Jerome Yehuda Gellman: This Was From God: A Contemporary Theology of Torah and History

Opening graphs:

Increasingly, well-informed traditional Jews may find themselves distrustful of the reliability of Torah as history because of the conclusions of scholarly research from natural science, history, linguistics, Bible criticism and archaeology. And, they may not be swayed by attempts to restore their trust. If they do not have a fitting theology for their new predicament, they may well give up on Judaism altogether or else give up on their traditional Judaism. Or, they may simply repress their difficulty because they see no way of dealing with it that will allow them to retain their traditional religious loyalty. They will carry on as if they believed in the historical veracity of the Torah, when in fact they do not.

As one who has lived with this problem, I want to now propose that a person with prior emunah, belief and faith/loyalty in God and in the holiness of the Torah remain faithful to keeping God and the holiness of the Torah at the center of his or her life. What is needed is a theology that appreciates the force of the challenge to Torah as history and preserves one’s traditional religious loyalty. That is the task of the present book.

Marc Shapiro writes: “I mentioned Gellman’s book to someone and expressed the opinion that even if another ten theologians were to write similar books, I don’t see this as having any real impact on the ground – although it will be appealing for certain intellectuals – because at the end of the day traditional Judaism is a religion of halakhah and its leaders are talmudists and halakhic authorities. If a new theological approach does not have the imprimatur of even one outstanding religious authority – gadol for lack of a better term – I don’t see how it can gain traction in the community at large. In previous years I have made the same point about changes in women’s roles and so-called partnership minyanim. These phenomena are also having trouble making headway because they too are lacking the necessary imprimatur. Interestingly, years ago someone responded to me that my point was not valid because I was operating under an outdated “paradigm” in assuming that changes in religious life, and now we can say in theology as well, needed the imprimatur of a gadol. Yet I would like to see one example of a significant change in theology or religious life that reached wide acceptance without such an imprimatur.”

About Luke Ford

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