Guest Post by Rabbi Herzl Hefter, “The Challenge of Biblical Criticism: Dogma vs. Faith”

 

The Challenge of Biblical Criticism: Dogma vs. Faith

Rabbi Herzl Hefter

In recent weeks we have been witnessing a vibrant debate within the modern Orthodox community concerning the authorship and historicity of the Torah triggered by a thought provoking piece by Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber. Unfortunately, much of the discussion has revolved around what one is “allowed” to believe rather than striving to understand what one should believe -אליבא דאמת- authentically. What we believe should be driven not by fear and submission to authority but by passion for truth and trust in God and the Torah. If we believe in the Torah, we cannot live in fear or denial of scientific inquiry (whether in the natural sciences or the humanities).

As a community, the first step of freeing ourselves from this fear is to understand from where it derives. The general tone of modern society is pluralistic. Truth (with an upper case T) has been replaced by subjective “narratives.” Consequently asserting allegiance to a particular tradition and maintaining a distinct identity is very difficult.  In this challenging environment we naturally seek an anchor in certainty which can justify our commitment and construct our particular identity.  For many years that anchor has been our belief that the Torah in its present form was communicated by God directly to Moshe. If that belief is undermined, how can we maintain our religious commitment to Torah and mitzvot and our particular identity as Jews?

Our religious beliefs, convictions, commitments and adherence to practice cannot be held hostage by rigid dogma which asserts historical truths yet demands immunity from inquiry.  By accessing our own Kabbalistic and Hassidic traditions which are rooted in Chazal, we can free ourselves from the necessity of asserting historical truths while maintaining and actually fortifying our belief in God and the Torah.  Our tradition affords us the instruments with which to encounter biblical criticism without bias and apologetics and come away  more committed as Jews. The encounter with modern biblical scholarship actually affords us an opportunity to clarify and refine two crucial and inter-related faith issues: 1) The nature of the Torah and 2) the nature of Divine revelation.

The Nature of the Torah

It is safe to say that the basic assumption of “Torat HaSod” is that the Torah needs to be read symbolically. That means that the elements in the stories of the Torah and the stories themselves point to a Divine reality and that their value does not rest in their literal truth.  Thus, for example the Zohar (Bereishit 7b) divides the word “Bereishit” to read “Bet” (=two) “Reishit,” namely two beginnings, one revealed and one hidden. On one level the biblical narrative in  sefer Bereishit tells of the creation of the cosmos by God. Yet, according to the Zohar, this narrative is an outer manifestation of a deeper story, the story of how God is revealed to us.  The “pshat” narrative is a garment (levush) which paradoxically both obscures and facilitates the revelation of this spiritual reality. The significance of the biblical narrative according to this tradition rests not in its historical accuracy but in the underlying spiritual content.

Rav Kook shared this assumption when, back in 1908, he responded to the “biblical criticism question” of his day, namely how to relate to the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. His response is so important and relevant that I wish to quote part of it here. (Igrot HaRaayah no. 134. The translation is my own).

Concerning opinions which are derived from recent scientific investigations which on the whole contradict the straight forward meaning (pshat) of the words of the Torah:

“In my opinion … even though these theories are not necessarily true, we are not at all obligated to deny them and stand against them. This is because it is not at all (stress mine-HH) the point of the Torah to inform us of simple facts and occurrences of the past.  The main point (‘ikar) is the inner content (tokh). … For us it is of no consequence whether in fact there ever existed in this world a golden age (i.e. the Garden of Eden – HH) in which mankind lived in spiritual and physical bliss  or [not]… and thus when we have no vested interest we can judge [these new theories ] fairly.”

The intellectual integrity displayed by Rav Kook in this last sentence should not be lost upon us and should serve as a model for emulation for those engaged in this discussion.

The purpose of the Torah, according to the “sod” tradition is not to convey historical truths but rather to gesture toward a deeper and more profound spiritual reality.  It is possible, then, to accept that the Torah in its current form is the product of historical circumstance and a prolonged editorial process while simultaneously stubbornly asserting the religious belief that it none the less enshrouds Divine revelation.

The Nature of Divine Revelation

In order to assert this, of course, we need to refine our understanding of Divine revelation.  And so we come to our second point. Though this short essay is not the platform to properly flesh out differing views concerning Divine revelation, I will bring one or two Hassidic sources which are representative of a school of thought.  Rather than thinking about revelation as something which originates “out there”, the great Hassidic masters turned the focus inwards and spoke of the heart as the seat of revelation. R. Zadok Hakohen of Lublin (Tzidkat HaTzadik 261) writes that the burning palace (birah doleket) which gives birth to the faith of Avraham is the burning of his very own heart. Faith in God (as well as the Torah) is produced by the encounter with God which transpires in the heart and not necessarily through history or nature “out there”.  R. Ya’akov Leiner of Radzyn goes even further than R. Zadok when he writes that if one was to be conscious of the mystery of one’s own spirit which rests in the heart, that would be tantamount to knowledge of God. (Beit Ya’akov, Mishpatim no.4). This doctrine is held to be true not only (or even primarily) for the individual but for the nation of Israel as an organic whole. R. Zadok HaKohen repeats many times the midrash from Shir HaShirim Rabbah (5:2) “The Holy One Blessed Be He is the heart of Israel.” This means that the will and presence of God in creation is manifest through the collective consciousness of the Jewish people.

The instrument of Divine revelation is the human heart; it is in the heart that He dwells and through the heart that (to the extent that it is at all possible) He may be known.  To be sure, the heart of which we are speaking needs to be refined and sensitized through rigorous involvement in the study of Torah and avodah. None the less the ultimate platform for the revelation remains the emotive and intuitive faculty symbolized by the heart.

Thus, our God is not only a hidden God (El mistater) but a subtle God as well. God stirs our hearts and He stirs in our hearts; that is the revelation. The rest is interpretation. As a matter of faith, I believe that in the ancient history of our people we experienced such a stirring of our communal heart. God, fashioning our collective consciousness launched our tradition and civilization in the course of which our Torah came to be. Is the Torah then human or divine? The answer is paradoxically, yes.

There is a tremendous tactical advantage to this approach. Because of the minimal truth claims that it makes, it is unassailable by any scholarship. Yet the real advantage here is spiritual. The friction generated by the encounter between biblical scholarship and traditional Judaism and the consequent undermining of long-held truth statements can actually strengthen our commitment and identity. Considered faith is far more meaningful religiously than adherence to dogma. A religiosity which affirms the immediacy of the Divine in the human heart feeds a sense of urgency to make that presence manifest. This urgency can serve as the catalyst which ultimately invigorates our commitment to avodat HaShem as Jews and as human beings created in the image of God.

Rav Herzl Hefter is a graduate of Yeshiva University where he learned under the tutelage of Rav Yerucham Gorelikזצ”ל and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik זצ”ל. For the next ten years, Rav Hefter continued his Torah studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. Most recently, Rav Hefter taught advanced Talmud to the Kollel fellows at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. Prior to that Rav Hefter taught Yoreh De’ah to smicha students at the Gruss Kollel of Yeshiva University for 17 years and served as the head of the prestigious Bruriah Scholars Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum. He also taught at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim in Moscow and served as Rosh Kollel of the Torah M’Zion Kollel in Cleveland, Ohio. Rav Hefter combines a passion for Lithuanian style Talmudic analysis with the study of Hassidut

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34 Responses to Guest Post by Rabbi Herzl Hefter, “The Challenge of Biblical Criticism: Dogma vs. Faith”

  1. Wizard of Israel says:

    I’m sorry, but with all due respect to Rabbi Hefter, this makes absolutely no sense. First, the nafka mina between what one is “allowed” to believe and what one “should” believe is completely irrelevant to people grappling with the authorship of the Torah.

    Second if one honestly has a passion for “truth” then nothing is off the table… nothing. There is no axiomatic acceptance of God, divine revelation, or spirituality. And using Chassidic lore and Kabbalah, mostly based on, what is now pretty well understood to be, a fraudulent “Zohar” only makes matter worse.

    The greatest issue here, however, is the attempt to use Rav Kook’s open mindedness with regard to evolution as some sort of proof text. Saying that the Torah is not a history or scientific text is all well and good. (And obviously more and more necessary as science marches forward.) But the idea that the Torah had multiple HUMAN authors completely undermines its claim to represent any type of “profound spiritual reality.” And to reduce the documentary hypothesis to an “editorial process” is to create a straw man argument. Given the evidence that we already have with the various codexes, it is undeniable that there was some editorial process. That’s not a chiddush.

    Even Rabbi Hefter’s “minimal truth claims” could not stand up if it was proven that the Torah is merely the product of man’s imagination.

    • Tuvia says:

      good comment.

      Tuvia

    • Eliezer Finkelman says:

      “. . . if it was proven that the Torah is merely a product of man’s imagination.” And how, exactly, could one prove that?
      You could start, as many scholars do, with the assumption that the Torah must be the product of man’s imagination, but that would not amount to a proof.
      Or, assuming nothing, you could perform some experiment that demonstrates the absence of divine origin in the Torah. What experiment do you think could do that?

      • Eliezer Finkelman says:

        I equally cannot imagine an experiment to demonstrate the presence of divine origin in the Torah.

      • Wizard of Israel says:

        I think we agree. One can’t logically start with the assumption that a written document is “divine”, therefore the burden of proof is really on those that say it is to prove it.

    • aaron316 says:

      out of curiosity, what is the evidence from the various codices? (my in depth academic research using both google and wikipedia was of little use.)

  2. Michael Stein says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Hefter, for these inspiring words. I share you interest in what is compelling to believe, not what someone else’s interpretation of dogma tells me I must believe. I have faith that a compelling and logical belief system undergirds torah and mitzvot, and retreating into various indefensible beliefs that one upholds as dogma is a depressing and unappealing alternative.

    I also find the traditional, dogmatic notions regarding the nature of torah and revelation, to be very unconvincing and even insulting to God and the nature of truth and Torah. It doesn’t bother me if many want to say I’m not Orthodox, or that I’m Orthoprax. Maybe I’m orthodox to some, and not to others. I don’t think God’s going to ask me if I was Orthodox, or that He cares about titles and names like that at all. Are we passionate about our Jewish identity? Are we passionate about preserving tradition, but keeping mindful that ritual observance without an intense concern for ethical behavior and social justice is despised by God? Are we engaged in Jewish learning, and in passing that down to the next generation as best we can? Those are the questions that I feel I must answer to. But not if I toed the party line of Orthodox dogma.

    I realize that many who share my views are highly vested in continuing to be called Orthodox, for various reasons. Probably because the Orthodox community is the only place where one can find large numbers of Jewishly well-educated, pretty strictly observant people.

    In that regard, I think we must squarely face the fact that the more fundamentalist approach, the approach of dogma, the approach we see not only in the chareidi world but in the majority of the modern orthodox world as well, is more effective on a communal level, in its effect on masses, at keeping people frum.

    The approach based on more subtle notions of the nature of revelation and torah, while to my mind far more compelling and satisfying, strikes many as inadequately forceful in the demands it places on us. Movements that have promulgated those views publicly, and aggressively, have failed to inspire multiple generations to keep commitment and observance going.

    Most people are looking for a comfortable refuge in their religious identity, and a world view that makes some simple assertions, and offers the satisfaction of being “right” when the rest of the world is “wrong” (see u’v’chen ten pachdecha, or aleinu). So, I believe that in the past, present and future, a majority of those who stay observant will promulgate a more fundamentalist notion of torah and revelation. It doesn’t make them right. But it does give them the satisfaction of knowing, on a statistical basis, that they are the majority of the observant world.

  3. Joel Salomon says:

    Whatever the value of “internal revelation”, the Torah explicitly puts lie to the claim that such is its source. God speaks to Moshe from within the burning bush, from between the keruvim, from a cloud—from without, not within.

  4. “Rav Kook shared this assumption when, back in 1908, he responded to the “biblical criticism question” of his day, namely how to relate to the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin.”

    Actually, the “biblical criticism question” of R. Kook’s day was biblical criticism. Ignoring R. Kook’s actual position while pretending to present his view is the opposite of intellectual integrity. On the issue of biblical criticism, R. Kook’s opposition is well known. See Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, no. 44, http://vbm-torah.org/archive/igrot/12igrot.htm:
    “For this reason, [some say that] perhaps the narrative portions of the Torah are just myths which never actually took place. But this very doubt can only have been borrowed from the gentiles, for one who feels himself growing and born in [a particular] house knows well the business of that house, and could not possibly think that the living and enduring history of his nation, which is so integrated, ordered, and distinguished, is a fabrication. But we shall walk also with these captives, who have distanced themselves from their father’s table, but without anger, and we shall say to them: Brothers, [even] if it is as you say – matters of legend which have such great capacity to bring about good and blessedness, everlasting hope, and morals, are so precious and noble, so much so that they are in effect words of the living God, and it befits them that anything fixed in their memory should be guarded with honor and great love. This is insufficient to fully revive them, but it will be enough to open a door, to remove the scorn and hate, the rejection and revulsion to anything pertaining to Judaism, even in the hearts of those children who are far away.

  5. Dan says:

    Rabbi Hefter, is kabbalah really the only answer for you?

  6. Gavi says:

    I don’t understand. If according to you the Torah is the product of internal revelation, brought about from within, than why is rigorous involvement in the study of Torah necessary to produce it? How was the Torah produced according to you if before its existance there was no Torah to properly train the heart with? If somehow, the Torah were to r”l be unnecessary to achieving revelation, and merely instrumental, than have there never been wise men pure at heart amongst the other nations of the world such that they could produce from the recesses of their sanctified conscience a fundamentally similar Torah? Furthermore, if this were true, why should I care about the product of another persons deductions, should not each Jew, or at least every wise Jew, write his own Torah? What would make the existing one special?

    • Eliezer Finkelman says:

      Gavi asks a fine question, since the medieval rationalists also assumed that they had the freedom to depart from the plain meaning of the Torah, if the evidence supported such a departure (see ibn Ezra’s introduction to his commentary on Bereshit). Did the donkey of Balaam actually speak?
      Did the snake in Bereshit 2 actually speak?
      Abarbanel says “lo ish devarim hanahash,” (I translate that as “he was a snake of few words”) because he refuses to believe that snakes can speak human words. That seems unreasonable to him, and so he reinterprets the Torah to seem more reasonable.

      • Dovid Shlomo says:

        Yes, but only as regard to narrative.

        The Rishonim limited themselves with what was reasonable in terms of peshat.

        They did not depart from the Rabbis’ understanding of what should be the halacha.

        See Ibn Ezra’s intro, which you just referenced!

      • Dan says:

        Dovid Shlomo–you are wrong. See the Rashbam’s commentary to tefilin, for example. This is the same Rashbam who was the master of the tosafos, I remind you.

      • Dovid Shlomo says:

        Dan – I am well aware of that Rashbam.

        Read Rashbam’s intro to Chumash, for instance. (See Prof Lokshin’s intro and commentary to the Rashbam you refer to.)

        He explains that his goal is to explain the peshat, while Chazal’s was to explain the derash. And derash, he says, is ikkar, for that is the source of the din.

        According to Rashbam, peshat is one level of understanding Chumash, but is not necessarily the source of din, especially where Chazal have already told us the din.

        There are many examples where peshat and din diverge, an eye for an eye being one example. (See Seforno). That does nto mean that Seforno was arguing as to the din. (See Rav Kopperman’s commentary there.)

        Here is what I said:
        “The Rishonim limited themselves with what was reasonable in terms of peshat. They did not depart from the Rabbis’ understanding of what should be the halacha.”

        My comment stands.

        I hope this clears things up.

  7. Ben says:

    “It is possible, then, to accept that the Torah in its current form is the product of historical circumstance and a prolonged editorial process while simultaneously stubbornly asserting the religious belief that it none the less enshrouds Divine revelation.”

    When the editorial process was between warring jealous factions, who sought to undermine their enemies by editing parts of the torah to make them look bad, can you really call that divinely inspired?

  8. Joebug says:

    Rabbi Hefter’s style in his post has a somewhat naive quality – searching for truth begs the question as to why choose Torah, not something else to believe in? Yet the arguments from the Zohar, which are not necessarily at all undermined by their probable historical development, have some significant force. And this is that we do feel there is something of importance in OJ, that, as Rav Kook so eloquently puts it, that the narrative historical experience of our people, focused on a belief in one personal, ultimate, perfect G-d, and all that entails, is an incredible thing, whose influence has undoubtedly spread out across all humanity. Our experience of this as part of chain of narrative tradition (that we experience it as as personal chain of lived tradition that has meaning to us as a community of believers in that tradition in ways that are uniquely powerful when compared to those outside of the tradition) has real moral and spiritual resonance in our lived experience. Surely, if there is in fact a personal, ultimate, perfect G-d, then this experience and this tradition must be an expression of his will. Putting it another way, even if the events of the Torah did not happen, the Jewish people created a foundational experience as if they had, as if they should have happened, because the force of the idea that they had was so strong. And then how could one in fact clearly differntiate between the two possibilities? Is this not the argument of the Zohar?
    Surely, one can, if searching for truth, objectively search for it anywhere with no pre-conceptions – start with the Vedas, or Zen or Kant or Buber or JTS? But if one cleaves from the tradition, then one does to some extent make a break with the narrative force of the Jewish people’s foundational idea, which for generations we have thought to be a sacred and necessary idea of the world. We break the chain, and that has consequences, not least that we can no longer feel the force of that idea as part of lived historical tradition, it becomes a weaker copy, it cannot be passedon to future generations, at least by us, in the same way. The idea is weakened

    • Tuvia says:

      There are so many ideas that remain central to our collective experience in the world.

      People without a tradition of Taoism or Buddhism or stoicism or Marxism or any other idea (or system of thought) that has stood the test of time can find themselves enthralled by them. I’m imagining that Judaism is one of those isms.

      The question is MUST one live an idea? I liked learning about Marxism in college and had progressive politics – but I doubt I would have enjoyed being indoctrinated and manipulated from infancy living in communist Russia. I doubt I would have enjoyed the idea that I was not permitted to evaluate or hear outside ideas or voices – and therefore could never travel abroad my whole life. I doubt I would have thought highly of a system that said “communism is obviously superior and the truth, and the West is decadent and materialistic and classist,” but never been permitted to have any access to information, books, movies, newspapers, tv, radio from the outside world (a place I could never see for myself.)

      The problem with orthodoxy is NOT that people select orthodoxy as the right lifestyle for them. The problem is the indoctrination masquerading as education, the use of inspirational words to keep people from exercising their critical faculty, the idea that manipulating people is the only way to keep it going, and allowing people to gather information in the spirit of open inquiry is not permissible.

      Orthodoxy cannot afford a sustained, unflinching encounter with outside voices or ideas – that’s why the walls are so high around the community. And there are show trials around questions of evolution, age of the universe, the origins of the Torah, etc.

      The problem is the Age of Reason.

      Tuvia

      • Joebug says:

        well the age of reason is a system of ideas as well –
        that there is no God, that the world is determinist, that materialism explains everything – people also indoctrinate their children in to this worldview, brook no alternative viewpoints, and shut their minds to other ideas, oh and also hold lots of (albeit non-physical) with trials and with burnings on the matter.
        It all depends what you think of the idea – I am not arguing that OJ can be the only idea in the world, that’s ludicrous, but that for a faith community that believes in it it has meaning, and that this meaning might be of relevance and importance for the world, particularly if a personal Unitary God does exist. To choose to educate your children in line with this idea is a creative personal democratic act (in Mill’s true sense of democratic). Yes this does lead to a tension with how you resolve this with all the competing ideas out there, and I am not suggesting that ideas should not compete with each other, they can and they must. However your consideration of what OJ is, and how it might defend and seek to continue its ideas, is frankly partisan. Cultures, families, people have a right to promulgate their ideas and values, and this does imply putting up barriers to other ideas. One can argue about the reasonable extent of these barriers, but anyone who believes in democratic principles should have a very high bar in saying, “this is too far”. Similarly, those who choose different ideas, of course have a right to, but they have no right not to accept the consequences. In Jonathan Sack’s much maligned but true words, they make a break with the traditions of their fathers, this means something. Not in democracy, God forbid, the loss of life or liberty or rights or value as human beings, but they lose the membership of that community and a share in the promulgation of that idea. If you value that idea, and my argument is that as Orthodox Jews, we do value that idea, and we argue with passion its value, then we should fight for it. This characterization of what the chareidim do is much closer to the mark in my opinion, although no doubt there are times and ways in which they go to far.

      • jack says:

        it’s not that simple.The academics are very biased and selective in their selection of proofs.For example ,the Nuzi tablets, and the Mari tablets were excavated arounf 1933 in Syria.over 34000 clay tablets were excavated and scientifically dated to the age of the patriarchs.Sensationally,the tablets show a legal system encountering the same problems as the patriarchs.There are tablets conferring privilged status to a wife who is also a sister,one tablet showing the sale of a birthright for a sheep,and actual teraphim have been dug out of the ground.These teraphim were actual title deeds,explaining rachels desire to take them.There is even a tablet involving someone called abiram.
        So any unbiased academic should conclude that it quite likely that the stories of our partriarchs occurred.But they cant do that since if the early patriarch stories are true,than it implies that the hebrews were quite meticulous in copying over stories that were unintelligible to them and keeping them sacred.Does anyone have a better explanation?Dont take my word ,google the nuzi and mari tablets and come to your own conclusions.

      • Tuvia says:

        I think one thing to remember is that where strong belief starts, thinking stops. And strong belief can get you anywhere: to being a Hare Krishna, an orthodox Jew, a member of the KKK, a Nazi.

        For a faith community to value a set of ideas is one thing – something I deeply admire.

        But this is not really what fundamentalist religions do. They come to total commitment to their ideas through indoctrination, manipulation, fear mongering and systematically suppressing, distorting, or omitting outside voices.

        I just don’t think we can take this kind of system seriously as a search for truth, or even a search for values. I certainly see little honor in it.

        And if it was the Mormons, the Krishnas, the Scientologists, the KKK, the Hindus, the Buddhists – you might agree with me.

        Ask yourself why.

        Tuvia

      • Tuvia says:

        Joebug said: “well the age of reason is a system of ideas as well – that there is no God, that the world is determinist, that materialism explains everything.”

        The Age of Reason certainly values the scientific method, and certainly says that tradition, belief, revelation, and prophecy are unreliable guides to the truth.

        But the Enlightenment (Age of Reason) also led to Natural Rights, the Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights. Equality before the law of all people. The right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

        Before that – the Inquisition, the Crusades, pogroms through the ages – were permissible. So was the accepted idea that women should not vote, or have a voice. Gays could be demolished. Jews destroyed. Blacks enslaved.

        Remember: strong belief can get you anywhere – to being a Scientologist, an Islamist, an evangelical Chrstian, a Jew for Jesus, an orthodox Jew, a member of the KKK.

        You want to know what could again endanger the dignity and rights of all people? The reemergence in our world of the dark force of strong belief.

        Tuvia

  9. Moadim le-Simchah to Rav Herzl Hefter, whom I remember fondly from my year at the Gruss Kollel.

    I think that Rav Kook saw evolution as a new version of a very old question, namely the non-literal reading of Parashat Bereshit, which indeed has a long and honorable tradition (and was a source of controversy in the middle ages).

    But when it came to the core historical experience of the nation of Israel, as in E. Pruzhaner’s highly appropriate quotation above (in his comment), Rav Kook saw it as the difference between someone who shares the living experience of his family, versus someone who has become estranged (or who was never part of the family to begin with) and tries to understand the family from without. Rav Kook understood quite well what non-Jewish bible scholarship was all about (and in his day it was indeed still a highly gentile enterprise), and it certainly wasn’t about allegorical reading of Genesis.

    With respect, I do not think that kabbalistic and hasidic ideas have the power to entirely disengage the Torah from its tie to historical events. Israel is not just an idea, it is a living people. And the Torah as a covenant is tied to experiences in the real life of that people. For the question at hand, the approach suggested by Rav Kook in the second quotation not only seems more true and appropriate, but it also explicitly contains something close to what this article suggests, albeit only in the sense of bedi’avad.

    I plan to be writing more about this (though not from a kabbalistic angle). The first installment is planned to appear God willing in advance of Shabbat Parashat Lekh Lekha.

    Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

  10. […] Open Orthodox website Morethodoxy recently published a very troubling article by Rabbi Herzl Hefter , defending and apparently even promoting the denial of the historicity of the Torah and its […]

  11. Rabbi Gordimer’s recent article on Cross-Currents deals with this essay and the comments on it (above) regarding Rav Kook. I sent in a comment, but the moderator has apparently decided not to publicize it (other comments have appeared since but not mine). Therefore, for the sake of posterity, I will post it here (reconstructing it as best I came). The following is approximately what I wrote there:

    ***As one of the people who commented on Rav Herzl Hefter’s article (though I did not have the zekhut to quote Rav Kook first!), I want to protest this hatchet-job attacking YCT. I haven’t seen Rav Herzl Hefter for many years (and I doubt that he remembers me), but I remember him as an outstanding Talmid Hakham and a God-fearing Jew who deserves respect.

    ***Polemical attacks are symptoms of a sickness that has infected Torah Judaism (and which is getting ever worse as time goes on). Attacks like these are far more “troubling” than anything which might go on during and honest and respectful discussion of the basis for our faith, or regarding community issues.

    • Shlomo says:

      Agreed that the tone of the piece was quite strong,

      Now that you’ve lodged the protest, deal with its substance, please.

      Whatever one thought of the tone, and however much one loves YCT and loves Rav Hefter and thinks everyone is a mentch, that does not give a free pass to ignore the substance.

    • Shlomo says:

      Rabbi Kadish:

      Let us all acknowledge that Rabbi Hefter is a yorei Shamayim and Talmid Chacham.

      I just reread what Rabbi Gordimer said about Rabbi Hefter’s essay and would appreciate your pointing out which words were disrespectful or ad hominem, the types of things that should not be said regarding a yorei Shamayim and Talmid Chacham.

      (Does his being a yorei Shamayim and Talmid Chacham exempt him from criticism and prohibit others from criticizing him as Rabbi Gordimer did? If not, please point out where Rabbi Gordimer went over the line.)

      I would also appreciate your showing us where Rabbi Hefter’s words were misrepresented or mischaracterized.

      Thank You

      • Shavua Tov, regarding substance I don’t think there was any to answer. It was a typical diatribe that didn’t shed any light on anything.

        What bothered me far more than any substance or lack thereof what that my very own comment was used as part of the ammunition! Personally, when I disagree with someone (as I did here), it means nothing whatsoever about that person’s legitimacy. I protest that it was used any other way.

        In terms of Rav Herzl Hefter, in Cross-Currents nothing explicitly terrible was written. But you have to read between the lines like in Pravda: Everyone in the English-speaking yeshivah world knows what it means when you say that a talmid hakham, or his writing, is “troubling” (or “questionable” or “problematic”).

      • Shlomo says:

        Thank you for your reply.

        If I understand you correctly, you are acknowledging that Rabbi Gordimer accurately reported Rabbi Hefter’s thoughts, did not misrepresent them or take them out of context, did not attack him personally, nor show him disrespect other than to say that what he wrote was “troubling.’

        In other words, your are saying that no one is permitted — or at least, no one in the yeshiva world is permitted — to characterize anything that Rabbi Hefter has written as “troubling” or be troubled by anything he has written up to now or ever will in the future.

        Did I get that right?

  12. My first public essay on fundamentals of the Torah has just appeared here (link to the first half):

    http://thetorah.com/discovering-god-rationalistic-1/

  13. Anonymous says:

    The second sentence “Unfortunately, much of the discussion has revolved around what one is ‘allowed’ to believe rather than striving to understand what one should believe -אליבא דאמת- authentically.” appears to me to be identical to saying, “Regardless of the limits defined in the Torah itself, what should one believe about the Torah to be authentic.” Or, “Assuming I am unafraid” — to borrow an idea from the next sentence — “of opening my very Orthodoxy to discussion, what should I believe?”

    An interesting question, but you open the door to the answer not being Orthodoxy despite any adjective placed before it. If you feel Biblical Criticism disproves Orthodoxy say so, don’t say you are still Orthodoxy by transvaluing the term

  14. Micha Berger says:

    The second sentence “Unfortunately, much of the discussion has revolved around what one is ‘allowed’ to believe rather than striving to understand what one should believe -אליבא דאמת- authentically.” appears to me to be identical to saying, “Regardless of the limits defined in the Torah itself, what should one believe about the Torah to be authentic.” Or, “Assuming I am unafraid” — to borrow an idea from the next sentence — “of opening my very Orthodoxy to discussion, what should I believe?”

    An interesting question, but you open the door to the answer not being Orthodoxy despite any adjective placed before it. If you feel Biblical Criticism disproves Orthodoxy say so, don’t say you are still Orthodox by transvaluing the term. That would be the authentic, aliba de’emes, thing to do.

    In any case, I see no way to support traditional halachic process without saying that the textual roughness derashah makes use of wasn’t part of the original plan. If derashah isn’t people reading in the Torah from hints Hashem left them, whether to create or to post-facto validate, then you have to take the Historical School approach to Chazal, which then legitimizes today’s rabbis doing the same — and now we’ve reinvented Conservative Judaism.

    Alternatively, if we say the text has things that look like scars or seams by Divine Intent, then we robbed ourselves of the very data point that suggested a multiplicity of documents and an evolving text to begin with. If the final result is deemed perfect, then there is nothing wrong with it for the documentarian to explain.

    The position under discussion — a document theory that would justify halakhah is therefore (as far as I can tell) internally inconsistent. (And even that ignores the need to jettison the obligations of belief in the Exodus and the revelation, “what one is ‘allowed’ to believe”, themselves halakhos in mitzvos from Shabbos to sukkah and beyond.)

    • Shlomo says:

      Well said.
      So well said, that I highly doubt we will see an answer.

      However, i’d love to be proven wrong and to hear the response.

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