Friday, August 23, 2013

is the glass half-empty or half-full? -- belief in "Torah m'Sinai"

One of the quotes below is from a leading Conservative rabbi, one from a Reform rabbi, one from a Reconstructionist rabbi, one from an Orthodox rabbi, and one from a professor who affiliates as Orthodox.  I have deliberately provided no links and no names.  My challenge: can you identify which quote goes with which speaker? 

Now, I admit that cherry picking quotes out of context is not the fairest way to do things.  If you want to argue that had I presented the full picture it would be far easier to sort things out, neicha, I'll grant the point.  Still, you would think that at least with respect to  Orthodox vs. Reform/Reconstructionist ideology, what I think is fair to call opposite ends of the spectrum, there could be no possible way to conflate the two -- or could there be? 

Is the glass is half-empty or half-full?  Should we be thrilled that even Reform and Reconstuctionist leaders  speak of Torah in ways that are not so different than their Orthodox counterparts -- perhaps there is far less that divides us theologically than some might assume -- or should we be distressed that even those who self-identify as Orthodox in fact subscribe to a theology that is for all intents and purposes indistinct from the other branches within Judaism? 

If most historians say that there is no evidence for Israel gathering at Mount Sinai in the 13th century B.C.E. or thereabouts (they do), and if they say that there is ample evidence that Israel did not even exist as a cultural or political entity at that time (they do), then how should we reconcile those observations with the teachings of the Torah? The answer for most --xxxx-- thinkers is that the revelation at Mount Sinai in Exodus is a story that teaches great truths about the way that God is revealed in our lives, not facts about an historical incident.

Given the data to which modern historians have access, it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical…

The stories of the Torah reflect the ways the prophets of old refracted their encounters with divine wisdom through the prism of mnemohistorical narrative. Adam is the story about why humans are here, and Noah is the story about the precariousness of our position and the existential need to be good people in order for our existence to have meaning. The stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are about who we (Israel/Jews) are as a people and how we found God/God found us; the Exodus and Conquest tell us about Israel’s mission as a nation and our covenantal relationship with God.

It is precisely the sacredness of these texts that requires of serious students to employ every piece of scholarly equipment to unpack their contents... Judaism does not seek to limit our thinking, only our actions.
This is not to say that earlier generations got it all wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. To witness their deep engagement with Torah and Talmud is to tap into inexhaustible wellsprings of mental acuity and spiritual power. It is to discover the multiple and ingenious ways-critical, midrashic, kabalistic and philosophical-in which they explicated these texts. Like them, --xxxx scholars-- take their place in an unbroken chain of exegetes, but with their own arsenal of questions, resources, and methodologies....

Our aim should be to embrace the truth instead of engaging in apologetics. There’s absolutely no doubt in the academic community that the Torah emerged over time. One should not think that scholars in biblical studies are out to destroy faith...

The Torah is not divine.... Is the Torah authoritative? Absolutely. But is it divine? No.

In the coming discussion of Torah I make no literalist assumptions about the historicity of the text or its revealed origins. I speak out of deep relationship with the Torah text as we have it, out of unceasing engagement (including moments of outrage and frustration), but not as a believer in it as resulting from divine dictation. The biblical scholar’s understanding of the text’s complex origins and editing are a level of truth that I recognize as valid. In my religious life, however, I continue to embrace the text as a whole, a sacred artifact rather than as historical document. I enter into the text as a participant in an unending conversation among generations of Jews, enriched but essentially unfazed by critical perspectives.


  1. 1) Conservative
    4) Professor Affiliating with Orthodoxy
    5) Reform

    Am I right? What do I win?

  2. Oh wow, after a Google search I see I had a lot of them mixed up. Good exercise!

  3. I'm just curious: what made you identify #1 as C. and #5 as R?

  4. Those five and nine others would make a minyan. The paragraph in 3 is not blatantly objectionable. The others are.