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Torah Misinai

One the most discussed and complicated theological topics in contemporary Orthodoxy is the question of Torah MiSinai. Below is a list of sources that I have found online that cover this topic in depth, more to be added soon.  If there is anything I have left out, please provide a link in the comments section.

The Torah.Com
Avraham Avinu is My Father
The Dogma of Torah Mi-Sinai My Personal Struggle with Unreasonable Belief
Torah Min HaShamayim: Conflicts Between Religious Belief and Scientific Thinking
The Significance of Ibn Ezra’s Position that Verses were Added to the Torah
Seven Torah Passages of Non-Mosaic Origin According to Ibn Ezra and R. Joseph Bonfils
Authorship of the Torah: The Position of the Ibn Ezra and Rav Yehuda Hachasid
Must We Have Heretics?
Orthodoxy and the Challenge of Biblical Criticism:
Torah MiSinai and Biblical Criticism: Rising to the Full Challenge: Rabbi Dr. Jeremy Rosen

The Torah,, and the Recent Tumult in Context – by Rabbi Zev Farber
Torah Min Hashamayim: Some Brief Reflections on Classical and Contemporary Models – Guest Post – Rabbi Nati Helfgot
Guest Post by Rav Yitzchak Blau: The Documentary Hypothesis and Orthodox Judaism
Living by the Word of God: By Rabbi Dr Ben Elton

Think Judaism Series: Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief
Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief Part 1/
Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief Part 2
Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief Part 3
Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief Part 4
Modern Biblical Scholarship – A Danger to Traditional Belief Part 5

Torah Musings/Rabbi Gil Student
Open Orthodoxy?
Q&A with R. Prof. Joshua Berman
Torah From Heaven
Moshe Is True And His Torah Is True
On the Authorship of the Torah
On the Text of the Torah
On Bible Criticism and Its Counterarguments

Current Jewish Questions, Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism

James Kugel:
Conversation with James Kugel About Revelation Part 1
Conversation with James Kugel About Revelation Part 2
Conversation with James Kugel About Revelation Part 3
Beacon Magazine Interview with James Kugel
Moment Mag – Professor of Disbelief

Ten Questions with the Orthodox Blogger DovBear on Academic Biblical Scholarship
Interview with David M. Carr- Current state of Bible Scholarship
Interview with Benjamin Sommer on Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish –Scripture and Tradition
Interview with Prof. Jacob Wright of Emory University

Tablet Magazine
Reconciling Modern Biblical Scholarship with Traditional Orthodox Belief

Cross Currents
From Openness to Heresy
Torah Min-Hashamayim: A Reply to Rabbi Nati Helfgot

Seforim Blog
Torah mi-Sinai and More by Marc B. Shapiro

Shulem Deen:
-This is how I lost my faith

Mosaic Magazine:
Can Modern Bible Scholarship Be Reconciled with Faith?
Torah from Heaven
Ezra’s Torah
Orthodoxy’s Golden Calf
Ark of the Covenant
Kingdom of Priests
Constructive Criticism
The Law of Moses?
A Reply to My Respondents, and My Friends
The People Saw the Thunder
The Decalogue and the Identity of God
Grammar from Heaven
Rethinking Revelation
What Does the God of Israel Demand?
The Ten Commandments

Hakira Blog:
Hershey Zelcer: Review Essay by Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations

James Kugel: How to Read the Bible then and Now
James Kugel: The Kingly Sanctuary
Norman Solomon: Torah from Heaven the Reconstruction of Faith
Louis Jacobs: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Tamar Ross: Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism
Mark Zvi Brettler: The Bible and the Believer: How to read the Bible Critically and Religiously
Benjamin D. Sommer: Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition
Shulem Deen: All who go do not return
Orthodox Forum: Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah
– The Documentary Hypothesis: Umberto Cassutto
Solomon Schimmel: The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth

Biblical Criticism: First Thoughts by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner
-Usefulness and Limitations of Biblical Criticism by Rabbi Yonah Gross

Beauty Part 6

Seek the Shepherd When He Is Near: A Book Review for Elul

Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s new book, A Shepherd’s Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought, has a unique application to the weeks approaching Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbis of the Talmud are fond of quoting, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6). This verse, despite its inspirational theme, raises one of the most profound theological issues. By saying God is “near,” the verse implies that God exists in space. More broadly, this raises the questions of corporality and anthropomorphism, since the most dominant themes of the penitential season are plagued by theological paradox. Rabbi Samuel’s book examines anthropomorphism in general, with a keen eye on the image of God as the Shepherd, which appears in the opening verse of Psalm 23.

In several weeks, Jews throughout the world will assemble in synagogues and entreat God in the most persuasive terms to forgive their sins. The entire prayer-book, like the Bible itself, is filled with passages that suggest God is possessed of a body and emotions. In fact, Samuel notes, “Semantically speaking, even the idea of ‘praying to God’ implies spatial concepts…” (p. 158). Similarly, the book of Psalms entreats God, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1). The shepherd metaphor in this verse is a basis of the piyyutim, “Our God and God of our fathers, forgive us…we are Your flock and You are our Shepherd….” Yet many worshippers may find language ineffectual due to centuries of anti-anthropomorphic argumentation.

Rabbi Samuel’s work is a meticulous outpouring that we should reconsider our understanding of God. He makes an impassioned plea that if we want to have a meaningful and mature religious identity, it is essential to embrace how traditional sources characterize God. He argues, “Laypeople and rabbis alike have difficulty accepting the reality of God as a personal Presence in their lives” (28). In a personal conversation with the author, Rabbi Samuel explained to me, “If you don’t have a personal connection with God, your prayer might as well be a letter that starts with the words, ‘To Whom It May Concern.’”

Many Jews today are inculcated to say that anthropomorphic locutions are all metaphors, and should not be interpreted literally. After all, the ancient pagans believed that the gods all possessed bodies and emotions, while we sophisticates have evolved beyond such childish beliefs. Their gods are many, our God is one. Their gods are corporeal, our God is beyond time and space. Their gods are capricious and petty, our God is merciful and just. But do we feel any emotional connection when rattling off these catechisms?

Samuel warns that when dry understandings replace a personal connection with God, the result is spiritual isolation: “Ever since the time of Aristotle, Western philosophy frequently portrays God as an Outside Prime Mover, standing apart from the processes of the universe, with no personal interest in the world’s welfare” (p. 91). He argues that anti-anthropomorphism risks creating a spiritual malaise, and if taken in its most extreme form, will likely lead to religious indifference or atheism.

Samuel contrasts the biblical phrasing, “I am the Lord your God,” with the Greeks, who “never had a personal name for the One God” (p. 114). This is not to suggest that Samuel is a philosophical Luddite; he possesses a facile ability to quote a range of Jewish, Greek, Christian, and modern authorities, from Homer to Wittgenstein; yet Samuel extracts from the ancients and moderns the importance of finding renewed meaning in descriptions of God that have been downplayed as “metaphor.”

While it is an important development that today’s Jews have learned to move beyond the idea of a corporeal God, Samuel argues that sometimes we are unable to take the next step, and ascribe real meaning to metaphorical language. Anthropomorphic language pervades the Bible, Midrashim, Talmud, and all subsequent literature; when we dismiss this huge corpus of literature as inconsequential, we risk slipping into the bleak existential abyss. Samuel argues that preserving metaphor is necessary for a spiritually healthy society, since metaphor “does not seek to explain the empirical facts about the natural world. Instead, it aims to disclose how the sacred meaning is present within the natural observable universe” (p. 106).

The worshipper must proceed to find meaning within the anthropomorphic language. Signs, symbols, and metaphors have emotional and cognitive significance, and Samuel argues that the shepherd is a “root metaphor” (pp. 67), which demonstrates the connection of the collective past to the life of the individual in the present. The parameters of this metaphor are nuanced and rich, and Samuel is not afraid to draw on diverse sources who offer their interpretations of this fundamental image.

For example, he quotes from Philo of Alexandria that “When a flock lacks a shepherd to govern it, it is inevitable the flock will meet a disastrous end because it is too helpless to repel whatever might be injurious to it” (p. 196), an idea which is remarkably similar to the liturgical sarnu mi-mitzvotekha u-mi- mishpatekha ha-tovim ve-lo shaveh lanu, “we have strayed from Your commandments and your good ordinances, and it has not been worthwhile for us.”

Samuel also supplies other attributes of shepherding, which transform the shepherd archetype from empty rhetoric to a meaningful symbol. For example, he explains that a shepherd “is dedicated to the careful management of the flock,” which indicates that God has an overall plan for humanity. A shepherd must have “constant attention and mindfulness,” which means God has perpetual concern for mankind. And shepherding “is a solitary profession” (p. 259), which alludes to God’s unity. These themes are conspicuously similar to the penitential ideas of malkhiyyot, zikhronot, and shofarot.

Samuel is also a practicing synagogue rabbi, and he once led an adult education program centered around Psalm 23. At the end of his book, he records the conversations that his congregants had while examining this Psalm. It is clear from the transcripts that the participants were of different religious backgrounds, held different professions, and had wildly different pasts. Yet due to the universality of the Psalm, each congregant had unique insights, found individual meaning, and supplied new interpretations that the traditional commentaries did not offer.

The same is true of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each person who enters the synagogue will find unique meaning and inspiration from the different parts of the service. Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s A Shepherd’s Song is a highly intellectual and inspirational work that invites the reader to re-examine his long-held theological beliefs. He argues that it is impossible to engage in meaningful prayer with the Aristotelian conception of God; therefore he challenges the reader to find new meaning—and an individual connection—with God, to build a personal and unique relationship between man and his Shepherd.

You can buy the book here:


What ever your opinion regarding the Shlomo Rubashkin case and verdict, this is a worthwhile video to share and learn from.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Peace among brothers

I just read a fascinating story, written by Rav Aharon Soloveitchik zt”l in Perach Mateh Aharon on hilchos tshuva, that he heard had happened with his father, uncles and grandfather, Rav Chaim in Brisk. To be brief, the story goes that Rav Chaim presided over a case in beis din in which the local butcher was being sued for 3000 ruble. After failing to persuade the butcher to agree to a compromise, the case was decided on its merits, and the decision went against the butcher – he had to pay the full amount.

The butcher was enraged and became very rude to Reb Chaim. He called him names and said very disparaging things to him. Reb Chaim remained silent, until he eventually became frustrated and no longer could. He said simply “Chatzuf, get out of here.”

The story goes on that shortly after, right before Yom Kippur, Reb Chaim searched out for the butcher in shul and asked forgiveness. The butcher refused and again became very rude. Reb Chaim said he asked 3 times in front of 3 people (his 3 sons) and he need not ask again. he added that he did not do anything wrong with what he said, he had not transgressed any rabbinic or Torah-based prohibitions. However, he felt it necessary to ask forgiveness because his words, even though they were allowed, had been hurtful to the butcher and had shamed him, and for that he must ask forgiveness.

A story in that vein just happened here in Bet Shemesh, via the local Tmura newspaper. Two local activists at times, more often than not, find themselves at odds with each other,  at opposite ends of many local issues. that would be Rav Dov Lipman and Rav Shmuel Peppenheim.

Rav Dov Lipman is involved in local activist activities on behalf of the Dati Leumi community, on behalf of Old Bet Shemesh, on behalf of many local groups who feel they are being slighted. Sometimes the perception is that he is anti-haredi, but he is really pro-keeping Bet Shemesh diverse and giving everybody his fair share and not taking away from others just so you can get yours (that’s how I would define it, though I don’t know if he would say that is an accurate description).

Rav Shmuel Peppenheim is a member of Toldos Aharon, and from an “Eida establishment” family. His activism is mainly on behalf of Eida issues, and for the hard-core haredi community, though he has more recently been involved in the opening of a vocational training center and other “more moderate” issues than one would expect from an Eida representative.

Both Lipman and Peppenheim have been writing in Tmura newspaper for a long time, each from his own perspective on various local issues. At times, Rav Peppenheim has used his platform to attack Rav Lipman and his position on whatever issue is the hot topic of the day.

Before Yom Kippur, Rav Peppenheim decided to go for a sulha of sorts and apologize to Rav Lipman for his attacks on Lipman. He sent a letter to Rav Lipman and publicized it in the Tmura newspaper before Yom Kippur. Rav Lipman sent a response, also publicized in the newspaper, and they then had a brief meeting to solidify the new relationship.

Rav Peppenheim’s letter:

Requesting forgiveness.
Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a time for appeasing people you have hurt, and Chazal say that Yom Kippur does not clear sins between man and man, but one must appease his friend and ask forgiveness.
For a serious amount of time I have participated in the “Weekly Parliament” column of this newspaper and in the heat of my words I caused harm to important and dear people. I thought at the time that I was responding to the issue  and not to any specific person. But it turns out that I hurt people, and they suffered because of me in various ways.
Specifically I am coming to appease the person of action in Torah ways who busies himself in communal affairs with vigor Rav Dov Lipman, whom i failed via him as I wrote about him personally harmful words, for which there was no place. My criticism could have been made more restrained and more proper and directly to the issue and not regarding the person.
I wish to use this platform to appease him and to invite him, in the spirit of the day, to dialogue out of respect and mutual respect, as a person of Torah to a Torani person, people who are Torah and Mitzva observant.

Rav Lipman’s letter:

I wish to publicize the thanks I feel towards R’ Shmuel Peppenheim regarding his apology for what he wrote about me two years ago, and to say i completely forgive him.
In the past weeks, I have learned a lot about this courageous man. Yes, courageous. When the violence began against the students of OROT Banot, Reb Shmuel immediately opposed it publicly. You must remember that we are talking about a Jew who dresses the same and comes from the same place as the extremist thugs. Despite that it could have caused damage to himself, he opposed them and continues to oppose them. This person i call courageous. And also his apology to me testifies to his courage.
The whole nation of Israel needs to understand that throughout our history there were differences of opinion. There were intiially 12 tribes, and in the time of redemption we will  again be 12 tribes. There are many ways and approaches in religion, many various possibilities where to put the stress and focus, and many various customs and cultures. But, it is important to remember, at the end of the day, we are all children of the same family that must learn to respect each other. Reb Shmuel is a tremendous example of this.
I hope and wish that he and we all will have a good year. With the expectation of a year of cooperation between me and Reb Shmuel, and between all of us – the children of one city, one country, one nation and one family.

[Source: Sulha in Bet Shemesh – Life in Israel –]

The premise with which we begin

Quite frankly, the word “God” does nothing for me. If anything, it interferes with my true faith. Personally, I don’t believe in “God.” It’s an English word of German derivation and is not found in the Bible, if you read the Hebrew original. The word “God” has been so overused, abused, and misunderstood that it actually stands in the way of discovering the ultimate truth we are seeking.

Thinking about this problem, I begin to understand what Nietzsche must have meant when the God is dead. The concept of “God” – what we mean we say “God” is a dead concept. It is not real. The male, Zeuz-like avenger floating about in heaven doesn’t even come to close to representing the reality.

How childish and counterproductive this concept is was brought home to me when one day, into my seminar walked a fellow wearing a T-shirt depicting an exchange from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Hobbes, the toy tiger, is asking Calvin, the little boy, “Calvin, do you believe in God?” Calvins reply is: “Well, someone is out to get me.”

Unfortunately, many people harbor an image of God as some kind of almighty heavenly bully who is out to get them. No wonder they don’t want to believe in that God; no wonder they don’t have any idea how to connect with that God. As one woman said to me, “I just wish that He would leave me alone. I don’t bother with Him; He shouldn’t both with me.” But down deep, such people really suffer from an intense fear of God and punishment. This is called theophobia. Often the people who suffer from theophobia describe themselves as atheist. They try to escape their mental torment by denying the God whom they actually continue to fear daily.

I understand their fears. I remember the first time I felt that kind of fear. I was a child watching The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Only later on in my life did I realize what a negative experience that was for me. For one thing, the voice of God stayed imprinted on my consciousness for a very long time. Can you imagine the auditions for the part? Actors with a sweet, gentle voice need not apply! Only someone with a booming, loud, oppressive-sounding voice could be the voice of God.

These are the kinds of memories rambling around in most people’s minds. In total they add up to an awful image of God. So, I believe that before real spiritual growth is possible we must get rid of God.

Just like Abraham, we need to smash our own graven images, free ourselves from the conceptual idolatry obstructing the eyes of our soul. The time has come to see the One whom we seek.

(R’David Aaron – Seeing God: ten life-changing lessons of the Kabbalah)

Rabbinic elections in the new age

I just came across these two videos on-line. I personally know Rabbi Braun from Sydney, Australia. I found the above videos really insightful, both in regards to Rabbi Braun as an individual and also in terms of the dynamics of the Crown Heights community. What is even more interesting is that in the modern age, Beis Din positions are being promoted/debated/discussed on Youtube….. welcome to the new millennium.

Shana Tova, a Sweet and happy new year to one and all

Divrei Yoel

My room mate is a very, deep spiritual person who regularly comes out with pearls of genius. His name is Yoel, so every now and again I will be posting something he writes up on his Facebook page (I am encouraging him to start his own blog, I think it will make for great and inspiring reading). Enjoy, and have a great shabbos!

In a world of chaos, destruction and pain, Man has the capability to bring about peace and unity to his own inner world and the world of others. By facing the challenges of life with a bold intellect, a giving heart and an unwavering commitment to honesty and kindness, Man redeems life. In doing so, he finds G-d, and in finding G-d, he finds himself.

Throughout our history, many voices and opinions have been presented on how to think, on how to speak and ultimately, how to act. Despite all that has been said and done, it is difficult to deny that kindness is a language spoken by all. Being kind to others reveals the beauty of life.