Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rav Kook [and others] on Modern Biblical Scholarship

Largely amended by two recent posts on Biblical Criticism (I, II), and on the notion of laws previous to the commencement of Torah beginning at Sinai (I, II).

Original post of newly-onlined material of Rav Kook regarding Biblical Criticism, and a response post.

One thing I would suggest in trying to digest this Rav Kook piece is to look at a theory in the sciences that Rav Kook points out as one he does not unconditionally accept, but a theory which, even if it were true - he sees no fundamental challenge to Torah in it; evolution. Evolutionary theory is obviously not equivalent to textual critical scholarship in so many ways...nor am I equivocating them in any real manner - only as two modal fields accepted as secularized dogmas in modernism, which Rav Kook didn't consider posing devastating challenges for faith. For one thing (this may be really off), evolution deals with repeated processes bound to whole material we actually do find in the world at large, in an ever-recurring fashion from which we predict outcomes; Biblical Criticism rests on theories regarding one general 'species' (extant biblical texts), and assumes source material ancestors - for which no actual text-predecessors have been found "in the ground" as it were, predicting "outcomes' that lay in the past (i.e., a closed canon of books by the Time of Ezra, at least regarding the Torah).

Anyways, back to evolution. One interesting discussion of evolution I have found from Rav Kook regards Shlomo haMelekh as the 'builder' of the Beit haMikdash;

R. Kook answers: Just as we say “and then Solomon built [the temple for God,” Kings I 6:1] rather than say that Solomon gave the order to the ministers and the ministers in turn to their subordinates and they to the architects and the architects to the craftsmen and laborers, for this is as obvious as it is secondary. [Feldman, {Ed.}, Rabbi A.Y. Kook, p.7] Obviously it is the one who started the process and gave the order that is the builder [see R. Berkovits' God, Man and History on causation and creation, pp. 69ish-74ish]. So, too, it is possible to understand the creation story as implying that God gave the order and the world evolved through a process of evolution. R. Kook does not assert that this is what happened, as evolution is just a theory; he simply claims that it could have been what happened and this would not contradict the Torah [possibly making room for - if not fostering - human intellectual/scientific engagement with the world - something that itself has clear, direct source in Biblical presuppositions]. We do not have to accept theories as certainties, no matter how widely accepted [R. Soloveitchik on related meanings supposed for epic paradigms in Judaism;"Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or falseness of a particular belief"], for they are like blossoms that fade. Very soon science will be developed further and all of today’s new theories will be derided and scorned and the well-respected wisdom of our day will seem small-minded.[ibid, p.6]"" [from here.]**

Of note for me is that (at least as R. Shuchat expresses it), we should not accept these theories without qualification not because the theory is entirely untrue, but because they remain human theories about reality, about truth - that are human in origin, humanly modified, amended, even swept aside at times by competing mortal paradigms. This is not how we regard Torah (which also speaks in the most appropriate language of man - and not simply the 'acceptable' loshon in science), where totally different rules of engagement apply. Such methodologically relative certainty, regarding mortal musings, is the only thing we can really achieve or expect this side of Galut and Olam hazeh (relative, i.e. bound to and through relationships held with actual entities and systems, not unlike how Deloria describes the nested emergence of wisdom in indigenous settings - not PoMo ambiguity or tamar Ross' 'non-foundationalism' nor mutually-exclusive language games), particularly in realms outside the purview of Revelation (the Non-emergent that we orient from, reckon from, that we received, not conceived...).

Relative certainty also being a hallmark of modern science, is it not? That many LWMO may flippantly suggest a sweeping acceptance of every passing scientific or academic whim and notion does not mean they are being 'adaptive' or 'relevant', just as the religion wed to the whims of 'now' is a widow tomorrow (see asterisk note below). It often sounds as if they are fulfilling the comical misunderstanding of how something is 'kosher'; someone perceived to be a religious 'authority' says over it "kosher, kosher, kosher".

SO...This same metaphorical understanding of the building of the Beit HaMikdash has been applied by R. Solomon Netter to the question of Moshe's role in the transmission of the Torah...;

"Netter explains that the statement "Moses wrote the Torah" is comparable to statements in I kings 6:10 and 9:1 that Solomon built the Temple. In other words, Solomon need not have literally participated in the building for him to be credited with it's construction. Similarly, a few post-Mosaic prophetic insertions do not alter the fact that Moses is to be regarded as [']the['] author of the Torah."(from here; pp.201-202)

This idea would make even more sense with the discussion of pre-Mosaic sources in some of Torah (along with a GREAT recentish piece from R. Shubert Spero, "'Torat Moshe / Torat Hashem' : exploring their respective roles" BDD Bekhol Derakhekha Daehu 13, 2003, pp.5-3), and offer another confluence of the Torah and 'critical' approaches - only in so far as the possibility that one individual was not the sole conduit of Torah into the world. But does this, along with many other discussions from Torah Tradition (Sifrei Avot, Post-Mosaic sources, etc) accumulate to anything like the conclusions of various Documentary Hypotheses - of which there are many (some not entirely "Documentary", for that matter)? Over the millenia, many verses have been found that appear (from 'modern' perspectives, often uninformed by Tradition, archeology, etc...see below sciences in isolation of each other), most fully understood as problematic (in a 'critical' modality); while it increases the "a few" to many - from a Revelation-friendly perspective accepting this "Moshe as author/builder" suggestion - it doesn't tip the scales against a textual Revelation. This is especially so if the integrity of mitzvot in the text are treated differently than sections that are historical narrative ("Furthermore, in his first comment in Lech-Lecha...[Ibn Ezra] states that ‘do not add to it’ was only said with regard to the commandments, meaning, that when the Torah warned us not to add, it only warned not to add to the number of mitzvoth or to their fundamentals, but not about adding words. Thus, if a prophet added a word or words to explain something about which he had a tradition, this is not considered an ‘addition’."-R’ Yosef Tuv Elem on Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 12:6; also Heschel's "Heavenly Torah", section 32), and we keep in mind the different purposes in recounting historical events and detailing laws (though Isbell in the previous link is discussing primarily NaKh, to a certain degree this could apply to the pre-Mosaic Sources supposition from our Mesorah, and the difference of their nevuah before it became Torah [commencing] from Sinai). Can any equivalency be made between that which has its source in human theories, presupposing the exhaustive explanatory power of materialism, and the fruit of engagements with the Divine, our Mesorah, Divrei Chazzal, reflecting on all Creation as having a divine source? As has been said ad naseum, everything begins with your presuppositions. The varied fields of Biblical Criticism are themselves made up of an awful lot of counterarguments and deep paradigm shifting, etc, not unlike how Rav Kook and Rav Hirsch saw as the situation of evolution in their day.

Here are links to some great pieces offering support for primary Mosaic authorship and Torah as revelation. and disputation in the field of Biblical scholarship around specifically the Documentary Hypothesis [I, II, III, IV], and this one on recent disputations in the field of Biblical Criticism. It's a christian website, so I will not stand by everything on the pages (nor the website itself, obviously). Criticism could be made about against one of my main suppositions - suggesting that my belief in "difficult verses in the Torah" is really "difficult verses became the Torah", the academic supposition that belief in textual revelation, like text, is a product of judaism, not the beginning of it. We know people wrote in the time of the Avot and since...I'm not sure how - assuming the rational possibility of Revelation (sources from Novak and on Strauss, etc), text couldn't have been one of the means of revelation! That writing and texts have proved to be of epic consequences in history (duh?!), would seem to support it's usefulness in channeling revelation, in implementing huge changes in history swiftly and thoroughly.

Regarding what I personally believe - philosophically, I don't consider the general theories of multiple [temporal] sources or even seemingly conflicting sources to be sufficiently challenging to undermine either belief or praxis if the Ikkur of belief in the ultimate Divine unity of scripture is held (essentially belief in Revelation; "unity" of scripture in this discussion requires it's own post, but for now, here is a challenge to Conservative attempts at halakhah and parshanut without belief in this unity). I believe this to be the case because human theories are not only amended, rewritten, resupposed, new foundations 'built' for the same intellectual edifices, etc - they're also human. Their source is not Divine. When it is supposed by theories in Biblical Scholarship that the Torah came to be as a result of multiple sources, over time, has elements that superficially conflict when read outside of Mesorah-based exegesis, etc - these theories are in a real sense undermined by truths hinted at from our very Tradition (Sifre Avot, later Prophetic editing, etc), as well as facts 'in the ground', some of which I detail below. That doesn't entail belief in any general or particular theories, any more than the possibility that Rav Kook also didn't find certain scientific or modern Biblical theories problematic implies he believed in them (let alone as they presently are understood).

Assuming first a minimal, logical defensible possibility regarding a communicating Godhead (R. Novak, sources and R. Eliezer Berkovits; also some from traditional Conservative thinkers), if we consider the sheer antiquity of the belief in Torah as a historical event with a Given revelation (Halivni and other sources; R. Berman recently on suzerainty treaties, Covenantal documents and Hoffmeier in Israel at Sinai), the general integrity of the claim for the historicity of the Encounter at Sinai, the textual integrity of the resulting revelation (I,II with my other posts here and here), the sources from tradition regarding post and pre-Mosaic sources (even from within Torah and Tanakh!!), we have what to stand on when confronted with Documentary Hypotheses as a general overarching challenge to belief in Revelation. Without even having to play their game by their rules on their court.

Regarding the well-discussed positions that posit Moshe Rabbenu as the exclusive receiver of Torah (that which would be/comprises the text of the Torah), or posit that every Sefer Torah is an exact copy of that which Moshe Rabbenu received at/from Sinai, it's been presented extensively elsewhere that they are not challenged by what are ultimately mild emendations to popular beliefs; emendations which, it bears repeating, are not suggested first by critical scholarship - but by sources from our Mesorah.

Currently popular functional beliefs have not always been universally held ikkurim. Others also point to the situation of Rambam's "necessary" and "true" beliefs, where the integrity of Greater Truths is buttressed by the acceptance of more 'popularized' and easy-to-grasp views on the part of the masses. And again Rav Kook's words (also here, I think from R. Slifkin?), regarding the place of that which by modern eyes may seem to be even logical error derived from the senses and perceptions (if viewed exclusively from hyper-literal, hyper-materialist perspectives) as being accepted - and also the bracketing of even revelation to the prophets..."But how could such even be suggested about the Torah?! Moshe Rabbenu's nevuah was of a different order from all others!"...

This may not be contradictory if we provisionally accept the suggestion that some of Torah (mostly Bereshit, a preamble of sorts, and scattered verses occuring later), includes nevuah from others - nevuah that, it would logically seem, did not gain the special status of Moshe's prophecy until Torat Moshe, through the Encounter at Sinai and it's acceptance by Klal Israel (technically under Ezra?...), whereupon it was indeed Nevuah like no other.

Perhaps certain "necessary" beliefs are emergent beliefs (but only "emerging" from within the Divine system, the specific Jewish logic ,temporally-bound only by merit of occurring in history), that sustain, specifically for us, those very Truths which are always true. For example, that Sinai was an Encounter with HKBH and from that moment onwards we received Torah, revelation as text, by way of Moses, etc. There are Truths which all indeed have agreed upon (and must be agreed upon to be considered part of the System) - but each era needing its way of making them thoroughly clear to ‘us’ in each unique era, as ours - and perhaps that is where "necessary" truths - and the heated arguments and 'proofs' for them - come about. Our reception of Torah each era, each person. Again, the True, Torah truths are what precedes and what remains (hence the accruing examples of ‘bad’ science, questionable ethics, bantered over regarding Chazzal and science, etc).

Within the framework of actual evidence we can offer for our mesorah, and the shakiness of Doc Hyp as a meta-philosophical challenge to belief in Revelation as such, i suggest that we may need only offer we are called 'weak' arguments for Revelation, not trenchant positions.

[in process]
Add comments on recent Sommer piece and Gellman's responses to "contentless" Revelation. Heschel, Halivni, etc. Also note that DH has, over the years it has been assumed by various academics, had those who accepted it with no problems accepting Revelation, etc. Revelation is a claim outside of what the 'science' of DH would apply to (to which even James Kugel has stated - knowing full-well the import and meaning of Nevuah - "Of course I do believe in nevu’ah, in divine revelation..."). And in the same manner MANY scientists will claim that 'evolution' can neither disprove nor prove HKBH's authorship of the Book of Life because that claim is beyond the domain of their sciences, there have definitely been BibCrits who similarly distanced themselves from the question of Revelation in Torah. This is not a point for DocHyp, but for the philosophically non-challenging nature of 'similar' suppositions from within our Mesorah which don't go to the lengths DocHyp goes and hense doesn't require the foundations it does.
On the discussion of the question of Revelation and DocHyp, as well as halachic consequences, see David Novak's "A Response to 'Towards an Aggadic Judaism'" Conservative Judaism, 30:1 fall, '75 58-59. This article, as well as other historical Conservative approaches to the question of DH and Revelation echo much of the loshon attributed to some of Rav Kook's statements; 1)Israel's actual historical-event acceptance has a central role (not as simply a community over time agreeing to observer it - an event of acceptance which happened at Sinai and/(or?...) again in the time of Ezra under his nevuah, with great trepidation and a general grasp of what was therein contained - Torah Min haShamayim), 2) the date of delivery of Revelation is secondary to it being...Revelation! 3) it could not be mi pi atzmo, people writing letters to "themselves", merely echoing their times and prejudices.
All of these positions being based in the philosophical integrity of the belief in encounter and ensuing Revelation. At the time Novak wrote the piece, he identified with Conservative Judaism, though rabbi of a LWMO congregation (gotta check on their situation at the time). He has since left the movement with others and helped found the Union for Traditional Judaism (among the dissenters were R. David Halivni having authored several volumes and articles on Torah as Revelation (I, II, III), and Alan Yuter [bio does not note his role in the UTJ], some bits here and here). Address also Louis Jacobs/Tamar Ross' points about allegedly contradictory halachot (as opposed to narrative), in Torah, as evidence of conflicting, not cumulative, Revelation, etc, offering R. Breuer, R. Etshalom, et al as counters.

Here are some comments from those generally not considered Leftwing Modern Orthodox which I find mildly problematic, for Modern Orthodoxy;

"What difference does it make if part was written by Moses, part by Aaron, part by Mr. J, and part by Mr. E? I believe it was all divinely inspired. I believe the Talmud is divinely inspired as well, even though it is full of arguments among the rabbis." -Prof. Shalom Rosenberg

[here], author of In The Footsteps of the Kuzari soon to be published by Yashar Books

Of course Professor Rosenberg is speaking to a journalist, the piece itself being a translation, we can't be precisely certain what was said or what was meant. And in a manner, R. Tov Elem used the same 'what difference' loshon centuries before. More confusing;

"Judaism always absorbed foreign ideas, tales, customs and laws, shaping them in accordance with its specific needs, theories, and worldview. The influence of foreign cultures is evident in the first pages of the Bible and throughout Judaic literature. The ancient myths, epics and tales of Sumer and Akkad found their way into the pages of the Bible, but their pagan origin became only a faint echo." Yaffa Eliach, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 36. (1968), pp. 57-83.

None of the key terms or concepts is clear. I mean...what the BH are we to do with "Judaism always absorbed foreign ideas"..etc?" After that start, what are we supposed to think she means by influence? how do foreign myths, epics and tales "find their way" into what we consider as our Sacred Scripture, without simply being co opted? When you say regarding Torah "theories" and 'pagan origin' - you're no longer saying Divine origin!...Interestingly, Prof. Eliach's source for these comments is Umberto Cassutto, renowned as not-quite-Orthodox (also 'mashol-izes' the mabul and as I recall, states that it was not an event, etc), what would likely be called "rightwing Masorti" today.

**I'd also add this wonderful quip from Holmes Rolston;
The religion that is married to science today will be a widow tomorrow...But the religion that is divorced from science today will leave no offspring tomorrow.

It is radically irresponsible for a religion to divorce itself from engagement with whatever sciences prevail at the time. I mention this as even now there are fields that function in complete disregard of the factual evidence plowed up in other scientific fields. For example, quantum physics 'applies' to all reality...on a minute level - not practically speaking in the domain of most of the hard sciences, where cause and effect reign. The point is science contains perspectives, and statements about perspectives, that are true in one sense and not another while remaining generally scientific. And authorities in science have perspectives and makes statements about their perspectives that are orthogonal to their scientific endeavors, but not necessarily independent of each other. I think this is the case similarly, in the Torah world - though varying due to the Divine "tradition" context over the "human endeavor" context. But we must engage the thinkings of our days to remain relevant.[note needs editing...]


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