Torah Min-Hashamayim: A Reply to Rabbi Nati Helfgot

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18 Responses

  1. Ben Elton says:

    This is an unfair representation of R Helfgot’s article.

    First, R Helfgot states explicitly that:

    In dealing with the challenges posed by higher Biblical Criticism, I personally do not adopt this more radical view of revelation [that the Torah is Divine, but was composed of a number of prophetic revelations, some directly to Moshe and others to later prophets which were then edited finally into one book in the prophetic mode]. I believe that the resolution of many of the issues lies in adopting a combination of some of the important work of U. Cassutto, Benno Jacob, R. David Tzvi Hoffman together with the basic approach of my teacher, Rav Breuer z”l and his shitat habehinot, (without signing off on each and everyone of his readings. This eclectic approach coupled with the insights of my teachers Rav Shalom Carmy and Rav Yoel Bin Nun and the literary-theological school can provide an intelligently cogent and religiously meaningful reading of Torah that seeks to understand the dvar Hashem with integrity and honesty.

    R Helfgot is the Chair of the Tanakh Department at YCT. His position, and therefore that of the yeshiva, is the classical doctrine of Torah Min Hashamayim. We should also note that in R Farber’s article he says he did not deal with these issues in his yeshiva years. This is not something he expressed, let alone was taught, at YCT.

    What R Helfgot explores is whether there is an alternative to R Farber’s approach, i.e. whether it is valid within Orthodoxy to expand on the view expressed in some parts of the Gemara and by some Rishonim that there were later additions to the original Mosaic revelation. As R Cherlow observes, this approach would answer many of the questions that the Documentary Hypothesis seeks to address.

    While R Helfgot does not himself accept this view of later additions, he shows that it is not without authoritative sources and is therefore a viable approach, which remains within acceptable bounds but does not ignore the questions that R Farber raised in his article.

    R Helfgot does not say one word in defense of R Farber’s much more radical claim that there was no revelation to Moses and that the text of the Humash is a human and composite work written under Divine inspiration. That is because R Farber’s position is not that of R Helfgot or YCT, and we can infer, because R Helfgot does not believe it is an acceptable position to hold.

  2. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Please reread the article. It does not at all claim that R. Helfgot maintains the more liberal position or that YCT teaches that position. It is clear that R. Helfgot does not agree with the liberal position.

    You and I agree that R. Farber’s views are clearly way outside of the most liberal position presented by R. Helfgot in the spectrum of his article, and that R. Helfgot’s own views are quite traditional and not at all close with those of R. Farber.

  3. Chaim Zev Finkel says:

    It was not long ago that Rabbi Moshe Averick spoke out against YCT and suggested that the RCA should censure Rabbi Avi Weiss, yet instead the RCA responded by temporarily banning Rabbi Averick himself from participating in their rabbinic mailing list. Is the RCA also on the side of Farber? If Farber is a member of the RCA they should do something about him and his views.

    [YA – He is not a member of the RCA]

  4. Shlomo says:

    It should be noted that Dr. Farber’s Academic Bible studies at Hebrew U, at which point he had already rejected the traditional understanding of Torah min HaShamayim (by his own admission), took place BEFORE he entered YCT.

    In other words, his holding of these views, which was readily known, was not an impediment to his being accepted in the YCT program, nor was it an impediment to his receiving two semichot from them.

    Although Dr. Farber’s “real” beliefs about Torah min HaShamayim were not known to the Orthodox public until now, they were certainly well-known at YCT both before he was accepted and prior to their bestowing him with semicha.

    I believe that both YCT and Dr. Farber need to be more transparent about this.

  5. DF says:

    There’s little doubt Rabbi Farber’s views are, by the traditional definition of the term, apikorsus. The alternative views have always been mere outliers. Rabbi Gordimer is 100% right that to express such views – publicly, I would pointedly emphasize – is inimical to all of Jewish tradition. If the views he expresses are to be considered orthodox, then the term is meaningless.

    HOWEVER – honestly compels us to say that the problems raised by Biblical Studies are real, and not going away. “Solutions” from midrashic sources, as R. Gordimer suggested earlier, are not convincing, to put it mildly. And unlike scientific issues (Evolution, Big Bang) which can always be squared with traditional sources, and social trends (feminism, homosexuality) which are mere passing fads, Biblical issues cut to the very core of Judaism. The traditional response has been to declare such inquiries beyond the pale, and attempt to shield men from exposure to the challenges it poses. That is not a bad way to achieve the goal of preserving the tradition, but it comes at the price of truth and honesty. So, while Rabbi Gordimer is right in the narrow sense of what he wrote about, and an organization that accepts such views should certainly not be considered orthodox, we are till left with a nagging pit in our stomach.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    “The eyes of Orthodoxy are on YCT and IRF leadership.”

    Because they are now doing and saying the very things anyone could have predicted? Was there a trace of a trace of a chance this would not have happened? RCA has a duty in this matter that goes beyond blogging.

  7. Reb Yid says:

    DF wrote:

    social trends (feminism, homosexuality) which are mere passing fads

    By your count, we could add the abolition of slavery and the enactment of civil rights laws as passing “social trends” as well.

  8. UVT says:

    This is an unfair attack on YCT. We now see that the chair of the Tanakh department at YCT (R Helfgot) holds views that you see as being within the fold, but a student who went off to do a PhD in Bible at another institution is outside of the fold. I agree that YCT or IRF must respond, but we cant rush to blame YCT for the heresy, if anything we should be discussing expelling Emory bible grads from rabbinic organizations…

    [Editor’s note: I caution you not to please not jump to conclusions. Nothing in this exchange indicates that the editors of Cross-Currents find Rabbi Helfgot’s views as “within the fold.” His bottom line – the most important part of his formulation – that the Torah is the Dvar Hashem, communicated to Man in a reliable manner, is not only within the fold, but front and center. However, the “extension” of the Ibn Ezra et al is an area in which many will take issue. They will take issue even in defining just what it was that the Ibn Ezra meant, or how much importance can be ascribed to minority shitos. R Helfgot admits to discomfort in allowing this extension to be too sweeping. The mainstream community would agree – but disagree about the sources he cites to bolster even smaller extensions. Some of those names are decidedly not within the fold, and should be given little significance in weighing the issues.]

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    “So, while Rabbi Gordimer is right in the narrow sense of what he wrote about, and an organization that accepts such views should certainly not be considered orthodox, we are till left with a nagging pit in our stomach.”

    To the extent this is true, the challenge perhaps becomes to take a firm stance against R. Farber’s ideas, without exacerbating any such doubts. Perhaps this is effected by contexts which can change.

    For example, in “Torah im Derekh Erez in the Shadow of Hitler”, Prof. Marc Shapiro shows how the situation then affected applying RSRH’s ideas to the time(see also writings of R. Shimon Schwab). Similarly, there can be various other social and historical contexts(hopefully positive) that can affect the allure of ideas, which are subject to Divine control, therefore it’s impossible to make predictions. Nevertheless, in the present time, I think one needs to be concerned with taking a stance, as well as dealing with an issue intellectually.

  10. Dr. E says:

    Without my getting into the discussion of Torah Min Hashamayim, I believe that it would be helpful for proponents of Open Orthodoxy to exactly define their outer limit(s) are–as they relate to Hashkafa and Halacha. What exactly are the red lines that Open Orthodoxy will never cross–both today, and 20 years from now? Without that, the movement is always going to be like a cell with a semi-permeable membrane and a malleable definition.

  11. Micah Segelman says:

    One phrase at the end of the R Helfgot’s article struck me – “…I am reticent to do so in the case of those who do not adopt the Rambam’s formulation in the 8th ikar, especially if they conform to the notion of the Divine origin of the Torah…”

    I apologize if I am misreading him, but does the “especially” mean to imply some level of tolerance for the view of multiple authors even without maintaining the Torah’s divine origin?

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    “His bottom line – the most important part of his formulation – that the Torah is the Dvar Hashem, communicated to Man in a reliable manner, is not only within the fold, but front and center. However, the “extension” of the Ibn Ezra et al is an area in which many will take issue”

    From a December, 2007 Cross Current’s post, referencing R. Yitzchok Blau’s essay(“Flexibility with a Firm Foundation: On Maintaining Jewish Dogma”):

    “I will end with where I probably should have begun – by urging readers to read Rabbi Yitzchok Blau’s excellent treatment [http coding broken] of Dr. Shapiro’s book. He treats the topics we have discussed here with more rigor than the disjointed musings of a late-night insomniac. It is important and comforting to learn that Dr Shapiro himself, as Rabbi Blau shows, holds that there are beliefs that describe the core teachings of Orthodoxy. The arena of Torah belief is not a free for all (or, borrowing from a previous posting of mine, a Chinese menu).

    I will reproduce two snippets for readers:

    “As Dr. Johnson remarked, the fact that there is a twilight does not minimize the distinction between day and night. We can exclude Ibn Ezra s view from the charge of heresy, remain unsure about how much more latitude to give for an expansion of Ibn Ezra, and still confidently assert that J, P, E and D are beyond the pale.”

    “I can agree…without coming to the conclusion that no decisions can ever be reached in theological debates among traditional figures. The methodology may differ from halakhic decision making but that does not mean that no decision-making method exists altogether. Perhaps majority vote plays no role in the world of hashkafah, but a near unanimous vote does.”

    All the rest, as they say, is commentary.”

    (See also a recent MP3 on Torah Web, Rav Michael Rosensweig, What Must a Jew Believe? Foundational Beliefs and Their Practical Implications,
    May 12, 2013)

  13. Milhouse says:

    If Farber really holds the beliefs that are alleged here, then it would seem to follow that all the purported giyurim that were done before him and two others would be pasul, and the “gerim” are still nochrim. That is a huge thing to say, and one that requires an exceeding amount of caution. Perhaps Farber has some explanation for his words quoted here, some way of claiming that they don’t reflect his actual beliefs.

  14. ben dov says:

    Rabbi Gordimer is correct to point out that we should not conflate two different issues: the Divinity of the Torah and the role of Moshe Rabeinu. The former is an absolute, non-negotiable matter, where Farber has crossed the line. The latter is subject, to some extent, to different opinions in the Orthodox tradition. If YCT does not disclaim Farber’s kefira, they must be held responsible for it.

    Why has the RCA not spoken out? Rabbi Gordimer is only one member thereof.

  15. Dovid Shlomo says:

    With all the quoting of the Ibn Ezra and Rav Yosef Tov Ellem’s interpretation of it, I thought it might be a good idea to point out what Rav Yosef Tov Ellem actually says and how he understands the Ibn Ezras in question.

    Yes, it’s true that Rav Yosef Tov Ellem (in Tzafnat Paneach) understands Ibn Ezra as believing that parts of the Torah were edited or added after the time of Moshe Rabbeinu.

    He adds however, that:
    1)This could only be true of a handful of verses, not entire sections.
    2)It could only be true of “sippurim b’alma” but NOT any verses that had halachic consequence.
    3)It was done al pi HASHEM, no different than the process through which the rest of the Torah was given to Moshe Rabbeinu. In other words, it was HASHEM’s choice to reveal these edits to later prophets and HASHEM’s choice that the Torah be changed accordingly The particular navi he chose is immaterial, but it had to be through nevuah — as opposed to flesh and blood taking the initiative.

    I believe that once one actually reads Tzafnat Paneach, one can readily see that Rabbi Helfgot’s citation notwithstanding, Tzafnat Paneach is not even a “sort of” precedent for the approach Dr. Farber and other Academic Biblical scholars and that it is highly misleading to even suggest it.

    It is true that Ibn Ezra set a precedent for using literary tools as well as an openness to accepting the possibility of later additions. But, he did not set a precedent for the theological position that halachic parts of the Torah could have been added at a later time, even through a prophet, and he did not set a precedent for the the theological position that ANY parts of the Torah — let alone ALL of it – came from a source other than HASHEM).

    Interested readers may view Tzafnat Paneach on and look in particular at his explanation of “v’Hacanaani az b’Aretz).

  16. Dovid Shlomo says:

    To UVT:

    See posting by Shlomo above.

    Dr. Farber’s views were known to YCT when they accepted him and awarded him the two semichos.
    AT that point, he had already completed his MA at Hebrew U.

    While he had not shared these views with the general public, he did share them with his colleagues.
    You are aware, of course, of how small YCT was at that time and how intimately familiar Rabbi Linzer and the students would have been with what Farber believed about something so central to his approach to Torah.

  17. Moh Oshiv says:

    The question is whether the RCA will publicly condemn Farber and by extension all of open orthodoxy. I believe it is beyond vital for modern orthodoxy to establish its position as being unequivocally opposed to Farber and his ilk.

  18. Ben Zion Katz says:

    As I have written in a recent piece on the Think Judaism site, for some reason the issue of Biblical criticism is being debated with renewed vigor at the present time in the modern Orthodox intellectual world. I am not going to specifically comment on Rabbi Farber’s piece or any of the responses it has engendered thusfar except to say that many if not all of these issues are reviewed in my recent book (A Journey Through Torah: a critique of the documentary hypothesis [Urim, 2012]) and in a book review in press at the Jewish Bible Quarterly critiquing Joel Baden’s new book on the documentary hypothesis. For whatever it is worth, I have proposed a fragmentary approach that combines academic rigor with belief in Torat Moshe MiSinai; see the review by Rabbi Tzvi Gromet on the Bar Ilan website.

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