How to Not Address Source Criticism
As Director of 929 English, an online platform for the study of a daily chapter of the Hebrew Bible, I have been concerned with how to include source criticism into our project. At the meeting we had with the originators of this project in Israel, we were informed that there is no place for source criticism in this project, even though it is a project geared to the secular Israelis. Initially, I was disappointed. How can we create a wide-ranging education resource on the Bible that includes scholarship and poetry, rabbis and laypeople, without incorporating source criticism?
929 English is not promoting or rejecting the theories of multiple authors of individual books of the Jewish Bible. We are simply not addressing this issue. There are many approaches to the study of the biblical text, sometimes even ways that are not usually connected with the study of the Bible, like haikus. We have posted material on over 700 chapters of the Jewish Bible.
Starting with the Books of the Torah and moving swiftly into the Prophets and now The Writings, we have posted close to 10,000 individual entries. We include scholarship and poetry, rabbis and laypeople, all by individuals with a deep interest and love for the biblical text. Yet, most of the entries do not address source criticism or the multiple sources of the Bible.
As Director of 929 English, I am not convinced that this is the most honest approach to the study of the Bible. Traditional Jews have grappled with the issue of multiple authorship of the Bible for several centuries, and how to teach the Bible while being honest to the academic questions that source criticism raises continues to be a critical issue in academies and yeshivot. Yet, this doesn’t mean that every work on the Bible has to address this question.
No one would avoid the insightful HaEmek Berakhah commentary of Netziv (Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 1816–1893) because he doesn’t address multiple sources. More recently, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903–1993) in his many public lectures on Torah or the weekly parashah, never dealt with the issue, even though source criticism was already an accepted form of biblical study in the university, and he had a doctorate in philosophy. These are just two examples of the insightful work on the Bible that continues to be produced without engaging source and redaction criticism. This is the overall approach we are taking with 929 English as well.
The Torah is a platform that addresses these issues for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox students. It is the ability to work side-by-side with The Torah that allows us to retain our focus without addressing source criticism, which we leave to other venues. As Rabbi Tarfon teaches in the Mishnah (Avot 2:16),
לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה
It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
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January 18, 2022
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Dr. Rabbi Adam Mintz is the Director of 929 English, a digital library by over 700 contemporary writers on every chapter of the Tanach. He is also the founder and rabbi of Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on the Upper West Side and a member of the Talmud faculty at Maharat. Rabbi Mintz received his Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin ordination at the RIETS in 1985/1986. He received a Ph.D. from New York University in 2011. Rabbi Mintz is the author of several books, including Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law (2005), The Relationship of Orthodox Jews with Believing Jews of Other Religious Ideologies and Non-Believing Jews (2010), and a book on the history of community eruvin in North America (forthcoming in 2022).
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