Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Breaking: The RCA believes in TMS!

The RCA are a bunch of cowards and weaklings. Why else would they feel the need to publish a statement declaring their devotion to a particular interpretation of a particular Rishon's creed? How insecure.

I feel certain that Satmar and the other maddeningly self-confident branches of Judaism won't be joining this pathetic parade. They know they don't have anything to prove and that their brand needs no shoring up.

Anyway, the RCA  statement is flawed as I point out in the following little fisk.

RCA Statement on Torah Min HaShamayim

Jul 31, 2013 -- In recent days there has been much discussion regarding the belief in Torah Min HaShamayim.

"Much discussion" on like two or three blogs. I haven't heard a thing about any of this in the real world. Have you? Anyway, by reacting this way, you do two terrible things. You give blogs, Cross Currents in particular, a power that hasn't been earned and isn't deserved, and you give us all another excuse to discuss all of the ways in which ordinary logic undermines the most maximalist TMS claims.

We maintain that it is necessary not only to assert the centrality of this bedrock principle in broad terms, but also to affirm the specific belief that Moshe received the Torah from God during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai.

 The Rambam and others have included this in in their various Principles of Faith but its centrality is so evident that an appeal to these Principles of Faith is almost superfluous. The very coherence of traditional Jewish discourse concerning the authority of the Torah she-bikhtav and the Torah she-be`al peh rests upon this conviction.

Appeal to consequences. Certainly, Orthodox Judaism as currently construed depends on acceptance of this "bedrock principle", but what's inevitable about Orthodox Judaism as its currently construed? The fact that a sect that developed historically depends essentially on the truth of a particular idea is no argument for the truth of that idea.

When critical approaches to the Torah's authorship first arose, every Orthodox rabbinic figure recognized that they strike at the heart of the classical Jewish faith.

Orthodox figures reacted similarly to Copernicus and Darwin. Some Orthodox figures reacted that way to the moon landing, too. From where I sit, this is the same type of situation and the same type of solution is required. If its ever proven that the Torah is a composite document, dating to different periods, Judaism will have to be rethought but it can go on and it can continue to thrive. We made changes to the theology after Copernicus and Darwin won the day. If Farber et al ever win the day, we'll just do the same thing and life will go on.

Whatever weight one assigns to a small number of remarks by medieval figures regarding the later addition of a few scattered phrases,

Whoever wrote this sentence needs to return his smikha. The idea that a few scattered phrases were added to the Torah after Moshe died did not originate with "medieval figures". Its found in the Talmud, and attributed to Tannaim.

there is a chasm between them and the position that large swaths of the Torah were written later-- 

Agreed, but there is also a medieval figure -Yosef Tov Elem  who says clearly that it is legitimate and non-heretical to say that large swaths of the Torah were written later. So the seeds of a new theology are there for the taking by anyone who is already convinced of the truth of the Documentary Hypothesis. And should Farber et al win the day, the teachings of  Yosef Tov Elem can serve as a starting point for those who wish to create a new theology, just like the teachings of Yitzchak of Acco were used as the basis of a new theology once the evidence for a very old universe became impossible to ignore.

all the more so when that position asserts that virtually the entire Torah was written by several authors who, in their ignorance, regularly provided erroneous information and generated genuine, irreconcilable contradictions. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, none of the abovementioned figures would have regarded such a position as falling within the framework of authentic Judaism.

Right. But so what? We can start with Yosef Tov Elem and agree that the Torah was produced over time, by different (prophetic) hands, without also agreeing that the material contains errors or irreconcilable contradictions. The solutions Chazal gave to many of those contradictions can still be considered valid.

If we wish to stay "within the framework of authentic Judaism" we can also attribute any unsolvable contradictions to tikunei sofrim (scribal corrections) and ittur sofrim (scribal omissions) The Rabbis recognized as many as 23 of these. Perhaps there were more. Or, we can hang our hat on the midrashim that suggest, rather strongly, that Ezra played an editorial role. Or we can summon the Radak who said, "...during the first Exile, books were misplaced and lost and scholars died; when the Great Assembly restored the Torah they found conflicting information in manuscripts and went according to the majority."

My point in providing this brief summary of the skeptical sources is to demonstrate that Torah-true solutions are available to anyone who has been convinced that the Torah is composite document written over time. It isn't necessary to draw a red line, nor must we toss out those who have been swayed, nor is it necessary to paint yourself into a corner with new creeds and new dogmas. If you care about truth, rather than the status quo, you can permit discussion. You can allow things to continue to develop. And, if necessary, you can also build a new theology based on legitimate sources.

While we recognize and respect the theological struggles that are a feature of many a modern person's inner religious life, the position in question is unequivocally contrary to the faith requirements of historic Judaism.

Its true that Judaism has always believed, more or less, in TMS. That, also, is no argument that TMS is true. Perhaps Yosef Tov Elem was correct, and the Torah, or large swaths of it anyway, were revealed over time, and recorded by different men. Perhaps this idea that the whole Torah, or most of it, was revealed "during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai" is a mistake, created by well-meaning men. Who can rule this out?  On what basis? Fervent belief isn't evidence, or an argument. And if our old, cherished belief turns out to have been a mistake, well then good news: Judaism - authentic Judaism - never rested on it in the first place.

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