Living With Uncertainty

From Hirhurim:

> Has the issue of human authorship of the Pentateuch reached a level of overwhelming evidence? I certainly don’t think so, and I have written a number of posts on that subject.

If you were more self aware, or more honest, you would admit that the reason you don’t think the evidence is strong is only because you have a strong personal bias against it. For anyone who doesn’t have an a priori bias, the evidence is strong enough. Actually, without the bias, you would never even have a hava aminah to think that God wrote the bible in the first place, in much the same way that you don’t seriously think there’s any chance that God wrote the Koran.

MOSHE COHN POSTS: >>The message of Harry Potter is that when there is uncertainty then within the realm of rational possibilities you are free to choose which to believe based on emotion (i.e. non-rational) reasons.

This will be a slippery slope for many. We know conclusively that the Torah that we have is not letter for letter what was received at Sinai. Yet try to convince Jews from certain communities of that fact and you might just get stoned.

But then, what if you COULD convince them? Even if the house of cards doesn’t fall entirely, you’ve got lots of questions, very few answers, and lots of very inconvenient hypotheses, not to mention some archaeology that casts new light on the origins of our way of life.

I think it’s a bit of a cop out to say that we simply "choose" what to believe based on our emotions. For the thinking Jew, our emotions aren’t enough. That doesn’t mean biblical criticism has the veracity of evolutionary biology, just that, as painful as it might be, we must confront it. It’s not the Torah that needs dissecting, but rather the framework of our belief system.

My understanding is that Biblical critics do not purport to prove "human authorship of the Pentateuch". Rather, they ASSUME human authorship, and from there go on to claim that it was not a unitary composition. Even the most "frum" person would concede that the Torah was physically written down by a human [i.e. Moshe Rabbeinu]. It is an article of faith that Moshe received what he wrote from HKBH. It is not something that can be proven. Indeed, one could in theory hold like the critics, and posit 4 authors [or however many they claim these days], yet still believe that the contents came from Hashem.

The problem lies in that if you hold by the critics, then the Torah was simply not all in existence in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time. Possible resolutions of this problem include:

1. Suspend judgment , because all the evidence is not in, as suggested by Harry Potter. Some might say this smacks of intellectual cowardice.

2. Attack the critical theory on its own terms, as did R. David Hoffman a century ago. However, the critical theory has changed since then, and I am unaware of any serious current scholarly challenge that defends unitary Mosaic Authorship.

3. Adopt the position that there was unitary Mosaic Authorship, but that the text was corrupted when the Jewish people went astray after foreign idols, as set forth in the Neviim, and that the text we now have is a prophetic restoration, by Ezra[albeit one that contains some contradictions that support the critical theory], but nonetheless the original intent of the original text is set forth in the oral law. This is the approach of R. David Weiss Halivni. The problem with this approach is that a) it is speculative, b) why should one assume that the oral law is correct if the written text itself became corrupt, and c) why could not a prophet have restored a perfect text.

4. Concede that there have been post Mosaic changes to the text. Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah Hechosid, for example, expressed such views. Maintain that any changes were al pi nevuah, and therefore there is no theological problem.
However, this approach seems to contradict the general interpretation of Rambam’s 8th ikkar, and perhaps too the gemora in perek hachelek.

5. Concede that the critics views are correct–if one assumes human authorship. However, if we posit divine authorship, we can say that even the ostensible contradictions and problems in the text were put there deliberately by Hashem to teach us a multiplicity of lessons from one text. This was the approach of R. Mordechai Breuer. The problems with this approach are a) it is simply a faith assertion, not falsifiable by scientific means, b) it seems to contradict the precept that dibrah hatorah b’lishon bnei adam, and c) it seems perilously close to the theory that Hashem planted dinasour fossils to make the world seem much older than it really is. Is not Hashem’s seal truth, not trickery?

6. Reject the critics out of hand, based upon our emuna, as reflected in the aforementioned ikkar and gemora. However, such an approach seems to go against Rambam’s theology that the Torah is in accord with the rule of reason, and our professed duty to be modeh al hoemes. Nowhere in the Torah does it say, "who are you going to believe, Me, or your own eyes". To the contrary, the Torah emphasizes the fact that bnai yisroel are to use there experience of what they saw with there own eyes as a [rational] basis for their emuna.

There may be other approaches that I am unaware of. In any event, it is an issue that is crucial to address at the highest levels of our leadership. Many have been led astray by the issue, and failure to cogently deal with the issue will only result in more leaving the fold.

ZACH POSTS: Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with all of Orthodox belief being dependent on Harry Potter. I mean wasn’t destroying Voldermort hard enough.

DOV from HARRYPOTTERTORAH.COM writes: Several chapters in my book Harry Potter and Torah discuss belief and faith, also in the context of Harry Potter.

One aspect of the issue that you left out is that people evaluate evidence in the context of their predispositions. I wrote about this regarding Percy’s repentance at the end of the book. It’s very hard to reconsider our beliefs and how they effect conclusions that we draw. Yes, people that believe in G-d and Divine revelation will be predisposed to be critical of logic that supports human authorship. BUT equally so people that do not believe in G-d will be heavily predisposed to find evidence for human authorship.

As a simple example of this, there’s a vast number of authors that change style between books and even within books, for literary purposes. Very few are suspected of being multiple authors – rather readers understand that authors change emphasis and style to convey a point. This is why most people assume that Shakespare in fact wrote all the works of Shakespeare. But when it comes to the Torah, all of a sudden changes in style are interpreted to reflect changes in authorship. People that don’t care about Shakespare are predisposed to believe that the Bible can’t be Divine.

As I wrote here, the time of Rosh HaShana is a great time to reconsider our predispositions and how they effect our actions.

In your examples you didn’t mention Harry’s conclusion: after burying Dobby he decides that despite his uncertainty, he would ACT on the basis of belief in Dumbeldore and the task which he had given Harry.

In other words, we can debate all we want to in principle, but sometimes we need to choose actions. Actions need to be chosen both on the basis of the right-ness of the underlying beliefs, and also on the importance of the outcomes of the actions. Harry wasn’t sure what to believe in theory, but he decided to follow a certain decision of action based on his belief in the importance of the action, and in the ACTIONS led him to the truth in belief.

FRD POSTS: "No legitimate rabbinic authority that I am aware of would allow the suggestion that the Torah is not Misinai. Jewish law demands that we believe in Divine authorship in the Torah."

The above statement betrays sheer ignorance, unfortunately. There are hundreds of statements, from chazal down to the achronim, that say exactly the opposite. All of these opinions state quite clearly that passages in the Torah were not from God – edited, changed, removed, etc. Professor Shapiro lists some of them in his book on Orthodox Theology, and in the same book observes that the only reason the really orthodox Jews dont know this today is because they spend all their time stuying Talmud alone; they are totally ignorant of other literature from the same period of chazal, and kal vichomer everything else.

In general, the more confidently a person expresses a view such as the one above, the more you can be sure he’s never read a word of biblical scholarship. People who have actually studied the material – first-hand, not via people out to discredit it – may not accept its conclusions, but never speak with the simplistic myopia such as the the view expressed above. I am not convinced by all of what biblical criticism has to say, but there is no doubt in my mind that many of its findings are 100% correct.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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