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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 Threats Posed to Israel by a Palestinian State

Oct. 23 2017

To the IDF reserve general Gershon Hacohen, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would, given the current circumstances of the Middle East, create a graver danger for the Jewish state than either Iran or Hizballah. More damaging still, he argues, is the attitude among many Israelis that the two-state solution is a necessity for Israel. He writes:

Since the Oslo process began in the fall of 1993, dramatic changes have occurred in the international arena. . . . For then-Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, Oslo was based on the superpower status of the U.S. . . . At the time, the Arabs were in a state of crisis and aware of their weakness—all the more so after the U.S. vanquished Iraq in the First Gulf War in the winter of 1991. . . . It was that awareness of weakness, along with the PLO leadership’s state of strategic inadequacy, that paved the way for the Oslo process.

[But] over the [intervening] years, the America’s hegemonic power has declined while Russia has returned to play an active and very influential role. . . .

Something essential has changed, too, with regard to expectations in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. At first, in the early days of Oslo, the expectations were of mutual goodwill and reconciliation. Over the years, however, as the cycle of blood has continued, the belief in Palestinian acceptance of Israel in return for Israeli concessions has been transformed in the Israeli discourse into nothing more than the need to separate from the Palestinians—“They’re there, we’re here”—solely on our own behalf.

The more the proponents of separation have honed their efforts to explain to Israeli society that separation is mandated by reality, enabling Israel to preserve its identity as Jewish and democratic, the more the Palestinians’ bargaining power has grown. If a withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state is a clear-cut Israeli interest, if the Israelis must retreat in any case for the sake of their own future, why should the Palestinians give something in return? . . . Hence the risk is increasing that a withdrawal from the West Bank will not only fail to end the conflict but will in fact lead to its intensification.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Oslo Accords, Russia, Two-State Solution