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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Can You Cry ‘Heresy’ in a Crowded Beit Midrash?

Why does a opinion in the Talmud say the last verses in Devarim were not written by Moses? Was it the easiest solution to a very obvious problem?
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If this is what R’ Farber is doing, and I am pretty sure it is, we can say that he has good intentions. We can also say that it deserves a conversation and not to be shot down as heretical immediately. I was particularly upset that the article on Cross-Currents did not articulate the objections to R’ Farber’s statements. Instead quotes were mined and the audience was expected to simply conclude that the statements were heretical. It is symptomatic of a larger problem in orthodox Judaism where reason and debate are stifled. Dogmatic proclamations are very much in style. Well argued responsa died with R’ Moshe Feinstein.

Purely for the sake of honest religious debate, I think that R’ Farber’s approach demands a discussion and not condemnation. But for the social reasons I think there is even more benefit to an inclusive approach. We should not be rooting for a breakaway from orthodoxy by the Left, nor should we even give the appearance of rooting for it. One thing that Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and its community do well, is inclusivity. The times we live in are dark in some ways, but people are more capable than ever before to think on their own and formulate their judgments. I see no benefit to jettisoning an entire group of people and the people who are sympathetic to them because of controversial statements. I am aware that this is a time-honored custom of Jews and religious people everywhere. I just don’t see the utility in it anymore. Our best defense against losing the battle vs. complete secularism is not insularity and narrowing the playing field. Our best defense is the exact opposite.

If we want to have a small narrow-minded cult that ignores the outside world and in turn is ignored by the outisde world we should continue the trend of ousting people and movements from orthodox Judaism. If we want to keep a foothold in the outside world and carry weight and influence in a world that could certainly use some of our wisdom, we need to keep the broadest base possible.

I hope that R’ Farber’s article and the entire theTorah.com website can become a springboard for education and discussion. Inclusivity to the maximum should be our goal.

Visit Fink or Swim.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


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5 Responses to “Can You Cry ‘Heresy’ in a Crowded Beit Midrash?”

  1. Lisa Liel says:

    Farber also denies that Abraham and Sarah existed, or that the tribes of Israel were descended from a common ancestor.

    As for "Chazal had a different midpoint to their Torah scrolls", this is not true. See http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_pamphlet9.html, and the section "The Middle of the Torah".

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Torah clearly states that Moshe's statements in Devarim were as per the command of G-d as per the following at the beginning of Devarim " It came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had commanded him regarding them;" The lats few statements after Moshe passed away is discussed- but that also was written by dictation.

    The Torah also makes it clear that the Whole Torah was written as per the dictation of G-d to Moshe- that means G-d told Moshe to write down whichever conversations and events that G-d chose to record as per the wording that G-d decided. That is by dictation. That's why the Torah is eternal and full of so many secrets linked precisely to the G-d's choice of word use and order of wording.

  3. Charlie Hall says:

    Chazal admitted that they had lost the accurate original text of the Torah. Some rishonim identified passages that they believed to be later additions. These folks were not heretics.

  4. Charlie Hall And there is the problem. Because, once you say that Chazal "lost the accurate original text" without any qualification as to what percent was lost, or how they decided what was proper to edit, and what was not proper to edit, you make it a "free for all".

    Especially in the USA, where the idea "what makes your opinion better than mine, just because you had years of study" has been radicalized, to the point where the Reform movement encourages people to make up their own Judaism, so that it is "meaningful to them".

    Americans have notoriously short attention spans, and will hear "Chazal made it up" and "God Speaking to Israel from Mt. Sinai is allegory" instead of the nuanced point R' Fink is trying to make.

    Far safer to start from the position that R’ Farber crossed a line, and force the walk back, than just accepting it as part of "Public Debate".

  5. Charlie Hall And there is the problem. Because, once you say that Chazal "lost the accurate original text" without any qualification as to what percent was lost, or how they decided what was proper to edit, and what was not proper to edit, you make it a "free for all".

    Especially in the USA, where the idea "what makes your opinion better than mine, just because you had years of study" has been radicalized, to the point where the Reform movement encourages people to make up their own Judaism, so that it is "meaningful to them".

    Americans have notoriously short attention spans, and will hear "Chazal made it up" and "God Speaking to Israel from Mt. Sinai is allegory" instead of the nuanced point R' Fink is trying to make.

    Far safer to start from the position that R’ Farber crossed a line, and force the walk back, than just accepting it as part of "Public Debate".

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