Rabbi Mordechai Breuer fashioned the tools that enabled Orthodox students to confront the literary problems raised by modern biblical criticism. He entered a situation where the Orthodox approach was an apologetic one, in which the Torah was to be defended against heretical assault.
By the time he died last month, Rabbi Breuer had transformed the encounter with kefira* into a positive act of Torah study. Where his influence is felt, the literary questions posed by the Bible critics are treated no different from other interesting questions endemic to Torah study: questions are a spur to chiddush** and deeper understanding rather than a cause for discomfort or panic...
As I commented on R' Student's blog, at first I was excited to see an Orthodox rabbi honestly taking on the Documentary Hypothesis. It reflects the kind of courage I wrote about yesterday. However, upon reading the entire eulogy, it became obvious that R' Breuer was simply a more sophisticated apologist than the Orthodox rabbis who came before him:
In the academic world this aspect of Rabbi Breuer’s work was received with a thundering silence. Naturally those scholars committed to the Documentary Hypothesis for religious or intellectual reasons would not be eager to discard the consensus, especially as Rabbi Breuer offered not an all out refutation, but rather an alternative method, compelling only to those already inclined to embrace Torah miSinai*** on other grounds. [emphasis added --JA]This sounds very much like the kind of apologetics offered by those who attempt to reconcile the Genesis creation story with modern science, if more sophisticated. Apparently impressed by the questions that led scholars to come up with the Documentary Hypothesis, R' Breuer chose not to dismiss it out of hand as the overwhelming majority of Orthodox rabbis have done, but to engage with it, to perform a scholarly judo move of sorts, embracing it while defanging it at the same time.
Here's the thing about the Documentary Hypothesis and Orthodox Judaism. If Orthodox Judaism is true, then the Torah was given in its entirety (minus perhaps the last eight verses) to Moses. This, from a plain reading of the text, is an obvious falsehood:
- Nowhere in the chumash (the five books) itself does it say that Moses received the Five Books, only that he received laws and the Ten Commandments.
- Many verses of the chumash were obviously written much after Moses's time, using anachronistic names for places as well as referring to events in Moses's time as a long time ago.
- The text of the chumash reveals clues of multiple authors from different times and places.