The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
A Divinely Given Torah -- In Our Day and Age
The beginning of the Book of Genesis presents two accounts of the creation of Man: chapter 1:26-28, and chapter 2:7-22. These accounts have several differences. The first says that Man was created "in the image of God" but says nothing about how his body was formed. The second says that Man was fashioned from the dust of the earth, and that God instilled into his nostrils the breath of life. In the first account, humans are created male and female; in the second, first Adam alone, and later Eve. In the first account Man is commanded to "fill the earth and master it,"(Gen. 1:28) and in the second, God "planted a garden in Eden...and placed there the man ...to till it and tend it"(2:8,15). The first account uses the name Elokim, God, and the second, Hashem Elokim, the Lord God.
Ever since the Torah was given, it has been studied and interpreted in every generation according to the exegetical approach and human knowledge of its day. How do Bible scholars today explain these and other famous differences found in the Torah? There are two traditional approaches, aside from the approach of Bible criticism, which maintains that different or contradictory accounts in the Bible show that it is not all of one piece but rather composed of different documents which were authored by various people.
A. Some religious and ultra-religious groups discourage independent study of the Torah and focus on traditional exegesis. R. Shlomo Wolbe writes in his endorsement of Parshiyot be-Sifrei Ha-Nevi'im (Chapters in the Books of the Prophets, R. Levi, Jerusalem, 1991): "The Bible should be studied according to the Sages." Traditional biblical commentators explain away these difficulties in a variety of ways, such as taking a middle road averaging the two sources, or by relating each source to a specific situation or case, etc. For example, Rashi (Gen. 2:8) explains the relationship between the creation of Man in chapter 1 and that in chapter 2 as follows:
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed." Should you say, however, it is already written "and He created man, etc." (Gen. 1:27), I note that one of the thirty-two rules stated by R. Eliezer b. R. Jose of Galilee in his baraitha on interpreting the Torsays: when a general statement is followed by a detailed account, the latter is a particularization of the former. "And He created man" is a general statement, but it does not explain whence man was created or what God did to him. So the text repeats and explains these things: "And the Lord God formed man, ... and He made to grow for him the garden of Eden, ... and He caused a deep sleep to fall upon him." Hearing this one might think it is a different account, but it is nothing but the details of the former general statement.
Few traditional biblical exegetes approach these questions critically (e.g., Ibn Ezra; see also Y. M. Ta Sh'ma, in the memorial volume for Sarah Kamin, Hamikra Bir'i Mefarshav, ed. S. Japhet ), and when they do, they do so rarely.
B. Another segment of Orthodox Jewry follows a number of paths taken by traditional scholars, which attempt to reckon with the appproach of Biblical criticism.
1. Amos Hacham, one of the authors of the Da'at Mikra Bible commentary, maintains that the questions asked in Bible research cannot be ignored. Faith in the sanctity of the Torah and its Divine origin is not harmed thereby, since this faith is not based on the Bible being comprised of a whole, but rather on its being eternal; i.e., on the fact that the Jewish people accepts its precepts for all generations.
We ought to learn from the Sages, who sought to prove that the Scroll of Esther was written "in holy spirit" (be-ruah ha-kodesh). First they argued many points, all of which were refuted. Finally they found one argument which was unrefutable: "the Jews ordained and took it upon them" (Megillah 7a). In other words, the very fact that all generations of the Jewish people accepted, accept, and will continue to accept the burden of the Torah and its commandments is itself the most faithful proof of its being divinely given. (Megadim 3 , p. 71).
Thus, one must distinguish between difficulties in the text, which can be treated by the traditional approach which reconciles differences or through a more critical approach, and faith in the Torah's Divine source, which is based on the Torah being binding and everlasting.
2. R. Mordechai Breuer, Torah educator and expert in the field of Massorah studies, takes another approach: he maintains that the questions asked by Bible critics are correct but that their conclusion that the Torah is an amalgam of different authors is not. The Omnipotent Creator formulated a variety of accounts with the deliberate intention and desire to thereby express different accounts of His governing the world, or to show the truth that lies with various sides. According to this approach, the contradictions in the two accounts of Creation or in other chapters of the Bible are real, not apparent, but they are actually proof that the Torah is from Heaven, since human beings do not compose or edit contradictory things. So much for the theoretical level. On the practical level, resolving halakhic questions which arise from the contradictory exposition of commandments in different places rests in the hands of the Sages.
We should give heed to the elements of truth that mingle with the untruths espoused by Bible criticism, ... and restore the truth to its pride of place... Herein shall lie the contest between our Torah and theirs: ours shall be the Lord's Torah comprised of sources originating from His holy attributes, redacted by God who reconciles between them; whereas they shall have a human Torah, comprised of sources originating from human wisdom and pieced together by a redactor lacking true understanding and ability to bridge between them. (Megadim, 2 , pp. 21-22).
The late professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz believed that the sanctity and validity of the Torah stem from the force of Jewish Halakhah and that which it has ascribed to itself. The Torah does not have a scientific or historic function, and therefore the problem of reconciling contradictions taken up by Bible criticism is an illusory difficulty. Judaism is a religion of practical commandments, not a religion of faith.
The Jewish religion, like the world of the Halakhah, the Oral Torah, was not created by the Holy Scriptures; rather, the Holy Scriptures are one of the institutions of Jewish religion. Just as the Halakhah determines ... the holy day for atonement, whose essence atones, so too it determines ... which scriptures are conferred the title of being holy. Just as a believing Jew accepts the Day of Atonement, which his emissaries decided, by majority view, as the sacred day, so too he accepts the sanctity of the Bible, according to the decision accepted by the Jewish people with the intention of upholding the Torah. In terms of religious philosophy, but also in terms of causal logic, the Oral Torah, which is the world of Halakhah, precedes the Written Torah with its visions and values.... For the Jew who believes that the decisions and rulings of the Oral Torah, notwithstanding its clearly human origins, themselves comprise the Torah which we are commanded, for such a Jew the sanctity of the Bible does not depend on beliefs, opinions or view regarding the nature of the sources of the material presented in the Bible or its historical and scientific value; this material is hallowed with the sanctity of Torah, of the Oral Torah, and herein lies its religious significance. Requiring the Bible and faith to have historical veracity expresses lack of religious faith... That the Bible has not been shown to have historical veracity is not incidental, rather it is a fact of deep religious significance. (Judaism of the Jewish People and the State of Israel, Jerusalem, 1975, pp. 349-350).
We have presented three intermediate views between the extremes of Bible criticism and the approach that does not permit direct original study of biblical verses: the first acknowledges the questions raised by research, but bases its faith on a divinely given Torah, not on the text's uniformity but on its eternity; the second maintains that the contradictions are the work of Heaven and do not detract from faith; the third ascribes importance only to the Halakhah and the Oral Torah established by the Sages, and does not subscribe to any particular theology. Approaches similar to these three have been formulated by various philosophers and commentators, each according to his views and understanding.
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.