Donate

Did Orthodox Jews Beat Academic Bible Scholars at Their Own Game?

Aug. 11 2017

Responding to Joshua Berman’s recent Mosaic essay on the corruption of biblical studies, Michah Gottlieb looks to Samson Raphael Hirsch’s critique of academic scholarship of both Bible and Talmud to argue that there exists an unbridgeable gap between Orthodox Judaism and biblical criticism. Hirsch, a 19th-century rabbi who led German Orthodoxy during the heyday of the Reform movement, admired secular philosophy and high culture, but saw no place for the historical study of Judaism:

For Hirsch (as for Benedict Spinoza, [the founder of biblical criticism]), Orthodoxy and historical scholarship rest on mutually exclusive, utterly irreconcilable premises. Historical scholarship assumes that history unfolds according to natural processes and that all literature is generated by human authors operating within specific historical contexts. When problems such as contradictions, gaps, and repetitions occur in the biblical text, the scholar explains them as the result of errors, multiple sources, competing agendas, and so forth. By contrast, Orthodox Judaism rests on the assumption that the Torah is a unique, perfect text miraculously dictated by God to Moses. The Bible’s contradictions, repetitions, and gaps show that it is not a straightforward text, but rather a hieroglyphic work consisting of multiple levels of meaning that must be deciphered.

[However, Hirsch] claims that in an important respect, Orthodox Judaism approaches the academic ideal of historical accuracy better than [academic] scholarship itself. Historical scholarship seeks to understand texts as they were originally intended. . . . Orthodox Judaism seeks to understand the Bible for a practical purpose, namely as a guide to life. Given that the Bible presents itself as addressing the reader with divine commandments, . . . Hirsch sees Orthodox Judaism’s approach to the Bible as coming closer to the scholarly ideal of understanding texts as they were originally intended.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical criticism, Judaism, Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, Samson Raphael Hirsch

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians