Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Orthodox Judaism cannot refute Biblical Criticism

R' Zev Farber's articles on thetorah.com sparked considerable hostility at the beginning of this summer, and calls for Orthodox refutation of biblical criticism. At that time I was doing some reading on Enlightenment ideas in ancient Greece and in 18th century Europe, and that research led me to some conclusions I've been reflecting on these past few weeks.

Two of my conclusions are:
1. Disproving biblical criticism is impossible, and
2. Modern Orthodoxy, as opposed to more traditional forms of Orthodoxy, is particularly drawn to biblical criticism.

First: Disproving biblical criticism is impossible
Biblical criticism both ancient and modern, as I understand it – and I've read quite a bit of it – is not about debunking religion. Rather, it's about identifying problems in biblical text and offering reason-rooted explanations. It's based on the assumption that the human mind is powerful enough to be able to solve any problem, an approach which was found in ancient Greek philosophers, in the Karaite-related heresies of the early Middle Ages, and in Enlightenment Europe.

Because biblical criticism is about a search for answers via human reason, it examines and rejects answers which are illogical or which run counter to evidence. The answers which survive that examination are logically convincing.

This is why Orthodox Judaism cannot reasonably disprove biblical criticism: you simply cannot use critical reason to disprove the entire product of critical reason.

This doesn't mean that the school of reason is correct, or consistent with faith and revelation - only that reason won't disprove reason.

We might show particular hearos of the critics to be flawed, but one cannot disprove every finding of logical analysis. It would be like refuting the study of biology – one might debunk a particular scientific finding due to a weakness in its reasoning, but how likely are you to be able to refute the reasoning behind every finding of a field of research?

Our Sages understood this. This is why they banned the study of Greek philosophy [which was founded on the idea that the human mind could comprehend everything on its own] and why they prohibited reading sefarim hachitzonim. Despite the mishnaic imperative, "Know how to reply to an apikoros," the sages did not publish challenges to each of the ideas expressed by the Greek schools (other than a few scattered debates recorded in the Talmud). Rather, they rejected the entire approach, and simply banned it. Ditto, in a more modern age, the opposition to university education.

So there can be no disproof of the set of findings of biblical criticism, only a faith-based rejection of its method.

Second: Modern Orthodoxy is particularly drawn to biblical criticism
Judaism is bound to revelatory tradition, but it also endorses the use of human reason, even within the development of Jewish law. We have hermeneutical methods which operate only based on received tradition, but we also have the kal vachomer which is applied by human reason, within certain limits (אין עונשין מן הדין). There is a balanced relationship, in which Revelation is primary and Reason is secondary.

Classically, Orthodoxy honored the primacy of revelatory tradition, and opposed empowering the investigations of human reason. Hence the aforementioned bans on Greek philosophy and university attendance, and hence the fervent opposition to Rambam's publication of Greek philosophical ideas as part of Judaism.

Modern Orthodoxy, to my mind, is an embrace of the Enlightenment ideology that touts the power of the human mind to comprehend and assess all phenomena. The various isms of Modern Orthodoxy – women's education, Zionism, universalism, personal autonomy – are only applications of the fundamental idea that I, with the cells inside my cranium, am able to draw my own conclusions about the world.

To that point of view, biblical criticism, rooted in personal critical thinking, is very appealing. How can we send our children to university and train them in critical thought and the idea that the mind can comprehend the universe, and then expect that the application of critical thinking to Torah will not draw them?

My question, then, is this: If our Modern Orthodox community is being drawn to this approach, which opts for logical evisceration of the meaning of "Torah miSinai", and if we cannot disprove that which people are embracing, then what do we do? Is it a matter of reinforcing the primacy of faith? Or re-examining our approach to university education? Or simply accepting the problem?


  1. If I had to pick a label for myself, I'd choose MO. So what follows probably isn't too surprising.

    My view is simple. Chumash relates very little that was written by Moshe. There are very few Parshiot in which Moshe relates a command to write specific events. In every instance in which Moshe relates Mitzvot to Bnei Yisroel, it uses a form of the verb Daber or Amar.

    Even in Shoftim, where Moshe relates the Halachos of Melachim, it is written that the kings should write down "et Mishneh Hatorah Hazos", where the idea that Devarim was written is only implied. As well, the command is to write for himself, and not for the general populace.

    So, my idea is that the portions of Chumash in which Moshe is speaking were indeed given by Moshe. The parts where he is speaking as a messenger of Hashem were indeed related to him by Hashem. (Much of Devarim is clearly Moshe's own words.) The idea that Moshe wrote the entirety of Chumash is not found in Chumash and is not a fundamental belief. That is, believing that Chumash is a composite document does not contradict any command of Hashem nor Moshe with respect to Mitzvot or Hashkafah.

    1. Which would make sense if we were Karaites and were deciding how to deal with the text without any Torah she'b'al peh at all.

  2. I think the problem is not as great as you present it to be because people don't choose religious stances based on reason, they choose which line of argument they find plausible based on their religious stances. Someone who at times has "connected" to a mitzvah and felt its redemptive properties isn't going to find a theory that undermines its basis by denying that the text is perfect enough for derashos and most deOraisos to have been original intent to be very plausible.

    That which you describe is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.
    - Kuzari 1:13

    This is the whole Mussar discussion of people being "bribed" by preconscious ulterior motives (negi'os). Our reason is determined by our givens, which in turn are determined by environment (nurture, peers, personal history). Far more so than the other way around. Reason, after all, always has wiggle room. You could always adopt a different framework, a different set of postulates.

    When someone rejects Orthodox beliefs for ones that don't jibe with Orthodox religious practices, it means he isn't having enough of those religious experiences. Our answer should be fostering a more meaningful worship, not worrying about playing ball on the epistemologically wrong court.

    1. When someone rejects Orthodox beliefs for ones that don't jibe with Orthodox religious practices, it means he isn't having enough of those religious experiences.

      Would you write the same sentence substituting "evangelical Christian" or "Mormon" for Orthodox? Or is it objectively different, in your view?

    2. There is something fundamentally different: We're talking about why someone would choose DH over classical O beliefs. What does that have to do with evangelical Xianity or Mormonism?

      To put that atother way...

      You are raising the issue of proving something to a third party for which all claims are equal. I am discussing why a believer believes or chooses to change his belief. It's an entirely different topic.

      I dont need to prove to someone else my beliefs in order to believe them. As long as they explain the world as I experience it. And therefore what keeps me for leaving O for something else would involve O providing that explanation, and my experience of the world includes O's claims. Other people's beliefs and life experiences are their problem.

    3. Other people's beliefs and life experiences are their problem.

      Your point is well taken. But you don't seem to apply that point to other Jews, who might feel that their decisions about their lives, indeed, should not concern you.

    4. 1- I was writing from the perspective of an O Jew who either does or doesn't find the evidence for DH bothersome. A person should be looking at their own beliefs and whether or not they fit their own life experiences. I'm not talking about me, Micha Berger, in relation to the beliefs and experiences of Dr Zev Farber.

      2- But even if I were...

      Judaism believes that "all Jews are responsible one for another" or "all Jews are mixed one into the other" (כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה\בזה, depending on manuscript), not "live and let live". So if we were talking about Jews who believe in evangelical Xianity or Mormonism, your point wouldn't stand anyway.

  3. “Questions grounded in one system of thought cannot be answered by another one”

    Living in an alien non-Jewish philosophical, psychological, and social milieu–as all Jews do, even the most pious–it is inevitable that we absorb its basic assumptions and that, as a result, certain of our Jewish assumptions are called into question.

    (How can the Torah speak in such a way? How can such a seemingly unreasonable act be commanded?)

    Yet, upon closer examination the questioner often realizes that his problem is itself simply a function of a different outlook on life, one which he has chosen to replace, and that it is not inherently insoluble.

    The question may be nothing more than a reflex of a consciously discarded but still somehow deeply ingrained Marxist, psychoanalytic, or other theory, the phantom of a dead idea returned to haunt the living.

    Questions grounded in one system of thought cannot be answered by another one.

    For example, one who does not believe in miracles, prophecy, or Divine providence cannot expect satisfactory answers to questions about matters of Torah, where such beliefs are taken for granted and fundamental.

    Careful scrutiny of the underlying assumptions behind the questions themselves may be more productive and may yield more satisfactory answers than apologetics.

    –Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    From "Problems of Faith" in Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    Joel Rich

  4. I strongly disagree with the first part of your post. No matter how logically consistent and coherent a rational system is, it is only as good and as valid as the underlying principles and assumptions of its analysis. One can indeed call these into question or even refute them and, along with them, all of the inferences, deductions, arguments and conclusions that have been rationally and logically drawn from them.

  5. This is setting up a false conflict.
    1) Yes, it is possible to answer Biblical Criticism because Biblical Criticism (BC) is more than you have defined it to be. BC is not just "Here is a reasoned based answer to an inconsistency in the Torah text" but is "Here is a reasoned based answer to an inconsistency in the Torah text and this proves that Moshe Rabeinu didn't write it, God probably doesn't exists and 'the Rabbis' made up the whole Oral Law as a giant apologetic." Therefore BC must be challenged and doing it isn't as hard as one thinks.
    Take the various names of God. BC takes it for granted that they reflect different authors each of whom used a specific name. Chazal, on the other hand, go through the entire Chumash in the Midrash and Aggada sections of the Talmud and show how each name reflects a particular aspect of God appropriate to the context. They assume different authors. We assume different perspectives of God interacting with us and we do it more consistently than them.
    BC assumes a series of documents that were redacted, possibly by Ezra, into one main document. BC cannot produce any trace or evidence that these documents ever existed but then turn around and deride us for believing in Matan Torah and text unity because - wait for it - no evidence of these ever existed. BC bases itself on assumptions and condemns us for using those same assumptions. Therefore BC must be challenged.
    If MO wants to embrace critical reasoning, great. Let its teachers show the students that Chazal long ago developed a consistent system for understanding the entire text of Torah that is far more consistent and evidence-based than the BC system. We have nothing to apologize for.

  6. Avi-
    What leads you to this analysis? Is it triggered by a particular question, or just a product of your own thinking?

    R' Micha-
    Lack of attractive religious experiences, perhaps, but also experiencing attractive things outside religion - which many of us have, particularly in the MO world.


    R' Joshua, Garnel-
    You seem to be looking at biblical criticism as a monolithic entity, a set of conclusions which are all based on a single set of assumptions which are open to refutation that will bring the house of cards down.
    I see it differently - as I see it, their only basic assumption is that critical thinking can solve the problems of a conflicted text. One can disagree with that [I do], but one cannot disprove it.

    You bring two interesting examples of challenges to BC:
    Your first does not disprove their approach to the Names, it only disagrees with it and offers a different approach.
    Your second is a known challenge, but it is like the "where is the missing link" challenge to evolutionary theory - it is good until someone finds something he is willing to call a "missing link". I won't go further here to produce such purported missing links because I have no desire to support BC, but one who reads their literature will find them.

    1. To me, BC is only a problem if it undermines one's own religious beliefs.

      I read Chumash every week (שנים מקרא), and I actually pay attention to the words. The Chumash itself rarely refers to writing at all, much less of itself. Moshe never claims to have written any of it down, not even his own words in Devarim. As I wrote above, the verbs used (exclusively) to relate Moshe's transmission of Hashem's words are verbs for speech. Hashem tells Moshe to speak to Bnei Yisroel regarding Mitzvot, but never tells him to write any down. Only events are commanded to be written.

      All the above are observations. I may have missed a Pasuk here or there that might provide an exception. What can't be denied, however, is the general. The Chumash does not refer to itself as having been written by anyone, much less by Moshe. Therefore, I don't believe that one can be faulted for believing that it is not a required tenet of Jewish faith that Moshe wrote Chumash at all, much less that he wrote all of it. (Or even the vast majority, taking into account the argument regarding the last 8 Pesukim.)

      In conclusion, if one's faith is not predicated on the idea that Moshe wrote Chumash, BC isn't an issue. I don't think Biblical Critics would deny the possibility that Moshe transmitted much of the material contained in Chumash. (Lack of archeological evidence is another issue entirely.)

    2. Ok, I'll bite: What do you think Devarim 31:9 refers to?

    3. As I wrote, there might be an exception here or there. Interestingly, Moshe is not commanded to write the Torah referred to in the referenced Parsha, nor is the command regarding Hakhel transmitted in the name of Hashem.

      The Gemara states that the mitzvah of Hakhel is to read Devarim, which indicates that CHaZaL did not take Torah (in this context) to refer to the entirety of Chumash.

      I would still maintain that there is no indication from Chumash that the entirety of Chumash was written by Moshe in the form we have it and transmitted directly to Bnei Yisroel. I never denied that Moshe may have written parts, whether it was stated so clearly in the Pasuk or not!

      I would still maintain that it is not an article of faith to believe such, and that one's religious observance need not be compromised by believing otherwise.

      To sum it up: There is no evidence, prior to the Mishnah, that anyone believed that Chumash was written by Moshe and transmitted to Yehoshua. If those Jews were still observant Jews (whatever that meant), then we can also be observant Jews, even without that belief.

  7. I’ve also been thinking about this recently, but have somewhat different conclusions.

    I have been troubled by biblical criticism in the past and further troubled by the fact that the responses I found most convincing came from outside Orthodoxy (Umberto Cassuto and Kenneth Kitchen).

    My feeling, however, is that the problem is not so much too much logical thinking in MO, but too little creative thinking. I feel we have not made a strong enough argument for the textual problems which form the basis of biblical criticism as being essentially literary rather than historical and this is because we as a community downplay the value of literature and literary criticism. Don’t misunderstand me: I understand that a more literary approach to Tanakh will not cause the tensions you note to vanish; it will only give us an alternative rational approach, another set of tools to deal with the problems, but tools that can be used more easily in the realm of ‘Torah + Enlightenment’ rather than retreating to faith and ignoring reason entirely (which may work for some people, but send others away from Orthodoxy).

    Regarding university, I did my BA in history (but not ancient history) and I feel that it was useful in giving me the understanding and techniques to evaluate the findings of biblical criticism for myself and come to my own conclusions, conclusions which kept me in Orthodoxy, but I accept that someone else might be led out of it. I do wonder what would have happened if I had been studying biblical criticism as part of my BA, before I had the grounding in skills and method that come from completing the degree itself and with the impressionability of my late teens/early twenties – the outcome might have been different. I do not know how we as a community assess this risk.

    I do feel, however, that we can not afford to ignore the wider findings of biblical criticism, in both its literary and archaeological forms, as these, particularly the latter, can be useful in understanding the context of Tanakh. Whether the entire community should be expected to separate the useful from the dangerous is harder to answer.

    Regarding the debate in the comments: I think you are right to see biblical criticism as a general approach, but the commenters are right to point out a series of assumptions – the paradigm under which critics operate. Whether that paradigm will shift, whether the MO community can help shift it, and whether the new paradigm will be more or less acceptable to Orthodoxy is another set of questions entirely. The MO community will certainly not shift the paradigm from outside academia, but they can not enter academia without at least notionally subscribing to the paradigm.

    1. Daniel-
      If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting a systemic response to BC, of, "Your method of analyzing textual anomalies is incorrect, because you see them as signs of historical development instead of literary cues." This would be similar to (although not identical with) the religious response of, "Your method of analyzing textual anomalies is incorrect, because you see them as signs of historical development instead of cues for religious instruction."

  8. Garnel's point as I understood it (which is differently than our host's take) really addresses Daniel's observation. And if it's not what Garnel was trying to say, this is something I would say on my own anyway.

    If you're working from within the Orthodox worldview, there never was a written Torah that didn't come with an oral one. Therefore there is a difference in kind between a documentarian explanation of why stories that show different ways of relating to G-d respectively use different names for Him and Chazal's statement. One is a theory to address a difficulty in the text. The other is the belief that there never was a problem with the text, but our own ignorance about the Torah's use of names made us wonder.

    The reason why Orthodox Jews don't have good answers to DH (Wellhausen-style Documen Hypothesis) or any documentarian theory is that we don't have the problem. You can phrase that in terms of a difference of postulates, as RJR quoted RASteinzaltz or RJMaroof wrote about.

    Or for that matter I blamed the Kuzari's observation about philosophical proofs on the inability to agree on postulates. It is not that philosophers are incapable of finding sound reasoning, it's that every argument is logic built upon a set of postulates, and even Euclid failed to find an incontrovertible set of those on something at theoretically knowable as geometry. (Other geometries exist based on alternatives to his last postulate, and in fact Einstein proved that it doesn't apply to real space.)

    But I would say it's more than just a difference -- the only way I would be bothered by the questions DH addresses is if I had already abandoned parts of the O worldview. In which case, it's not a critical read of the text of Tanakh that's at issue, but the step or to before that caused that abandonment of basic assumption about the relationship between written and oral Torah.

    Yes, we are obligated to understand Tanakh on the level of peshat, what the words before us say. But we are not building theories about the nature of the Torah on the assumption that all that it was originally written for was peshat!

    The O Jew is simply speaking a different language. There can't be an O response to the challenge of DH (as our host opened this discussion) because DH is out to explain things we don't believe exists. Once you bought into the epistemology that underlies their even being a subject to discuss (even before the topic of postulates within the field itself), one has already compromised one's Orthodoxy.


    I want to clarify something I feel our host misunderstood about my earlier comment. I am not saying that people are irrationally going with what they find attractive, as an aethetic judgment. Rather, I am discussing the properties of the religious experience themselves, the thing they are making the judgment about. E.g. a mathematician isn't convinced because he is attracted to the beauty of the proof. There are properties of the proof such as it being simple (once you know it), and having a broad explanatory power to a wide number of seemingly unrelated questions that exist beyond taste, the elements that may make a mathematician find it elegant and beautiful.

    Similarly, I could like or not like keeping Shabbos. But if I experience everyone once in a while a true menuchas hanefesh, if I have that redemptive experience and healing of the soul, then I am less likely to accept postulates that disconnect the laws of Shabbos from revelation. Even before I decide I like that feeling, it's part of the world I exist in. And postulates have to fit experience.

    1. First, I want to clarify that I am still fully Orthodox and accepting of Torah miSinai in an Orthodox sense. I do not believe that having questions concerning biblical criticism (and biblical criticism goes a lot further than just the documentary hypothesis, which in turn is not just about the divine names) automatically takes one out of Orthodoxy. Nor do I believe there is anything unOrthodox in feeling dissatisfaction with the traditional response regarding the divine names (although that was never my major problem). It is the suggested alternative interpretation that may or may not carry one out of Orthodoxy. I certainly do not think that the Jews that are troubled by this have “already abandoned parts of the O worldview” and I find that assumption dangerous.

      That is not really the point, however. The question is that as Modern Orthodox Jews we encourage rational thought and involvement with the secular academic world, so how do we cope with these inevitable conflicts in a communal way? Because to suggest that the problems can simply be ignored or dismissed merely by asserting the traditional response (however good it may be) seems to me to take one far to the right of MO, likewise to insist we should avoid this area of study totally. I do not have a good answer to this.

    2. R' Micha-
      1. I agree with your first point here - that is the same point I was trying to make, that from an Orthodox point of view one does not look to disprove individual postulates of BC, but rather one rejects its basic premise, because of our faith.

      2. Regarding your latter point - I hear what you are saying, but my response was regarding your statement, "people don't choose religious stances based on reason, they choose which line of argument they find plausible based on their religious stances". I believe that people also choose religious stances due to temptation toward a life free of religious obligation.

    3. Aha, the hedonism argument raises its head! :)

    4. tesyaa-
      Not necessarily hedonism; it could also be freedom from religious obligation, stress, guilt...

    5. So now it's obvious why you started with MO, who tend to less strict forms of observance.

    6. I started with MO because that was the community that reacted most strongly to thetorah.com, from what I saw, and it's a community I often identify with.

    7. ... and the only O community willing to engage in secular scholarship seriously and thus the only one for which DH would actually be encountered by a sizable percentage of the population.

    8. Exactly. Plus, it's almost entirely an internet-based discussion, and the MO use the internet much more than the more traditionally right-wing groups.

      (I don't attend an MO shul, but I highly doubt that in New Rochelle and Livingston and Great Neck, people are talking about Zev Farber at Shabbos lunch. It's an internet phenomenon, mostly.)

    9. There is also a self-selection... People who enjoy discussing ideas are more likely to be part of that internet community.

      And we should realize none of this will change the broader community much. Or, as I like to put it, your shul-mate is still most likely to say "Slifkin who?"

      But the community of people who discuss their Orthodox Judaism on line is itself large enough to warrant such attention.

  9. I have a few thoughts and questions. It seems we are conflating a number of techniques regarding criticism of the divine origin of the bible. At the very least that of logical/textual deduction and that of historical/archaeological record.

    Furthermore I'm not sure why this argument is limited to BIBLICAL criticism. Wouldn't these issues extend to later texts such as the talmud or kabbalah? If the gemarah was not completely sealed by ravina and rav ashi but continued as a living document for centuries thereafter what implications does that have on our tradition? If parts of Kabbalah can be proved to stem from Gnosticism how do we deal with the fact that many practices today either in halacha or custom are sourced there? Doesn't orthodox Judaism need to deal with the whole of 'academic Jewish studies'?

    Regarding your first point, from an academic standpoint the documentary hypothesis is 'old hat'. The best orthodox response I have seen to that is Rabbi Immanuel Schochet's argument that critical textual analysis of the bible or any other document is based on the assumption that the author is a person who uses the same system of logic, right and wrong etc. as you. For the Bible a (modern) orthodox person would declare that patently false.

    Regarding the other points there has been scholarship back and forth both on the academic side and in a small way, on the 'yeshivish' side. But there seems to be precious little dialogue between the two. This recent 'skirmish' seems to be an awkward attempt at one.

    I would prefer to see more attempts with serious Roshei Yeshiva and orthodox academic scholars participating, such as those at Revel, than for us to throw up our arms and say, 'The only options available are to 1)turn a blind eye, 2)cut out university or 3)admit defeat' (apologies for my poor rephrasing of the options presented in the articles final question.)

    1. Anonymous 1:09 PM-
      1. Yes, I believe we are conflating the two here, because they stem from a common reliance on human reason;

      2. Yes, BC is only part of the picture here.

      3. It seems to me that R' Immanuel Schochet's argument is much the same as what I present here, what R' Maroof cites from R' Steinsaltz, and what R' Micha Berger put forth above.

  10. R. Torzcyner:
    First, I have some issues with your own assumptions about BC. First, classical BC is not current. Classical BC did have a bias against Judaism specifically; critics have pointed out that these 19th century German Lutheran Protestants never applied their analysis to the Christian bible, and, lo and behold! They just "happened" to come to the "objective" conclusion that the ethical portions of the Tanakh are more original than the later priestly portions that distorted the earlier texts [and then Paul came and made everything right again]. But, as once commentator pointed out, DH is old hat. Most current scholars reject it in favor of Form Criticism.
    Second, your orthodoxy already has decided the major controversies of the day: it's Kuzari, in which tradition overrides rationalism, over Rambam, in which the Torah's message is rationalism. So what about those MO's who disagree with Rambam's critics?
    But more to the point - and I think you clarify this - most good critics of BC do not attack each specific item but try to undermine the assumptions on which it is based (e.g. Hakham Jose Faur notes that the DH method would chop up the American Constitution, but it is irrelevant since the constitution is a living system accepted by the community - ditto with the Torah; or R. Mordechai Breur will claim that God speaks in different voices in different contexts, etc.). But, even so: what would you tell that frum but confused university student who comes to you with a critique of Bible he finds convincing? I doubt you would say, "I can't help you, there are no answers," but would try to come up with some way of dealing with the problem.
    In any event, no field of study is value neutral. BC makes many assumptions about texts, just as we do; the question is why we find our assumptions more convincing and meaningful. I don't think we can afford to avoid the issues in the current context. Just as Rambam re-defined/minimmized nissim in an age in which Aristotelianism privileged nature, some people are now opening up what Torah min ha-Shamayim means (and no - I am NOT referring to Dr. Farber, who seems to have simply rejected many things that don't fit the critical approach rather than try to bridge the gap). And just as not everyone would find Rasag, or Rambam, or Rihal, convincing, not everyone will find rebuttals of BC convincing (I'm assuming you're talking about higher criticism as opposed to lower criticism, which is much easier to deal with and its own topic). But rebuttals are useful in giving us the language to deal with these challenges in ways that, even if not everyone (such as yourself?) would be convinced by, can function as articulations of the ways in which we choose to look at our texts and why. That is valuable.

    1. You wrote a lot here, Joseph, but to pick what feels like the ikkar to me: I would be glad to sit and examine the particular point bothering the student, but I would also try to engage in the broader discussion of how we approach problems in a religious text (whether biblical or otherwise).

  11. Rabbi: I don't think that rebuttals of the documentary hypothesis or any other academic theory about the Torah are necessary intellectually, (I allow that they might be necessary educationally for certain people).

    This is because biblical criticism is made up of two components: (1) textual observations of various kinds, and (2) assumptions about the world that affect what conclusions are to be drawn.

    The believer has totally different assumptions about the world from the non-believing biblical critic, and thus even if he accepts some or all of the biblical critic's observations as valid, he won't be led to the same conclusions.

    I am not suggesting that we should necessarily accept the observations, that is a technical issue of parshanut and probably needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But if G-d indeed crafted the Torah in a fashion that it resembles on a certain level certain other ancient texts, so what? We already know that the Torah is written in the language of that time and place, talks about the climate, type of economy etc. of that time and place, and that doesn't bother anyone.

    Having said all this, I was absolutely appalled by Dr. Farber's writings that were published on the internet. He risks causing otherwise believing Jews who haven't fully thought through these issues to believe that there is some kind of kasha on their belief system when there isn't. I don't know Dr. Farber, but I speculate that he means well but that he fell into the trap of worrying about whether his secular colleagues think that he is as "smart" as them.

  12. Respectfully, your first point was either not argued well or not explained well. Try elaborating with examples what exactly you mean by "cannot be disproved"? A Torah found from aprox. when sinai is classically thought to have happened written in ktav ivri would not disprove the theory?
    Or, the theory of a unified author is prima facie considered illogical? I read the first half of your article 3 times and I still cannot figure out the flow of logic. Try it again please. Brad

    1. Hi Brad,
      I think we may be talking about two different things. You seem to be addressing questions of the Torah's date. I'm talking about critical approaches to particular textual anomalies.
      So when a writer points out that details in a story change between Bamidbar and Devarim and offers a logical explanation that doesn't match our tradition, we can't disprove his logical approach, even though we disagree.

  13. Let's say you have a long document with multiple sections written in multiple styles.

    Your Mesorah tells you that One G-d composed this in all its styles for His own reasons, some possibly understandable to us in some measure.

    Others assume from its multiple styles that multiple authors and editors composed it. If they are atheists, they reject the idea of Divine authorship axiomatically, so to them Divine authorship can't even be considered. If they are theists who reject the Mesorah as authoritative, they might adopt some middle position in which G-d played some role in authorship.

    We see that aspects of the document strongly point to Divine authorship as according to our Mesorah, but the need for people to have bechirah (free moral choice) makes it impossible that this could a proof no one could try to challenge.

  14. My last sentence above should have said "...could be a proof...".

  15. Here is a useful link that speaks to this topic?


  16. > you simply cannot use critical reason to disprove the entire product of critical reason.

    Marxism claimed to be Scientific socialism and history, but in reality it was nonsense. This doesn't mean all the claims of biblical criticism can be dismisses so easily, but their central claims are not automatically true just because they claim to be a science.