Is Heresy Horrible?


Heresy, to many Orthodox Jews, is what Trayvon Martin is to some black Americans: something that stirs up fears and concerns that they would rather not think about. The very mention of the word “heresy” unleashes torrents of unwelcome ideas and images. We think of witch-hunts, of confessions under torture, of the burning of Bruno, of the stifling of questions and inquiry. We would like to believe, like our black neighbors would like to think about racism, that heresy is a concern of a bygone era, an historical oddity we have left behind, but not something we need deal with today.

As the controversy surrounding Rabbi Zev Farber’s remarks about the authorship of Chumash heats up, it might be a good idea to examine a few points that commenters to Rabbi Gordimer’s essay have raised.

1) Is it really so important to take a stand about matters of belief? Isn’t what we do far more important?

Time does not permit anything but the briefest of responses. Readers might want to review the introduction of Chovos Halevavos, who makes the argument that if Hashem legislated the way we act for the purpose of instructing and elevating us, He would certainly structure the way our thoughts and beliefs ought to progress. Readers should look once more at mori ve-rabi Rav J David Bleich’s introduction to his With Perfect Faith, examining the different conceptions of principles of faith. They should also remind themselves that categories like “apikorus,” “min” and “kofer” are halachic constructs that carry with them several halachic consequences, among them validity of their ritual performance, e.g shechitah, writing mezuzos, etc.; validity of their testimony; inclusion in a minyan. Waving a PC wand at these constructs will not make them disappear. They have to be understood, and dealt with.

My friend Prof. Menachem Kellner argued in his Must a Jew Believe Anything? that if “belief is a matter of trust in G-d expressed in obedience to the Torah, my answer is that a Jew must believe everything. If ‘belief’ is the intellectual acquiescence in carefully defined statements of dogma, the answer is that there is nothing a Jew must believe.” This is a formulation very differents from what frum Jews more typically believe. Many responded to the book, and he in turn has addressed their critiques.

Yet even Dr. Kellner had to concede that believing what others believe and have believed can be important in Jewish life. “There are limits to what one can affirm or deny and still remain within the Jewish community. Denying the unity of G-d, for example, or that the Torah is of divine origin in some significant sense, or affirming that the Messiah has already come, are claims which place one outside the historical community of Israel.” Dr. Kellner’s argument against systematic theology is not something I believe or can accept. Even if we were to accept it, however, he argues that some beliefs place a person outside of the religious experience shared by his coreligionists. If we were interviewing a prospective leader of a community, or teacher of our children, most of us would want to know if his views stood outside the historical community of Israel. We might wish that we did not have to “check intellectual tzitzis,” but we do not always have that option. We can hide from the harsh sound of the heresy word, but we still need to decide as a community dividing lines between what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale.

Why? Because if there are no limits, we have nothing but teflon to offer our children. Immanuel Kant called Spinoza “that G-d intoxicated man.” Should we look more kindly upon Spinoza, go back to calling him Baruch rather than Benedict, and decide that pantheism is a legitimate form of belief in the G-d of Abraham? Why should we buy into the reading of the Amsterdam elders who banned Spinoza, rather than Kant’s? What about a person who announces that he is a fervent monotheist, but believes that this One G-d has three persons: a father, son and holy spirit? Will we accept him as Orthodox if he is otherwise mitzvah observant? If the belief system that Cross-Currents readers have been examining in the last few days is somehow seen as legitimate under a big tent of inclusion, will we posthumously welcome back Mordechai Kaplan and Louis Jacobs?

Why is it important to describe limits of acceptable belief? Because what we believe is important to how we function as Jews. It is simply not true that Christianity concerns itself with belief but not actions, while Judaism concerns itself with actions but not belief. We know that this is not true; our actions have to be embedded in some sort of intellectual axiology for them to connect us to our Creator. We need to determine, to borrow Dr Marc Shapiro’s phrase, the limits of Orthodox theology. Otherwise, we are left with a stale and sterile Orthopraxy, rather than Orthodoxy.

2) Shouldn’t we cut some slack to people whose sincere intellectual quest leads them to all sorts of conclusions, even if the rest of us cannot accept those conclusions?

We should respect the quest, and do whatever we can to teach the truth as we recognize it. But we should never compromise on the truth of our mesorah. We should explain the accepted Torah position, and attempt to replace error with truth.

A responsum of the Radbaz, R Dovid ben Zimra, deals with the complaint of a community against their rav. This spiritual leader preached in a derasha that the chet ha-eigel was caused, in part, by people who attributed Divine properties to Moshe. The Radbaz writes:

I cannot find an adequate reason to exempt him from punishment other than he erred in his analysis, and his noble pursuit caused his downfall. He is not any worse than a person whose faulty analysis causes him to err about one of the principles of faith…. Since his “heresy” comes from analysis that he believes to be valid, he is a compelled beyond his control, and not held accountable…

Many cite this as proof that we should never disparage the results of intellectual inquiry. They always omit the next few lines, in which the Radbaz sets forth his action plan.

Testify to him in my name, and show him this letter, that his approach to the text is an obvious error in its plain meaning, and that it offers an improper approach to the text from which can result faulty beliefs. If he is agreeable to renounce his error – good! If not, send me testimony to that effect, and I will cause a great wall to fall upon him…

The Radbaz is clear. Tolerate the process that led to the error – but insist without flinching that the error be corrected, when called out by the greatest Torah authorities of the day.

3) All of this talk about heresy will not make the questions go away. Whatever his unacceptable conclusions, Rabbi Farber struggled with issues and challenges posed by academic disciplines that are situated well outside of the perimeters of Torah thought. “Outing” his conclusions without addressing the questions is not going to accomplish much!

Yes it will. The Orthodox community has tens of thousands of people who do respect mesorah and authority. For them, the first order of business needs to be to draw lines beyond which one cannot go. Addressing the questions is important, but it is the second order of business, not the first.

However, the commenters who raised this issue do have a point. We have not done an adequate job on the second order of business. We do have some very good people who have excellent approaches, but we do not have enough of them. For the first time in many centuries, I believe, we do not have gedolei Yisrael who throw themselves into the intellectual struggles of the day. The circles of most rigorous Torah study have so completely eschewed all other areas, that they are not familiar with the questions, let alone in a position to provide answers. That burden has shifted to people who are not at the top of the Torah pyramid, but are solid yirei Shomayim. We do need to publicize more of their output. Before we do that, however, we need to draw clear lines between what can be part of an Orthodox community, and what cannot. When a fire breaks out, our first response has to be to put out the fire – not to fire-proof the rest of the village. Rabbi Gordimer’s first piece points unmistakably to both the fire and its source.

Even before we turn to the second order of business I believe that there is an overarching approach that should guide every loyal Torah-true Jew in times of intellectual confusion.

Taanis 8A sings the praises of “baalei emunah.” In support of placing them on a pedestal, the gemara refers to the story of the marten and the pit, whose fuller version is found in the Aruch. (See Maharal, Nesiv Ha-Emunah, first chapter.) A young woman lost her way. Terribly thirsty, she spotted a storage pit and a pail. She climbed down, drank, but was unable to climb back out. Shouting for help, a would-be rescuer pledged his help if she promised to marry him. After her rescue, he attempts to claim his trophy on the spot. She convinces him that such would be animal-like; she should return to her town, and when he joins her later, she will marry him in a proper ceremony. He asks who will witness the pact between them; she responds that the mole and the pit will serve as witnesses to their mutual pledge of matrimony.

She returns home. He, meanwhile, forgets about her, marries another, who bears him two children. One falls into a storage pit and dies. The other is bitten by a marten and dies. His wife is suspicious of the bizarre circumstances of the deaths of her two children. He tells her the story. She gives him the boot, telling him to return to the person to whom he made a commitment.

She has kept to her part of the bargain. She turns down suitors. When this seems forced, she feigns mental illness to keep suitors away. Her rescuer finds her home town, and inquires after her. He is told that she is damaged goods. He says that he nevertheless wishes to marry her. They marry, have lots of kids, and live happily ever after.

We are accustomed to translating emunah as “belief,” or “faith.” Those do not really work in our story. The young woman did not demonstrate belief so much as trustworthiness and loyalty. She refused to turn her back on someone who had once helped her.

To me, this gemara suggests that part of our response to question is emunah in the sense of chulda v’bor. Faced with the apparent reneging of her fiancée, she refused to betray the trust – even having evidence to the contrary about the other party. Emunah does not only mean belief. It means loyalty. When faced with questions about Torah, our first response has to be loyalty to the Torah that we love. We can live with questions, if we refuse to betray the trust that the Jewish people have with our holy Torah. We will find the answers in time. Our first reaction has to be to restate our commitment to that Torah, even in the face of difficulties.

We can deal with academic challenges later. First, we must have the trustworthiness, the loyalty, and the courage to reject any attempt to water down the most important event in the history of our people – the communication of a Torah directly from G-d to Man.

The rest is commentary.

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70 Responses

  1. Eliyahu HT says:

    RYA- in the comment section, you stated- “The silence of YCT and IRF are a stronger indictment against them and their commitment to conventional halachic process, than they are of R Farber, may he be zocheh to come closer to authentic Torah, and resolve his doubts”.

    I find quite curious your wish that R Farber “be zocheh to come closer to AUTHENTIC Torah”.

    I empathize with your valiant efforts to protect the parameters of normative Orthodox belief- as a pragmatic matter.

    But this comment reaveals much more. You seem to condescend to R Farber because you believe he is plainly wrong and misguided. Does this mean you equate Mesorah with Authenticity? Are they necessarily one and the same?

    [YA – This is a matter of semantics. I refer you to the gemara in which one of the Amoraim was asked by someone to pasken for him a “din Torah” – and he refused. IIRC, the intent of the gemara is that the petitioner wanted the authentic, absolute, unvarnished emes of Torah in its pristine, abstract form. He responded that he could not do that. All human beings can do is follow the rules that HKBH has set down for us, i.e. the Mesorah, and come up with a human approximation of the Truth. In ignoring the mesorah, the Far Left can be described as inauthentic.]

  2. Bob Miller says:

    It may well be that many of us and our children are sheltered from contact with card-carrying apikorsim posing theological riddles. But each of us has his personal yetzer hara, always ready to play the role of internal apikoros. We should have a solid grounding in known answers before the predictable questions come up in thought.

  3. Someone says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    You replied: “WE do have answers. In most cases, they are available only through personal contact with people who have developed them. There is a good reason for this. The people with serious intellectual issues are still in the minority in our communities – both MO and haredi. Discussion of problematic areas in public runs the risk of ensnaring people in questions that they would not have had to wrestle with, had they not discovered them in some public forum. We are reluctant, therefore, to publish on these areas, and prefer that the discussions be limited to those who need to involve themselves in them, with the proper guidance.”

    In my humble opinion, this approach is a recipe for disaster. Are we going to not address issues because they may cause some to ask questions? We have answers! Let us be proactive! Let us shout from the rooftops our beautiful Mesorah, and we can then “Ba’vorn” the potential questions and their answers. (Incidentally, see Rav Gordimer’s response to a similar question from me on his recent post. Simple. Elegant. Positive. Mission accomplished.)

    By relegating questions to Emunah to private meetings, students, young and old alike will be terrified to even ask! They will be branded as Kofrim or K’tanei Emunah – nebachs. I can state this as near universal fact, as I have been involved in Chinuch for decades. Thus, the result will be that we have created a generation of Baalei Sfaikos instead of Baalei Emunah, a generation of agnostics, conscious or subconscious, who are ripe for the picking for Rabbi Farber or the like.

    Furthermore, if a talmid is willing to ask the questions — who should he go to? In your prior reply to me, you bravely admitted that not all Rabbonim are qualified to cogently answer questions of Emunah. So where should the talmid with questions even go — if he is willing to do so? Do we assign a special secret door with a special knock to get in? Where is the access to this knowledge?

    If anything positive can come of this travesty — the bizayon of the Ikar of Torah min shomayim and the necessary strong response to it by Rav Gordimer, it should be that we have to proactively teach what we believe and why, and why we reject as falsehoods other approaches or denials of TMS.

    I will share an example: Most talmidim, young or old can tell you why they do not believe in Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc. They will tell you that it does not make sense to believe in a faith that was communicated to one person (or a small, small group). Maamad Har Sinai, however, was a mass revelation, hence their Emunah in Torah M’Sinai and Yahadus.

    Why? Because at some point they attended a Discovery Seminar, Shmooze, or a parent, Rebbe/Morah shared this idea with them. It is commonplace in schools to teach this. It is simple and short. Obviously, it does not cover EVERYTHING. Obviously, one could spend hours if not days discussing it, BUT IT GIVES THEM A PILLAR TO RELY ON!

    This has been successful. How often to we see Frum children converting to Catholicism or Mormon?

    But we have a big problem with “conversion” to apathy and agnosticism. You may want to portray the Orthodox world as being mainly in-line with Ikarei Emunah, with steady, simple faith. I counter that this is fiction and folly. So many frum Jews have no idea why they do what they do, and have no ability “l’hoshiv l’apikorus”. If they are not already secretly skeptical, they are ripe for the picking from those who would love to expose them to other views.

    Chazal’s admonition of “Dah Mah L’Hoshiv” is not for rare individuals. It is for everyone.

    Are we going to take the lead and give our people the tools to fulfill divrei chazal, or are we going to keep these answers hidden in (treasure) chest?

    With much respect and hope,


  4. hamevakesh says:

    Is it really always obvious that people who try to propose new ways of looking at things are betraying our ancestors. Maybe they are trying to find ways that have meaning for them which make it easier to accept what they have learned from prior generations. In any event, the classic literature on ikarei hadas makes it clear that these problems are not new.Maybe this is just another form of asking with Yirmiyahu tzadik athah hashem ki ariv alecha. You remain right but I still want to understand.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Yisrael Asper commented in part:

    “Pre-Sinaitic Halacha also is something we rule on and that means it can have an affect on our beliefs concerning those days.”

    Look at how the Mfarshim differ on the contents of the Halachos that were given at Marah before Matan Torah. I think that clear reading of the classical Mfarshim would lead any careful reader to conclude that whatever the content of the Mitzvos given at Marah, the same can be easily analogized to a preview or trailer of a movie. Bris Milah and Gid HaNasheh, while commanded to Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu, only became binding on all of Klal Yisrael after Matan Torah.

  6. Yair Daar says:

    “YA – I completely reject the bifurcation between practice and truth. Halacha does not ask us to play-act. If we invalidate the testimony of an apikorus, it is because we believe apikorsus to be wrong and untruthful.”

    I would never claim that following Halacha is the same as playing pretend. But I think it’s clear (and I think you would agree) that deciding which halachik opinion to follow is not a simple as figuring out which argument has the most merit to it. Our methods of pesak are geared towards formalizing a common practice as much as they are geared toward discovering the truth. The Torah was given in a way that allows itself to be interpreted differently by those who think differently; isolating one opinion as being more truthful is often impossible.

    Now, the discussion related to kefirah is an interesting one because it has “truth” outcomes as well as halachik ones. I think the point you are trying to make is that if our sages provided legal ramifications to the definition of heresy, then clearly they felt that heresy requires definition and should be defined by the halachik process.

    As reasonable as that sounds, I don’t think it’s necessary that one leads to the other. The importance of defining heresy does not require using the usual halachik methods. One could easily split and say that for the halachik ramifications, we use the regular klalei psak, but for defining truth, we leave it more open. Would you say that once an opinion is followed due to klalei psak it becomes by definition more correct? I assume not. (If an opinion is logically correct it might become halacha, but not vise versa.)

    For example, what if someone honest and knowledgeable felt that following R’ Tam’s zmanim was correct to the point that they kept it to start Shabbos as well? While everyone else was in shul, he and his followers would still be driving around etc… Now, you might say that this person is violating proper halachik practice. But would you go so far as to say this person is true a m’chalel Shabbos b’farhesia? Would this person (assuming they are honest in their convictions and a Talmid Chacham) deserve being labeled in such a way? I don’t think so.

    Further, what if someone is a heretic according to Rambam but not Ibn Ezra or any other significant Rishon or Acharon? Would the fact that most have adopted Rambam ikkarei emunah make this person an apikores?

    Granted, these two examples are not exactly analogous to our situation. Rabbi Farber is advocating a position that no other significant Orthodox thinker has adopted. It is not like accepting R’ Tam’s Shabbos or Ibn Ezra’s definition of kefira. But if that is your problem we are just back to the original debate about how broadly we utilize Mesorah. And that is my entire point; this debate should not be about who is a kofer, but about what the truth is. If you can prove the Rabbi Farber is espousing kefirah, go ahead. But don’t use Mesorah as a proof.

    [YA -I agree that making the determination is not easy. But then, many halachic determminations are not easy. They still must be made, and responsible people in the halachic community make them. I also agree that we generally do not make such determinations in matters of aggada, creed, etc. But ikarie ha-dos are exceptions according to many; a handful of them are exceptions according to all. One of those is Torah min-HaShomayim. It is NOT difficult to determine that Rabbi Farber’s beliefs put him not at “the outer boundary” of Orthodoxy, as R Lopatin claims, but well beyond it. There is no machlokes about this. People and institutions that cannot or do not own up to this are shooting themselves in the foot, and leaving their wound exposed for all to see. They are making R Gordimer’s life much simpler, by doing the work for him.]

  7. Meir Goldberg says:

    FWIW, I have a blog that addresses some of the current issues in emunah that people might struggle with called truetorah. Just a disclaimer – the blog is heavily reliant on Chazal and a traditional approach, so it may not appeal to the skeptics.

    Also Rav Aharon Lopiansky’s da-ma-shetashiv at Torahdownloads is excellent.

    [YA I haven’t read either, but heartily recommend both individuals!]

  8. David Ohsie says:

    With regard to why people don’t see the need to protest, perhaps there are some chickens coming home to roost? When Orthodox Jews who believe in the basic conclusions of the hard sciences (e.g. astronomy, geology, biology) are labeled as heretics (or at least believers in heretical ideas), then the label starts to get stretched. This is besides all of the vitriol directed between “Zionist” and “Anti-Zionist” Orthodox groups, betweeen “Charedi” and “non-Charedi”, between “Charedi” who will join the army and the “Charedi” that will protest their joining. These are all Orthodox Jews “excommunicating” each other in one way or the other.

    I’m not defending Rabbi Farber, buf if I was him I would say something like this: “Yes, there are always those who will label other Orthodox Jews as heretics. There were those that labeled believers in Copernicus thus and those people today will apply that label to anyone who is not a young earth creationist. Just by reciting the Prayer for Israel or, indeed, by communicating on the internet, I am beyond the pale for many Orthodox groups. So rather than paying attention to labels, you should consider the content of my statements.”

    [YA – The (quite frequent) misapplication of the term kefirah does not invalidate the concept. What R Farber believes is kefirah lechol hade’os – and for YCT and IRF not to openly say so, tells us much more about them than about R Farber.]

  9. Yisrael Asper says:


    I believe the rambam says that we keep bris etc because we were commanded to keep them at sinai, not because the avos kept them (he agrees the avos kept them, but that’s not their origin as mitzvos for us as klal yisroel to keep)”

    I know. That wasn’t my point. Pre-Sinaitic Halacha also is something we rule on and that means it can have an affect on our beliefs concerning those days.

  10. dina says:

    @Yisrael Asper
    “Halacha even in its pre-Sinaitic form iis definitely involved in deciding what of Rabbi Zev Farber’s ideas are outside the pale. If the Avos for instance were not real what can we say about the origins of certain halachas? Were there no Hebrews commanded to have a bris as was commanded to Avraham? If he did not exist then the answer is no.”

    I believe the rambam says that we keep bris etc because we were commanded to keep them at sinai, not because the avos kept them (he agrees the avos kept them, but that’s not their origin as mitzvos for us as klal yisroel to keep)

  11. Someone says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    Thank you for your reply:
    “[YA – Agreed on all points, with one unfortunate caveat. I have seen the output of some beautiful and well-meaning people who prepare all kinds of mesorah-true responses to intellectual issues, especially in scientific areas. Often, the refuah is worse than the makah. They are sometimes based on outdated or inaccurate science, with the consequence that someone who feels he was given an answer later learns that he was sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Imagine the letdown. This is especially common when the authors operate completely outside their areas of competence.”

    Please help me understand your response. Are you saying that we have no options to reply? That we have no competent responses to questions of Emunah? Have we been reduced, in the Torah world, to one response only (“I believe because I believe. Fregt Nisht Kashas!”). Do we really have no defenders of Emunah? Furthermore, responses to Rabbi Farber do not need to be up to date on quantum physics. This has to do with Maamad Har Sinai, Avos, Nevuah and V’zos HaTorah Asher Som Moshe!

    You yourself said “We can deal with academic challenges later.” When is “later”? Because if “later” is not “sooner”, the Torah world will lose its credibility in the eyes of those seeking answers.

    Furthermore, if I understand your response, “later” will really be “never”, because of excuses.

    And then we are left with “Fregt Nisht Kashas”.

    Please help me understand your reply. I hope that I have grossly misunderstood you.

    [YA You have. I am not saying that we have no responses. I am saying that when we are faced with kefirah, the first order of business is to call it that, and keep people away from it. (Like it or not, there are still many, many people BH who ask questions of talmidei chachamim, including about matters of belief.)

    WE do have answers. In most cases, they are available only through personal contact with people who have developed them. There is a good reason for this. The people with serious intellectual issues are still in the minority in our communities – both MO and haredi. Discussion of problematic areas in public runs the risk of ensnaring people in questions that they would not have had to wrestle with, had they not discovered them in some public forum. We are reluctant, therefore, to publish on these areas, and prefer that the discussions be limited to those who need to involve themselves in them, with the proper guidance.]

  12. Bruce says:

    [YA I remember about three decades ago, a fellow by the name of Bruce . . . IIRC, Bruce came back with a conclusion. Neither side could score a TKO. Both sides could account for the evidence, even though they came to opposite conclusions. They differed in initial assumptions. If you start with that set of assumptions, the set of answers/approaches/solutions does not seem to bizarre.]

    I remember that guy too. Nice fellow, but was always asking some odd question. : )

    You remember the first part of my conclusion correctly. Yes, each side started with different assumptions and that largely explains their conclusions. But I didn’t stop there. That’s the beginning of the debate, not the end of it.

    This situation — people starting from different prior assumptions about the plausibility of two competing theories that explain some data — is quite common. For example, in law, the prosecution is trying to prove the defendant guilty and the defense is trying to show that the defendant is innocent. In medical research, a drug might work or it might not. In public policy, a particular program might help its intended beneficiaries or not. In all these cases, one starts with some idea of the relative likelihood of different approaches, and that initial estimate shifts as more data is examined.

    The framework for thinking about this comes from math and is called Bayes’ Theorem. Google it for all the technical details, but the basic insight is simple. If you are trying to decide between two theories that explain ambiguous data, you start with the initial relative probabilities of each theory being true in the absence of any data. You then examine the observed data and see how consistent or inconsistent it is with each theory. Data that is very consistent with one theory and very inconsistent with the other shifts the relative probabilities from the initial prior probabilities. This process continues as more data is examined, and eventually — maybe — if the data is strong enough, a fair observer would have to conclude that one theory is much more likely than the other.

    So that way that would work here is that people must start with some prior ideas about the relative likelihood of the two theories. Of course, we cannot quantify these explicitly, but we can think in terms of likely, not likely, could be, doubtful, etc.

    An Orthodox Jew might say, for example, that it is self-evidently true G-d exists, created us, and loves us, and that it is almost inconceivable that G-d would not give us some sort of explicit guidance. Before even looking at the evidence, this person would say there is a high probability that the Torah was given by G-d on Mt. Sinai.

    On the other hand, an atheist might say that it is self-evidently true that G-d does not exist (although would probably use an ‘o’ instead of a ‘-‘) and in any case G-d would not reveal himself with words falling out of the sky. Before even looking at the evidence, this person would say there is a high probability that the Torah was written by people.

    Other people might pick less extreme initial probabilities. But regardless of their initial assumptions, they now look at the evidence. And there’s lots of it.

    For example, the Torah predicts anti-Semitism. This is consistent with TMH, but much less consistent with human authorship. (Of course, much depends on how “human authorship” is framed. If the theory is that the Torah was written by people but divinely inspired, it might contain accurate future predictions.) The critical theory has some responses — it was referring to the Babylonian exile or the exile of the Northern Kingdom — but some of these get a bit strained. Not impossible, but a fair observer would conclude that the cleanest explanation belongs to the traditional theory. Whatever one’s estimate of the prior probabilities, the probabilities have now shifted towards the traditional explanation.

    But here’s another one. The Torah concludes by stating that Moses dies and no one knows where he is buried “even to this day” (ad hayom hazeh). The plain reading is that this was written well after the time of Moses, and that is consistent with modern scholarship. The traditional explanations, at least the ones I have seen, all seem forced and ad hoc. (For example, one explanation that I have heard is that this is a prophecy that this is referring to the day it is read, not written, and so it means Moses’s grave will never be found. But the phrase “ad hayom hazeh” occurs throughout the rest of the Nach, never refers to a prophecy, and in many cases refers to events that were true when written but not true today. Even Genesis uses the phrase this way. Joseph passed a law that 1/5 of everything belongs to Pharaoh — a law that is true “ad hayom hazeh”. Perhaps when written, but certainly not true today. So this explanation would apply to “ad hayom hazeh in this verse but no other, and with no apparent reason.) So here, a fair observer would conclude that the cleanest explanation belongs to the critical theory and the probabilities have now shifted towards the traditional explanation.

    Neither one of these is a knockout blow, but each is persuasive in a small way. The process can continue, and if enough persuasive evidence stacks up on one side or the other, it might shift the odds so far in one direction or the other that people might be persuaded one way or the other.

    This approach also explains the idea of emunah, at least some degree. Emunah here involves trust in TMH, even in the face of some evidence, even really good evidence, that suggests something different. That’s an entirely justifiable position. But I think even emunah has its limits. Surely there must be some conceivable set of data and argument that is so strong and overwhelming that it would convince people that their understanding is wrong. If not, emunah can look like foolishness. (And this is certainly true of both sides.) When the debate starts looking like Galileo vs. the Pope, you just don’t want to be on the Pope’s side.

    * * *

    I understand the reason for initially refusing to engage. although I think it ultimately was a mistake. But I’m glad that some people in the traditional camp are now are taking these ideas seriously. In the long run, that can only help everyone’s understanding.

    [YA – Bruce scores! You’ve localized much of the disquiet people have over R Farber’s pieces. There are no knockout punches. There are questions, and people live with questions – while seeking answers. We give people the benefit of the doubt, as per the Torah’s instruction. Should we not do the same for G-d Himself and His Torah? (I don’t believe there will ever be a knockout punch. R Yehuda HaLevi writes in the Kuzari (twice, IIRC) that Hashem will never demand of us that we believe anything that is counter-rational.) R. Farber’s conclusions about Devarim were based on his rejection of the entire corpus of Torah literature, from midrashim through Rishonim through Acharonim. All of those approaches SEEMED to him to be stretched and forced. So he concluded that G-d didn’t write it. If Klal Yisrael had so much disloyalty to Torah in the face of apparent difficulties, none of us would be here today.

    I agree that it is a good thing that traditionalists, at least some, are working at approaches and answers. As they generate their material, most of us will be much more eager to spend time with the conclusions of people more seasoned and respectful of traditional learning.]

  13. Raymond says:

    For whatever my way of thinking is worth, it seems to me that the whole point of our lives, is to learn the lessons life teaches us in our everyday lives. In other words, the purpose of our lives is to gain wisdom. Since very few people can gain wisdom solely through books, our concrete experiences serve to impact us in a much deeper way, teaching us wisdom, especially from our more harsh experiences in our lives. Similarly, the purpose of mitzvot is to teach us about G-d and deepen our understanding of Him. Throughout it all, the goal is wisdom. So to deny that beliefs matter in Judaism, strikes me as being absurd. Of course it matters…that is the whole point of why we are here in the first place.

  14. H says:

    YA: I’ll gladly take a DL gadol rolling up his sleeves and addressing the issue. And when none of the above are available, I will make do for my questions and those of my talmidim with fine bnei Torah who are not gedolim but are yir’eir Shomayim who have plenty of experience and guidance to offer us. I hope they are listening.]

    Great article, thank you. I think at least in the area of Biblical criticism, thank God they are waking up and working on it, especially in Eretz Yisrael, especially in Herzog College and Bar Ilan. Herzog College just had their Yemei Iyun in Tanach with thousands of students attending. There is much to do, but at least their sleeves are rolled up and they are working on it…

  15. Rafael Guber says:

    Sadly, Rabbi Farber advocates “Hot House Judaism.” The flowers are beautiful in a very controlled environment,but when forced to live in the real world they quickly wither and die. His Judaism make work for a few Jewish professionals and fellow travelers. It will never motivate ordinary people over the span of generation to make principled sacrifices to live a Torah life.

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    “If being mevazeh talmidei chachamim makes one an apikorus according to the gemara, being mevazeh Moshe Rabbenu is a kol shechen.”

    Some thoughts:

    There are less extreme ways of humanizing people of Tanach. In “Top Ten Quotes About Madoff” R. Adlerstein commented, “I am not much of a fan of elements of the “pshuto shel mikra school” that do not feel compelled to always check in with Chazal before commenting. I’m not ready to malign them either…”

    “In oral comments Rav Lichtenstein made in 1984 at a melaveh malkah he was even sharper. Asked about this general topic he pithily replied: “There are two approaches to the humanity of the Avot, that of Rav Aharon Kotler and that of Hazal!” He further went on to bemoan that the Hareidi perspective ultimately turns the Avot and Imahot into “ossified figures of petrified tzidkus”. (“A Letter from R. Nati Helfgot”, March, 2007)

    In Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch?” R. Simcha Feuerman quotes R. Avigdor Miller,

    “Related to seeing Biblical figures as human, I personally heard an interesting piece of Torah Sheb’al Peh from Rabbi Avigdor Miller, ZT’L, who was my wife’s great uncle, affording me the privilege of an occasional meeting. According to my memory, here is what Rav Miller said: “Without being disrespectful, I would like you to understand that when Moshe Rabbeinu ate a sandwich, he experienced hunger, desire to eat, and enjoyment of eating. It is a scientific impossibility to eat a sandwich unless you enjoy it because the food goes down the throat and is digested as a result of the salivary glands. A person does not produce saliva unless he feels desire for the food. If Moshe Rabbeinu tried to eat a sandwich without desiring it, the food would go down into his stomach like a bunch of rocks.”

    Jonathan Rosenblum made an understandable decision not to discuss machalokes between great people in one of his biographies, but there were apparently personality differences( “And in another case, I reduced a machlokes (dispute) of many years to two sentences…because the differences were primarily ones of personality, they had no larger significance, and their absence is irrelevant in the long-run.”–Mishpacha)

  17. Shades of Gray says:

    I think its instructive to compare the perspectives of Cross Currents writers with that of Rabbi Ysoscher Katz of YCT in his recent post. From a halachic perspective, it’s correct to be concerned about kefirah. R. Farber, as well-meaning as he may be, is wearing the dual hats of academic and halachist, and there is a conflict of interest, both for geirus, as well as for communal cohesiveness which a spiritual leader needs to maintain. I think he should either retract his views by concluding צריך עיון after every question he raises, or play a less prominent role in the Vaad Hagiyur.

    R. Ysoscher Katz makes valid points. He emphasizes the psychological perspective of validation: “a successful rabbinic leader is one who is able to honor the struggle and engage these questions seriously”. Also, he notes the universal-across- the- denominations aspect of faith issues: “it is just a matter of time before[the Yated and R. Gordimer]will no longer be able to avoid this reality in their own backyard”. Compare this with Rabbi Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried, who writes in Hakirah(“Are Our Children Too Worldly?”)”to different degrees the problem of “children at risk” or “children alienated from, or just cold and indifferent to, Yiddishkeit” exists about equally in every segment of the frum community, from the very chassidic, through the yeshivish, to the Modern Orthodox.” R. Adlerstein also agrees that intellectual resources need to be developed.

    Is it possible to raise unanswered questions as an academic, without having the tone of having answers to everything? R. Shlomo Miller wrote regarding R. Slifkin’s books about concluding צריך עיון :

    ואם יש קושיא שאינו יודע תירוץ, צריך להודות שלא זכיתי להבין דבריהם וכמו שעשו גדולי ישראל בכל הדורות כשהי’ להם קושיא על הגמרא כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם, אם רק הוא מכם שאינכם מבינים

    However, it is wrong if one tries to proselytize, as does the “Israeli organization intent on winning people away from religious commitment by bombarding them with literature raising intellectual issues that Israeli haredim cannot easily answer”(Exclusivity, Russian Antisemitism, and the New Hatred To Come, June, 2005). In ‘We Desperately Need To Get Back To Theology’ (Jewish Press 12/09), Chabad’s R. Chaim Miller gives credit to the Modern Orthodox community for types of theological inquiry: “to their credit, they’re the only ones who are really thrashing out these issues, trying to get to the bottom of them.”

    On the issue itself of צריך עיון, R. Adlerstein concludes with a צ”ע :

    “Is it really OK for a Torah teacher or spokesperson to admit to continuously grappling with issues, to not having all the answers to his/her own satisfaction? Shouldn’t the Torah representative speak with such force that all who listen simply melt in his presence? Personally, I don’t think so. But then again, I really don’t know.” (“I Don’t Know”, January, 2007)

  18. Yehuda says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for your definition of emunah – i found it very inspiring. It reminded me of what the previous Bobover Rebbe Harav Naftali ztz”l wrote about his father Harav Shlomo ztz”l, when he found out that his wife and 2 children had been sent to Auschwitz: “Naftuli had seen it so many times in the last few years: faith, hope, and courage replacing fear, sadness, and disappointment. It was as if his father had so much faith in Hashem, so much trust, that he was able to fight away depression before it engulfed him.” (From “Nor the Moon by Night.”)

    The point about the pit & the girl etc. is that even though we might say that the guy should have saved her even without a promise in return, she still felt obligated to repay him – a very high level of hakaras hatov. Kal v’chomer should we have emunah, loyalty, trust in HKBH for He gives us everything at every minute.

    I can’t remember where i saw it but one authority said that at a time of doubt, one cannot use one’s mind to resolve doubts, as the mind itself has become destabilized as a result of the doubts. We see this ALL THE TIME where the question is, “Did the sin come first, or the kefirah to legitimize it?” Most if not all of the so-called atheists today are motivated by a “need” to get Hashem and absolute morality out of the picture. Actually, I think it was Harav Pinchas of Koritz zy”a who said this: that Yidden are all ma’aminim, but when ta’avah is strong, they “create” doubts in order to make things “muttar.”

    [YA – Yasher koach! Beautifully put. If only the YCT crowd had the experience in Torah to understand what you are talking about!]

    The problem, the way i see it (not being an authority or gadol or anything near it) is that people don’t have a strong personal connection to Hashem that is strong enough to weather the stormy times. Here it’s interesting to see the (loose) similarity between this and shalom bayis. Just as you don’t divorce your wife when she forgets to do something really important that she promised she’d take care of, because you have a relationship and you trust her enough to overlook things, how much more so should we overlook things with Hashem? Not meaning that we should ignore questions we have – certainly we should look for answers – but it shouldn’t affect our avodas Hashem. Well, it should – we should throw ourselves into avodas Hashem with more intensity, asking for siyatta diShmaya to resolve our doubts, and then we should go to a adam gadol for help.

  19. Jon Baker says:

    I think I know who Mr Cohen is talking about, he often psychologizes biblical characters, and let me tell you, he’s tame compared to my rabbis & teachers growing up in Ramaz and LSS in the 1970s.

  20. Steve Brizel says:

    David asked:

    “Why is it kefira to say that Moshe had a psychological disorder? I’m not saying I believe he did, but which foundation of Jewish faith is undermined by such a notion?”

    I would contend that such an unsupported statement at best is a genre of creative writing called “fan fiction”, and at worse Apikorsus and Kefirah for impugning Nevuas Moshe Rabbeinu. Such a POV is akin to a similar “Dvar Torah” that similarly asserted that Yitzchak Avinu had to be intellectually challenged or disabled in order to be a participant in the Akedah.