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

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

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood