lower criticism shows the Torah is not perfect. We need not believe the Torah is perfectly transmitted. We are entitled to have doubts.”

RESPONSE IIA: I have 3 points to make. James Kugel, in his beautiful book, "The idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and its History" illustrates one example of response to lower criticism. Suppose as happened for a long time you DEFINE poetry in terms of rhyme and meter. You then examine Psalms and find that certain verses ALMOST have rhyme and meter and decide that the text is corrupt and should be amended.

Kugel citing earlier authorities, shows that while the Greeks defined poetry in terms of rhyme and meter, Jewish poetry is defined by parallelism. The troublesome verses are not problematic anymore since they DO fit in with parallelism but DO NOT fit in with rhyme and meter.

The point: Lower criticism depends on your understanding of the text. A different understanding may lead to acceptance. Again: You must find out the underlying reason.

RESPONSE IIB: There are industry standards for data transmission. To take a commercial example if I claimed a photocopy machine was perfect I would not be guilty of misleading advertising if occasionally it missed a letter.

FACT: There are only 2-3 doubts of spelling in the Torah ( Deut 23:2 (hay or aleph in dacah) and Gn09-29 (Vayehi or Vayehiyu)) (perhaps also iii) whether potiperah is one or two words...not sure at this writing). All other doubts are on i) hyphens, ii) full/deficient spellings (not the same as misspellings), iii) cantillations. A data standard of 2 or 3 errors per 300000 letters is considered high quality. You can call such a document perfect. It is grossly misleading to call it poor.

RESPONSE IIC: What about all the variants in the dead sea scrolls? I heard a response (My apologies I forget the author) at a dead sea scroll exhibit in Manhattan: People would make notes in their Torahs the same way we do today. Except the notes would be part of the text. Only the officially written scrolls were meant to be error free. The notes do indicate insights and understandings of the text but do not indicate textual variants.

III-V: The following have been said in postings: i) We must show people how to love Torah learning; ii) Start young with biblical criticism, iii) view it as an opportunity.

RESPONSE: But how? I suggest, teach young children Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra. Explain to them that Rashi lived just as grammar had been developed. Many bible scholars today are further developing grammar. We can participate with them since they give an enrichment of the text.

Here is one more example. One of my papers shows that aleph-caph (ach) does not mean *only* but means *probably* or *usually* or *most of (the time)*. In the article, I cite many midrashim and show them consistent with this interpretation. For example, Lv23-27a states "On the tenth of Tirshray (Yom Kippur) you will have (ach) a day that atones" I would translate this as "On the tenth of Tishray you will usually (ach) have a day that atones." This is consistent with Rashi and midrash that atonement is only for God-man sins. Is this correct? All I can say is that I looked at all 43 occurrences of Ach in the Torah and discussed application of my approach (JBQ, 33(2), 2005). My point is not that I am correct but that this is an example of how students can be encouraged to get involved and be exposed to Biblical scholarship.

Note: Rambam does not classify a person as heretical for believing in textual errors UNLESS they claim that Moses wrote them himself. The point of this article has been to refute false views on the Torah and to ask people to ascertain reasons for contrary views.

Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.D.;

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/21/2018 06:41AM by mlb.
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Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Sara Susswein Tesler June 17, 2018 07:43AM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Shmuel Kaufmann June 18, 2018 07:01AM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Shmuel Silberman June 19, 2018 05:17PM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Heshy Grossman June 21, 2018 05:49PM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Russell Jay Hendel June 21, 2018 06:40AM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Aaron Marcus June 24, 2018 06:52AM

Re: Discussion topic: Teaching Biblical Scholarship in a Modern Orthodox High School

Sholom Eisenstat July 01, 2018 08:42AM

Lower Criticism

Russell Jay Hendel July 04, 2018 05:52AM


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