Friday, 1 February 2013

Way Beyond the Cutting Edge of Orthodox Theology

I was at a conference, this week, on Orthodox Theology.

There were some big name self-defined Orthodox theologians. All doing cutting edge Orthodox theology.

But I couldn’t get over the sense that the cutting edge of orthodox theology is 50 years (and the rest) behind where Rabbi Louis Jacobs pitched his tent in the mid 1960s.


In celebration of Parashat Yitro, and in memory of the founding Rabbi of the Shul I now serve I’m sharing this. I’ll be teaching on the subject at New London, this Shabbat.


Rabbi Louis Jacobs on Revelation


Principles of the Jewish Faith (1964)

It must first be noted that, with the exeption f the very late books of Chronicles and Daniel, there is no claim anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that Moses wrote the whole of the Hebrew Bible. In the Rabbinical literature too there is a reference to the Torah being forgotten and then restored by Ezra (Suk 20a). It would be going far beyond the evidence to suggest that in these passages we have anything like an anticipation of modern critical views which see the hand of Ezra and his associates in the Pentateuch as we have it, but ...

As far as we know the first Jew to challenge the traditional view openly was Hiwi Al-Balkhi who was born in Persia in the ninth century... He had little influence in the traditional Jewish camp. The tone adopted was anti-scriptural [quite unlike] one of the greatest Jews of the Middle Ages, Ibn Ezra (1088-1167), justly hailed by many as the real father of Bible criticism.


Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy 1:2

If you know the secret of the twelve, ‘And Moses wrote,’ ‘And the Cananite was then in the Land.’ and ‘And the Lord is seen’ and of ‘Behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron’ you will discover the truth.


When the question of authorship is considered it is the task of the student to examine the available evidence and form his conclusions from it. It is facts which make so hollow the battle-cry of Jewish fundamentalism. Whether or not Jewish scholars are followers of Wellhausen is beside the point. Whatever the theory of the scholar concerning the composition of the Pentateuch, he has arrived at it by scientific, not dogmatic, grounds. The only alternative to a scientific approach (which after all only means an unprejudiced and unbiased examination of the facts, allowing these to speak for themselves) is to believe that God dictated the Pentateuch to Moses in such a manner as to allow it to give the impression of being a post-Mosaic and composite work. It is true that on any conception of God His ways are mysterious and unfathomable, but it is neither a general religious or a Jewish view that He wilfully misleads His creatures.


The Midrash records a discussion on the verse in Psalms: The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul. One Rabbi says the meaning is that because the Torah of the Lord is perfect, therefore it restores the soul. The other Rabbi interprets the verse to mean because it restores the soul, therefore it is perfect. It is not suggested that the Rabbis of the Midrash could have anticipated out problem, but here in a nutshell you have the difference between the mediaeval and the modern approach to Jewish observance. [For the Mediaeval] because the Torah is perfect it restores the soul, the subtle alchemy by means of which this is achieved is known only to God who gave the Torah. For the modern Jew the perfection which inheres in the Torah cannot be separated from the effect the Torah has had on Jewish life and Jewish history. On the deeper level the question of whether the Torah is God’s gift to Israel or Israel’s gift to God is seen to be irrelevant for on a profounder view of what is involved in Revelation the two are seen to be the same many-splendoured thing.


From The Sanctification for the Mitwoth (1964)

According to the new picture of the Bible it is both divine and human. As good an illustration as any of what this means is Brunner’s of a gramophone record. We cannot now hear Caruso sing but we can do the next best thing. We play a Caruso record and hear the master’s voice. But, of course, it is far from perfect. There is inevitable distortion. Revelation is an event, translated into words by men.



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