Academic Bible Scholarship Shouldn’t Be Confused with Torah Study

Currently a professor at Harvard, Jon Levenson is one of America’s leading scholars of the Hebrew Bible. He reflects here on how he sees the connection between his commitments to Judaism and the demands of academic study:

As I see it, there should be room within religious Jewish communities for historical-critical scholarship—intellectual honesty in our times demands it—but historical-critical scholarship alone does not constitute “Torah.” In order for biblical scholarship to be defined as “Torah,” it must recognize that the meaning of a scriptural text cannot be limited to the intentions of the original authors or the cultural meanings that the texts offered their first hearers, important as these are. It must pay respectful attention to the processes of recontextualization and appropriation within the continuing Jewish tradition, including those within the Bible itself. It cannot reflexively brand those processes as wrong, definitively and irreversibly superseded by the characteristically modern focus on the authors of the text and their historical worlds.

Similarly, such scholarship should recognize that the Bible has multiple uses and that, in the Jewish case, standing legitimately among them are those that encourage faith in God, identification with the people Israel over the millennia, and the enriching of practice (such as that of prayer). Needless to say, these are not the uses to which biblical scholarship in most contemporary colleges and universities is addressed. Nor can they be.

Neither the secular academic approach to the Bible nor the religiously driven one is likely to refute the other or to go away. A more nuanced model of the relationship is called for. In particular, both religious traditionalists and critical scholars need to be more self-aware when claiming to relate what the text “really” means.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Academia, Biblical criticism, Hebrew Bible, Jewish studies, Torah

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror