Afterword: The Sum of the Matter
The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe God’s commandments! For this is the duty of all mankind. — Ecclesiastes 12:13
Beyond strict adherence to halakha, part of being a Torah observant—or Orthodox—Jew is believing in the divinity of the Torah, that the Torah is devar Hashem, the word of God. In this essay I have tried to describe how this is possible while still embracing the findings and methods of modern academic scholarship which appear to me to be convincing. What is “the sum of the matter”? Here are my beliefs in short.
- I believe in Torah Min Ha-Shamayim, that the Torah is from heaven, and that the entirety of the book is nevua (prophecy) and represents the encounter between God and the people of Israel.
- I believe in Torah mi-Sinai, meaning the uniqueness of the Torah as being of a higher order than any other work in its level of divine encounter. The story of the revelation at Sinai in the Torah I understand as a narrative depiction of a deeper truth—the Torah is God’s book and the divine blueprint for Israel and Jewish life.
- I believe that the Torah is meant to be as it is today and that all of its verses, from “Timnah was a concubine” (Gen. 36:12) to “I am the Lord your God,” are holy.
- I believe that halakha and Jewish theology must develop organically from Torah interpretation and not by excising or ignoring any part of the Torah or Chazal’s interpretation.
The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Every generation has its challenges, both intellectual and social. In the Rambam’s day, the challenge was Greek philosophy, and he wrote the Guide for the Perplexed. Greek philosophy is no longer the challenge, and our day needs its own Guide. I am not claiming that I have all the answers nor that I will be the guide. Instead, I am putting forth the claim that we as a community need to create the synthesis which will enable the writing of a modern-day Guide. Otherwise, as Rambam states in his introduction, we may bring “loss to ourselves and harm to our religion.”
I invite all of you to join the conversation and to grapple with this challenge together with me, so that we as a community can work to write a Guide for the Perplexed for our day and age. As committed observant Jews, it is our job to keep the tradition alive by adapting the message of God to respond to these challenges, without fear and without apology, but with intellectual honesty, ethical sensitivity, and spiritual integrity. We must always be ready to face our Creator and our Torah with open minds and open hearts. Only in this way will we succeed in facilitating the growth of Torah observance in our day and allow the Torah and its message to flourish.
Rabbi Zev Farber, Ph.D.
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July 19, 2013
March 11, 2020
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
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