Shalom Carmy is consulting editor of Tradition. A student of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and a veteran teacher of philosophy, Bible, and Jewish thought at Yeshiva University, he has published many essays on these subjects.
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generally good, though with varying degrees of comprehensibility27 Jun. 2010
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This set of essays addresses the relationship between Orthodox and secular scholarship. While endorsing Orthodox Jewish assumptions about the Divine nature of the Torah, these authors also generally believe that historical context matters too. Some of the more interesting essays include:
*Barry Eicher's essay on historical context. He notes that Jewish scholars have always considered historical evidence to explain the Torah's laws; for example, Maimonides wrote that the Torah's prohibition on eating blood may be a reaction to pagan tribes' reliance on blood-eating to commune with spirits. He also discusses similarities and differences between Akkadian legal texts and the Torah; both allow parents to sell their daughters in cases of dire need, but the Akkadians allow the buyer to make the girl a wife of a slave, while the Torah tries to give the girl some protection by allowing only the buyer to marry her.
*Yeshahayu Maori addresses textual variants in the Torah, trying to explain differences between the Masoretic text (what Jews have generally accepted as the text) and Talmudic quotations that suggest different spellings of the Torah. Most analysts, Maori writes, have suggested that the Talmud changes words to make more persuasive theological points.
*David Berger discusses trends in Jewish interpretation of morally questionable patriarchal behavior. Medieval commentators tended to defend the patriarchs at every turn, perhaps in reaction to Christian suggestions that the sins of biblical heroes rendered Judaism defective. Some modern Jews, by contrast, argue that the Torah's greatness is proven by its ability to show its heroes' flaws- perhaps as a reaction to secularists who consider the Torah to be a primitive document.
*Mordecai Breuer tries to reconcile traditional understandings of the Torah with the Documentary Hypothesis (the idea that the Torah's inconsistencies prove that it was written by multiple human authors). He acknowledges that if the Torah had been written by humans, it probably would have been written by multiple authors. But Breuer asserts that even if a human author may be "unable to employ strategies of authorial multiplicity", there is no reason why a Divine, infinite author must be equally consistent. In response, another essay points out that Breuer's views "can neither be verified or falsified."
The last couple of essays were less interesting to me than the essays discussed above, primarily because they presupposed a significantly higher level of Talmudic and Hebrew literacy.