Against the backdrop of Morethodoxy’s recent discussion of Biblical truths and Bible Criticism, often some of our own real-time life observations can prove to be among the most potent responses to those who question the veracity of Torah narrative. Indeed, many of the “piercing” criticisms of Torah text that speak of perceived “contradictions” and “inconsistencies” within the Chumash do not require a Rashi, a Rashbam, or a Kli Yakar to harmonize. Rather, simple observations from everyday life can point the way. As an exemplar, these thoughts respond to some of the comments in Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber’s “Part 3 – Crack in the Edifice: A Personal Reflection” (http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ ):
1. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “2. Jacob has 12 children (11 sons and at least one daughter) in seven years (Gen. 29:32-30:25). Although admittedly possible, even with four wives this is a serious stretch. Leah has seven just in this period, and even has time to worry about how she stopped having children (Gen. 30:9)! Something is not quite right about this timeline. To my mind, it is best explained as an attempt to fit two traditions into one narrative framework: Jacob’s many children and the account of Jacob in Aram.”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Idi Amin had 30-45 children. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idi_Amin#Family_and_associates My first wife had three kids in three years and, but for reasons that are outside the purview of Morethodoxy, had every capability of continuing at that pace. Several frum families and Catholics have had such numbers as seven children in seven years. One man can father 12 children with four women over seven years. It is the woman who needs nine months and more between births, not the man. The Torah text acknowledges that Rachel had trouble bearing, while Leah had great facility but eventually slowed down. The Torah even supplies a perfectly rational reason that a G-d of Mercy would have given Leah an opportunity towards leveling her marital playing field.
2. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There are a number of name inconsistencies in the biblical text. For example: Who was Moshe’s father-in-law, Reuel (Exod. 2:18), Jethro (Exod. 3:1), or Chovav (Num. 10:29)? Additionally, was his father-in-law a Midianite (Exodus and Numbers above) or was he a Kenite (Judg. 1:16 and 4:11)? What is the name of the mountain of God? Is it Sinai (Exod. 19:20, 24:16, Lev. 7:38, 25:1, Num. 3:1, Neh. 9:13, etc.) or Horeb (Exod. 33:6, Deut. 5:6, 18:16, 1 Kings 19:8, etc.)? It appears that the Torah records competing traditions in all of these cases”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: What is the name of the fifth New York City borough — Richmond or Staten Island? If Queens County is called “Queens,” why is Kings County not called “Kings” but “Brooklyn”? Are they different places? Is this country called the “United States” or is it “America”? Was the former communist world power called the “Soviet Union” or “Russia”? Is the European country called Deutschland or Germany or Allemagne? Was the Civil War battle, where more Americans died in a single day than at any other battle in American history, fought at Sharpsburg or at Antietam? Is it two narratives being merged? Was it Bull Run orManassas, and was there really a First Manassas and a Second Manassas? Was the great Confederate general who was included on the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, named Thomas J. Jackson or Stonewall Jackson? Is Avigdor someone different from Moshe? Were Yasser Arafat and Abu Ammar two different people? Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen? Muhammad Zaidan and Abu Abbas? Prince and #$%&? George Ruth and Babe Ruth? Simon Persky and Shimon Peres? Ariel Sharon and Ariel Scheinermann? David Green and David Ben-Gurion? Golda Meir and Goldie Meyerson? Icchak Jeziernicky and Yitzhak Shamir? And what about the Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences: Lincoln’s secretary, named Kennedy, told him not to go to the play, and Kennedy’s secretary, named Lincoln, told him not to go to Dallas. Lincoln was killed in Ford’s Theatre, and Kennedy was killed in a Lincolnmanufactured by Ford Motor Company. Lincoln was killed at a theater, and Kennedy’s assassin was arrested in a theater. Each had a Vice President named Johnson from a Southern state. The merger of two narratives?
3. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “4. Who sold Joseph? The brothers (Gen. 37:27) or the Midianites (Gen. 37:28)? Who brought Joseph to Egypt? The Madanites (Gen. 37:36) or the Ishmaelites (Gen. 39:1)? Again it appears that the Torah records competing traditions or stories.”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Rav Avigdor Miller explains it very simply. It was lucrative, and there were middlemen. Occam’s Razor. Others have equally simple alternative understandings.
4. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “a. Noah: Is the flood caused by rain (Gen. 7:12) or is it the unplugging of the heavens and depths (Gen. 7:11)?
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Are they different? When the Heavens and depths are unplugged, don’t rain and surges of water come out?
5. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “Is Noah supposed to take seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals (Gen. 7:2-3) or one pair of each animal (Gen. 6:19-20)?”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: I tell my child: “Look, it’s cold outside, put on a sweater.” As he starts walking out, I say, “Y’know what? Go back in and put on a jacket and grab a cap.” As we get into the car, I get a bit embarrassed and say to him, “I hate to do this, but please go inside a get a raincoat.” Three different narratives, or does one amplify the previous?
6. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “Does the rain / flood last 40 days (Gen. 7:17) or 150 days (Gen. 7:24)?”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Why is it problematic to say that it rained for 40 days, but it took 150 for the waters to subside? After Katrina, was New Orleans dry the next day, with all waters returned to subterranean heights? After the East Coast hurricane, did the waters recede the next day, or did people have to continue waiting before they could move back into certain places in New Jersey, Staten Island, and elsewhere? Is this not the simplest understanding?
7. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “b. Scouts: Are the loyal scouts Caleb (Num. 13:30, 14:24) or Caleb and Joshua (Num. 14:6-9, 14:30)? Is it Moshe (Num. 13:27, 14:9) or Moshe and Aaron (Num. 13:26, 14:2, 14:26) with whom God and the people speak? Why does God punish Israel twice (Num. 14:20-25, 14:26-35)? Do they go all the way to the north and Hamat (Num. 13:21) or just through the Negev until Hebron (Num. 13:22)?”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Occam’s Razor. Where is the crisis in faith or the fatal contradiction? Calev bears extra mention, while Yehoshua is taken for granted, having already been noted. Hebron is a special stopping point so that the good spies can pray at M’arat HaMachpelah, so it bears extra mention, even as it lays a foundation for understanding why Calev is giving Hebron as an inheritance, further demonstrating a coherence and consistency of text between Sifrei Yehoshua and D’varim. What’s the problem? Why turn it into two authors? Columbus thought he had arrived at India; he called the people “Indians.” He recorded that he arrived in India. Others report that he arrived in the Western hemisphere. Two separate narratives? Two separate explorers? Did the Nina and Pinta go toIndia, while the Santa Maria went to Cleveland?
8. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “2. The Torah describes some of Israel’s neighbors—Ishmael, Midian, Edom—as being descendants of Abraham, and others of Abraham’s nephew Lot—Moab, Ammon. Firstly, it seems rather improbable to assume that the entire surrounding culture of the area were all descendants of one person, especially if that person arrived in the area when it was already populated.”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: All of South America already was populated when the Spaniards arrived: Cortez to the Aztecs in Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas in Peru. Is it believable that they all ended up speaking the same Spanish so soon? What happened to the languages of the Aztecs and the Incas? Just because a few conquerors came on ships to deeply entrenched peoples who had spoken their languages for centuries before the Spanish? After Joseph Smith was murdered, Brigham Young moved his small religious group to the state of Utah. Is it believable that such a small religious group of outcasts effectively could have turned Utah, a bonafide state within mainlandAmerica, into a state so dominated by Mormonism? Does it make sense that Jonas Bronck, a Dutch immigrant who lived there only four years in the aftermath of the 1637 Tulip Mania, ended up having the entire borough named for him? Is it believable that one man led several different countries to independence, as Simon Bolivar did forVenezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia?
9. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “More problematic is the fact that stories that occur very soon after Abraham’s lifetime already assume that his son’s have become a nationality.”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: Until May 1964, there was virtually no such thing as an Arab nationality of “Palestinians.” They simply were “Arabs,” while most of the world deemed the Jews of Israel to be the “Palestinians.” (The Israeli Jews’ Anglophonic newspaper was the “Palestine Post.” They raised funds through the “Jewish National Fund for Palestine” and the “United Jewish Appeal for Palestine.” The pro-Irgun organization inAmerica headed by Peter Bergson/Hillel Kook and by Shmuel Merlin was the “American League for a Free Palestine.” Even the movie “Exodus” was replete with Paul Newman’s fictional Ari Ben Canaan leading the effort to transport Jews from Cyprus to Palestine.). A month later, after Ahmed Shukairy convened the First Palestinian National Council that met from May 28-June 2, 1964, he declared his minions to be “Palestinians,” and the “nationality” of “Palestinians” took form virtually overnight.
10. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: “3. There is no evidence of a massive collapse in Egypt during the Ramasside period, or other periods close to it, and there is no record of any slave revolt or escape in Egyptian texts.”
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: What do Egyptian history books write about the 1956 War? The 1967 War? If Messiah has not yet arrived, what will they write in 3,300 years about those wars? Will there be evidence and proof in the historical record?
11. THE BIBLE CRITICISM: As a general matter, there are Bible Critics who comment that a book that repeats many prior teachings, as does the Book of D’varim, must have been authored by an alternative teaching source, even as the Critics point to omissions from the Repetition to bolster their claims of competing traditions and narratives.
RESPONSIVE THOUGHT: I am an Adjunct Professor of Law. Through 14 two-hour lectures each term, I teach my advanced students, respectively, the Law of Advanced Torts and the Law of California Civil Procedure. As the term progresses, more and more laws, facts and opinions, aggregate upon each other in my students’ notes. By term’s end, I always try to make some time to offer them an end-of-term Review session, aiming to put all the pieces together into a really coherent and elegantly crafted final edifice. However, each term’s Review session will different from a previous term’s. This year, for example, the procedural issue of “standing” dominated much legal discussion as the United Supreme Court moved towards ruling on the Constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that would have refused to recognize same-sex marriages. Knowing as I anticipated that an important segment of the case appeal would turn on “standing,” I emphasized “standing” more during my Spring 2013 review than I did in prior terms. In Advanced Torts, some terms I feel that I want to use a review session to help some students better master the concept of securities fraud, while other terms I may feel that an extra word on invasion-of-privacy will be helpful. No two Reviews are identical. Moreover, given the limits on the human capacity to absorb — and, more practically, reined in by the inexorable ticking of the clock — I may have to leave some things out in order to be sure to get other things in. No “repetition” or review of material can be or should be verbatim and identical. Depending on the listeners’ needs, capacities, and proven actions after having been taught the first time, the focus of the “end-of-term review” has to be modeled differently in some areas while being identical in others. Where people demonstrably need greater clarity, there is good reason to add detail. Where people find themselves about to enter a new practical phase of life, those heightened areas about to confront them need greater emphasis. Where a new generation has come to life, some things need to be spoken “all over again” while other things that already have “taken hold” do not need repetition. It is like that in every subject, in every legal system. It just is the natural way of reviewing and repeating a large corpus of information. For Moshe Rabbeinu, having taught a Nation of millions for nearly forty years and now on the precipice of leaving them, the Book of D’varim makes the most perfectly logical sense. He had taught their parents’ generation, all of whose men and many of whose women now have died during four decades’ peregrination through the Wilderness, and this new Generation is about to be without him. He is talking to them, teaching them, emphasizing what needs to be emphasized and necessarily omitting what cannot also be fit in within the clock’s ticking of the final moments. He is reminding them what they have seen and telling them what their parents saw, reminding them of the cause-and-effect experiences that their parents’ mistakes brought about, hoping they will learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to make those mistakes themselves. As he ascends Mount Nevo, they are prepared for the Final exam: to enter a Promised Land and to create a culture and civilization faithful to his teachings, overseen by his disciple Joshua, but without his personal presence. It makes perfect sense.
Dov Fischer, an Adjunct Professor of Law and former Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County in Irvine, California and a member of the National Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.