Rejecting Biblical Criticism with the Help of Don Isaac Abarbanel

Feb. 15 2023

Drawing on the work of the 15th-century Portuguese rabbi, philosopher, and statesman Isaac Abarbanel, Avi Weiss explains how traditional understandings of the divine authorship of the Pentateuch account for some of the objections raised by academic scholars, and, moreover, how reading the Torah as an organic whole rather than a pastiche of various texts allows for a deeper appreciation of its richness:

Instead of envisioning a 40-day marathon on Mount Sinai of writing down the Torah from beginning to end, Abarbanel sees God as communicating with Moses periodically, including after his long address on the plains of Moab [that constitutes the first part of Deuteronomy], and telling Moses what exactly to include [in the Torah’s final text].

Following Abarbanel’s observation, when it comes to narrative, the Torah’s language, style, and tone may differ [from one segment to another] because much of it reflects the speech of different human personalities, who themselves have different ways of communicating. These verses comingle in the Torah because God sanctioned the inclusion of these words and deemed them part of the Torah.

But how can we explain that often it is not original human speech in the Torah but God’s own demands and statements which take on different literary styles and perspectives? Mordecai Breuer has argued that God, as an infinite being, can speak from different vantage points and perspectives. I would take this a step further and note that it is not only God Who can speak in different tones and ways, but we all speak with different voices.

In the spirit of imitatio dei (imitation of God), this capacity gives us a tiny, tiny glimpse of God, Who speaks with many styles: interpersonal and ritual law are spoken one way; narrative, wherein God speaks to or about biblical personalities in another; instructions on how to build the sanctuary [or] prepare priestly clothes in still another; the recall of things past inspiring us to forge a better future in yet another. While Bible critics see different styles and emphases as evidence of a multiplicity of authors, traditionalists—of which I am one—see the Torah as authored by the One God, speaking in multiple ways. In part, it is this totality that makes God—the One God.


More about: Avi Weiss, Biblical criticism, Isaac Abarbanel, Judaism


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship