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 It cannot reflexively brand those processes as wrong, definitively and irreversibly superseded by the characteristically modern focus on the authors of the text and their historical worlds.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.


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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy