Articles written by Rabbi Jacobs: Extract from We Have Reason To Believe

From We Have Reason To Believe, reproduced by kind permission of Vallentine Mitchell, Publishers. (To visit the Vallentine Mitchell Website where many of Rabbi Jacobs' books are for sale click here)

A Synthesis of the Traditional and Critical Views

THREE distinct attitudes are possible with regard to the challenge of Bible Criticism and its implications for Jewish observance, and each of these has found protagonists among Jews in this century. There is the school which accepts the critical position more or less in toto to the detriment not alone of the doctrine of ' Torah from Heaven' but also to the practical observances of Judaism. Another school feels obliged to reject entirely, and to combat positively in the name of Orthodoxy, any untraditional views. And there is the third view according to which a synthesis between the traditional and critical theories is possible and that, in any event, the attitude of respect, reverence and obedience vis-à-vis Jewish observance is not radically affected by an 'untraditional' out- look on questions of Biblical authorship and composition.

Most thinkers of the Reform school, nowadays, adopt, more or less, the full critical position and draw from it what appears to them to be the logical conclusion that the ritual precepts of the Pentateuch are no longer binding upon Jews, not having been given by God to Moses. The lofty ethical standards of the Bible and the principles of justice, righteousness and holiness are binding because of their basic truth and their appeal to man's higher nature.

The second view is that of such Orthodox scholars as David Hoffmann (1843-1921), the author of the brilliant Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese. Hoffman attacks the critics with great acumen and tremendous erudition on their own ground and with their own methods. But it is not without significance that Hoffman himself was the originator of what has been called 'The Higher Criticism of the Mishnah', in which the great Code of Jewish law is subjected to exactly the same kind of literary analysis—various 'strata', redactors and all—which the critics use in their investigations into the Biblical literature. As Hoffman in fact declares, his opposition to the Higher Criticism is on grounds of faith. As an orthodox Jew he feels compelled to reject the critical position as erroneous and he then uses his considerable skill in demolishing the edifice the critics have so laboriously erected.

Dr. J. H. Hertz, the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, was one of the most determined opponents of the critical theory, calling the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis a perversion of history and a desecration of religion. Dr. Hertz devotes a large portion of his famous commentary to the Humash to attacking the Higher Criticism. Typical of his remarks in this connection is the following: 'The procedure of the critics in connection with the Creation and Deluge chapters is typical of their method throughout. It justifies the protest of the late Lord Chancellor of England, the Earl of Halsbury—an excellent judge of evidence—who in 1915 found himself impelled to declare: "For my own part I consider the assignment of different fragments of Genesis to a number of wholly imaginary authors, great rubbish. I do not understand the attitude of those men who base a whole theory of this kind on hypotheses for which there is no evidence whatsoever".

A generation before the Earl of Halsbury, the historian Lecky gave expression to a similar judgment, in the following words: "I may be pardoned for expressing my belief that this kind of investigation is often pursued with an exaggerated confidence. Plausible conjecture is too easily mistaken for positive proof. Undue significance is attached to what may be mere casual coincidence, and a minuteness of accuracy is professed in discriminating between different elements in a narrative which cannot be attained by mere internal evidence".

Many modern scholars without any theological bias reject the hypothesis on purely scientific grounds. The Uppsala School, Umberto Cassutto, Ezekiel Kaufmann and others have all suggested alternative theories, though none of these is in complete accord with the traditional view, Professor Cassutto (The Documentary Hypothesis (Hebrew), Sec. Ed., Jer. 1953.) for example, takes each of the five pillars on which the Documentary Hypothesis stands—the different divine names, the differences in style and language, contradictions between two passages, repetitions in two passages, and the combination of two accounts—and demonstrates that they have been set up by scholars incapable of appreciating the niceties of ancient Hebrew style and linguistic distinctions. To give but one example, the expressions 'going out of Egypt' and 'going up out of Egypt' are not at all due to different sources, each with its own idiom, but they represent the expressions of the same 'source' for two different things—the one refers to the Exodus alone, the other to the whole journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. But Cassutto recognises—and here we arrive at the third point of view—that unfounded though the Documentary Hypothesis is, the question is a literary one, not a religious question. 'We must approach this task', writes Cassutto, 'with complete objectivity, without any sort of preconception in favour of one school or another. We must be ready from the beginning of our investigation to accept its results wherever they may lead. And there is no need for us to be alarmed for the honour of our Torah and its holiness. The honour of our Torah and its holiness are above the realm of literary criticism, they depend on the inner content of the books of the Torah and are in no way dependent on the solution of literary problems which have to do merely with the external form, with the "language of men" in which, as the Rabbis say, the Torah speaks. . . (Ibid., pp. 16-17)
This, in fact, is the fundamental question—not whether this or that theory is correct, but whether the appeal to tradition is valid in matters to which the normal canons of historical and literary method apply, and whether the authority of Jewish Law is weakened as a result of scientific investigation. The third view holds that we can afford to be objective in examining the literary problems of the Bible and that it does not at all follow that because, as a result of more highly developed methods of investigation, including the use of archaeological evidence, we are compelled to adopt different views from the ancients, we must automatically give up the rich and spiritually satisfying tradition that has been built up with devotion and self-sacrifice by the wisest and best of Jews.

This third view is finding an increasing number of adherents. The historical school argues that literary problems can only be solved by the use of those methods which have been applied so successfully in the examination of other documents of antiquity—the Greek and Latin classics, for example. Its members will keep an open mind on many of the problems, realising that after so many centuries many of the difficulties never will be solved. But this approach in no way invalidates the observance of Jewish practices. These derive their authority from the undeniable fact that they have provided Jews with 'ladders to heaven' and still have the power of sanctifying Jewish life in accordance with the Jewish ideal; because of this we recognise that it was God who gave them and it is His will that we obey when we submit to the Torah discipline. As Franz Rosenzweig has so finely put it: 'Where we differ from orthodoxy is in our reluctance to draw from our belief in the holiness or uniqueness of the Torah , and in its character of revelation, any conclusions as to its literary genesis and the philological value of the text as it has come down to us. If all of Wellhausen's theories were correct and the Samaritans really had the better text, our faith would not be shaken in the least'. (Franz Rosenzweig—His Life and Thought, N.Y., 1953, p. 158.)

One of the most original thinkers among the Rabbis of the older school, Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson, wrote some years ago a fascinating Responsum on the Jewish attitude to Bible Criticism. Hirschenson, who was asked if Bible Criticism may be taught at the Hebrew University, endeavoured to apply Halachic method to the problem. The Halachah knows of three categories with regard to liability—these are, hayyabh, 'obligation', i.e. the incurment of a penalty; patur 'exemption' but assur 'forbidden', i.e. though there is no penalty for the offence there is prohibition; and patur and muttar, 'exempt and permitted', i.e. not only is there no penalty but there is no prohibition. With regard to Sabbath law, for instance, work prohibited in the Bible involves the full penalty of Sabbath desecration; work forbidden by rabbinic law is prohibited but there is no penalty attached to the prohibition; and there are certain forms of work involving no prohibition whatsoever. Hirschenson suggests (Maiki Ba-Kodesh, Vol. I and II, St. Louis, 1919-1921) that the main objection in the Talmudic sources to the rejection of the doctrine of ' Torah from Heaven' is that such a rejection impugns the honesty of Moses by suggesting that he wrote something he had not received from God. The hayyabh offence in this field, for which the penalty of exclusion from the World to Come is incurred, is the denigration of Moses' character in maintaining that he willfully forged the Biblical documents. On the
other hand, the study of textual criticism is both patur and muttar, for, as we have seen, such criticism was at times resorted to in the Talmudic age. Modern Bible Criticism does not suggest that Moses forged the documents but that they are not the work of Moses at all. This, because it is in opposition to the established traditions of our people, is assur 'forbidden', but not hayyabh. Hence, Hirschenson concludes it would not be necessary for the orthodox Jew to boycott the Hebrew University because some of its Professors espouse the cause of Higher Criticism

Hirschenson's view as it stands is hardly historical. It is, to say the least, unlikely that the chief purpose of those who so zealously fought on behalf of the doctrine of ' Torah from Heaven' was to safeguard the reputation of Moses. But accepting his adoption of Halachic categories we can say much for the view that present-day criticism would not fall under the complete hayyabh ban of the Rabbis. The chief concern of the Rabbis was not with questions of authorship but of inspiration. Is the Torah the word of God? This was the concern of the ancient teachers. In Talmudic times, no one, not even the heretic, doubted that the Torah was written by Moses. Hence, in those days the fundamental question was did Moses write it of his own accord or under divine inspiration? Even if the most radical theories of the critics are accepted this means no more than that the base of the problem has been shifted, but the question of the divine origin of the Torah is not radically affected. An excellent illustration of this is the Talmudic debates on whether the book of Ecclesiastes is to be admitted into the Canon of Holy Writ. Those who would admit it argue that Solomon wrote it under the influ-ence of the divine spirit. Those who oppose its admission argue that it is the product of 'Solomon's wisdom', i.e. the fruit of his own, uninspired thinking. (Tos. Yad. II; Meg. 7a). In other words the Solomonic authorship of the book was accepted by everyone; the only question to be considered was, is the book so inspired as to merit inclusion in the Canon? Now that all scholars are unanimous in rejecting the Solomonic authorship of the book, there is still no reason for rejecting the opinion that it is worthy of inclusion in the Canon on account of its inspiration.

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