A Conceptual Foundation for Wrestling with Biblical Scholarship
The thoughts that I will present in this article began to develop during my studies as a high school student at the Skokie Yeshiva. The doctrine that the entire Torah was dictated by God to Moses seemed to me then to contradict the plain meaning of the biblical text. I did not dispute the exalted and binding status of the written Torah, but I did not understand why this belief should require adherence to this specific description of its composition. I recognized that my opinion was not the accepted view, and some of Maimonides’ writings posed a challenge for me. Yet I was convinced, and I clung to the understanding at which I had arrived from a plain reading of the sources.
I was told that questioning the story of the Torah’s dictation undercuts the foundation of our faith and our ability to prove its truth. Yet, then as now, I did not understand why a simplistic explanation would be more compelling than a more complex position of belief. Moreover, harsh and doctrinaire statements do not strengthen the delicate provinces of faith, which cannot truly be proven and do not require proof. Years later, I discovered biblical scholarship in its various forms, and I was astonished at the extent to which it challenged my friends’ and students’ worldview. In light of my personal experience, I have reformulated the ideas that occurred to me when I was young, and I would like to propose a way of thinking that has the potential to greatly reduce the bewilderment that results from the encounter with biblical scholarship.