Rejecting Biblical Criticism with the Help of Don Isaac Abarbanel

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

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