Studying the Torah Seriously: A TABS Response to Rabbi Blau – by Rabbi David Steinberg


Watching the debate around Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber’s essay has been frustrating. Most of his detractors kept their comments very general and focused on dogma. For this reason, when I started reading Rabbi Yitzchak Blau’s response, “The Documentary Hypothesis and Orthodox Judaism”, my heart gave a shout of joy. Finally someone cares less about dogma and more about what the Torah actually says and has made the effort to address the details of the challenges!

Furthermore, I was glad to see that Rabbi Blau realizes that the issues involved go beyond R. Farber., the website of Project TABS (of which I am co-founder) has many more essays from other authors discussing the same types of difficulties, and offering a variety of perspectives. Finally, I noted with appreciation that Rabbi Blau was honest enough to acknowledge upfront that he chose the weaker arguments, to show that the challenge of critical scholarship is less overwhelming than portrayed and to provide some categories for addressing their points.  So with an open heart I started to read his arguments.

Example 1: Pesach Sheni

The first example that R. Blau tackles is Pesach Sheni. He counters Prof. Garfinkel’s observation that the discussion of people “on a long journey” appears to be a later interpolation into a text dealing with the desert period by arguing that it is not illogical to posit that the Torah anticipates the not too distant future of when they come to the land of Israel. In fact, R. Blau adds, “several Bemidbar passages explicitly address laws that turn relevant upon entering the land.” At first glance this seemed like a reasonable argument; so I opened up my Chumash to look at the verses Rabbi Blau mentions that explicitly address laws that turn relevant upon entering the land.

Here are the verses:

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you to settle in… (Num. 15:2)

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land to which I am taking you… (Num. 15:18)

Both these verses share a common formula that explicitly describes them as being applicable upon entering the land. What about the verse regarding Pesach Sheni?

Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord… (Num. 19:10)

No mention of “when the Israelites enter the land.”

Furthermore, we do actually find this formulation when it comes to the Pesach, but in Exodus and in reference to the primary Pesach sacrifice (not the make-up sacrifice), the eating of matzah, and the offering of the first born animals.

And when you enter the land that the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. (Exod. 12:25)

So, when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites…you shall observe in this month the following practice… (Exod. 13:5)

And when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and has given it to you. (Exod. 13:11)

These observations do not prove that it is illogical to understand the reference to the trip in the Pesach Sheni verse is a later interpolation. It is still possible that the verse meant that this rule would apply when the Israelites entered the land, even though it doesn’t say so. Nevertheless, the omission of the phrase “when you enter the land” is surprising enough that I would have hoped for a suggestion as to why it is left out. Why, indeed, does the Torah repeatedly inform us that certain laws apply “when they enter the land,” and yet with Pesach Sheni it does not. This is particularly troublesome since the laws of Pesach Sheni come in response to a question that was asked while they were in a desert—the questioners became impure and believed that they could not offer the Pesach on time and wished to know what to do—and we suddenly find this extra detail about traveling that has nothing to do with the question, and even so the Torah does not see fit to inform us that this was meant to apply “when they enter the land!”

The casual dismissal of Prof. Garfinkel’s observation disappoints. At the very least, for the sake of serious conversation about Torah, one must acknowledge the difference God put in the verses and either suggest a reason or admit that he does not know why. If one takes Torah seriously the inconsistency should be troubling.

Example 2: Moses or Yitro?

Turning my attention to R. Blau’s second example, Rabbi Farber notes, “According to Deuteronomy, the court system devised in the desert was Moses’ idea. However, according to Exodus, the idea was not Moses’ but that of his father-in-law Jethro.” Rabbi Blau dismisses this observation a little too easily, declaring that “retelling can be partial.” That sounds like reasonable statement, nevertheless, this does not mean that blanketly applying that rule without even offering an examination of the details suffices as a response. When reading the verses in Exodus (18:17-19, 21-24) we find:

…Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; “You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel… You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men… let them judge the people at all times…” Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said.[1]

However, in Deuteronomy (1:9, 12-14), Moses says:

Thereupon I said to you, “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself… How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering! Pick from each of your tribes men who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads.” You answered me and said, “What you propose to do is good.”

Again, it is not impossible that Moses here was quoting his father-in-law, but not making this clear. Nevertheless, personally, I find it rather disturbing to hear Moses saying that he was the one who said these words. I would have expected Moses (and God who endorses Moses’ words) to mention that it was Jethro’s idea, giving credit where credit is due.

If it is a matter of conserving words, surely Moses could have said “And Jethro said to me (ויאמר אלי יתרו),” or something along those lines. This would add only a tiny amount of text and would offer us a very important lesson at the same time: how to express gratitude. Surely we could have expected Moshe to follow the words of Chazal in Pirkei Avot (6:6): “Anyone who says a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world.”

Example 3: Shemini Atzeret

In his post on how he became a critical Torah scholar, Prof. Marc Brettler points out that there seems to be contradiction regarding how many days the festival of Sukkot has, between Vayikra 23:26 (eight days) and Devarim 16:15 (seven days). Rabbi Blau responds to this point by suggesting, “Since the Devarim passage is primarily interested in the three times a year we travel to the mikdash, there is no need to mention Shmini Azaret which does not call for another journey.”

As did his previous suggestions, this sounds like a reasonable approach. Yet when one looks at the verses starting from the beginning of chapter 16 with the holiday of Pesach, this approach fails to hold its ground.  Devarim dedicates eight verses to the laws of Pesach here, going beyond focusing only on the pilgrimage. One specific example of that that relates directly to Atzeret of Sukkot and that is Atzeret of Pesach. Verse 16:7 tells us that after performing the Pesach sacrifice everyone can return home from their pilgrimage to their tents. And yet, the very next verse informs us that the seventh day of Pesach is Atzeret, despite the fact that this has no relevance to the pilgrimage.

You shall cook and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose; and in the morning you may start back on your journey home. After eating unleavened bread six days, you shall hold a solemn gathering for the Lord your God on the seventh day: you shall do no work.

Following Rabbi Blau’s suggestion, why would this be mentioned?

Even worse, the fact that the Israelites were to stay near the Temple for the entire period of Sukkot necessitates their staying for the eight day Atzeret as well. One would think that if the Torah went out of its way to clarify that there is an Atzeret of Pesach, even though that holiday need not be celebrated at the Temple, it would certainly have mentioned that there is an Atzeret of Sukkot that must be celebrated at the Temple! (That Shemini Atzeret must be celebrated in the Temple is clear from rabbinic sources, like the Sifrei Bemidbar 151, which discusses whether people were permitted to leave the Jerusalem even to go to Beth Page, a suburb of Jerusalem, after the sacrifice was eaten.)[2]

That Deuteronomy is not exclusively about the pilgrimage is further illustrated by comparing it to the brief instructions about a pilgrimage in Shemot 23:14-17 (and repeated almost verbatim in Shemot 34:22-24).

Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me: You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread—eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you—at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord.

Had the Torah truly wanted avoid repetition of the laws and focus only on the pilgrimage, as Rabbi Blau suggests, it would not have needed  to repeat  for the third time (see Vayikra 23:33 and Bemidbar 29:12) the length of the holidays, the instructions for when they take place, or who is to celebrate the holiday.

Moreover, with the Torah repeating three separate times in these verses alone that each of these holidays should be celebrated in the place that God will choose, in addition to summarizing it for the fourth time in verse 16, one would think that God could have clarified the status of the Atzeret holiday in a handful of words and make the holiday lists jive with each other and avoid any confusion about whether there is an eighth day of Sukkot Temple holiday or not.

Finally, I would hope that any serious effort to answer the problems in regards to Shimini Atzeret in the Torah would include an explanation for the pesukim in Nach as well. In Sefer Melachim we find that Shlomo sends the people home on the eighth day of the Chag (Sukkot), which would be the 22nd of the month, with no mention of Shemini Atzeret!

So Solomon and all Israel with him—a great assemblage, [coming] from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt—observed the Feast at that time before the Lord our God, seven days and again seven days, fourteen days in all. On the eighth day he let the people go (1 Kings 8:65-66).

Yet when Divrei ha-Yamim retells this account of Sukkot celebrated by Shlomo upon dedicating the Temple, the details are adjusted and Shlomo sends the people home the day after Shemini Atzeret, on the 23rd.

At that time Solomon kept the Feast for seven days—all Israel with him—a great assemblage from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. On the eighth day they held a solemn gathering; they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the Feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he dismissed the people to their homes… (2 Chron. 7:8-10)

It is hard not to see this as strong evidence for the academic assertion regarding multiple traditions. If there are to be serious alternatives to the academic consensus, I hope to see them address these points earnestly, and in a meaningful way.

Example 4: Korah versus Datan and Aviram

The confusing nature of the rebellion narrative in Bemidbar 16, with the unclear relationship between Korah, the Levites and Datan and Aviram, and the inexplicable nature of Korah’s death, is baffling. In the short time that has been active, it has been referenced in at least four pieces. It is referenced in one of our parsha tabs, called How did Korah Die?, it is referenced by Rabbi Farber’s essay in his list of contradictions (6c), and it is the subject of two divrei Torah by Prof. Adele Berlin.

Rabbi Blau focuses on one part of Berlin’s analysis, where she mentions that when Moses references the rebellion in Deuteronomy 11:6 he only mentions Datan and Aviram and not Korah.

…and what He did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab son of Reuben, when the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them, along with their households, their tents, and every living thing in their train, from amidst all Israel…

Looking only at the response to this proof, Rabbi Blau argues that, given the context, there is no attempt to give an exhaustive account of the rebellion. In fact, he states, there may be good reason to highlight Datan and Aviram more than Korah. For example, “Datan and Aviram are the most brazen and verbally aggressive members of the rebellion in Bemidbar 16.” One could have also suggested, as does the Ramban Rabbi Blau references, that the miracle of having the earth swallow them was more unique than fire coming from the sky—the “standard” divine punishment (in Ramban’s words) for forbidden incense burning in the Temple.

Nevertheless, Ramban’s suggestion is selective, as it does not take into account the entire story and all the verses. Furthermore, any cursory reading of Bemidbar 16 will demonstrate that Korah is given the prominent role in the story.

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reubento rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute (16:1-2).

When Moses heard this, he fell on his face. Then he spoke to Korah and all his company… (16:4-5)

In fact, Korah is even mentioned first in the passage in Bemidbar describing the punishment of the earth swallowing up the rebels with their tents and families—the very punishment Moses is referencing in Devarim!

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the community and say: Withdraw from about the abodes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” …So they withdrew from about the abodes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (16:23-24, 27).

…and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions (16:32).

These are the same Dathan and Abiram, chosen in the assembly, who agitated against Moses and Aaron as part of Korah’s band when they agitated against the Lord. Whereupon the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with Korah… (Num. 26:9-10)

In Bemidbar 27:3, when the daughters of Zelophehad reference the rebellion, the only mention Korah, skipping over Datan and Aviram entirely. There seems to be little doubt that in Bemidbar Korah is the main villain and the focus of the story. Despite R. Blau’s observation that Datan and Aviram are the most “verbally aggressive,” the account of the rebellion itself does not seem to see Datan and Aviram as the leaders, or even as the main focus of the miraculous swallowing-earth punishment.

Additionally, Rabbi Blau’s suggestion seems tailored for the rather limited historical overview in Devarim 11, but how does it explain the absence of Korah in the much more extensive historical overview in Tehillim 106 (vv. 16-18)?

There was envy of Moses in the camp, and of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord. The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan, closed over the party of Abiram. A fire blazed among their party, a flame that consumed the wicked.

Again, none of this proves that the stories were once separate, or that Korah was later added in to the Datan and Aviram story to combine the rebellion narratives better, however, a careful reading of the verses strongly suggests that this type of analysis will bear fruit. Now, I didn’t expect Rabbi Blau to answer all these questions in one short essay but I think as rabbis we must seriously take into account the many problems pointed to by biblical scholars who have dedicated their lives to the judicious study of the biblical texts.

Example 5: Hebrew Slaves

In Rabbi Farber’s list of contradictions (first example in the legal section), he notes that according to Shemot and Devarim Hebrew slaves go free in the seventh year whereas in the Vayikra they go free in the Jubilee year (Yovel). Rabbi Blau responds by positing that “A second passage can add components.” Hence, he states, “in the context of the yovel discussion, we discover a new halakhic detail about slaves.”

Again, without closely reading the verses in the Torah this sounds reasonable. Nevertheless, before anyone chooses to write off this problem, open up a chumash to the verses mentioned and let the full context and words speak for themselves.

When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free… But if the slave declares, “I love my master, and my wife and children: I do not wish to go free,” his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for life (Shemot 21:2, 5-6).

If a fellow Hebrew, man or woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall set him free… But should he say to you, “I do not want to leave you”—for he loves you and your household and is happy with you—you shall take an awl and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall become your slave in perpetuity (Devarim 16:12, 16-17).

If your kinsman under you continues in straits and must give himself over to you, do not subject him to the treatment of a slave. He shall remain with you as a hired or bound laborer; he shall serve with you only until the jubilee year. Then he and his children with him shall be free of your authority; he shall go back to his family and return to his ancestral holding. For they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt; they may not give themselves over into servitude (Vayikra 25:39-42).

Ignoring the serious problem of the Torah being so repetitive and the other contradictions present between the three texts not referenced here (e.g., what happens to female slaves? Should the slave be paid upon being freed?) it is hard to ignore the glaring fact that Shemot/Devarim are speaking about an entirely different timetable than Vayikra! The former have a six year slave term but an option for the slave to stay for life. Vayikra has an up-to-forty nine year term (depending on when in the jubilee cycle the person becomes a slave) with no option to stay for life. The Torah in Shemot could have written, “and he shall serve him until the jubilee (וַעֲבָדו עַד הַיֹּבֵל)” instead of “and he shall serve him forever (וַעֲבָדוֹ לְעֹלָם)”; it could have added in two words Vayikra 25 and written, “he shall remain with you as a hired or bound laborer for six years, (כְּשָׂכִיר כְּתוֹשָׁב יִהְיֶה עִמָּך שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים).”

Now it is possible to make these sections work together. Rashi (Shemot 21:6), for instance, following Chazal, interprets “forever” as until the jubilee. Rashi’s grandson Rashbam (Shemot 21:6) disputes this interpretation (it certainly does not seem like peshat!) and suggests (Shemot 21:2) that Shemot/Devarim are speaking about a person sold into slavery by the court to repay a theft whereas Vayikra is speaking about a person who sold him- or herself into slavery due to debt.

Whether one considers the Rashbam’s solution (or even Rashi’s for that matter) to have solved the contradiction between Shemot/Devarim and Vayikra—and I am not even mentioning the contradictions between Shemot and Devarim which would both be dealing with a thief in Rashbam’s system—these problems require serious attention. We cannot merely wave them all off with a stroke of the pen.

Instruct a Wise Man and He Will Grow Wiser (Mishlei 9:9)

I could continue with the rest of Rabbi Blau’s examples, but I believe that as rabbis we have an obligation to study the Torah seriously and offer am Yisrael answers that are more than just defensive postures. Reading Rabbi Blau’s far from satisfying response only reinforces my conviction for the need of Project TABS –, if only to force a more serious conversation about Torah.

If we truly are going to relate to the Torah as being of divine origin, irrespective of the exact medium with which it was given to us, we cannot satisfy ourselves with half-baked answers, sweeping the details of the pesukim under the proverbial carpet. From my perspective, having the courage to explore the Torah honestly demonstrates real emunah; the need to quickly dismiss any problem through either dogmatic assertions or dochek terutzim (weak answers) demonstrates the opposite, a lack of faith that the Torah can survive the perceived onslaught by the academy.

For the Sake of Am Yisrael

Rabbi Blau ends his piece with a call to YCT and the IRF to officially pronounce Rabbi Farber’s piece—perhaps even Rabbi Farber himself and all of Project TABS—to be outside of Orthodoxy. This very much surprised me. I can respect why someone may feel academic biblical studies to be beyond their purview. Nevertheless, with many in am Yisrael in and out of the Orthodox community struggling to relate to God and Torah, why anyone would want to attack a nuanced approach to the divinity of Torah and mitzvos, so much needed in the modern world, is beyond my comprehension. Personally, I strongly believe in what Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish wrote in his recent post, that our detractors should “please just keep writing what Orthodoxy means to you… not what you think it needs to mean for others.”

For the record, on behalf of myself and well over 10,000 visitors on, including many private emails from individuals, lay and rabbi alike, I would like to thank Rabbi Farber publicly for having the courage to write on these issues and for taking the time to craft a thoughtful and compelling synthesis of traditional and academic approaches to Torah min ha-Shamayim.

An Invitation

I was brought up in Bnei Brak. I learned in Manchester Yeshiva, Gateshead Yeshiva and the Mir. I spent years as an outreach rabbi. Throughout these years it began to dawn on me that we aren’t really studying the Torah; we are hiding it and protecting it, perhaps even worshiping it, but we are hardly learning it. When I came into contact with academic biblical studies, nafal ha-asimon, something clicked. We are living in a new era, with unprecedented knowledge of the past and we are poised in a way our ancestors could only dream about to really understand the Torah, and yet some are fighting against this tooth and nail.

Thus I founded project TABS, together with Prof. Marc Brettler, to bring knowledge of academic biblical studies to the broader community and to show how much we have to learn and how little we have to lose. I know that it is frightening and challenging to rethink big questions like authorship of the Torah, the nature of prophecy, and the history of Israel. Nevertheless, the payoff in our ability to understand the Torah and receive a glimpse of God’s manifestation in history is well worth the price. I invite you all to come to the website, struggle along with us and join the conversation.

Rabbi David Steinberg

Co-Founder, Project TABS (Torah And Biblical Scholarship) –

[1] All translations come from the New JPS.

[2]  ‘ביום השמיני עצרת תהיה לכם’ – עצרו הכתוב מלצאת הרי שהביא קדשיו מבית פגי לירושלם שומע אני יאכלם בירושלם וילך וילן בבית פאגי ת”ל ביום השמיני עצרת תהיה לכם עצרו הכתוב מלצאת.

31 Responses to Studying the Torah Seriously: A TABS Response to Rabbi Blau – by Rabbi David Steinberg

  1. Dovid Shlomo says:

    Rabbi Steinberg:
    You wrote that you “founded project TABS, together with Prof. Marc Brettler, to bring knowledge of academic biblical studies to the broader community and to show how much we have to learn and how little we have to lose.”

    You focus here on the “to show how much we have to learn” part, but you do not touch upon the “how little we have to lose.”

    Yet you say that you are responding to Rabbi Blau.

    Wasn’t his primary and precise criticism that Rabbi Farber underestimates what we have to lose?

    I understand why you would prefer to shape the conversation based on your own interests and your own journey, but by doing so, you do not address the primary reason why R’ Farber’s essay has elicited the reaction it has, in particular from Rabbi Blau, whom you say you are responding to.

  2. bentzysu says:

    “…and how little we have to lose”

    Really? How so?

  3. Shlomo says:

    It seems to me that each side in this debate reaches its conclusions on a somewhat circular basis from its assumptions. If you assume unitary authorship, then outright contradictions will and should bother you, but differences in style are easily related to the different circumstances in each episode. If you think the current text is the product of a number of discrete texts which were combined, then in order to distinguish the original texts, you must assume simplicity and completeness in each of them. But that is not always a good assumption. To use one of the above examples, if the verse “Six days you shall eat matzot, and on the seventh day you shall have an ‘atzeret’ ” is taken literally, it seems to contradict not only Vayikra, but the very same paragraph which prohibits chametz for seven days. Yet I’ve never seen it argued that these two parts of the same paragraph in Devarim come from different authors. You can argue that this is an issue of style rather than outright contradiction, and that from a literary perspective the six-then-seven structure is always appealing. Yet this is exactly the kind of argument that the other side uses to explain tensions in the Torah as a whole.

  4. Lisa says:

    Honestly… I don’t even know where to begin. Fortunately, as long as Steinberg’s post is, it’s mostly repetitious, in the sense that he makes the same mistake for each of the examples he deals with. But… I’m truly taken aback. I thought things in the OO community were bad, but this post has shown them to be even worse than I imagined.

    Let’s start with the basic methodology. We are not, as I think I’ve mentioned before, Karaites. We do not approach Torah she’bichtav as though it is a library book. The Muslims may call us “People of the Book”, but we are actually People of a Primarily Oral Tradition. In a very real sense, Torah she’b’al peh is the primary corpus of Jewish law and lore. Far from being a “commentary” on Chumash, Chumash can be seen as a set of mnemonics to assist us in retention of the primary Torah, which is the Torah she’b’al peh.

    Steinberg’s entire post disregards this. Or rather, everything from the second paragraph on disregards this. In his first paragraph, Steinberg refers to dogma, and I strongly suspect that he would place what I’ve just written in that category.

    Again, we do not read Chumash as though it exists in a vacuum. We do not say, “But wait, the first chapter of Genesis appears to describe a different picture of creation than the second chapter, so let’s figure out how these different stories got pieced together.” No, we say, “These two chapters don’t jibe in terms of simple pshat, so let’s see what God was trying to tell us by doing that.”

    Ultimately, this is the crux of the whole debate. Is Chumash a single document given to us by a single Author, or is it a mishmash of documents, stitched together over time. Academic biblical scholarship (ABS) assumes the former every bit as dogmatically as Orthodox Jews assume the latter.

    That’s something I think we need to emphasize. One might get the impression from Steinberg and Farber and the rest that ABS is objective. Like a science. But it is not. It does not — cannot — encompass a single divinely authored document.

    So let’s take a look at some of these examples. Steinberg makes a big deal over the fact that it says “when you enter the land” in many places, but not where it is discussing Pesach Sheni. That’s true. And it’s entirely legitimate to ask the question: Why? Why does the Torah use that phrase in some places but not others? What’s not legitimate is to say, “I don’t see any reason for it, so it cannot have been written by God.” That particular adolescent sentiment lies behind all of the examples Steinberg addresses in this post.

    “Why doesn’t Moshe give credit to Yitro in Devarim?” Steinberg’s answer is that not giving Yitro credit constitutes bad middot on Moshe’s part, and that Moshe’s honor can only be saved by postulating that there were two separate stories, one where it was Moshe’s idea and one where it was Yitro’s idea. But maybe it was because Yitro had been Kohen MIdyan, and Bnei Yisrael had just finished a war against MIdyan. Perhaps Moshe was being sensitive to them. Or perhaps there’s another reason. But Steinberg stops with the question, and assumes that there is no valid explanation for why God would write the Torah that way or why Moshe would behave that way.

    All of these challenges boil down to a single sentiment: “I wouldn’t have written it that way if I were God. God, as I understand Him, wouldn’t have done that.” It’s the height of hubris, but that’s what they’re expressing. God has to do things Steinberg’s way, or clearly He didn’t write it.

    With all due respect to Rav Blau, he gave simplistic answers which were easily knocked down, when he should have pointed out that “Pharaoh’s dreams are one dream.” These are not multiple challenges: they are a single one, expressed in multiple ways.

    Here are Steinberg’s own words:

    Example 1: Pesach Sheni
    Why, indeed, does the Torah repeatedly inform us that certain laws apply “when they enter the land,” and yet with Pesach Sheni it does not.

    Example 2: Moses or Yitro?
    I would have expected Moses (and God who endorses Moses’ words) to mention that it was Jethro’s idea, giving credit where credit is due.

    Example 3: Shemini Atzeret
    [O]ne would think that God could have clarified the status of the Atzeret holiday in a handful of words and make the holiday lists jive [sic] with each other and avoid any confusion about whether there is an eighth day of Sukkot Temple holiday or not.

    Example 4: Korah versus Datan and Aviram
    The confusing nature of the rebellion narrative in Bemidbar 16, with the unclear relationship between Korah, the Levites and Datan and Aviram, and the inexplicable nature of Korah’s death, is baffling.

    Example 5: Hebrew Slaves
    The Torah in Shemot could have written, “and he shall serve him until the jubilee (וַעֲבָדו עַד הַיֹּבֵל)” instead of “and he shall serve him forever (וַעֲבָדוֹ לְעֹלָם)”; it could have added in two words Vayikra 25 and written, “he shall remain with you as a hired or bound laborer for six years, (כְּשָׂכִיר כְּתוֹשָׁב יִהְיֶה עִמָּך שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים).”

    It’s all about what Steinberg would expect, and what Steinberg doesn’t understand. Contrast this with someone like Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom (link), who addresses questions of the same sort raised by Steinberg and Farber and company, and provides some answers without declaring the whole thing a mess.

    This one is an excellent example of Etshalom’s technique. He takes the apparent discrepancy and shows how far from an inexplicable anomaly, the two points of view result in a much richer picture of what happened.

    Do you remember the ViewMaster? It was a toy that let you see 3D images. For each image, two slightly different images were viewed through the two lenses, and the combination resulted in dimensionality. The two different images weren’t different because they were taken by different people. The two different images didn’t conflict with one another. Their differences were the whole point.

    Unfortunately, Steinberg and Farber and company are not interested in trying to figure out why God wrote the Torah the way He did. They are taking the lazy way out by assuming that He simply wouldn’t have, or couldn’t have.

    • joebug says:

      Sure but to anyone outside the tradition occams razor applies. Evidence from a variety of sources converges on multiple authorship in a way that more neatly solves problems than the traditional account. Which would an honest observer choose?

  5. Michael Stein says:

    It is pointless to rehash a selection of 8 or 10 of the problematic (or for traditionalists, supposedly problematic) passages. There are scores, even hundreds of passages in question, and many more subtle issues at stake in the debate.

    Just for example, Joel Baden at Yale recently wrote a book that supports the DH, and in it he included a half dozen case studies about how various passages can be dissected into two parallel yet different stories, using a very consistent methodology about reversing redaction. Those case studies are extremely powerful, particularly when taken as a group. One such dissection might be a coincidence, but the ability to repeat that methodology over and over with such impressive results is remarkable. The results are powerful, I would say even beautiful. And the assertion of two side by side stories, while begging certain questions, solves vastly more problems than it causes. I believe his book would convince a number of traditionalists to become more open to the DH. (I doubt the traditionalists’ defenses will influence as many DH proponents, because I believe they are pretty weak and apologetic in nature.)

    The academic approach has been developed over many, many years by a vast number of scholars. Many, perhaps most, but not all of the issues were also identified by Hazal, and addressed one way or another. Many traditionalists, simply choose to say that they are not bothered by many of the problems, or that Hazal’s answers satisfy them. This is literature, after all, and it’s very easy to bury one’s head in the sand if one chooses, and there won’t be any firmly scientific evidence to bring to bear — just lots of powerful circumstantial evidence, which won’t sway most traditionalists.

    Certainly some academic scholars have agendas, and perhaps have preconceived notions about the nature of the text, like the traditionalists. Early on in DH history, there was even quite a lot of anti-Semitism. No more. Many of the leading proponents of the DH today are traditional and observant Jews, whose lives would probably be easier and less complicated if they could only regain their lost innocence. And other observant Jews who choose to reject the DH but grant it some intellectual recognition nevertheless, turn to the extremely frum Rabbi Breuer for support, and his Torat HaBechinot.

    Whether or not one wishes to call traditional or observant Jews who find the DH compelling by the term “Orthodox” is an emotional subject. If some DH proponents wish to define themselves as “Orthodox” I believe it behooves the Orthodox community to let them do so. Screaming and yelling about heresy, and trying to make an already small portion of the Jewish people even smaller does not seem right to me. Of course, if one were to use Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch’s definition of “Orthodox” then perhaps it would be correct to exclude them. However, many others would be excluded as well. Using Orthodox as a sociological term, rather than an intellectual term, seems much more appropriate and useful, and if a DH proponent lives his or her life in Orthodox circles, observes Jewish law as to other Orthodox Jews, and self-identifies as Orthodox, then live and let live.

    It seems clear based on the Jewish people’s experiences over the past two centuries that liberal notions of the nature of Torah and mitzvah are not going to be a successful, statistically, in inspiring large numbers of people to take Torah and mitzvot seriously. James Kugel has expounded clearly on just how antithetical the assumptions of the academic approach contradict traditional assumptions about the nature of the Torah. You can’t overthrow all those basic assumptions without, in many people’s minds at least, overthrowing the very nature of mitzvah and the reasons for obedience to religious law. Again, isolated individuals can do anything. But large numbers of people is a different deal.

    That doesn’t mean the DH ideas are invalid, by any means. I personally find the DH very compelling, for many reasons I even find it far more inspiring and helpful in keeping me observant than traditional notions. But I also recognize that you can prove anything anecdotally, and my personal views and beliefs are probably very idiosyncratic. For every person who is able to combine the DH with traditional observance, there are many more who would find the DH undermines their motivation to keep Torah and mitzvot. It’s hard, I’d say undesirable too, to circumscribe your beliefs based on the practical result of those beliefs. It’s understandable that many traditionalists are horrified by the DH, not only because they have their own deeply held beliefs to defend, but also because they probably sense how difficult it would be to keep the kids frum if the DH was more broadly disseminated. But the motivation of DH proponents is not a plot to undermine belief — is a genuine search for truth and an attempt to understand the nature of the texts we hold dear.

    So, the fight will probably continue, sad to say. But it does appear that at this juncture, the DH is gaining somewhat in popularity in observant circles. But ultimately, it will only gain so much and the traditionalists’ keen instincts for self-preservation, an instinct Judaism has honed for centuries, will build up walls to keep it out.

    • joebug says:

      An,excellent post. However the other possibility is that orthodoxy including charedi orthodoxy does not this time survive the onslaught except as a very small “sect”. This may take decades but could happen. I think it is the subconscious fear of this that drives many people in various ways contributing here

      • Michael Stein says:

        Thank you, Joebug. Let me respond in a roundabout way.

        I am pretty strict about my observance of Jewish law. I study a lot — especially midrash (the heart and soul of Judaism, I’d say) and Tanach. Lots of Talmud in earlier years too. I believe in God, that the world is a meaningful place. I believe in Torah, that it is God’s gift to us via his inspiration to our sages throughout the generations. I believe in redemption, that there is a purpose in life. I like R Albo’s three principles far more than Rambam’s 13. I live in an Orthodox area, and daven at Orthodox shuls. Many would call me Orthodox, though I’d call myself observant, and avoid using any labels. Many other Orthodox people would view me as non-Orthodox, based on my philosophical and theological views. Let them. I really don’t think God’s going to judge me or anyone else in heaven over the liberal or conservative notions they might have about the nature of Torah. I am indeed petrified that my liberal notions will water down my kids’ commitment to Torah and mitzvot, but I find it too difficult to adopt or pretend to adopt beliefs I don’t really have. That’s the Star of David that I have to bear.

        I’m afraid Orthodox Judaism became a somewhat obscure (and obscurantist) sect some time ago, and ceased being a moral leader and a light unto the nations. Orthodox Jews, of course, do contribute greatly to the world at large, but almost entirely in a secular role. But it is Judaism itself, and the corpus of Jewish law that is supposed to be the source of our light. Hareidi Judaism is so stunningly disfunctional, the Haredi community seems far more like the Taliban than a force for moral and religious leadership. Modern Orthodoxy finds a stronger voice when condemning partnership minyanim (definitely forbidden!), than it can find when it comes to segregated buses — the latter being no more than an unnecessary humra. Modern Orthodoxy’s adherence to fundamentalist notions about the nature of revelation lead its rabbis to equivocate even on something so basic as the evils of slavery. (If it’s in the Torah, then there must be a “good” way to maintain the institution of slavery, at least in theory, and we cannot condemn it full force….)

        I fear that after two millenia of a desperate struggle to survive and avoid assimilation, Judaism has honed fabulous survival instincts, but that preoccupation, even obsession, with survival takes all the wind out of the sails when it comes to the light unto the nations principle.

        I take great comfort in Rambam’s words, in his intro to Perek Helek. He says, quite clearly, that Jews fall into two categories (there’s a third category, but Rambam’s the only one in it). The first group includes those who take religion, and the words of our sages, seriously and way too literally — and they make our religion look idiotic. (Look this up — I’m not exaggerating.) The second group, worse than the first, finds our sages’ words so odd, that they reject religion altogether.

        If in Rambam’s time all Jews made religion look idiotic, or rejected religion altogether, times haven’t changed much!

        I do my best to aspire to Rambam’s elusive third category, but I strongly suspect I end up in the “making it look ludicrous” category. Problem is, too many of the people in that “ludicrous” category can’t summon the humility or sense of humor to recognize that, and convince themselves of their own correctness and self-righteousness. That drives me crazy, even though my wife keeps trying to get me to chill out and move on.

      • ewzs says:

        What a powerful statement, Michael. Thanks for sharing. The only thing you might have added (on a more positive note) is that while we may be quite aware of all that is dysfunctional both in the haredi community and to the left of it, it is always striking the positive impression that our commitment to tradition and the practices that constitute our community (e.g., zedaka, shabbat, learning) in the face of social and economic pressures to change often makes on outside observers. While we work on our weaknesses/failures (and get depressed by the lack of progress), let’s not forget that we have some major positives, even in the eyes of many outsiders.

      • shaul shapira says:

        “Hareidi Judaism is so stunningly disfunctional, the Haredi community seems far more like the Taliban than a force for moral and religious leadership. Modern Orthodoxy finds a stronger voice when condemning partnership minyanim (definitely forbidden!), than it can find when it comes to segregated buses — the latter being no more than an unnecessary humra”
        Can you be more specific?

        According to wikipedia:

        “…estimates of the global Haredi population are difficult to measure and may significantly underestimate the true number of Haredim, due to their reluctance to participate in surveys and censuses.[62][77] One estimate given in 2011 stated there were approximately 1.3 million Haredi Jews globally.[78] Studies have shown a very high growth rate with a large young population.[79”

        I’m a charedi myself and certainly am not pushing for segregated busses. (I must admit that I think it’s a good chumra to follow- private buses to and from L-wood generally self segragate.) I doubt most Charedim even in Israel feel that forcing unwilling women to the back of the bus is a good idea. When you round up the spitters, stone throwers, Iran-goers and name-callers you probably don’t have more than a few hundred max. That leaves at least 1,299,000+ who are quite law abiding and peaceful. (I know this is off topic, but I felt it was important to point out anyway)

      • Anonymous says:

        Shaul, you raise some interesting points. First of all, let me emphasize that anything I might say about the chareidi community does not have any implications whatsoever regarding any given individual. I do not hold myself up as a paragon of virtue on the one hand, and on the other, being right or wrong on the issues we’re discussing doesn’t (in my view at least) have any impact on one’s merit as an individual. Good deeds, kindness, dedication to one’s family and community — those are more important in an ultimate sense, and on those scores we’re all on a level playing field. Also, when discussing large groups, there are always many, many exceptions to any negative (and positive!) observation. So I hope neither you nor anyone else would take anything I say as intended personally.

        Now, I believe my comment about disfunctional behavior is far more applicable to the chareidi community in Israel, than it is to the one in America. The stunning poverty that chareidi children are doomed to, directly a function of a refusal to work and the expansion of the idea that toratam omanutam, is first and foremost in the list of disfunctions. It’s a massive human tragedy. Closely linked to that is the chareidi community’s insistence upon massive public aid from a broader community that they hold in contempt, and will not risk their lives to defend. The Torah learning that gets promulgated by such a community is self-congratulatory, distorted, and irrelevant to the rest of Jewry and to mankind in general. The gedolim of this community bear direct responsibility for these attitudes, and the attitudes are all extremely widespread.

        Furthermore, I think the actions you describe in your comment apply to a larger number of people than you suggest, and that those sympathetic to those actions are a very material part of the community. In Beit Shemesh, after some of those horrific incidents, there were widespread, well attended protests, not decrying the events, but complaining about unfair press treatment.

        Finally, disfunction is probably not the correct word to describe much of what I find frustrating about the chareidi community. Their view of the nature of Torah seems untenable to me, and odd even bizarre belief systems can only be preserved with cultlike behavior. I’m afraid that the term cult describes much of the chareidi world. And I return to Rambam’s statement, in which he clearly states that virtually all religious people in his day made religion look wacky. Times haven’t changed.

        What the chareidi community clearly has going for them, is that their approach to Torah keeps the kids frum to a material greater extent than other approaches. It’s effective, and self-perpetuating in a way that other more liberal approaches do not achieve.

      • shaul shapira says:

        I just noticed your reply to my comment:
        “Now, I believe my comment about disfunctional behavior is far more applicable to the chareidi community in Israel, than it is to the one in America.”

        ” The stunning poverty that chareidi children are doomed to, directly a function of a refusal to work and the expansion of the idea that toratam omanutam, is first and foremost in the list of disfunctions”

        I know this might sound crazy, but if you visit Batei Ungarin- where I lived for two years I’d wager that you’d find a quality of life that is completely at odds with their standard of living. They’re poor; they’re happy. The kids too, so far as I could tell. And here’s the crucial point. The vast majority of them DON’T TAKE ANYTHING from the government. They don’t want the medinah the they don’t want the army. They would like to return to the yishuv ha’yashan. And too a certain extent they’ve succeeded. The EL-AL in-flight book reccommends a visit to Me’ah Sh’earim for a portrayal of shtetl life from the fifteenth hundreds. They’re basically ‘lo mi’duvshaych ve’lo me’uktzaych’. So that renders completely irrelevant (regarding them) the claim that “the chareidi community’s insistence upon massive public aid from a broader community that they hold in contempt”
        The ones that do take money generally don’t throw things or spit. But you aren’t going to hear about that, because a charedi in Kiryat Sefer or Elad or Har Nof whoDOESN’T barbecue on Yom Ha’shoah just isn’t newsworthy. It would be like reporting on a non Arab/Muslim spring in Indonesia.

        “I fear that after two millenia of a desperate struggle to survive and avoid assimilation, Judaism has honed fabulous survival instincts, but that preoccupation, even obsession, with survival takes all the wind out of the sails when it comes to the light unto the nations principle.”

        Do you think a secular state of Israel is a light unto the nations more than the USA or Great Britain? I’d like to know how. Who DOES qualify in your estimation?

        The Rambam’s comments are about fantastic aggadita not halacha. Do you think he would give a darn if people in San Fransisco think a Bris is barbaric? And what about his requirement to run away from society and hide in caves if neccesary (de’os perek 6) Don’t you think lots of civilized people would find that ludicrous?

        I think I’ve responded to the thrust of your comments. Please clarify if/where I haven’t.

  6. zach says:

    Re “when you enter the land”. Why would this be mentioned in Dvarim, which is pretty much one long speech made just before Bnai Yisrael is about to enter the land? Moshe has no need to preface anything with this clause since it implicitly understood. This is not the case for commandments made earlier during the sojourn in the midbar.

  7. IH says:

    Shlomo – I don’t follow how the 2 halves of Deut. 16:8 would indicate two authors. For what it’s worth, Robert Alter’s comment is:

    “One would have expected ‘seven.’ Either it is implied that the seventh day, the day of assembly, is included in the injunction, or the number six assumes a count that begins after the first day, on which the Passover sacrifice is offered.”

    See also:

  8. Y. Aharon says:

    I note that R’ Steinberg considers R’ Blau’s response to R’ Farber’s arguments to be inadequate or worse. Well, I consider his arguments to be unconvincing. Let’s consider the issues that he raised:
    1. Pesach Sheni: Of course, the torah should take into account the settlement of the far corners of the Promised Land and the consequent difficulties in all men being able to reach the central sanctuary in time to offer the obligatory Pesach sacrafice. The context of the command about an alternative offering the next month (Pesach sheni) given in the 2nd year in the desert presents no problem since the conquest of Canaan and its settlement was viewed as something in the near future. The absence of the phrase, “when you come into the promised land” is not surprising given the context which involved men who had come into contact with the dead and could not offer the one Pesach sacrafice that occurred in the desert. The torah therefore
    states, “..When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice..”. The first Pesach sheni was offered in the 2nd month in the Sinai desert by those men who had initiated the request. The language used is designed to cover their case as well as future cases.

    2. Moshe or Yitro: Moshe does not name his father-in-law’s contribution (or former father-in-law) in his farewell address because of the deep disappointment that he felt when Yitro insisted on returning to Midian at the end of their stay in the Sinai desert, despite Moshe’s pleadings that he remain with his adopted people. The fact that Midian was more recently involved in a plot against the Israelites and was subject to a war of vengeance, added to that disappointment.

    3. Shmini Atzeret: This holiday immediately following Succot is not mentioned in Deut. 16 since the verses there deal only with the 3 pilgrimage festivals and in a relatively brief manner. There is almost no mention of sacrafices, and no mention of living in a succah or taking a lulav. The sole emphasis is on appearing at the central sanctuary and rejoicing there. There is also no mention of Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur – only Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot.
    The citation from Kings I 8: 66 Shlomo sending the people away on the day following Succot (Shmini Atzeret) is also not an issue since the wording there is, ” …and they went to their tents..”. They did not journey that day to their homes outside of J’lem since it was a holiday, but stayed in their temporary lodgings (tents) in the city.

    4. Korach vs Dathan and Aviram: Korach is not mentioned either in Deut. or in Tehillim mostly out of consideration for Korach’s prominent sons who did not follow their father and were therefore spared. The reason that Korach’s manner of death is not spelled out may be due to his indecision as to whether to stay with his followers at the Mishkan or to run to his tent where his family was under threat. The anguish of that decision might be a mitigating factor also in his not being mentioned at the end of the 40 year desert period.

    5. Hebrew Slaves: The Deut. reference is about someone who is sold as a slave in repayment of a debt. The torah states that such a person must be set free after 6 years of service and given presents upon leaving (the Exodus reference is similar). The Lev. 25 reference deals with someone who sells himself out of poverty. The owner is enjoined to provide for him and his family. The person is to be treated as a worker, i.e., given a wage, so that he can pay back his selling price and be set free. If that has not happened then he goes free in the Jubilee year, regardless. I would be more hesitant to offer a solution apparently not envisaged in the talmud if Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam, had not already opened that avenue.

    The assumption by both rabbis Farber and Steinberg that there are many apparent inconsistencies in the torah that should indicate its allegedly composite nature is largely superficial, in my view. I have attempted to reconcile all the alleged inconsistencies cited here. Whether or not my arguments are fully convincing, it seems to me that the torah, as a foundational text in Judaism, should require a more reverential attitude among observant Jews than what some rabbis are offering. At the least, more imagination and effort to resolve difficulties consistent with the traditional view of authorship is appropriate.

  9. This post and many of the comments completely miss the point.
    The root question is: is accepting the documentary hypothesis as legitimate, ie. claiming the Torah is the product of multiple authors at a later date than the exodus from Egypt, a legitimate Orthodox position?
    Never mind that Rabbi Farber has elsewhere written worse things like how he doesn’t believe the Avos, or frankly anyone named in the book Bereshis, ever existed. Let us stick to the point: Can you call yourself Orthodox while denying the antiquity, unity and Divine origin of the Torah?
    For someone who sees Orthodoxy as no more than behaviour then perhaps the answer is yes. As long as you wear the right kind of hat and suit and keep to the rules it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe the rules came directly from God. You’re in it for the ritual and perhaps the intellectual stimulation.
    That, however, is a perversion of what Orthodoxy is. Being Orthodox is not only about behaviour, it also demands certain articles of faith. Someone who behaves 100% according to the Shulchan Aruch but doesn’t believe in God, chalilah, or Matan Torah, is not Orthodox.

    • IH says:

      Garnel — DH vs TMS is a false dichotomy and throwing R. Farber out of Orthodoxy doesn’t solve anything. A growing number of learned and frum Jews are no longer satisfied with the traditional explanations and are benefiting from Modern Bible Scholarship. You can hold your breath until you are blue in the face, but it doesn’t change the need for the conversation — within the context of Orthodoxy — being facilitated on

      • Shlomo says:

        You write that the conversation being facillitated on is within the context of Orthodoxy and is intended to remain that way. That seems to be a common assumption, but I wonder whether that is in fact the case.

        This is a good time to ask the site founders and Dr. Farber:

        Would it be wrong to assume that those who write for and direct its content currently self-identify as practicing Orthodox Jews? Is that even true of the co-founders?

        Wouldn’t full disclosure be a good idea, given the impression many have that it is — at least by the broadest definition — an “Orthodox”- directed site?

      • Y. Aharon says:

        While Garnel and others appear to have overstated the case against Rabbi Farbers view of the torah (he does profess that the torah is a prophetic work, regardless of how many were allegedly involved in its composition), his objection and those of Rabbi Yitzi Blau have validity. While there are some who will find support for the position of acting ‘frum’ while denying some basic beliefs, there may be more who will find justification in not remaining ‘frum’ having been convinced of this view of the torah. To me, this deconstruction of the torah is a religiously destructive position to advocate publically. It’s one thing for anonymous blog owners and commenters to advocate such a position, it’s quite another for named Orthodox rabbis and dayanim to do so. Moreover, as I have attempted in my earlier comment, it is not required. There are ways to analyze and interpret problematic biblical verses that are consistent with a single author (except, perhaps, for the last 12 verses and sundry geneological details).

        Your position that DH and TMS are not contradictory ideas can work only if TMS includes post-Mosaic prophetic contributions, and DH does not include ideas about the propagandistic efforts of the various alleged contributors. I agree, however, that attempting to read R’ Farber out of Orthodoxy is misguided, if not mean spirited. Let people define themselves as they will. It’s the ideas and behavior that are significant, not labels. The attempt by others to implicate YCT in this affair just reveals their general bias against LWMO. The soon-to-be head of YCT, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, their head of the Tanach dept., Rabbi Nati Helfgott, and a senior faculty member, Rabbi Yisoscher Katz have all written in opposition to R’ Farber’s viewpoint and insisted that this view contradicts what is taught in their rabbinic school.

      • shaul shapira says:

        It may be a false dichotomy but Dr Farber is about as Orthodox as you are. Translation: He claims he is but in fact he isn’t.
        shaul shapira on July 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm
        shaul shapira on July 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      • IH says:

        Y. Aharon – Just to be clear, when I said “DH vs TMS is a false dichotomy” in response to Garnel, I meant there is a spectrum of views between the two in which there are points that can legitimately be argued to be within Orthodox thought. I have commented in more detail about this previously, here and on Hirhurim.

        Shlomo – you are adding words and meaning to my statement that were neither stated nor implied. I have never met R. Steinberg as far as I am aware, but I have heard his co-founder Prof. Brettler speak at The Jewish Center and if you Google you will see he has spoken in other Orthodox shuls as well. I really don’t understand this meshugas with tzisis checking, but because of attitudes like this, I have long publicly self-identified as Post-Denominational. God doesn’t need accountants.

        EWZS — Agreed. As Robert Alter has nicely summarized in the introduction to his Chumash translation: “This rapid summary may make matters sound pat, but it fact all the details of the Documentary Hypothesis are continually, and often quite vehemently debated. […] (I should add that efforts to distinguish between J and E on stylistic grounds have been quite unconvincing.) It is small wonder that the Documentary Hypothesis, whatever its general validity, has begun to look at though it has reached a point of diminishing returns, and many young scholars, showing signs of restlessness with source criticism, have begin exploring other approaches – literary, anthropological, sociological, and so forth – to the Bible.” But, Orthodox Jews find it easier to battle a strawman, hence they are still busily producing works to prove the DH wrong.

        I will once again point out the best exposition I have yet heard on the dogma front:

      • Shlomo says:

        IH – I was responding to this:
        “it doesn’t change the need for the conversation — within the context of Orthodoxy — being facilitated on”

        You said that you understood that was being facilliatated “within the context of Orthodoxy.”

        I was merely asking the curators to confirm this.

        If, in fact, they — like yourself — are post-denominational or perhaps affiliated with Conservative synagogues, rather than Orthodox, that’s fine, but let them say so.

        It’s not about witch-hunting, just about being up front.

        What’s wrong with that?

      • shaul shapira says:

        “I have never met R. Steinberg as far as I am aware, but I have heard his co-founder Prof. Brettler speak at The Jewish Center and if you Google you will see he has spoken in other Orthodox shuls as well.”

        I cannot fathom why you thing that’s relevant. Cardinal Dolan has spoken at the Lincoln Square synagouge. That makes him WHAT exactly….?!

        “I really don’t understand this meshugas with tzisis checking,”

        I obviously don’t think it’s a meshugas, as I’ve pointed out here and on Hirhurim. There’s nothing wrong with a tzitzis check when someone’s trying to sell you tzitzis.

        “but because of attitudes like this, I have long publicly self-identified as Post-Denominational.”

        I’m glad to hear that. Perhaps you can influence Dr Farber as well. I don’t understand this Meshugas of claiming to be Orthodox when you clearly aren’t. (Though I have my suspicions) Why not admit you aren’t and make complete Achdus with your fellow Heterdox folk? This blog could even be subtitled: “Exploring the Breadth, Depth and Passion of Post- Denominational Judaism”

        Wouldn’t that be nice?

        “God doesn’t need accountants.”

        Agreed. But I do think a bit of basic intellectual honesty about who you are and aren’t is quite helpful for mortals.

        “EWZS …. But, Orthodox Jews find it easier to battle a strawman, hence they are still busily producing works to prove the DH wrong.”

        Can you be more specific? Which works of that genre have been produced? And what should O Jews be producing instead to defend Orthodoxy? And have you read Dr Yitzchak Meitlis’s book on Biblical Archaeology?

        While I’m here, I’ll throw in

    • Shlomo says:

      In my comments, I was referring not to those who presently self-identify as Orthodox observant, but those who no longer do and deflect the issue by pointing to their Orthodox background instead. (Sort of like the butcher who has a picture of his pious grandfather on the wall.)

      This is relevant because the discussion up to now has been whether to accept Dr Farber’s self-definition of Orthodoxy: The only thing that counts is being Orthodox observant.

      Fine, let’s accept that and not second-guess anyone’s self-definition as Orthodox observant.

      But, aside from Dr. Farber, do the founders and advisory board members also describe themselves that way?

      • Anonymous says:

        You’re certainly correct. The positive side of the observant community is wonderful, and that’s why I live it. Sometimes my frustrations get the better of me!

  10. ewzs says:

    Steinberg’s essay is useful in pushing Orthodox Jews to take the text very seriously and not be satisfied with partial answers to difficult questions about it. His personal narrative, and his very need to tell it, is telling however, as it suggests the convert/baal teshuva and his tendency to embrace his newfound religion uncritically. In fact, however, one does not have to be an Orthodox Jew to be deeply skeptical of the Documentary Hypothesis (the main problem has always been that it is completely unfalsifiable). See e.g. here ( for an article by Baden (cited approvingly by Michael Stein above) and the comments on it, which give a taste of how much the DH has had to retreat over the years and its tenuous hold on scholarship today. And this book review [see esp the comments about circular reasoning– DH scholars are always chasing their own tails] is instructive as well:

  11. Shlomo says:

    R’ Steinberg:

    IH, above, seems to be under the impression that the conversation being facillitated on, at least in terms of its contributors, is presented within the context of Orthodoxy.

    I wonder whether you could clarify whether that is, in fact, the case.

    For instance, leaving aside issues of dogma, do all of the site’s founders and advisory board at least consider themselves absolutely committed to Orthodox Jewish practice?

    Was that a criterion of who should serve on the advisory board and whose essays would be published?

    I see that many of your essays, R’ Farber’s latest as an example, point to the Orthodox credentials of some of the people he quotes.

    However, he focuses on what they did on the past and omits how they self-identify at present.

    Given that one of your stated goals is to show how the study of Biblical Criticism need not be a challenge to Orthodox Jewish practice, does it not seem somewhat misleading to not point out that some of your contributors and advisory board members come to the opposite conclusion?

    (Personally, I have no problem reading the perspective of those who don’t self-identify as Orthodox. However, on a site that is specifically directed to the struggles of Orthodox Jews, it seems, I would think that more transparency would be in order, rather than selective presentations of the authors’ biographies that omit that they no longer identify as Orthodox or conceal the fact that they never have.)

  12. shaul shapira says:

    ” Personally, I strongly believe in what Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish wrote in his recent post, that our detractors should “please just keep writing what Orthodoxy means to you… not what you think it needs to mean for others.”

    It’s not about what I think it needs to mean for others, it’s about what it means in e.g. wikipedia or Encyclopedia Judaica. Calling neo-Conservatism ‘Orthodox’ doesn’t make it so. I pointed that out on the R Kaddish piece you linked to.

    I have a question. If I founded a BDS movement and called it the Pro-Israel BDS, saying I think it’s the best thing long term for Israel, would you be so phlegmatic about that?

    “We are living in a new era, with unprecedented knowledge of the past and we are poised in a way our ancestors could only dream about to really understand the Torah, and yet some are fighting against this tooth and nail.”

    That same sentence could have been written by Abraham Geiger 200+ years ago.

  13. Avraham says:

    Rabbi Steinberg- while I welcome your entrance into the discussion, I hope that you are truly willing to enter into a dialogue and will respond to cogent posts and not merely say your piece and stay above the fray.

    In that regard I must confess that I was disappointed by your response to Rabbi Blau’s article. He raised two basic overarching points and you chose to totally ignore the latter critical one and only respond to his initial point, ironically in a manner that actually supported his contention.

    Allow me to explain by first taking a step back and examining the larger issue. I believe that we all can agree that for the past thousands of years the concepts of divine revelation and Moshe ‘s authorship of the Torah (as dictated to him by Hashem) have been central tenants of Orthodoxy. Please note that I have been quite particular in my words; while I personally believe those statements to be true that is not my point. Rather I am noting that it is factual to say that this belief was held by chazal, the rishonim and all the great Torah scholars of the previous generations. (To be fully clear we must add that the issue of the last eight puskim and the views of the Iben Ezra do not substantially alter that statement.)

    As such when an Orthodox Jew enters into the arena of Biblical scholarship he/she does so with a clear understanding that there is only one author, despite any textual challenges, much as one who studies Ulysses knows that the author was James Joyce despite the fact that each chapter is written in a radically different style. In order to dislodge this belief, and the serious theological ramifications that come from denying those fundamental ideas, one must have indisputable proof and be prepared to deal with the fall out of those changes.

    The clear tone of Rabbi Farber’s article, as well as the entire nature of your web site, states that due to unanswerable questions one must abandon traditional beliefs and adopt a new modern theory.

    Once again, let us digress for a moment and acknowledge that unlike the issues of Torah and Science (where we clearly know information that our sages did not) the primary areas of these “unanswerable questions” is the realm of textual difficulties. That was true of the overwhelming majority of examples quoted on your web site and it is the only subject you address in your post. That means that Rashi and the Rambam etc. all had access to the exact same information that scholars presently have and yet were not moved to reject Moshe’s authorship.

    Now let us return to Rabbi Blau’s article. He noted two basic observations: #1 There are numerous approaches to these issues that do not require Rabbi Farber’s radical surgery. #2 He made five observations regarding the ramifications of the alternate methodology. You did not answer the second point at all. If you seriously want to engage in this dialogue and explain how your approach can coexist with Orthodoxy those observations must be addressed.

    Moreover, Rabbi Blau himself acknowledged that he was only making cursory remarks regarding those examples. Your detailed response were attempts to show that despite his valid points questions still remain. However, an objective observer would have to concede that your remaining questions hardly justify radically altering central beliefs – as you yourself acknowledged when noting that Rashi and the Rashbam give answers but it works better if there is a second author. In other words, you gave credence to Rabbi Blau`s first point.

    At the end of the day, as the most prominent Orthodox Bible scholar – Professor Kugel – has acknowledged in his talks and even in his written works, this form of scholarship and Orthodox practice can simply not coexist. While you, and he, and even Rabbi Farber all can live with this intellectual dissonance I would suggest that this is due to the fact that your Orthodoxy predated your scholarship. However, if one starts off with theories such as Rabbi Farber and those advanced on your website (all of which conveniently can never be proved) it is illogical and ridiculous to keep Orthodox practices – a real and dangerous point that you fail to either address or acknowledge.

  14. Rivka Izme says:

    You pose some very interesting thoughts and I am sure that this is very stimulating to many. However, I am not a rabbi, I don’t like dwelling on minutae. I am rather a G-d says it; I do it type of gal. Mazel tov for being able to work all this out. I am fully aware that 90% of what we do in practice is minhag which has been around so long it is now take for halacha. There are those out there who get so caught up in fulfilling whatever minhag or finding things to judge or argue about that they have forgotten to be human. The have become unpleasant to associate with in any setting. I am also fully aware that in addition to my devotion to HaShem I also have bills to pay, kids to feed, work to do, etc. Work it out amongst yourselves. Let me know when you are done and the dust has settled.

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