Volume 64 Number 67 
      Produced: Sun, 14 Jun 20 10:03:06 -0400

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Bible criticism (6)
    [Martin Stern  Martin Stern  Louis Steinberg  Michael Frankel  Chaim Casper  Martin Stern]


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Tue, Jun 9,2020 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Bible criticism

Ben Katz wrote (MJ 64#66):

> Martin Stern wrote (MJ 64#65):
> ...
>> In the first chapter of my book, A Time to Speak (Devora Publishing, '10), I
>> suggested that the whole dispute between Torah min Hashmayim and Bible
>> Criticism is based on a logical fallacy.
>> To summarise my argument, I posited that the Bible Critics were applying
>> literary techniques designed for analysing the authorship of texts composed
>> by humans. Torah min Hashmayim claims that the Torah was composed by HKBH so
>> such techniques are inappropriate - i.e. the former's 'reconstructions' are
>> based on a paradigm fallacy.
>> ... 
>> IMHO my approach immediately neutralises the claim that Bible Criticism
>> undermines Torah min Hashmayim by pointing out its use of the rhetorical
>> device called "poisoning the well" where a 'hidden' assumption is made which
>> undermines one's opponent's position in the hope that it will not be noticed.
>> ...
> Mr Stern's argument is a very obvious one that I have heard at least since my
> college days (early 70's).  If the Bible is not meant to be read like any
> other book, then it is immune to any analysis.

I think that the Torah is not meant to be read like any other book. If it
were, many exegetic devices such as gezeirah shavah [linkage of two passages
because they contain the same, or similar, words] would be meaningless - they
would be stylistic coincidences of no real significance. That our halachic
system is based on such rules would be ridiculous if the text were a mere
human composition. Unlike the 'Bible', as Christians view it, we see the
Torah as the revealed word of G-d, every word, or even letter, being of
infinite significance.

It is not strictly speaking correct to call it Mosaic at all since, as the
Rambam puts it (Introduction to Chelek, Eighth Fundamantal Principle), Mosheh
Rabbeinu was merely a mechokek [copyist] who wrote precisely what HKBH told him
to write - and did not write anything solely on his own personal authority. It
was as if HKBH was standing looking over his shoulder to make sure he was
transcribing the Torah correctly and saying, for example (Ex. 13:16) "spell
yadecha with an extra heh this time" or (Lev. 26:42) "spell Ya'akov with an
extra vav". In fact Chazal state (Men. 29b) that he did not understand the
significance of the finer points of the text from which Rabbi Akiva would later
be able to draw halachic implications, yet he did not question that HKBH had put
them there for some purpose. It was certainly not a mosaic of various underlying
source texts by differing authors cobbled together by (a not very competent)
redactor as the Bible critics claim.

This is in contrast to the other nevi'im [prophets] whose prophecy was
always 'refracted' through their individual personalities, as Chazal say
"ein shnei nevi'im mitnabe'im besignon echad [no two prophets prophesy in
the same style]" (San.89a). This distinction is implied in the Torah text itself
where HKBH says (Num. 12:6-8) "[As regards] my servant, Mosheh unlike other
people ... I speak directly not in a vision ...".

Incidentally, this distinction implies that critical methods are not
automatically excluded from application to other books of Nach. Unfortunately
proponents of Bible criticism often re-enforce their arguments by doing
precisely this so they are guilty of yet another rhetorical sophistry - of using
a "red herring". Even if they showed conclusively, for example, that the book of
Isaiah must consist of passages written by more than one author, this would be
irrelevant to the argument regarding the composition of the Torah (in the strict
sense of the Chumash).

> However, if it is meant to be read and understood, then issues such as
> contradictions become important. Either a slave is a slave forever or till the
> jubilee. Either one eats matzah for 6 days on Pesach or 7; it can't be both.
> I am not saying that one can't have special rules for reading the Torah and
> resolving some or all of these issues, and this is in fact what the Torah
> she-be-al peh and the hermeneutical rules of Rabbi Yishmael and others try to
> accomplish.

I accept Ben's point that issues such as contradictions are important but
would would suggest that, from a Torah perspective, they are intended to
show us that the written text [Torah shebichtav] cannot be understood
without the oral tradition [Torah shebe'al peh] transmitted simultaneously
to Mosheh Rabbeinu by HKBH. The latter includes various hermeneutical rules
as well as halachot (such as, for example, shechitah) that are alluded to
implicitly in the text. Any such claim is anathema to modern Bible scholars who
do not accept that it is part of the original revelation but rather is a later
rabbinic fabrication (shades of the Christian and Karaite polemics) and anyone
suggesting it would be automatically excluded from a tenured post in most
university departments of Biblical studies.

I would accept, as a hava amina [hypothesis], that it is not impossible that
the text, once given, might have been susceptible to miscopying though the
halachot governing safrut make this highly unlikely in practice.

Martin Stern

From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Tue, Jun 9,2020 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Bible criticism

Michael Rogovin wrote (MJ 64#66):

> In response to Martin Stern (MJ 64#65): 
> The flaw in his reasoning is that it only works if one accepts as a given that
> the Torah was written by God word for word, and not through the agency of
> people. This is an article of faith and not a statement that can be proven
> through any human method of analysis. 

I would dispute Michael's insistence that an article of faith should be capable
of being proved through a human method of analysis. Perhaps my argument is best
illustrated by analogy with geometry.

Euclid developed his geometry by positing a set of axioms, which he claimed were
self-evidently true, and then developed everything from them by purely logical
argument. There was, however, one axiom that somehow seemed not quite as
obviuously true as the rest - the so-called parallel axiom "Through any point
not on a line, one and only one line can be drawn that never meets that line".

Mathematicians struggled without success for over two thousand years to prove
this from the other axioms, possibly by including a more satisfactorary axiom to
replace it. In the early nineteenth century, some mathematicians thought to try
a more indirect approach by using the reductio ad absurdum technique of
replacing it with an axiom that contradicted it and then show that the resulting
system led to the formulation of a 'theorem' which could be proved both true and
not true within the system. By then invoking the basic logical rule "from a
false premise one can prove anything", they would have shown that there
substitute 'axiom' was inconsistent with the other axioms and so could be
discarded as false.

There were two possible such 'axioms', either "Through any point not on a line,
more than one line can be drawn that never meets that line" (Lobachevski, 1829)
and "Through any point not on a line, no line can be drawn that never meets that
line" (Riemann, 1854). Unfortunately both 'geometries' turned out to be
internally self-consistent and so were as 'true' as Euclid's system though they
were inconsistent with the others.

An article of faith in theology is the equivalent of an axiom in mathematics so
it is futile to expect it to be proved - it has to be accepted or rejected on
extra-logical grounds.

> ... Once you say that we don't know exactly what it means that God gave us
> the Torah, then analysis is possible. One is a faith based paradigm. The
> other is scientific (although it may have internal flaws as well).

This is IMHO a non-sequitur. Assuming the Torah (in this case in the limited
sense of the Pentateuch) was composed by a human (or humans) is as much an
article of faith as assuming it was composed by HKBH. The former only seems more
reasonable because we cannot really understand the nature of HKBH, an infinite
and limitless entity, nor how He can communicate with us finite mortals bound by
the constraints of space and time. Just as in geometry, one has to make one's
choice of axiom / article of faith - but that does not mean one can claim those
who make a different choice are being unscientific.
Martin Stern

From: Louis Steinberg <lou@...>
Date: Tue, Jun 9,2020 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Bible criticism

Michael Rogovin wrote (MJ 64#66):

> One is a faith based paradigm. The other is scientific (although it may have
> internal flaws as well).

As a scientist, let me hasten to point out that science is also based on certain
articles of faith. For example, if you combine chemicals A and B and get
chemical C as the result, then it must be that, if I combine the same two
chemicals under the same conditions I will also get chemical C.  If I get
chemical D instead, there must be some difference in what we did - e.g. trace
contaminants in your batch of chemical A or a difference in the air pressure in
your lab and mine.  It cannot be, according to science, that the difference is
because you believe in science and I do not.

Louis Steinberg

From: Michael Frankel <michaeljfrankel@...>
Date: Tue, Jun 9,2020 at 06:01 PM
Subject: Bible criticism

I haven't dipped into mail jewish in a while but in present homebound days I find
I need a break from my present hobbies (of writing papers and trying to grow a
ponytail).  So, Martin Stern's note (MJ 64#65) caught my eye.   Without
commenting the fallaciousness (or not) of his notion, he asks:  

> As I have not seen this argument being put forward, I suspect that it may be
> fallacious but I cannot see my error. Can anyone point it out or, 
> alternatively, if they have seen it elsewhere, provide a reference?

Well, since he asks - as I am unfamiliar with his book and thus I am confident
the three-line precis he provides is not really sufficient to make an adequate
assessment, however it strikes me in crude outline as not dissimilar to the
much more elaborated thesis of the late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (whose life
work on Mesorah continues to enrich us, yzb).

Rabbi Breuer had a serious and distinguished academic background and this
suggestion of his merited a vigorous negative reaction cum dialogue by a large
and varied panoply of academics and rabbonim, including the late Jacob Katz, Sid
Leiman, Uriel Simon, Moshe Lichtenstein...  In fact I couldn't find anyone
supporting him. For those interested in the dispute, both his and their papers
are contained in:

Shittas Habb'chinos shel Harav Mordechai Breuer:  Qovetz Maamorim V'sguvos
Ed. Yosef Ofer, Pub: T'vunos, Alon Sh'vus.

Mechy Frankel


From: Chaim Casper <info@...>
Date: Wed, Jun 10,2020 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Bible criticism

There has been some recent discussion about Biblical Criticism and the role it
might play in helping us understand TaNa"Kh. Allow me to offer two points from
my past:
1. At Hebrew University from 1973-4 (the year of the Yom Kippur War), I had the
honor and privilege of taking a Bible course with Prof Nehama Leibowitz, z"l I
remember clearly that someone asked her a question based on "modern" Biblical
Criticism. Prof Leibowitz looked at the questioner and said that Ephraim Avigdor
Speiser and [Yehezkel] Kaufmann were unquestionably scholars in their field but
what they said and believed had no bearing on our class of TaNa"Kh using
Traditional m'forshim. They are two separate worlds.
2. At Yeshiva University where I went for smikhah (1975-80), I had the honor and
privilege of taking a class with Rabbi Meyer Feldblum who taught the history of
the writing of the Talmud. One day during class, he stopped and asked us, "YU
has a Talmud department but no Bible department. Why?" His answer was that it
would be impossible to separate the positive things they could add to our
understanding of TaNa"Kh from the negative things. So rather than risk the
entering of heretical ideas into the YU community, it was better to just leave
it out entirely.
I agree with Leah Gordon (MJ 64#66): "Neither side will agree with the other".
The traditionalists will always disagree with the Biblical critics (and vice
versa) so why bother starting the discussion?

B'virkat Torah,
Chaim Casper
North Miami Beach, FL

From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Jun 14,2020 at 04:01 AM
Subject: Bible criticism

Leah Gordon wrote (MJ 64#66):

> In response to Martin Stern (MJ 64#65):

> I think that it is unlikely that he will find any common ground to discuss
> Biblical Criticism with contemporary scholars.
> While he posits that it is "poisoning the well" and a "paradigm fallacy" for
> Biblical Criticism scholars to assume human authorship of Torah text, surely
> those scholars would not accept his basic assumption of divine authorship

I entirely agree with Leah that "Biblical Criticism scholars ... would not
accept [my] basic assumption of divine authorship" but that is not the
point. When otherwise loyal and believing Jews are exposed to their arguments,
they need to be aware of the underlying assumption they make which contradicts
the principle of Torah min Hashamayim. Given their assumptions, their scholarly
edifice might seem entirely reasonable but one must remember the basic
logical rule "from a false premise one can prove anything" and not feel
compelled by their logic to accept their conclusions as proven.

> (because that is considered unlikely to the point of impossibility in academic
> circles).

In statistics one may have an event of zero probability but that does not
mean it is impossible. Similarly academic consensus does not imply correctness
as has been shown many times throughout history. If an observation is
inconsistent with a scientific theory then one has to reject, or at least
modify, the theory rather than try to argue that the observation is mistaken
- that the basis of scientific method.

We may not really understand precisely how G-d communicated His Torah to the
Benei Yisrael at Har Sinai but it was witnessed by at least two million
people and made a deep impression on them which they transmitted to their
children. This was repeated generation by generation until today. Basically, the
Bible scholars refuse to even consider the possibility that it could have
happened and dismiss it as a myth created many generations later as part of some
putative political agenda. How the 'inventor' of this highly improbable story
managed to convince the notoriously sceptical Jewish people is never really

> Neither side will convince the other, and so there is little left to discuss
> as far as any resulting findings.  Because of this, it's also clear to me that
> one who puts stock in contemporary Biblical Criticism would not agree with his
> assessment of it, and no one who already rejects the concept of human
> authorship of the Torah, would have accepted the academic criticism to begin
> with.

That was the basic point I made in my original posting:

>> While there is no objection to studying Bible Criticism as a 'hava amina
>> [hypothesis]', as was done, for example, by Harav David Hoffman, this must
>> always be born in mind.

Martin Stern


End of Volume 64 Issue 67