Professor Tamar Ross was interviewed by Professor Alan Brill over at Kavvanah about Torah M’Sinai and Biblical Criticism. To be honest, when I read the interview I was unable to comprehend what she was trying to say. Only after a lengthy Facebook conversation and some posts by Gideon Slifkin did I get her approach, sort of.
Her words are very dense and quite cryptic but I think this what she is trying to say.
In her opinion, we have two immovable objects. We have Divine Revelation and the requisite belief that God gave the Torah to us in its complete form and we have Biblical Criticism which in her opinion asserts that the Torah has evolved from multiple authors and multiple eras. Something has to give. For most people, ignorance about one or the other is the turning point. People who know more about Biblical Criticism than TMS are more likely to think that the Torah is not Divine. Those who know more about (the Orthodox Jewish) approach to Torah than Biblical Criticism are more likely to think that Biblical Criticism is just a theory or soft science with more biases than religious approaches to Torah.
I am not here to take sides and apparently neither is Professor Ross.
Ross’s basic idea is that “revelation” was not a one time thing. The revelation continues as the world progressed and however the Torah was emended or edited after Sinai was part of revelation. In order to make this sound religious, Professor Ross uses all kinds of fancy kabbalistic “logic” to make this approach kosher. In short, God is not bound by time so everything is really happening at once. Revelation can’t be just a moment in time and God is continually revealed through the evolution of Torah. Apparently there are allusions to this kind of theology in classical sources. Also, the thing that make our tradition unique is only that it is our tradition. I’m not sure how and why this fits in, but she does say it.
Read the entire interview because the bulk of it is really about what this approach is not as opposed to what this approach actually is. But what is it?
Well, it’s not Orthodox. That’s for sure. But as has been pointed out, it’s not that far off. In terms of how the charedi world sees Mesorah and Daas Torah, the assumption is that God is “signing off” on the developments of Orthodox Judaism is part and parcel of how charedi Judaism works. So is it so hard to hear that God functioned the same way with regard to how the text of the Written Law evolved? Granted, the Written Law and Oral Law have different parameters and roles and I am not saying that these two ideas are the same. I am merely pointing out that the two ideas are similar.
Is this idea viable or useful?
I don’t think so. First of all, simple ideas are popular. There is a reason that more nuanced positions are less popular than bombastic theories of everything. People like when things are simple. The fundamentalist version of Torah M’Sinai is simple and not nuanced at all. It’s also pretty popular. If you want a theory to be popular it needs to be simple. Professor Ross has proposed a very complicated theory that is very difficult to articulate. It’s not going to gain much traction because of this fatal flaw.
More importantly, I think that an idea like this is not likely to help actual people. People who believe in the fundamentalist version of Torah M’Sinai don’t need this. People who reject Torah M’Sinai are not usually looking for creative way to believe in Torah M’Sinai. Further, I am not sure that this path will lead people who reject fundamentalist Torah M’Sinai to mitzvah observance. I think they want to do what God says to do, not what men say to do as a part of God’s slow revelation.
However, there are a few people in the middle who I am confident that this approach can help. Some people just want some theological basis to be orthodox and this can potentially serve that small group. If we believe in the primacy of keeping Torah and Mitzvos then we should welcome creative ways that are somewhat theologically sound to help more people accomplish this goal.
Melt your brain and read the interview here: Kavvanah
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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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