Sunday, 11 July 2010

Torah MiSinai: Different Views As To How "Divine" It All Is



Oh by the way in case you don't all know Xgh has started his fifth (i think)blog. It's called Ortho Modern Dox (Because he's Ortho-prax with Modern "Doxes")This time it ain't anonymous (was there anyone who didn't know who he was already?) It should be enjoyable and I wish him Haztlacha Rabba!

A while back commenter J on Modern Orthoprax (that blog hasn't YET been deleted but I'm not holding my breath given GS's blogocidal tendencies) summed up the different views on TMS rather well here is his comments mixed together with Moshe's comments with a little bit thrown in from THIS great website. Feel free to add your opinions about different views and tell me if I missed or misunderstood any views. Enjoy!


1) TMS is true (Orthodox - use Breuer/Etshalom/Slifkin to make it work - Orthodox halacha is obligatory).

SH: Well you know all the problems with this no need to elaborate. (But I will in the future as I have in the past) Let's just put it this way it is highly unlikely that God wrote our text assuming God writes perfect books because sorry folks the Pentateuch is cool and everything but it's not really perfect. Also out of all of the options this is the only one which MUST reject literary analysis of the Torah.


2) TMS is true, but the text we have is not pristine. It represents a reconstruction of the original text by Ezra. This explains some divergences between the oral law and our written text. The oral law better reflects the pristine text [R. D. Weiss-Halivni].

SH:Sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory to me. To be fair I've never read Halivni's book on the matter. From what I understand this approach basically says the DH = Ezra struggling to put together a bunch of fragments to reconstruct the Torah.Kind of misleading of God to let the REAL Torah get lost Oh Well!

3) TMS is true, in the sense that the there was a divinely revealed content which Moshe, and other prophets, wrote down. But they were not just "secretaries taking dictation". The personality and the concerns of the prophet are reflected in the text. Thus, the Torah contains both a human and a divine element, inextricably linked. [R. AJ Heschel].

SH: I kinda like this (when I'm in a less skeptical mood). As a matter of fact I personally know some of the Rabbis at Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa (a LWMO Yeshiva in Israel) basically advocate this (although I doubt in public).
Its the best you'll get Orthodox Jews to admit to.

4) TMS isn't literally true, but the Torah is still divinely inspired, and therefore halacha-lite obligates us, except when we don't like it. (Conservative).

Subcategories based on what "divine inspiration" is

A)Divine Inspiration means God kind of puts thoughts into peoples heads and the person writes down his interpretation.These people claim
that God inspired human beings with a specific message.

SH: I think this approach is ultimately empty semantics. Divine inspiration is one those phrases which means very little. Think of DovBear's recent rant against people discussing "spirituality". What the hell is spirituality and what the hell is "divine inspiration." Sounds like schizophrenia to me. On the other hand I guess God talking in the Orthodox way is also kind of meaningless (since God is probably incorporeal and what not)

B)Divine Inspiration means people wrote down what they thought about this God who kept appearing to them. The only inspiration is that works written by these people who had some connection to God are worth listening to because these prophets used to chat to God. These people maintain that God inspired people with His presence by coming into contact with them, but He did not reveal concrete instructions through the inspiration.

SH: This I can sorta deal with. God doesn't write books people do. How people are "encountering" still God beats me though.

5) TMS isn't true at all, but the decision of Jews to accept the 'four assumptions' was divinely guided, and therefore the text has magic fairy dust sprinkled on it to make it retroactively divine. (Kugel)

SH: Kugel basically argues with people like Nahum Sarna and Umberto Cassuto who go to great lengths to explain how every Biblical story has some sort of ethical message. Kugel basically says that that is complete rubbish and the stories in the Bible have Zero inherent ethical message and are purely etiological. He however says that these stories underwent some sort of transformation when later interpreters began treating them like ethical/meaningful stories. (Pixie dust basically)

The last five are all well and good except there is zero logical reason to believe any of them over 6 except that you feel like it.

6) TMS isn't true, but is rather a record of Jews reaching out to God, and has some divine qualities. We can take what we like, and abandon what we don't.
(Reform)

SH:Hmmmm might as well just go with 7

7) TMS is not true. There's no reason to think that there is a celestial being who cares particularly about humans.

SH: I gotta say if you gotta decide logically between a Deist God and a Monotheistic intervening God who slips books into people's hands and thoughts into people's heads I'd go with the former but that's just my opinion if you feel that God is immanent in your life then gezunte heit think what you want (And that's assuming there is ANY God.)


If you decide that TMS is in fact absolutely completely not true there are various ways of treating the Bible

1. The Tanach is nasty, evil, hokum, which is immoral and still makes the world a worse place - we should keep telling everyone this till they realise we are right (New Atheists).

SH:These guys just annoy me. The Bible is no more "evil" than any other ancient text. People back in the day were just violent blood thirsty bastards PERIOD. It only becomes "evil" when people nowadays take it too seriously. Dawkins and Hitchens should be busy fighting fundamentalism not religion. I guess they figure the two go hand in hand.

2. Tanach is a product of its time, represents great literature (in part), nothing Godly about it, but it is, for Jews, a record of their history and culture, therefore it should be preserved and celebrated without informing any of our moral decisions. (Humanistic Judaism).

SH:Amen! Basically Secular Cultural Zionism.

3. Tanach is completely irrelevant to my life, I have the same feelings about it as I do about the New Testament. Completely man made, but why should I care? (Most others).

SH: I think the Bible is pretty interesting but that's just me. (Except for Iyov!!! Iyov is just depressing AND boring and once I'm at it Eicha is pretty boring as well as Tehillim)

Well thats a summary maybe I'll go B'Iyun one day if I can keep my head in one place.

24 comments:

Baruch Spinoza said...

"1. The Tanach is nasty, evil, hokum, which is immoral and still makes the world a worse place - we should keep telling everyone this till they realise we are right (New Atheists).

SH:These guys just annoy me. The Bible is no more "evil" than any other ancient text. People back in the day were just violent blood thirsty bastards PERIOD. It only becomes "evil" when people nowadays take it too seriously. Dawkins and Hitchens should be busy fighting fundamentalism not religion. I guess they figure the two go hand in hand."

By the way, it is kinda obvious that you probably live in England or somewhere in Europe with the way you write. But that is irrelevent.

"These guys just annoy me.":

Sorry, I did not mean to do it.

But I do not understand why you would praise or respect a stupid boring book which is evil? The Torah is a piece of garbage. And I would have no problem buring it. Just like I would have no problem buring the Quran, or Book of Moron, or Mein Kampf, or People's Magazine. I do not understand why someone would want to identity with the Torah? Instead identify with the people and only understand that the Torah was an old outdated practice, not as a book of inspiration. And what you say is not Humanistic Judaism, that is more precisely Reconstructionist Judaism. But I have a problemw ith Reconstructionist Judaism, I do not understand why practice parts of the Torah if you accept it is no longer binding? I just think that Reconstructionist Judaism is really for once Jewish believers that still need to hold on to those practices. Not that there is anything wrong with that. If that makes you happy go ahead, not trying to condemn Reconstructionist Judaism. Just saying my problem with it. Humanistic Judaism does not contain respect for the Torah, it just celebrates Jewish identity. That is basically it.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Sorry, I did not mean to do it.

Lol I'll let it go this time

>a stupid boring book which is evil?

Personally I am absolutely enamored of it. The Bible is just extremely interesting and sometimes even beautiful IMHO.

The Bible has good parts and bad parts

yes all the genocide is bad but on the other hand that was what everyone was doing back then. I'm not condoning it I'm just saying realize the time period it was written in. You can't vaguely compare the Bible to Mein Kampf because Mein Kampf was written in an "enlightened" age the Bible was not. If someone had written the Bible today parts of it would indeed be pretty frightening but you can't treat it that way for the simple reason that it wasn't written in the modern era. Do you make fun of Aristotle for not being as smart as you in natural science? I hope not. Similarly you should not mock or spurn the Ancient Israelites and their literature for having an inferior moral compass than you.

Stop focusing only on the bad parts

There is just as much beauty in the Bible as there is barbarity - you just need to be more receptive.

But I agree people magazine can go in the bonfire ;)

JewishGadfly said...

1. The Tanach is nasty, evil, hokum, which is immoral and still makes the world a worse place - we should keep telling everyone this till they realise we are right (New Atheists).

SH:These guys just annoy me. The Bible is no more "evil" than any other ancient text. People back in the day were just violent blood thirsty bastards PERIOD. It only becomes "evil" when people nowadays take it too seriously.


To play devil's advocate (so to speak), their point is not whether or not the Bible is more violent than other ancient books. Their point is a) to respond to the claim that the Bible is the source of morality, and show that in reality it is not--and that most people would consider things in it immoral (Dawkins makes this goal very explicit). And, b) to show that an adherence to religious ideology can be responsible for people doing bad things they would never otherwise do (perhaps Hitchens focuses on that more--I haven't read much of his, to be honest, though I have heard him speak).

I think that the flipside of (b) can be true also--that religion can motivate people to do good things they would otherwise not do--and I've seen New Atheists say that. Nonetheless, these are the points they make.

Dawkins and Hitchens should be busy fighting fundamentalism not religion. I guess they figure the two go hand in hand.

They do. Their idea is that moderate religion in some ways allows extremist religion, in part by committing people to many of the same types of supernaturalist thinking. As a side point, where do you draw the line? Are people who think intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution moderates?

Shilton HaSechel said...

I completely agree that the Bible and especially the Quran are pretty scary things to use as your moral compass.

All I'm saying is the Bible is an important part of our (whether Jews or Westerners) cultural tradition and should at least be appreciated as an important work of literature.

If Dawkins and Hitchens really think that (and I admit I haven't read their books I merely have listened to them speak) then good for them. However there definitely are New Atheists who absolutely ABHOR the Bible.

(Was it Dawkins who said that you're a barbarian if you don't know the Bible?)

>Their idea is that moderate religion in some ways allows extremist religion

I guess that's true but you can't really say that we need to rid the world of moderate religion because of its connection to extremist religion can you?

The only problem is when the Bible or a Religion becomes THE source of morality as opposed to say a book with some pretty good but not perfect ideas.

>As a side point, where do you draw the line? Are people who think intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution moderates?

ID is hard to deal with because they claim it has nothing to do with religion (nobody says its God maybe it was aliens! yeah right) and that it is pure science. So that's not a problem of drawing a religious line but rather with dealing with a bunch of closet creationists.

gamzoo said...

Iyov has some great parts. The opening scene is in my opinion the best in the whole bible. God and the Devil making a bet. That's classic. The problem with Iyov is that it's an enigma. By the end of the book you're not sure what happened. It's kind of like an ancient Cormac McCarthy book :) But that's also a bit charming to me

Shilton HaSechel said...

Re Iyov

I agree the opening scene is very good.

it's the endless monologues which just repeat the same things over and over and over again which kind of bore me. Some of it is eloquent but even eloquence gets boring when it just is repeated ad nauseum.

Puzzled said...

The point is that no one walks around saying, regarding any other old book, that it not only is the source of values, but the only possible source of values.

Reconstructionist Judaism: We don't attach much meaning to statements like 'the Torah is binding' or 'the Torah is not binding.' It's a book written by men. What does binding mean in this context? Instead, we believe that some of these practices might be positive and help us live more fulfilling lives, but only if we understand them in that way, not in the ways they were understood in the past. We think it is good to have a day off, a day without engaging in trade, and on which we focus on self-improvement and literacy. We must first divorce that from 'God rested on the 7th day' and also from the halachic structure in which it's been wrapped. The halacha was designed to reflect values which got lost over the years, we think, and we need to reclaim the values, then wrestle with them and accept or reject them. For example, in my 'final days' of orthodoxy, I spent a lot of time looking for reasons why I can do things on shabbat that I wanted to do. As a Reconstructionist Jew, I don't want to do those things since they are incompatible with the spirit. If I wanted to, I'd do them, without searching through a book for permission.
On the original post: Why should 2 be 'secular cultural Zionism'? How does that position on the Torah lead to the conclusion that a fertile strip in the Middle East which is mentioned in a book which is not written by God or inspired by God belongs to the people that that book says it does? Also, I see some distance between positions that perhaps could be filled by a new position. Why does denying TMS lead to there is no God, for instance? Maybe God exists and isn't an author?

Shilton HaSechel said...

Puzzled,

>The point is that no one walks around saying, regarding any other old book, that it not only is the source of values, but the only possible source of values.

True but the book isn't evil/bad just because dumb people treat it that way.

>Why should 2 be 'secular cultural Zionism'?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Zionism

Cultural Zionism is not the Zionism you hear about on the news.

>Why does denying TMS lead to there is no God, for instance?

I don't think it necessarily does but it does suggest that "God" whatever that is does not really get involved in our affairs and is a bit of a boring abstraction which has nothing to do with me or my life. If God cared about people we would expect some form of TMS to help us out no?

JewishGadfly said...

As a side note, putting the tedium aside, Iyov is one of my favorite books of Tanach. So many terrible things happen to this guy, and his learned friends try to defend God's justice by telling him he must have deserved it. (Think of certain high profile rabbis explaining why each Earthquake or Hurricane Katrina happen.) Iyov insists he was righteous and didn't deserve it, and there was no justice or logic to it.

God shows up angry at the friends, and says they didn't know what they're talking about and Iyov's right--he was righteous and there's no way he can understand why it happened, no reason he can pin it on whatsoever. Its unfathomable. And then it ends. (Well, eventually things get a little better for him again. That's life, huh?)

How's that for theology?

JewishGadfly said...

Um, I don't know why I capitalized "earthquake."

Shilton HaSechel said...

I always find it interesting how easily the Gemara deals with the same exact problems. The Gemara almost cavalierly says things to the effect of "what's the big deal if things are crap now God will make it up in the afterlife"

Iyov obviously doesn't believe in a meaningful afterlife so he's in a bit of a pickle. It's Iyov's dilemma which finally forced the issue and got the afterlife into Judaism.

I mean what kind of comfort is the conclusion in Iyov - God works in mysterious ways - that's not going to make anyone feel too much better. But an afterlife THAT is a different story.

But yes maybe these Rabbis nowadays who "know" why there are earthquakes and hurricanes should learn a bit of Iyov - oh wait! they're all ignoramuses in Tanach! - that explains a lot.

JewishGadfly said...

>I mean what kind of comfort is the conclusion in Iyov

Right, it's not. At all. But that's why Iyov always impresses me as a religious book.

E-Man said...

"Iyov obviously doesn't believe in a meaningful afterlife so he's in a bit of a pickle. It's Iyov's dilemma which finally forced the issue and got the afterlife into Judaism. "

Why doesn;t he believe in an afterlife? He is just confused as to why bad things happen to good people. Read the Ralbag on Iyov. I assume you are going with the notion that Judaism says bad things happen to good people because of the reward in the afterlife. This is one of several theodicies found in Judaism. I think the Ralbag clarifies what the book of Job is coming to teach us in a very clear way. (Read the Ralbag on the book of Job)

Also, why is the end of the book no kind of comfort? G-D blesses him with an even greater life after all of his travails. That doesn't do it for ya? The main idea being that G-D rewards those that are righteous isn't a comforting conclusion?

Shilton HaSechel said...

>He is just confused as to why bad things happen to good people.

What so confusing? The Gemara seems to have it worked out and has little dilemma because it explains everything in term of an afterlife. Nu Iyov, whats so hard to figure out?

>(Read the Ralbag on the book of Job)

Lol if I remember correctly the Ralbag discusses it in terms of how God's hashgacha works in the world which is in turn based on the Moreh's understanding of the subject.

Sure I guess a buncha people who believe in an afterlife can sit and discuss that but I don't know if that answers my question which is why is Iyov so emotionally distraught if he knows that God will make it up later? And why does he not approach the problem the same way as the Gemara. Why in the world do 50 something chapters about God, reward, and punishment not even mention an afterlife! Surely that's a pretty glaring oversight on the part of the author?

>G-D blesses him with an even greater life after all of his travails.

Yes but we're not all as lucky as Iyov.

>The main idea being that G-D rewards those that are righteous isn't a comforting conclusion?

The point of the book is that no one has any idea why God does the things he does. The little reward at the end is just to give the story a happy ending.

JewishGadfly said...

>The main idea being that G-D rewards those that are righteous isn't a comforting conclusion?

Agree with Shilton above. If you read what the character of, you know, GOD says, I think it's clear that this is not at all the conclusion of the book at all. Rather, God gives no logic or understanding to anything, and just undermines any attempts to do so. There's a nice coda at the end so we're not totally depressed. But meanwhile, Iyov's friends have to bring sacrifices because they tried to defend Divine justice when, according to God, they didn't understand it at all.

E-Man said...

What about Elihu?

E-Man said...

Do me a favor, read Gersonides on Job and get back to me. Specifically chapter 11 and 42 I think.

Shilton, not sure what the LOL was for, but the reason I said Ralbag instead of Maimonides is because Ralbag wrote a whole sefer explaining what was going on in Job and how the main point is to deal with theodicy.

Shilton HaSechel said...

The "lol" was simply your tone ("it says in the Ralbag.. well go read it already!") don't be offended

Maimonides (Guide III 23) deals with it all also but obviously less detailed

and the Ralbag and Maimonides are pretty much in agreement as to what the point of the book is (divine providence)

But I'll try to look at those chapters for you and tell you what I think, though I'm rather familiar with the basic idea.

E-Man said...

One important difference between the Ralbag and Rambam is their view on creation and how that effects evil in the world. Essentially, the Ralbag believes in a creation similar to that of Plato, creation Ex Aliquo. This leads the Ralbag to say that evil is not something created by G-D, but just a fact of nature. Basically, bad things happen to good people because of the natural order and not because G-D is causing it. I think this also separates the Ralbag and the Rambam on their explanation to the book of Iyov to some degree.

For further details you just got to read the Milchamos Hashem or some part of his commentary of Iyov (I have no idea where). It is lengthy and I doubt you really care to spend your time on it though.

E-Man said...

My main point here is that if Rambam and Ralbag are correct in their explanation then why would Iyov talk about the afterlife at all? Who cares if he believes in an afterlife or not, the point is, why do bad things happen to good people in this world.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Who cares if he believes in an afterlife or not, the point is, why do bad things happen to good people in this world.

Answer: to purge them of their sins (even extremely minor ones) in this world so they'll have a better afterlife - at least that what the Gemara thinks.

>It is lengthy and I doubt you really care to spend your time on it though.

If I had time I would love to read through Milchamot Hashem but unfortunately I don't ... I'll get to it one day hopefully

E-Man said...

-Answer: to purge them of their sins (even extremely minor ones) in this world so they'll have a better afterlife - at least that what the Gemara thinks.

This is not the question. The question is why does a completely righteous person, with no sins, get punished.

Puzzled said...

>>The point is that no one walks around saying, regarding any other old book, that it not only is the source of values, but the only possible source of values.

>True but the book isn't evil/bad just because dumb people treat it that way.

No, but it's not like it's one or two dumb people. It's most people in our society. Maybe pointing to the brutality is an effective way of countering that message.

>>Why should 2 be 'secular cultural Zionism'?

>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Zionism

>Cultural Zionism is not the Zionism you hear about on the news.

I still fail to see the implication. Why can't it be a record of our past without us wanting to form a Jewish culture and settle in a particular strip of land mentioned there?

>>Why does denying TMS lead to there is no God, for instance?

>I don't think it necessarily does but it does suggest that "God" whatever that is does not really get involved in our affairs and is a bit of a boring abstraction which has nothing to do with me or my life. If God cared about people we would expect some form of TMS to help us out no?

Well, no. By that logic, God didn't care about people for the generations until TMS if it had happened. Besides, there are plenty of other ways to communicate with us. An adherent of natural law would say that the laws of nature are a form of communication, perhaps. Or maybe the internal revulsion we feel to murder is God having put a message directly (hardwired) into our brains.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Puzzled,

>Maybe pointing to the brutality is an effective way of countering that message.

Maybe but I think it just pisses religious people off

>Why can't it be a record of our past without us wanting to form a Jewish culture and settle in a particular strip of land mentioned there?

It can. I'm not saying liking the Bible = Cultural Zionism I'm just saying that Cultural Zionism = Liking the Bible. My mistake for not making the distinction.

>God didn't care about people for the generations until TMS if it had happened.

Ah but they were Goyim ;) Either way better late than never

>An adherent of natural law would say that the laws of nature are a form of communication, perhaps. Or maybe the internal revulsion we feel to murder is God having put a message directly (hardwired) into our brains.

Sounds a little wishy washy but thats just me.

I think a direct booming voice from heaven is the way an interested God should be behaving instead of leaving us little codes in nature and in our brains.

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