01
Aug

What Makes Me Orthodox?

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This is a question that I have been asking myself a lot more lately, especially over the past week....Allow me to explain:

During our Fundamentals classes after Kiddush at EB, we have tackled some challenging issues: Army Exemptions for Yeshiva students, the Orthodox Jewish response to homosexuality, the origins and parameters of the concept of "Tikkun Olam" and other such matters. I have made an exerted effort to raise questions that I feel are pertinent to modern Jewish life and to clarify, both through key sources and through a give-and-take with the community, what an Orthodox Jewish approach might be.
Over the past week, there has been an explosion of articles, blog posts, responses and official statements on the topic of the Divine authorship of the Torah.

The idea that multiple human authors co-edited the Torah was made famous by Julius Wellhausen in the late 1880's. It caught on at different rates in the Reform and Conservative movements, and is the subject of much modern debate, most recently in exchanges between Richard Friedman and James Kugel.....

My interest in the topic over the years has dissipated with my increasing exposure to to the depth of study possible in Tanach, the forte of Yeshivat Har Etzion and the Tanach Study Center. With people like R. Yoel Bin Nun and R. Menachem Leibtag at the helm, the profundity of Chumash and Navi has been masterfully exposed -- to the delight of students of Torah the world over. In fact, many of the Chumash shiurim I give on Shabbat afternoon during the "Perasha Insights" slot draw on the brilliant scholarship developing at Yeshivat Har Etzion.

You may ask: "How does studying Torah in the above fashion lessen my interest in Biblical criticism"? My answer: The beautiful literary and thematic weave that emerges when Chumash is studied with a confidence in both its singular authorship and varied and nuanced messages satiates both the spirit AND the intellect.

Meet Rabbi Zev Farber: (from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah website): "A native of Miami, Florida, Zev has a B.A. in psychology from Touro College, an M.A. in Jewish History from Hebrew University, and most recently a Ph.D. in Jewish Religious Cultures from Emory University, where he focused on Hebrew Bible..... In addition to his yoreh yoreh, he received his dayanut (yadin yadin) also from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2010.Zev is a founding board member of the IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship) and serves as the coordinator for their Va'ad Giyyur.'

On a website called "thetorah.com" Rabbi Farber recently wrote some strong words regarding the Divine origins and authenticity of the Torah. His words seem to echo the approach of many Bible critics. The upshot is that a prominent modern Orthodox rabbi (albeit not serving a congregation per se) seems to have deviated radically from the classical Jewish belief of "Torah Min Hashamayim" - Torah from Heaven. This could potentially have him declared a heretic according to Jewish law. A very serious charge.

Yesterday, the IRF, of which Farber is a member, coordinating its conversion program, released the following statement:  
IRF Confirms Commitment to Torah Min Hashamayim

In light of the recent spirited and important discussions in the community, the International Rabbinic Fellowship takes this opportunity to reaffirm its unwavering commitment to the principle of Torah Min Hashamyim within the parameters outlined by classical Rishonim, Aharonim and contemporary Orthodox rabbinic scholars. We regard this principle as the linchpin of halakhic observance and as an indispensable element of Orthodox Judaism.

Today, the Rabbinical Council of America (to which I belong) issued a more involved statement that I posted on facebook and that can be found here: http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105768 Now, the passage causing most of the stir can be found on thetorah.com http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, of the RCA, wrote a detailed critique of Farber here: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/26/belief-in-torah-min-ha-shamayim-damage-control-by-yct/ This discussion has prompted additional posts by R Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton. His article can be found here:
 http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/the-most-important-discussion/ Rabbi Goldberg suggests that the obsession with Farber's statement is far less pressing to Orthodox Jewish communal life than are a myriad of other problems. 

On Wednesday evening, Rabbi Gidon Rothstein wrote an eloquent rebuttal to Rabbi Goldberg on that same blog; it can be found here: http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/three-practical-ways-bad-theology-hurts-us/ Rabbi Rothstein maintains that theology is that from which all else sprouts, and that the maladies of modern Orthodox Jewish life in America perhaps stem from a tangential connection to the theological underpinnings of Torah and Mitzvot.

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