Renewing the Torah’s Authority
It is time to cut the shackles of encrusted conventions that anchor the Torah in a previous civilization, and that threaten to drag it down to oblivion.
אבות ה:כב בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ.
m. Avot 5:22 Turn it over [dig deeply into Torah] and turn it over again, for all [needed wisdom] is in it.
Those who believe in the eternity of the Torah, study it anew in every generation, not only to understand it as a heritage document but as a source of wisdom and values for their lives now.
The eternal power and relevance of the Torah has been upheld by those who interpreted it anew in every generation. It is simplistic to claim that the Torah says the same thing in every era. When culture changes substantially, the same words could not be heard, were it not for the interpreter who turned the Torah over and found the rich layers of wisdom and multilevel meanings that speak in and to the new circumstances.
As a result of this process, the Torah, which started as a source of revelation in ancient civilization, left that world behind as that culture disappeared into history. Then the Torah spoke in the Hellenistic world and left it behind in order to dispense wisdom and guidance in the medieval world and then in the modern civilizations that succeeded it.
We are now entering into the post-modern world and we find a paradox. The established religious authorities insist that the Torah is completely embedded in the premodern culture (and the world of Yeshivot) and cannot extricate itself from there, even though that world is shrinking in size and influence. They insist that the Torah’s divinity and its power as a guide through life will be lost if we study critical approaches to the Bible.
They demand that we not study comparative religions, lest we discover the many parallels and influences from other ancient Near Eastern religions and laws on our Torah. They forbid bringing archaeological information to the table on the grounds that it will show that Torah is not untouched by human hands as it flows from heaven to earth.
In short, they claim that the truth and authority of the Torah cannot be affirmed unless we remain totally in that classic culture that is sinking into the sands of past history. They instruct us that out of religious faithfulness, we must willfully dumb down and exclude all sources of knowledge that shake or shatter the inherited framework of interpretation.
TheTorah.com proves otherwise. It continually shows the new insights and understandings, rooted in the research of recent centuries, that give color and depth to the Torah’s teachings. TheTorah.com is doing more than offering a rich variety of commentaries and insights into the weekly parashah. It is saving the Torah from iggun (being chained), cutting the shackles of encrusted conventions that are anchoring the Torah to previous eras and threatening to drag it down to oblivion. The scholarly perspective that TheTorah.com elucidates for a broad spectrum of readers renews the Torah’s authority and teaching power as of old—but in our new context.
I know how much personal effort and sacrifice TheTorah.com’s staff have made in order to enable this project to flourish. Someday, this work will be recognized as the pioneering channel of transplanting Torah into the contemporary culture and thus assuring its eternity for the coming millennium.
There can be no adequate payment for this monumental contribution. Therefore, as we approach Shavuot, when the Book of Ruth is read, I bless you in the words of Boaz to Ruth:
רות ב:יב יְשַׁלֵּם יְ־הוָה פָּעֳלֵךְ וּתְהִי מַשְׂכֻּרְתֵּךְ שְׁלֵמָה מֵעִם יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל...
Ruth 2:12 May the LORD repay your work. May you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel….
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Dr. Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg is the founder and former president of Clal, the former president of the Jewish Life Network and the rabbi emeritus of the Riverdale Jewish Center. Greenberg was ordained at Yeshiva Beis Yosef and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is the author of, The Jewish Way, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth, and "Covenantal Pluralism".