Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jewish Believer, Jewish Skeptic

Could I call myself a Jew if I did not believe that heaven and earth once intersected at Sinai? I wrote those words in 2006. Is that still what I believe? Yes. Seven years, and seven million blog comments later, I still think that belief in the revelation at Sinai is essential to Judaism*, just as belief in the resurrection is essential to Christianity.

I'm a Jewish believer  because I believe God interacted with my ancestors. But I am also a Jewish skeptic because I can't say with any certainty what that interaction contained. I believe something happened at Sinai, but I can't say exactly what it was. I believe God delivered some message to the Israelites,  but I can't tell you what was in it. Was His message long or short? Did we give us a long collection of laws, or did we simply give us the tools to deduce the laws for ourselves. Do we still have all of that message today, or was some of it lost during the long years of exile and disbelief? Did well-meaning men add to it? Did disreputable men modify it? How did we keep all of it intact during the years in Babylon? Who kept it safe during the years before Josiah when most Jews worshiped Baal, and never went to Jerusalem? Why does some of it echo Hammurabi? Why is some of it written in the same voice and in support of the same theological agenda as the prose parts of Jeremiah? Why are the poetic parts written in a much older dialect of Hebrew? Why doesn't they agree in all the details with the prose parts? These are some of the skeptical thoughts that come to me whenever I consider the divine origins of the Torah

Now, let's be clear. This skepticism doesn't mean I've ruled out the possibility that the message was the Torah, more or less as we have it today. Certainly, that's possible. God might have delivered to Moshe a document containing all of those inconsistencies and maculations and other indications of human authorship and tampering. Those inconsistencies and maculations might be there for precisely the reasons Chazal gave us. I can accept the possibility that this is true.  But at the same time, I can't ignore the fact that the document does contain those inconsistencies and maculations.

 *No, I don't mean "Orthodox Judaism". I mean Judaism. I can't fathom a Judaism that doesn't recognize that something supernaturally significant occurred at Sinai. 

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