Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Torah: Divine Inspiration vs. Min haShamayim

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the debate is on whether there is any difference between saying the Torah is Divinely inspired vs. the concept of Torah min haShamayim. This started I think with a comment to Harry Maryles's blog worth quoting:
>>>As a former Conservative Jew (JTS undergraduate) and now MO Jew (somewhat centrist in orientation), here's the fundamental difference between what I view as the MO outlook and the Conservative outlook.The Torah is divine. End of story. ...The Conservative movement, by way of contrast, rejects the idea that any part of the Torah is divine (both oral and written). Both are the products of man, with varying degrees of "divine inspiration."There's a big difference between questioning the historicity of certain parts of the Torah and questioning the divine authorship.<<<
GH ( ) has devoted an entire analysis to why this distinction holds no water and Divine Inspiration and Torah min HaShamayim are one and the same idea. I don't know why I am moved to write about this one in particular, other than the fact that a comment of mine was highlighted in one of his postings. As an aside: I find there is a lot of healthy skepticism in the blogosphere, a lot of good questions asked, yet not a lot of rishonim or gemaras brought to address the issues. The issues get further clouded by fundementalist responses that engender more extreme skepticism, and so the vicious cycle of skepticism (hey, I think I just coined a new phrase) is perpetuated.
I think even the rational/skeptics, or whatever they are, will agree that (1) There have been many Divinely inspired prophets. In fact, Chazal tell us that the few works of Nach we have written are but a small sample of the many prophets who lived and spoke to klal yisrael. (2) There is only one unique work of Torah.
If Torah is just a Divinely inspired work which could have been composed at any point in time by anyone, how can (2) and (1) simulatenously be correct? Why is every Divinely inpired work not THE Torah? If Ezra could indeed have written the Torah, why is Sefer Ezra itself on a lower level of kedusha than Sefer VaYikra? Was this an arbitrary decision by G-d? If so, then we just lost any attempt to rationally understand things, which is what I thought the skeptics' goal was. Was this a result of people's whim of choice and in reality the truth of the 5 Books are not superior to those of any other sefer? Are some people just endowed with more inspiration than others (which leads us in circles: the Torah is Torah because it was composed by the most supremely inspired prophet, who we know was supremely inspired because after all, he wrote the Torah)?
There is a big difference between Divine inspiration and Torah. The Rambam in Moreh (II:39) explains that the nevuah of Moshe was unique. All other prophets transmitted the philosphical message of G-d's truth; only Moshe transmitted Mitzvos. Torah as a book of halacha is categorically different from all other prophecy; Moshe as the bearer of that unique truth was categorically different from all other prophets (II:33)
This distinction has halachic consequence. One who violated the words of a Navi is over a lav. The Minchas Chinuch asks, why does this lav not apply when one violates any mitzva of the Torah, which is the nevuah of Moshe? R' Soloveitchik explained that Torah is categorically distinct from prophecy. No other Navi created or could create Torah except for Moshe.
The Conservative movement sees no difference between the Divine inspiration of Moshe, Yirmiyahu, perhaps even Chazal, etc. Their human hand was guided to compose great works of inpiration that contained the truth of Judaim.
Orthodox Judaism goes beyond that. Torah is unique; sui generis. Whether Moshe composed every word of Torah or parts were added later is irrelevant. The significance of the event of ma'amad Har Sinai is that a new CATEGORY of revelation was introduced to the world which transcended normal prophecy or Divine inspiration. Therefore, matan Torah could only occur through Moshe Rabeinu, the only Navi who attained this level (see Moreh Nevuchim II: 33 and 39. If you want a more technical analysis, see Ch. haGRI"Z on Baba Basra re: the pesukim that Moshe wrote b'dema.)
Is belief in ma'amad Har Sinai just a "historical fact" and of no theological consequence? As a historical fact, can it cavalierly be dismissed without harming the halachic or ideological framework of Judaism?
One of the Taryag mitzvos according to the Ramban's count is to remember for eternity the historical event of "ma'amad Har Sinai" and transmit the experience to future generations. I don't see how anyone can denying one of the 613 mitzvos without pretty deep theological ramifications. Please don't argue that the Rambam did not count it - that is a technicality of how to count mitvos, not because the Rambam denied the significance of the event (see those chapters in Moreh!). It is requires more than a strong question or doubt in order to reject a shitas Rishonim.
What would a theology of Judaism without the historical event of matan Torah be like? Just to raise a theoretical question: is it rational to think one can celebrate Pesach by eating matzah, a korban, haseibah, haggadah, etc. but deny that there was a historical event called "Yetziyas Mitzrayim" which is referenced by so many mitzvos in the Torah? Is is all just an elaborate hoax that became part of our cultural consciousness?
I can maybe celebrate Shavuos without cheesecake; asking me to celebrate it without mattan Torah is not possible.


  1. Bill Selliger8:51 AM

    There is a fundamental difference between the nature of the divinity of the Torah to that of the Nevi’im and Ksuvim. The Torah was told by Hashem to Moshe; word for word. Whether or not it existed before Moshe is of no consequence; Hashem told Moshe exactly what to write down. The Nevi’im and Ksuvim, on the other hand, were written by humans using their own (divinely inspired) creativity. This is pashut kibeya bikutcha. To wit; there was no debate over which of the 5 Books of Moses to canonize. We believe that the Torah (or at least the Aseres Hadibros) was given by Hashem to Moshe in front of 600,000 grown men. Not so for Na’ch.

    As an aside, it doesn’t pay to argue about religion with someone who doesn’t have the same baseline beliefs as you. There are many “skeptics” who simply don’t believe that Torah is from God (in the literal sense) and they don’t believe in Torah Sh’baal Peh. All the ra’ayos from all the gemaros and midrashim in the world mean nothing to them; it’s like quoting them a nursery rhyme. I stopped visiting those sites a long time ago. They insist on empirical evidence – which is obviously impossible. If it were possible, there’d be no such thing as religion. We’d be like malachim with no bechira.

    I’ll close with the gemara in Sanhendrin 38b: “Know how to answer an Apikorus” R. Yochanan said: “This is only true if the Apikorus is a Gentile; but if he is a Jew, he will become an even greater Apikorus (if you try to refute him)”.

    I’m not calling anyone an Apikorus, but the principle stands.

  2. I debated the same issue with myself before posting. If you read this blog regularly, I hope you have noticed that "rov" of the postings deal with difficult Rambams and gemaras and a "miyut" deal with political/social issues or issues of emunah. I agree in principle that there is no way to convince the "b'shita" skeptic who is there to tittilate and spin pilpulim of doubt rather than sincerly search for emes.
    That being said, what of the non-"b'shita skeptic", what of the guy who has never opened a Moreh Nevuchim to check what the Rambam really says, or learned sifrei machshava, or thought about what the ikkarei emunah really mean? A recent letter to a 5T newspaper told a tale of someone whose wife compained he spend far too much time reading blogs and (quoting), "Probably just as disturbing, and in some ways more so, is that he reads blogs that relate to Judaism. People post blogs about the credibility of everything that has always been the foundation of our lives, our upbringing, and our Torah." Personally, I have my doubts about the letter, but I think the attitude is real. Pseudo-intellectual debate is really entertaining! Suddenly it is "smart" to "orthodox", but what passes for "orthodoxy" in a far cry from the basic truths picked up in elementary school. Instead, many people pick up a more "sophisticated" view on the historicity of Tanach, on the ikkarei emunah, on the truths of many of the minhagim.
    For that person, I think answers are important. I don't necessarily have all the answers, and I don't want this blog to turn into an emunah question and answer forum, but I think someone better grab the bull by the horns before a lot of damage is done.