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

July 01, 2018 08:42AM
The discussion about the teaching of Biblical Criticism is important and informative and surely illustrates how wide-ranging are the issues which stem from the intersection of Torah and the reading the Bible text using the modern sciences. It surely is a conundrum for educators.

These discussions take place because of the fundamental nature of modern academic Bible study. It would be most interesting, I think, to turn the discussion to a related topic that is widely ignored by most, one which is as thorny a problem for teachers as are the pitfalls of the Documentary Hypothesis. But it's a thorny topic which is wholly based in the most traditional of our sources: the history of the text of the Torah.

While the historical criticism of Bible scholars is based on hypotheticals of non-existent texts, anonymous authors and redactors, the 'lower' criticism, or textual criticism, the text history of the Torah is almost solely based on internal Jewish documentation. It's accompanied by large collections of physical evidence, rabbinic responsa from well-known scholars as well as a vast library of manuscripts and scrolls which we can readily view. One need not look farther than the Massoretic commentary known as Minchat Shai by Yedidya Norzi (16th century) which is full of references to variant readings of Torah texts collected from the Talmud and Midrah and much more.

We are familiar with the rabbinic stories of Ezra introducing dots at 10 places in the Torah. We are told that when Eliyahu comes, he will tell us that whether the words are correct and the dots should be removed or the words and the dots should both be removed (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Ver: A, 34). We also read of 3 sifrei Torah in the azarah of the Temple each of which was corrected based on the other two (Sifri Devarim, piska 356). Shabbat 115a-116b tells us that the 'inverted nuns' surrounding Numbers 10:35-36 were introduced to denote that those verses would be moved to another location in a later edition of the Torah; yes a later edition of the Torah! There are many medieval responsa which discuss the spelling of words in the Torah. Radak, Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel all had different theories for the origin and purpose of the Kri Ktiv phenomenon where words are spelled one way but pronounced differently, sometimes read but not written and vice versa. These are a small drop in the sea of this 'torah’.

Great scholars never claimed that our text was 'perfect' as they themselves strove to improve its 'perfection'. They were working to 'improve' the quality of the text in the scroll just as they were preaching that it was still as perfect as when it came from Sinai. By deciding questions of a textual nature which often led to modifications in the text, they were taking responsibility for correcting the text to the best of their ability. All that was an internal, rabbinically approved process. Should we not teach our students about this? Should we leave our students and the rest of the community unaware of this part of our traditional history because it doesn't fit with the 'accepted' and 'torah true' version? Are we comfortable writing out the parts of our history that don't fit the modern model while ignoring the fact that our greatest scholars grappled with these issues and often acted upon their decisions? Do we find ourselves in a situation where we are consciously avoiding the teaching of what must be acknowledged as truly completely kosher, well documented and explicit history of our tradition?

There is no escaping that this evidence can be similarly disruptive to the community as we fear the DH is. We can't claim that it's sources are not Jewish or anti-semitic in origin, nor can we claim that it is 'modern' research as many of the sources are medieval Jewish or older nor can we claim that the scholars who participated in this process were not knowledgeable or learned as they are some of the greatest of our scholars, nor can we re-contextualize or re-interpret the apparent problematics in these documents as they are all tightly focussed on exactly the issues which are difficult for many.

The point is surely that we can be up in arms about teaching the DH, which is truly complex and fraught with many types of 'danger' and difficulty for students and Jewish educators. But can we also at the same time ignore the history of the text because it too is problematic and demonstrates rabbinic participation in the evolution of the Torah?

References for the history of the text: E. Tov's "Textual Analysis of the Torah", Sokolow's "Tanakh: an Owner's Manual", B. Barry Levy's, "Fixing God's Torah', Marc Shapiro's "Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised", and online at [etzion.org.il] and many, many other primary and secondary sources.

--

Sholom Eisenstat
Toronto, Ontario



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/01/2018 08:43AM by mlb.
Subject Author Posted

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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