Friday, March 13, 2009

Can Women Issue Halakhic Rulings?

I was recently asked to respond to the question of whether a woman who is knowledgeable in Torah Law may issue rulings on matters of halakha. My answer, in brief, is contained in this post; I apologize in advance for my uncharacteristic use of Hebrew letters and terminology, I have not had a chance to translate the relevant "lingo" from the original document into English just yet.

(Incidentally, you can read the entire paper, complete with footnotes, here.)

There is a paucity of classical source material addressing the question of whether qualified women can render halakhic decisions, i.e., give הוראה. However, what material does exist is uniformly and clearly in support of the permissibility of women being halakhic decisors (מורות הוראה). For example, the ספר החינוך in פרשת שמיני מצוה קנ"ח writes that the prohibition of giving הוראה while intoxicated applies both to men and to women who are qualified to rule on halakhic issues.

Furthermore, the ברכי יוסף, written by the renowned sage מרן החיד"א and cited approvingly in פתחי תשובה חו"מ סימן ז' ס"ק ה states unequivocally that, although women are not permitted to serve as judges on a rabbinical court, a knowledgeable woman may issue decisions on matters of halakha. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Harav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, concurs with this view in his responsa שו"ת בנין אב as did one of his most illustrious predecessors, Harav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel in both משפטי עוזיאל and פסקי עוזיאל.

The פתחי תשובה points out that this distinction is, in principle, made by the ספר החינוך as well, inasmuch as he states that women are forbidden from serving as judges but nevertheless allows for the possibility of legitimate מורות הוראה who would be required to observe the mitzvah prohibiting them from engaging in halakhic decision-making while under the influence of alcohol.

As the פ"ת mentions, this approach is also supported by תוספות in מסכת נדה דף נ, who argue that, even if Devorah was not permitted to serve as the official judge of the Jewish people, she must at least have instructed the judges in the proper interpretation of the law - i.e., been מורה הוראה to them.

This dichotomy, however, appears problematic. Why should a woman be entitled to render halakhic decisions yet be barred from serving as a judge? In order to understand the answer, we must clarify the fundamental difference between the concepts of הוראה and פסיקת דין and the legal mechanisms by which they operate.

The literal meaning of הוראה is teaching or instruction; indeed, the words הוראה and תורה share the same Hebrew root. Specifically,הוראה refers to the application of the abstract principles of Torah Law to the concrete particulars of life. In essence, then, הוראה is nothing more than a by-product of intensive Torah study. When one develops a thorough and comprehensive theoretical knowledge of an area of Jewish law, and applies that knowledge to the practical exigencies of life, one is basically engaging in הוראה.

This is not to say that all Torah study is created equal. On the contrary, the validity of any הוראה will be a function of the quality of the research and analysis that produced it. Not all explanations are correct, not all interpretations are valid, and not all conclusions are warranted. Even the most distinguished and scholarly Yeshiva students, Rabbis, men and women are subject to occasional error, flaws in reasoning, forgetfulness and bias. As the רמ"א explains in ש"ע יו"ד in סימן רמ"ב סעיף י"ד, both halakha and tradition dictate that one may not rely upon - or encourage others to rely upon - the conclusions that emerge from one’s personal analysis of the Law until one has received explicit permission to do so from one’s teacher. This restriction, similar to secular ‘quality control’ laws that require doctors, lawyers, etc., to receive an accredited education and be licensed before practicing in their fields, prevents students who are insufficiently prepared from adhering to or disseminating their own incorrect rulings prematurely.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the goal of all learning is to bring the practical implications of Torah to bear upon our lives; therefore, we can safely assert - at least in theory - that every well-executed, sincere and genuine act of תלמוד תורה has the potential to culminate in some kind of הוראה, whether it is a הוראה to oneself or a הוראה to someone else. The essential point here is that the core of any given act of הוראה is the process of Torah study upon which it is based and from which it emerges, and that this process is equally accessible to competent men and to competent women.

Judgment, or פסיקת דין , on the other hand, derives its validity not from the process that produces it but from the stature of the one who issues it. Judgment is, by its very nature, an act of governance (שררה) and an exercise of personal authoritative leadership rather than the outgrowth of a specific act of תלמוד תורה. In this sense, serving as a judge is more akin to receiving the original form of semikha that was conferred from Rabbi to student from the days of Moshe Rabbenu until persecutions led to its discontinuation during the Talmudic period. The quality of being a מוסמך or a בעל המסורה inheres in the recipient, endowing his person with unique legal authority (שררה) and his decisions with legitimacy and binding force.

In the framework of פסיקת דין, then, the legal decisions of the individual are manifestations of the special status with which he is vested and take effect by virtue of that status alone. Since today we lack the authentic Sinaitic ordination, a lone judge cannot arrogate to himself the level of authority once possessed by a יחיד מומחה המוסמך; it is instead granted to the collective of three judges who convene a בית דין. Once the בית דין rules on a case, this ruling cannot be reversed unless a manifest error in the proceedings is discovered. This is because the binding nature of the decision is intrinsic, enshrined by the authority of the team of judges and not contingent upon any other factor.3

Granting a woman this form of political authority, or שררה, is what most Rishonim find objectionable about the prospect of allowing women to serve as judges. Prohibiting women from holding positions of שררה ensures that they remain free from communal obligation so that they can dedicate themselves to maintaining the integrity and sanctity of the Jewish family which was placed in their care by הקב"ה.

We can now understand why women may indeed be מורות הוראה but may not, according to most opinions, hold official positions of שררה such as judgeships. Women are capable of engaging in the study of Torah at high levels and their theories and conclusions deserve to be accorded the same respect and weight as those of their male counterparts. As long as their process of Torah study is legitimate, the הוראות that organically emerge from it are, by definition, legitimate as well. The validity or binding force of a given halakhic conclusion is not contingent upon the political station of its proponent but upon the research and analysis that generated it; espousing such a conclusion neither necessitates nor entails שררה.

In summary, the act of הוראה is essentially an act of learning or teaching and is not a manifestation of an individual’s political authority or שררה at all. Therefore, a competent, knowledgeable and God fearing woman who receives the requisite permission from her teachers is entitled to be מורה הוראה.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

R. Maroof,
If I follow your reasoning correctly it seems that a Ben Noah who engages in the process of Torah study and who receives explicit permission to do so from his teacher,may produce hora'ah he and others may rely upon.This seems to me an exciting hiddush.Or have I missed an important distinction?


For your reply may your reward be doubled from Above

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

I think your inference is correct, provided that the Ben Noah receives proper training in the methodology of Torah study, etc., from a qualified expert, and that he confines his rulings to areas that a Ben Noah is permitted to study.

Anonymous said...

R. Maroof,
Thank you for responding so quickly.Regarding "areas that a Ben Noah is permitted to study" I am aware of some of the constraints (for e.g. Laws of Kings ch. 10:9) but I am also aware of Rambam's responsum # 149 where Rambam permits teaching the commandments to Non-Jews who accept the divine origin of the Torah.I also recall hearing/reading that R. Yisrael Salanter seriously proposed teaching Talmud in universities in his trust that the Non-Jewish students would be very positively disposed/attracted to its' study.
Another way in which a Non-Jew could acquire vast knowledge of Torah-under expert guidance- is during he process of considering conversion.Picture a sincere and very industrious candidate for conversion who wants to do very thorough research before taking on the very daunting Halakhic system.After prolonged research and analysis (He has come to enjoy it very much)he,for whatever personal reasons decides he is not ready/able to commit to conversion.He will remain a Ben Noah who has become extremely expert in all of Jewish law.Would his theories and conclusions "deserve to be accorded the same respect and weight of his male (and female) Jewish counterparts"?
My above questions assume acceptance of your qualification that he "confine his rulings to areas that a Ben Noah is permitted to study.As a seperate philosophical question I wonder why that should be in line with the core of the reasoning of your origional post.Competance is competance, no?
Guide us and be rewarded doubly from Above

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Competence is the sole criteria. However, an individual who does not observe the strictures of the Law is not regarded as fully competent, inasmuch as he lacks fear of Hashem, which is a prerequisite for knowledge and a safeguard against some forms of bias. So, while the validity of his points and arguments would still be judged on their own merit, his reliability as a decisor would be called into question by his failure to personally observe the guidelines of the halakhic system. This is in contradistinction to the rulings of a God-fearing person which we would grant a presumption of validity based on his or her credentials even before assessing the arguments involved.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Whoops, that should have been "sole criterion" rather than "criteria". Sorry, I am writing on a Blackberry so it is much harder to correct mistakes.

Anonymous said...

R. Maroof,
I cannot respond as quickly as you deserve, as I have limited access to computers-let alone Blackberrys.
The most recent reply baffles me.First,how has the sincere Ben Noah who, after intense study declines conversion,"failed" to personally observe the guidelines of the Halakhic system? He is observing the seven laws (in all their details) as he is required by the Torah which he believes wholeheartedly was given by G-d on Sinai. (The Rambam refers to such as "Hasidei umot HaOlam")He claims-and his mentor affirms this is plausible based on his longstanding association with him-that his demurral from conversion was motivated mainly by his fear of Heaven (in staying a Ben Noah he stands much less chance of failing to live up to his religious obligations...).Or is there something instinsic/metaphysical about born non-Jews that saddles them with an insurmountable presumption of lack of requisite "fear of Hashem".
Does the mere fact that he is not obligated in as many mitsvot as Jews limit his potential for "fear of Hashem"? On which understanding of "fear" or "yirah"? Does a Moreh Hora'ah who is not a cohen "fail to personally observe" numerous strictures of the law-and thus fall short in "fear of Heaven"? There are also laws of the King he doesn't observe.Also laws which are obligatory only on Women.(and for women vice versa).
Though it is a small, side point I will ask also:would you expect that the statement "fear of Hashem is a prerequisite of knowledge" seems to share the Catholic spirit of the "full paper complete with footnotes" ,to the average reader of that paper? I read such statements as "the validity of any Hora'ah will be a function of the quality of the research and analysis that produced it." and many others which seem focussed on the logical cogency and coherence of the learning as coming from a very different world than worries about a persons possible hidden motives and biases.. In science, we trust that biased "results "will be smoked out by colleagues when they fail replication.(although I can see that for rulings which are needed for pressing situations-where there is not enough time for the review process to filter out perversities-there is a need for trust>character.)
Finally,the raised spector of class-based challenges to "competence"(Bnai Noah>"fear of Hashem") reminded me that women,as a class are presumed,by Gemarah and Rambam etc. to be "kalei Hada'at"(whatever that means, it does seem to create a presumption which might be relevant to "competence" as a tendency to transmute Torah into "tiflut" should,off hand,subvert the assumption of "competence" as decisor.

Yoreinu Rabbenu, Uscharoh kaful min Ha Shamayim.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I am somewhat perplexed by your comment, from which I infer that we are not understanding one another.

Knowledge, scholarly competence and intellectual acumen are the basis for halakhic analysis and decisions. Of course, they also involve a more intuitive element of weighing theoretical and practical possibilities and determining when reliance upon more lenient or controversial viewpoints is warranted. And character, sincerity, intellectual honesty, self-criticism, etc., play a substantial role in these grayer areas of Torah study.

Essentially, though, it is a thoroughly cognitive enterprise, and men, women, Jews and gentiles of noble character are all equally capable of entering the field and contributing to it.

When I mentioned the aspect of fear of heaven, it was in the context of assessing the sincerity and intellectual honesty of a particular halakhic decisor. One who does not believe in Torah or the halakhic system may not apply him or herself as painstakingly to the process of clarifying the law, maintaining objectivity, etc., simply because being right or wrong in this respect is not a significant matter in his/her eyes. Of course, this would not apply to a committed Ben Noah at all. He would be deeply concerned about the implications of ruling incorrectly or improperly.

My point about a Ben Noah was that if he were deliberately studying areas he shouldn't be - not for the sake of conversion - then that itself might suggest a lack of fear of God on his part. I would not place a former candidate for conversion in the same category, of course.

Incidentally, it may be easy for us to eliminate the "character" aspect of halakhic scholars and focus purely on the intellectual cogency of the arguments and conclusions they produce.

But the majority of people turn to a halakhic decisor precisely because they do not feel themselves able to evaluate these matters competently, and wish to rely on the judgment of a more qualified authority. So they are in fact depending, somewhat uncritically, on his/her guidance, and knowing his/her character provides some reassurance that their trust is justified.

Anonymous said...

How do you understand the mishnah in horiyot which uses horaah seemingly interchangeably with psak din of sanhedrin?
KT
Joel Rich

Elisha said...

Hi Joshua!

Although, I am an atheist, I still like to read your stuff. You are articulate and steadfastly engage with skeptics like me. Plus - You are married to my sister.

Admittedly, I didn't understand much of the Hebrew lingo but I understood your distinction between teaching and judging.

However, when I read what you wrote,

"Prohibiting women from holding positions of שררה ensures that they remain free from communal obligation so that they can dedicate themselves to maintaining the integrity and sanctity of the Jewish family which was placed in their care by הקב"ה."

I feel that is a completely sexist justification. Haven't we moved on (evolved beyond) that whole perspective where women have their roles in life?

You are saying women are equal but you are certainly not practicing it.

Any way you spin it, Judaism still does not give women equal rights.

The community is not doing women a favor when they allow them to “remain free from communal obligation . . .” to maintain the “sanctity of the Jewish family. . .”

What the community is actually doing is limiting women’s options, hence taking away their liberty and freedom to peruse anything other than what is expected of them by הקב"ה. (Whatever that is)

Elisha

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Hi Elisha,

Thanks for commenting! As you can tell, I have seriously neglected my blogs - particularly this one - for the past year, and I mostly receive spam comments at this point. So I appreciate your reawakening the discussion here and inspiring me to revisit this forum.

In Judaism, real value is placed not upon the political or social role a person plays, but upon the intellectual and moral level that he or she achieves. In this domain, men, women, Jews and gentiles are on an even playing field with equal access to opportunities for personal growth.

However, we live in a complex world in which our ideals and values can only be realized in a concrete arena which places myriad responsibilities upon us.

These responsibilities must be divided among members of society, and further subdivided within families, in order to sustain communities.

Precisely because Judaism views issues of profession, domestic activity, etc., as purely pragmatic necessities - means to the end of survival with no intrinsic value - we are not concerned about assigning distinct roles to distinct groups of people within our community.

Ultimately, the value of a human being derives from his or her wisdom and actions, not from whether he/she was a homemaker, doctor, lawyer, pulpit rabbi or janitor.

So while men and women are given different roles to fulfill in Jewish society, these roles are seen as merely secondary to their true purpose in life, and their assignment is not seen as a denial of "rights" but rather as a limiting of responsibilities to foster harmony and effective operation of society as a whole.

I hope this answers your question.

Elisha said...

Joshua,

I am hung up on your distinction between limiting the responsibilities of women and still deeming them equal.

Slaves were not allowed to own property in biblical times. One could say that a slave should be grateful that they were not burdened with the task of homeownership.

Do you think that merely SAYING that they are not burdened with certain responsibilities of the upper class makes them any less a slave?

What if a Jewish woman WANTS to serve as a judge? She goes through all the necessary education. Assumingly, works very hard. But Judaism doesn't allow her the opportunity to practice a livelihood in her field of knowledge. That makes her unequal in the field of jurisprudence.

Any way you look at it, Judaism sounds like it is promoting a 'separate but equal' policy among the genders. The US Supreme Court has deemed this euphemism 'unequal.'

-------------------------
I also am not clear whether you (personally) think that men and women have "roles." (To me, it is clear from reading the texts that Judaism DOES assign gender roles but a modern person is reluctant to admit this)

On one hand, you say, ". . . we are not concerned about assigning distinct roles to distinct groups of people. . . "

Then in your last paragraph you say, "So while men and women are given different roles to fulfill in Jewish society . . ."

Intellectual honesty requires an admission of Judaism’s view of gender roles.

Anytime you limit the rights and options of a person, (blacks, women . . .) they are being treated unequal to the people making these rules.

As an aside, my husband is interested to know what your thoughts are regarding Who Wrote the Bible?

Alan has a PhD in linguistics and has studied extensively how the Torah was written by at least 4 distinct authors and (at least) one editor – this knowledge has been recognized by biblical scholars for about 100 years.

He maintains a blog and wrote a book called An Atheist Reads the Torah

This recent post brought up some interesting thoughts and comments. I thought you’d like to read it.

http://thejewishatheist.com/?p=363

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Dear Elisha,

Thanks for your follow up comments and very good questions.

I think I was possibly unclear when I said we are "not concerned" about assigning distinct roles to individuals in society. What I meant was that we do not consider one's role in society to be a measure of their value.

Judaism doesn't consider a King or Kohen (priest) to be intrinsically superior to an average person, for example, even though they have more "glamorous" positions in society. In fact, oftentimes the opposite is the case - in the Bible, those in positions of power are criticized more harshly and more vehemently on moral grounds than the common folk.

Ultimately, only our wisdom, character and actions determine our worth. Therefore, assigning specific roles says nothing substantial about the value of the people occupying those roles.

Whether you are a homemaker, a professor, a garbage man or whatever, you can be the greatest person on earth if you have climbed the heights of wisdom and moral perfection. What your "day job" is is not important.

So yes, Judaism generally assigns different PRACTICAL roles to men and women, and this assignment is based upon the typical, natural divisions in society that have held sway for millenia. But there is no question that this says nothing about the relative importance of men and women as human beings!

This is not like "separate but equal" in education, which prevents certain individuals from access to education. In Judaism, knowledge is - or should be - made available to all those who seek it, without any discrimination whatsoever, because without knowledge a human being cannot actualize his or her innate potential.

On the other hand, again, your professional occupation is secondary to who you are as a person, so playing a different role in the practical realm of life than someone else doesn't imply any discrimination against you.

A woman like you describe would definitely be allowed to be a judge, as was Deborah the Prophetess, Hulda the Prophetess and several other women in Jewish history. If she is an expert in her field, it would be foolishness to ignore her scholarly attainments.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

As you know, back in 2006-2007 I was heavily engaged in the Blogosphere, discussing Judaism with both believers and skeptics. However, this took an enormous toll on my time, and became increasingly difficult as my professional responsibilities grew. So, for the past three years, I have largely been absent from the blogging world, simply because of time constraints. Indeed, as you can see, it has been a struggle even to maintain my own blogs!

Discussing and debating these issues cannot be done haphazardly - it demands a tremendous amount of time, thought and effort if it is to be done properly - and because I could no longer make that kind of time commitment, I had to retire from the whole enterprise.


Regarding Biblical criticism, I think I have already expressed my views at length on this topic on other blogs. But I will summarize my thoughts briefly here:

I am extremely skeptical about all types of "Source Criticism". The same school of thinkers who developed the documentary hypothesis in Biblical Criticism also developed theories that Shakespeare's plays and Homer's Odyssey were composites written by multiple authors. One can deconstruct any text into parts and claim it represents multiple sources. (In fact, if you search online, you will find that somebody parodied Bible Criticism with Winnie the Pooh, attributing one of the stories to multiple authors because of changes in names, etc., used throughout the text.)

The whole idea of deconstructing a text thousands of years old is highly speculative and subjective. Moreover, there are numerous theories and subtheories of Biblical Criticism who disagree on what "obvious" conclusions are to be drawn from the text.

Finally, there is a whole new school of literary Bible study (see Cassuto, Benno Jacob, Robert Alter, and many, many others who have written thus far only in Hebrew) that began in the twentieth century and has provided a wealth of evidence for the elegant form and unity of the text, undermining many of the claims of the Source critics.

So, even if you do not buy the literary arguments, what they show is that "source analysis" is a matter of interpretation at best. It is definitely not knowledge. And the conspiracy theories developed to "explain" the character of the different sources and how they came to be interwoven with one another is totally speculative, to the extent that there is a great deal of disagreement on some major points of this supposedly "factual" account of Israelite history.

Then you have the circularity problem of source criticism. Any phrase in the text that supports the theory of multiple authorship is proof of the theory. Any phrase that seems to contradict the theory of multiple authorship is attributed to a later redactor who purposely inserted it to harmonize contradictions in the text. What you wind up with is a circular approach in which every piece of evidence against the theory is transformed into proof for the theory, rendering it untestable and therefore completely unscientific.

So, in a nutshell, while I have read Who Wrote the Bible and other works of Biblical criticism, I am not convinced. My view is that the burden of proof lies on the person who wishes to divide up a text that was understood to be a unity for millenia.

I hope this answers your questions. I look forward to further discussions.

Elisha said...

Hi Joshua,

I really want to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you are busy and I just want to let you know that I appreciate your time and effort.

I will be responding to some of these issues in a few days. Admittingly, I need to do some research and think.

Initially, I was inquiring about your perspective as a Rabbi regarding the authorship of the Torah - not necessarily a critique of the book Who Wrote the Bible - My mistake since I put the phrase in caps. Sorry.

I don't expect you to spend oodles of time writing me personally regarding this issue. I understand it is complicated and cannot be explained in two paragraphs.

If you have written about it in the past, maybe you could direct me where to find it. Or if you have some recommendations of other works which refute the documentary hypothesis. As always, I’m interested in having all information available.

Meanwhile, you have given me some food for thought and I’ll follow up in a day or so.

Thank you,

Elisha

Elisha said...

Oops, I forgot to reiterate to you my original question about who actually wrote the Torah and how it came to be the revered source of knowledge for the Jewish people.

I understand that you don't subscribe to the multiple authorship hypotheses but that only leaves a few other options.

I don't want to set up a logical false dilemma or put words in your mouth so if you could help me understand your position on the origination of the Torah, I'd appreciate it.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Dear Elisha,

Sorry for the delayed responses. My Blackberry is no longer providing me with live links, so I have to wait till I actually log on in order to answer your questions.

You are welcome to email me directly as well, or, if you prefer, continuing to comment here is fine too.

"Think about it for a day or so before I respond" - is that code for "ask my husband for a quick rebuttal"? :)

I have thought about and studied these areas for the past 18 years and I have yet to come across anything convincing in the field of critical Bible study. I remember as a teenager in the library finding it surprising that the conclusions one academic declared as "obvious" were dismissed by others as "obviously ridiculous".

As for me, I believe the Torah was written by Moses, as the other books of the Bible and tradition state. In my nearly two decades of study I have yet to come across any compelling evidence to the contrary, so I accept the traditional view of authorship, much like I accept the traditional views of who wrote Hamlet and the Iliad despite the existence of conspiracy theories that question those attributions.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

When I have a little extra time, I will gladly point you in the direction of some sources to look at. I am not sure about online resources off the top of my head, but literature on the subject that is now classic includes work by Robert Alter, Umberto Cassuto, Benno Jacob, Kenneth Kitchen, Walter Kauffmann (an atheist), Elchanan Samet, Yitschak Etshalom, Yoel Bin-Nun, Menachem Leibtag and others.

Elisha said...

Joshua,

Thank you for responding to me – and quickly too. You covered a lot of ground and I want to reply concisely. Alan assisted me with the linguistic technicalities, as he is an expert.

Regarding biblical criticism: What I am hearing from you is that you do not think that the methods which were used to break down the Torah into four separate authors plus an editor are scientific.

(specifically identified on p. 11 of Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?; [convergence of many different linguistic patterns, the narrative continuity of the text that are applied to particular authors, how well the text matches the history and the time periods of which they come] Friedman even notes that his critics have refused to look at the actual linguistic data)

(Alan’s input) These methods are at the heart of scientific investigations in stylistics, historical and comparative linguistics, ethnography, archaeology, and other fields that deal with the origins and composition of texts.

You seem to be using the (pathetically weak) Argument from Incredulity – “I just can’t believe it. I’m not convinced.” – to toss these disciplines into the trash can.

These are methods which have held up to scrutiny not only in literary and Biblical studies, but also in courtrooms all across the world.

Alan has testified and been deposed as an expert witness on cases which have to do with the authorship of anonymous or questioned documents. Occasionally, the opposing attorney has tried to object to the science of forensic linguistics but it has held up EVERY TIME to EVERY challenge in a court of law. This is because (input from Alan here again) an individual writing (or speaking style) – an “idiolect” – is a pattern of patterns which can be elucidated via the appropriate methods of comparison and analysis. The investigator asks what the variations are, how important they are, and how they go together to define a writing style.

It is possible to find internal variations everywhere (even in your own writing), but this indicates separate authorship if the variations are regular and significant enough. Certainly consistent reference to the deity by one name or the other is a key style marker, but there are others that differentiate the various Torah sources and to demonstrate that several kinds of ancient Hebrew, from different time periods.

Writing style is well below the level of consciousness, and some markers are remarkably consistent, e.g., the use of –ize vs. –ise (realize/realise). No writer uses both.

I think it comes down to accepting these sciences – or not.

Part 2 coming up. (It cut me off)

Elisha said...

(Me again.) I wanted to respond to some other things that you wrote:

“. . . you have the circularity problem of source criticism. Any phrase in the text that supports the theory of multiple authorship is proof of the theory. Any phrase that seems to contradict the theory of multiple authorship is attributed to a later redactor who purposely inserted it to harmonize contradictions in the text. What you wind up with is a circular approach in which every piece of evidence against the theory is transformed into proof for the theory, rendering it untestable and therefore completely unscientific”

This is not an example of circular reasoning.

Your Premise #1: “Any phrase in the text that supports the theory of multiple authorship is proof of the theory.”

Yes, but it is not just any phrase it is a ‘pattern of patterns.’ But ok, if there is conclusive evidence in the text to support multiple authors, then yes, it helps the theory.

Your Premise #2: “Any phrase that seems to contradict the theory of multiple authorship is attributed to a later redactor who purposely inserted it to harmonize contradictions in the text.”

No. If the Torah had uniformity, THAT would contradict the theory of multiple authorship. It would NOT be evidence that an editor MADE it uniform or even slapped together different pieces from different authors. Further, one cannot attribute motivation to the redactor, as you did; one can only note his work. The existence of an editor says nothing for the argument on either side.

Since Premise #2 is not accurate, you cannot infer any conclusion - there is no circularity.

(An example of circularity is saying “God exists because the Torah says he does because the Torah is the inspired word of God.’ And round and round we go)

You said, ”The whole idea of deconstructing a text thousands of years old is highly speculative and subjective. Moreover, there are numerous theories and subtheories of Biblical Criticism who disagree on what "obvious" conclusions are to be drawn from the text.”

This is precisely what Rabbis throughout the ages have done with the Torah. “Deconstruct” is a vague word that covers a lot of ground, but there is a clear distinction between translation and commentary and a further distinction between commentary that elucidates (historical info., alternate translations, etc.) and “spin” (drawing inferences, e.g., about what was in the minds of the characters, creating backstories, midrashing – Alan’s verb -- and just making stuff up; science does not make stuff up).

Part 3 coming up

Elisha said...

You said: “The same school of thinkers who developed the documentary hypothesis in Biblical Criticism also developed theories that Shakespeare's plays and Homer's Odyssey were composites written by multiple authors.”

That is absurd. Individual people do, in fact, vary in their writing practices but overall, their own individual patterns are detectable. Again, it is the pattern of patterns. There is no question as to the authorship of these works anyway. People do not consider any of Shakespeare’s plays or the Odyssey to be holy writings.

Also, whatever their internal variation, these texts are continuous – we do not read that the Greeks sneaked a wooden horse into Troy, then in the next chapter, written in a clearly different kind of Greek from a different era, it was a wooden rhino (as with the two stories of Creation). So the variation is of a completely different kind, and the examples do not apply.

You must admit that if the Torah was written by multiple authors this poses a severe problem for Judaism. Similar to proving that Jesus never existed for the Christians.

Believing that Moses was the sole author of the Torah brings up many separate problems.

If Moses was the sole author of the Torah, why is he referred to in the third person and how does he manage to describe his own death? Referring to oneself in the third person is a modern literary device.

I hope we can continue to dialogue. I eventually want to return to the subject of women’s equality in Judaism but this topic is just so interesting for me and it caused me to do additional research, think and dialog with my husband.

You said: "Think about it for a day or so before I respond" - is that code for "ask my husband for a quick rebuttal"? :) Ouch. Kind of, though. You wouldn’t want a quick, haphazard response, would you? Lol

Elisha (and Alan)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Dear Elisha,

Aside from ease of response, the other benefit of dialoging by email would be no limit on characters. It is up to you, you are free to email me if you find that easier as well. In the meantime, I will have to separate my responses into three comments too!

Friedman is not considered the be all and end all of Biblical Criticism. In fact, he is considered "pop" bib-crit as opposed to a serious expert in the field, and there are good reasons for this assessment. I don't want to digress but suffice it to say that if you are genuinely interested in studying the field, most scholars would NOT recommend Who Wrote the Bible as a work of substance to include on your reading list.

Believe me, I have looked at the evidence extensively over two decades, and I have studied the Torah in its original language thousands of times, to the point that I know it, in Hebrew, by heart. I am not casually dismissing anything here.

I don't think you understand the Argument from Incredulity. That is when you say "I just can't believe this is true" for subjective or emotional reasons. I am not saying that at all. My point is that the interpretations advanced by Biblical scholars are just that, interpretations, and they are weighed down by an enormous amount of speculation. Moreover, plenty of "facts" assumed by these scholars were subsequently disproved, and the theories were never adjusted accordingly. The Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen provides numerous instances of this phenomenon in his works.

So let us focus on the distinction between facts and interpretation. It is a fact that there are changes in names, style, etc., in the Torah, and that these changes follow observable patterns. The interpretation offered by the scholars you mention holds that this is proof of multiple authorship, time periods, etc.

However, for every example of such a pattern and corresponding critical interpretation you adduce, I guarantee you that I can provide a source that interprets the same phenomenon in exactly the opposite way, as the purposeful act of a single author intentionally utilizing these changes for a literary purpose. I can guarantee this because I have studied the field for two decades and while I have not seen it all I have seen a lot!!!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Part II

You objected to my critique of the circular reasoning inherent in Biblical Criticism. The problem, however, is that differentiating "uniformity" from "non-uniformity" is highly subjective. If you study the works of non-critical Biblical scholars who adopt a literary approach and see the Bible as a seamless unity, you will see that this lack of uniformity is not a fact but a matter of interpretation, and that in many cases the claim of "non-uniformity" is based upon superficial or erroneous readings of the text.

So while you can legitimately identify patterns of language/style/name use in the Torah, your decision to attribute these patterns to different sources, and to infer lack of uniformity, is an interpretation that would be disputed by others, and not a fact.

I am not sure what you mean when you say the Rabbis engaged in "spin". Could you clarify that with some examples? I spend a lot of time studying Rabbinic texts and yet I have no idea what you are referring to here.

The Rabbis expand upon narratives with their own stories, but these are not intended to be historical statements. They are designed to bring out certain undercurrents in the text that would otherwise go unnoticed. The amazing thing is that modern literary scholars are just now developing the tools to appreciate how sensitive the Rabbis were to nuances in the text, and how their seemingly fanciful elucidations reveal great insight into patterns and themes within and across sections of the Torah. I can give many examples of this but time is running short for me.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Part III

Elisha, you may find attributing works of Shakespeare to multiple authors absurd, and I would agree. Yet there are conspiracy theorists who do just that, and others who have developed conspiracy theories about the works of Homer. And when did these ideas originate? At the same time as Biblical Source Criticism. Now THERE is a "pattern of patterns" for you!

From a purely objective standpoint, it should be irrelevant whether people consider Shakespeare or Homer to be holy books. Either source critical methods should be valid or they shouldn't. Except consider this: The only reason the conspiracy theories about the Bible hold sway, and those about Shakespeare and Homer are held only by some isolated rogue scholars, is because the theories about the Bible discredit it and serve as a means of attack against religion. Because they serve a specific political, social or ideological agenda, they are held in higher esteem than similar theories about Shakespeare that are equally speculative and bizarre.

We don't actually see open contradictions in the Torah either. There are no "two stories of Creation", that belief is erroneous and based on faulty reading of the text, as any literary Bible scholar, even the most atheistic, will tell you.

What is important to realize is that every question ever raised by Bible Critics has already been asked and answered before. Who wrote the description of Moses' death? The Talmud asked that.

Why does Moses speak about himself in the third person? Asked and answered in classical sources.

Why is there a recapitulation of the creation story that seems different from the first version? Every commentary written for the past two thousand years, both before and after the appearance of Bible Criticism, asked and answered that question without splicing the text.

And, in my opinion, with ANY text (not just the Bible), an answer that reveals internal unity and harmony is automatically to be preferred to one that posits disunity and multiple sources (this is an instance of Occam's Razor).

For thousands of years, no one questioned that Moses wrote the Torah, even though he wrote about himself in the third person, and they were not familiar with modern writing styles. Yet all of the later books of the Bible refer to the Torah as the work of Moses, and if someone had fabricated it and passed it off as the work of Moses, why couldn't that person have just used the first person when writing it for the sake of consistency? This has to bother any thinking person.

As a music history professor of mine once said, "if there is a reasonable explanation to account for it, then it was done that way on purpose", i.e., if there is an elegant theory to account for the facts, we assume that it is correct, and we don't assume that multiple sources lay hidden beneath the surface and that we are engaged in "apologetics".

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Elisha said...

I wanted to send you a response. Please email me your email address that you want me to use to communicate. This forum does seem limited.

elishajangrippo@yahoo.com

Elisha said...

Joshua,

Sorry it took a while for me to get back to you. We had an open house (we are trying to sell Alan’s house and move to NH and closer to my kids in MA) and we had to clean and scrub for it and then we had to leave the house. Afterwards, I had a webcam visit with Marc and Zach which went on for over an hour.

I’m glad that we both agree that there seem to be differences in the styles of language used in the Torah. Yet we have come to different conclusions regarding how that came to be.

You say that attributing “these patterns to different sources and to infer lack of uniformity, is an interpretation that would be disproved by others, and not a fact.”

I disagree. You are dismissing the disciplines of historical/comparative linguistics, history, ethnography, historiography, stylistics, and archaeology.

(Alan says) For you, there’s seems to be no difference between substantive commentary (e.g., alternate translations)…and commentary that imparts symbolism and intent where none is evident and makes the simple Biblical characters into heroes, as if their elementary moral adventures have any meaning for us …as if their freedom from bondage, their desert trek, and their arrival in Promised Land is unique, as if no other group in history created divine justification for its land claims, then proceeded to massacre the locals.

You say: “The amazing thing is that modern literary scholars are just now developing the tools to appreciate how sensitive the Rabbis were to nuances in the text, and how their seemingly fanciful elucidations reveal great insight into patterns and themes within and across the Torah.”

You are embracing an equally unscientific and counterfactual interpretation of the different styles, inconsistencies, and repetitions: You say that they have higher literary purpose. Moses was a genius! The meaning is there, if only we’re smart enough to find it. Now we are drifting dangerously close to Bible codes or other esoterica.

I admit that even if the DH can be proven to your (and everyone’s) satisfaction, it still wouldn’t negate the possibility that your god exists. It just removes the credibility from the story of the Jewish people and their holy scroll. However, the inferences that would be drawn from that are detrimental to the continuation of the Jewish religion since their holy book would then be considered a fraud.

The DH is only one piece of evidence against the validity and authoritativeness of the Torah and its subsequent writings. The Torah depicts your god with human emotions and a huge ego that is prone to committing murder and genocide over silly rules.

Elisha said...

Re: Rabbinical Spin - I’m sure you’re familiar with the act of “spinning” when it is related to the way some news channels report the news. (It is also a well known public relations technique) Some news channels have been known to go WAY beyond reporting the news. (FOX) They attempt to fill in the gaps with assumptions, speculations and usually adding a particular slant to the overall picture of the news story.

All those talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and FOX are all spinning a particular news story. (What does this really mean? How does this effect society? What was he thinking or feeling? What are the overall consequences?)

This is what I believe Rabbis do; and they have been doing this for hundreds of years. You have a simple scroll; the Torah; pretty basic stuff. It said what it was supposed to say, to the people who were supposed to get the message. And that’s all there is.

The Rabbis answers to all “problematic” questions (whatever they may be; but you mention that all these questions are, at some point, answered) is spin because the Torah does not give us this information. One must make inferences, twist and wring the text and basically make up stuff that isn’t there in order to give the Torah the illusion of uniformity. – Not to mention relevance for the modern man.

When you read the Noah story, it is glaringly obvious that there are two different names for God, the verses overlap, are repetitive and the details contradict one another. i.e.: sending out a raven and a dove.

I am sure that you have some elaborate justifications that explain this and each and every “problematic” passage in the Torah. This, Joshua, is an example of Rabbinical Spin. How so?

Well, does the Torah tell us WHY the names Yahweh and God are used at different times in the Noah story? Wouldn’t this be important? The Torah is, after all, all about God and his covenant with his people. Wouldn’t it behoove us to know the NAME of this deity?

Does the Torah even acknowledge the two different set of instructions regarding the pairing of animals in the Noah story? Two or Seven? Shouldn’t Noah have been confused?

Elisha said...

No, the Torah (itself) does not explain these glaring contradictions nor even acknowledge the inconsistencies. But we, modern man, can see them and we DO have the desire to understand how these and many other inconsistencies wound up being composed into this allegedly holy scroll.

All the Shabbat laws? Where did they come from? They are not in the Torah. The list of 39 forbidden actions which are listed in the Mishnah are nothing but spin from Ex. 31:14-16. The Torah only mentions NOT WORKING. That’s it.

Throughout the years, Rabbis have extrapolated from this verse that “work” is defined by these 39 acts associated with creating a sanctuary, since that was the “work” which they were doing at the time of the biblical writing. i.e.: sowing, plowing reaping. . .

The rules and laws of the Jewish tradition have been changed and altered throughout the centuries by Rabbis (in the subsequent Jewish writings) in order to make them relevant to modern society. After all, how could you keep the Sabbath and make it holy (God’s orders) without instructions on how to do so? Especially since the punishment is DEATH. And the Torah just doesn’t provide those instructions. Hence the need to just make it up.

No longer do we concern ourselves with winnowing, shearing wool or weaving etc. . . So, modern Rabbis needed to spin it again to continue to make it relevant for the modern era. This is spin upon spin.

The Torah mentions nothing except DO NOT WORK ON THE SABBATH. It was the Rabbis that chose to define what was considered work. It was the Rabbis who chose to codify it into 39 prohibitions and it was the Rabbis who deemed modern inventions such as driving a car as work.

When the Mishnah instructions about how to observe the Sabbath became irrelevant due to the modern industrial era Rabbis must now search to find hidden meaning and wisdom in the text that just isn’t there.

The same spin applies to the kashrut laws. There is nothing in the Torah that instructs the people about the elaborate rituals that orthodox Jews adhere to nowadays. All it says in the Torah is that you can’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk. From that passage, the Rabbis have used SPIN to create an entire tome of kashrut laws applicable to modern times. It is spin because it is extrapolating additional meaning from a simple sentence which, on its face, is quite clear.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Response Part I:

Dear Elisha,

Given my time constraints it will probably take me a couple of sittings to complete this email. Hopefully it will still come across clearly. Sorry about the delay.

I am not sure that you understand the distinction I am making between fact and interpretation. A fact is something objective and upon which there cannot be real disagreement. An interpretation is what we make of the fact(s); here, there can be disagreement, depending upon our ideologies, backgrounds, emphasis, etc.

We can agree that there are different styles and names of God employed in the Torah. That is a fact that has been known for thousands of years by everyone who has ever studied the text. However, what we choose to derive from this is debatable. That is where interpretation comes in.


I am not ignoring or discounting the validity of the disciplines you mention. My difference with you is methodological. I believe, with reference to any text, that the highest priority should be given to the text itself, before we invoke extraneous material. This is why I believe the literary school of Biblical study, which is currently employed by both religious and secular Bible scholars, is the most convincing and powerful of all approaches. Again, the reason I say this is because this school of thought does exactly what you claim you wish to do - allow the text to speak for itself. They look at the Torah - whether they believe it has divine source or not - as literature and interpret it accordingly, using the tools of literary and linguistic analysis that are cutting edge today.

Of course, I do have an interest in the other relevant disciplines, and so do the literary scholars. I assign varying degrees of weight to these disciplines in terms of the extent to which they would influence my reading. For example, archaeology is notoriously unreliable and completely unscientific. There is no way to perform scientific experiments in the field of archaeology - it is based on chance discovery, which often happens by fortuitous accident. A single totally unexpected finding can overturn centuries of research and writing in an instant. So I accept the data of archaeology but I keep in mind that it is a tiny fragment of the total picture, with lots of speculation added to fill in the gaps. This is just an example of how I look at these supplementary fields.

I would like to offer my response to a couple of the points you made in connection with this. You said:

You are embracing an equally unscientific and counterfactual interpretation of the different styles, inconsistencies, and repetitions: You say that they have higher literary purpose.

You are assuming this interpretation is counterfactual. That is a premise of yours, not a proven fact. The reality is that my method of interpretation is the same method I would employ in studying and interpreting any literature. The burden of proof would be on you to demonstrate that, unlike any other literature, we should not interpret the stylistic changes of the Torah from a literary perspective.

You suggest that my approach is drifting toward Bible Codes, but in fact the opposite is the case. The modern literary approach to the Bible looks at the text at face value and applies the same methodology that would normally be applied to any text when it comes to interpreting nuances. Bible Codes people look for bizarre secret messages in the text that have nothing to do with its content at all. In fact, the Bible Codes are closer to the DH - in both cases, practitioners of these disciplines read between the lines to detect supposed meanings that are "hidden" beneath the surface (and which I believe are not really there), whereas I am simply trying to read the text as it stands before me, as literature.

(To Be Continued)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

(Response Part II)

I would like to address some of the alleged contradictions in the Torah that you cite, and explain why I don't believe they are contradictions at all. For example, you make much out of the "different names" of God, an element of BC (Biblical Criticism) that I, and most literary theorists - religious and secular - think is a total misunderstanding.

If you read the newspaper, you will find Barack Obama referred to variably as Mr. Obama, the President, the Commander in Chief, etc. This doesn't mean there are different people, it means that in different contexts different words are used, depending upon the role being emphasized. Similarly, most people call me Josh, my kids call me Abba or Dad, you call me Joshua (not sure why), magazine subscriptions I receive call me Mr. Maroof and many people in my professional life call me Rabbi. Yet I can assure you I am one person with many different aspects to my personality, and not several different people!

The same is true of God in the Bible. The term "Elohim" is a generic term for any god, whether that is the God of the Bible or Zeus. It is a title, not a proper name. YHVH, on the other hand, is a proper name, not applied to anyone but the God of the Bible. It is really that simple to anyone who knows Hebrew. I kid you not.

So, whenever God is being referred to as a generic deity or Creator, we find the name E. By contrast, when he is referred to by his proper name, we find the name J, and this is always when God is interacting with human beings who relate to Him personally. Very often, we find the title and proper name together. There is really nothing at all surprising about this.

(To be continued again)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

(Response Part III)

Let's look at the example you cited, the Noah story. I would suggest you check up on my comments by looking inside an actual copy of the Bible to verify that what I am saying is correct. In the alleged "two stories" of Noah, one employs the E name and one employs the J name. On the surface, it seems like two stories, right? Nope.

Really, there are just two ASPECTS to the Noah story. Creation, and Noah's family as the representatives of humanity, are being saved collectively from the flood. That is a generic phenomenon, not a personal one. The species must be preserved.

But there is more to the picture. Noah, on a personal level, is also a story in his own right - he has his own personal relationship with God that is being played out in the story. Now you can analyze the changes in style consistently and see that a beautiful and logical seamless text stands before you.

When describing the destruction of all of creation, INCLUDING humans as a mere part of the created order, the impersonal title "God", i.e., the Creator, is utilized. Only two of each animal are requested to be brought into the ark, because that is all that is necessary for preserving the species.

By contrast, when the subject is the specific relationship between God and Noah, and not the mere fact that Noah represents humanity, the J name is used. In this context, a distinction is made between "ritually fit" and "ritually unfit" animals, because that distinction only makes sense in the context of a conscious relationship between human beings and God, and wouldn't be relevant to the generic "save the natural world" aspect of the story.

If you look at the conclusion of the narrative, again, two "covenants" are made. One personal covenant between Noah and YHVH. Then another covenant between God and "the natural world", using the E name. This supports the literary hypothesis and this analysis of the story is broadly accepted nowadays.

What is the proof of this interpretation? Verse 7:!6, which uses both the E and J names together. The E name in connection with the command to preserve the species, and the J name to describe how God protected Noah personally.

Whether or not you accept the divine origin of the Torah, from a literary perspective alone it is difficult to dismiss an elegant interpretation like this. That is why many scholars are pursuing this kind of study of the Bible and are less and less enchanted with the DH that ascribes every other verse to a different source and completely misses out on the big picture I am laying out for you.

One last comment on Noah - sending a dove and then a raven is not a contradiction, he first sent a dove, then a raven twice. I have never heard anyone suggest that this is a contradiction, and even Near East parallels of the Noah story have this element in them.

You also said:

The Torah depicts your god with human emotions and a huge ego that is prone to committing murder and genocide over silly rules.

Judaism has never traditionally understood God as possessing human emotions. These are figures of speech. And I don't know of any case of murder or genocide being permitted or encouraged over silly rules. Could you share an example? The only situations I know of where killing is allowed are where the victims have committed serious moral offenses. It just happens to be that the Torah considers worship of physical gods a grave offense, since it oppresses the human mind and prevents it from perceiving the lawfulness and rationality of the world by promoting magic and superstition instead.

(Continued in Part IV)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

(Response Part IV)

I am so glad you brought up the case of Sabbath laws and the interpretations they are based on. I would like to address your points in this connection now.

You stated that all the Torah prohibits on the Sabbath is "work", nothing else. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception repeated over and over again, even by supposedly knowledgeable people. I am happy to have the opportunity to clarify this mistaken notion.

The Torah actually NEVER prohibits "work" on the Sabbath! This may sound ironic and quite surprising, but it is the absolute truth.

The word for "work" in Hebrew is "avodah". Nowhere does it say not to engage in "avodah" on the Sabbath - that would be too subjective and vague; what is one person's work is another person's pleasure!

What the Torah says is not to engage in "melakha", which is a highly specific term that is best translated as "craft" or "productive activity". This is why we don't use a conventional definition of "work" to establish the laws of the Sabbath - because "work" is not forbidden! What needs to be defined is "melakha", or productive activity, and this is much clearer and more objective category to deal with.

Incidentally, if you look at the basis of the Sabbath laws - it doesn't say God "worked" for six days and rested on the seventh. What it says is God "did melakha" for six days and rested on the seventh. In fact, God is never described as doing "avodah" or "work" anywhere in the Bible. He is described as creating, and what we are prohibited to do on the Sabbath is engaging in productive or creative action.

The Torah also provides, in a few places, examples of "melakha", not avodah, that are prohibited on the Sabbath, including baking, cooking, gathering, reaping, plowing, lighting a fire and even transporting objects from place to place. When the Rabbis present the 39 categories of melakha, they are not making anything up - they are just describing the 39 different forms of human productive activity that would constitute melakha, and these categories are not at all arbitrary, they emerge from the VERY DEFINITION of melakha itself.

You are absolutely right, it makes perfect sense that the Torah would choose a highly specific and objective category like melakha, and not a vague term like "work" to describe what is prohibited on the Sabbath. Otherwise observing and enforcing the law would be arbitrary and capricious at best.

Now, I hope, you can see why the Rabbis really haven't added or twisted or expanded anything beyond what the Torah specifically prohibited on the Sabbath. The combustion that goes on in an automobile engine is no less a creative activity than it was 3000 years ago. It might be less "work" today to light a fire, but it is no less melakha, and that is why the Sabbath laws are rather easily applicable to modern situations, since the principles are objective and haven't changed.

(Continued in Part V)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

(Response Part V)

One final note before I end off - and I am sorry if I did not address every point you made, I tried to capture the generalities and some details - I wanted to make a general observation. You spend a lot of time trying to disprove Judaism. Why waste so much effort? If you are sure that it is false, there are so many other areas of inquiry to which you may devote your talents. You are very bright and capable of so much, I don't see why you would squander precious time and resources on something you consider meaningless.

There is a big difference between us practically. For you, everything revolves around trying to disprove Judaism from "the outside". If it were ever proven to be true, I guess, this would seem a compelling reason to take it seriously. So justifying the rejection of it is very important.

For me, from the inside, I see in my own life firsthand that Judaism works. I don't need extraneous proofs to convince me, and no I am NOT talking about blind faith as in Christianity, so don't even go there!

What I mean is that, for example, keeping kosher helps me instill discipline and a sense of higher purpose in myself, so that I recognize there is something more important in life than satisfying my appetites. Studying Torah has helped me develop my capacity to think clearly, analytically and deeply far beyond where it was before I started 20 years ago. Shabbat offers me an oasis in time to withdraw from the practical demands of life and immerse myself in study, reflection and leisure. Every one of the observances of Judaism inspires me to think about the meaning of life and my place in the world, and opens up new worlds of intellectual stimulation and beauty to me.

Even if you were to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Judaism is false, why would I want to give that up?

So, in the end, I have nothing to fear from honest debate about the sources, because divinely given or not, Judaism is the most enriching lifestyle I can imagine, and there is no comparable alternative. In fact, this is part of what gives me conviction in its truth and divine origin, but it can only be experienced from the "inside".

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours,

Josh

P.S. It took me like an hour and a half to write this! Yikes!