A Review of A Journey Through Torah

February 27, 2013

by Zvi GrumetDocumentaryHypothesis-fullCover_1.5

Ever since the scientific revolution there have been waves of concern about what science would do to religion. Two contemporary examples are Cosmogony (as in, where did the world come from) and the origins of life as we know it (or, the theory of evolution). In simplified terms, one could group the responses into three categories. In the first category there are the rejectionists. Using any one of a number of approaches they try to dismiss, discredit, or disprove the scientific theory, based on a fundamentalist notion that what their traditional belief system held must be true, hence any competing notion must, by definition be false. They will often bolster their arguments by demonstrating how much debate there is with the scientific world about the details of the theory. Indeed, both the Big Bang theory and the theory of Evolution have undergone significant revision (and continue to do so) based on new evidence or inconsistencies with the data. Despite the revisions and the evidence which seems to not fit in, one would be hard pressed to find a respected cosmologist who does not subscribe to the Big Bang theory or a biologist who does not accept the theory of evolution. In the second category are what might be called accomodationists or apologists. These try to reconcile the Torah with the contemporary approach, sometimes even claiming that it took science so many years to reveal what the Torah already knew. The third category may be called the bifurcationists, who see Torah and science as two complementary, but eminently distinct disciplines. Since both science and the Torah are the pursuit of Truth, they must both be correct; but while science focuses on scientific questions, the Torah is interested in religious ones. Hence the two cannot possibly conflict.

When it comes to certain areas, such as the scientific/academic study of the Bible, things get more complicated. While the rejectionists can continue to dismiss the findings of the university as external or foreign to Torah, which operates on its own internal set of assumptions and beliefs (precisely because the academic findings contravene fundamental Jewish beliefs), accomodationists have a harder time accepting a set of findings which seems to undermine principles of faith. Bifurcationsists will also struggle because the academic study of Torah yields results inherently challenging core Orthodox beliefs.

That the struggle is more difficult does not mean that it is not doable. There is emerging a literature of Orthodox Jewish scholars and thinkers who refuse to summarily dismiss the findings of the academy. These include a wide range of people, including Marc Shapiro, Menachem Kellner, James Kugel, and Mordechai Breuer, to name but a few (although their approaches are dramatically different from each other). We should also point that, like the Big Bang theory or the theory of evolution, emerging evidence has forced multiple revisions of the Documentary Hypothesis, yet its core assumptions remain the basic assumption of most academic Biblical scholarship.

To this list of well-known names we can now add Ben Zion Katz. A pediatrician by profession, he has produced an impressive slim volume packed with sources and arguments. The book divides roughly into three sections. In the first he goes head-to-head with Richard Elliot Friedman, one of the more outspoken and prolific contemporary proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis. In a lengthy and polemical chapter, Katz methodically points out flaws in Friedman’s proofs for the Documentary Hypothesis. In the next seven very brief chapters, Katz brings a rich array of sources and analyses which reveal indications of different types of Biblical criticism in the Talmud, midrash, and classical (pre-modern) commentaries. In the final chapter Katz pulls all those sources together to present a creative and original alternative to the standard model of the Documentary Hypothesis (something he call the ‘fragmentary hypothesis’), demonstrating how it is consonant with at least some strands of traditional Jewish thought.

Katz refuses to summarily reject or dismiss the evidence provided by academic scholarship, but he is unconvinced by their conclusions. He has done a great service by bringing this book forth; his boldness, originality, scholarship, and intellectual integrity deserve respect. Katz’s suggestion is certainly interesting, and will likely resonate in a narrow sector of the academic Orthodox world. On the one hand, his approach will cause traditionalists (i.e., rejectionists) to bristle; on the other hand, it is hard to imagine many academic Biblical scholars dropping one of the standard versions of the Documentary Hypothesis to adopt his alternative.

Some quotes from the book will help to demonstrate how bold and honest is Katz’s grappling with the topic, all of which he is prepared to defend as having precedent in traditional sources.

The citations in this chapter prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there is precedent from with traditional Jewish sources for the assumption that the text of the Torah, as carefully preserved as it was, was not immune to scribal error (or scribal correction). (p. 63)

Perhaps one can argue that in the same way that Moses retells events in Deuteronomy differently from the way they are told in Exodus and Numbers, that he (with Divine approval) retold contemporaneous events in a particular way for instructional purposes, and not solely to document historical truth. (p. 125)

While I do not find the arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis persuasive, real evidence could tip the balance of evidence in its favor. This, as mentioned earlier, highlights where fundamentalists and I part company. There is no amount of evidence that would convince a fundamentalist of the late authorship of any (significant) part of the Bible, while I have spelled out the type of evidence which would sway me. (p. 128)

Thus, Katz’s book is not for those afraid to grapple with issues and challenge their core assumptions about Torah. The value of this book for educators teaching students who are already exposed to academic Bible study should be self-evident. Regardless of whether one accepts Katz’s fragmentary hypothesis, the sources he marshals are a wonderful resource for exploration.

I have one minor quibble with the book and two observations. For the quibble, the subtitle reads, “œA critique of the Documentary Hypothesis.” This book is much more than critique, it is a treasure trove of resources and presents an innovative approach to a thorny puzzle. And is not so much a critique of the Documentary Hypothesis in general rather a critique of the arguments of one prominent advocate of that hypothesis. The difference is important, for just as challenges to details in the Big Bang theory don’t cause cosmologists to propose a radical alternative, there is no reason to assume that challenges to Friedman’s proofs will impel scholars to propose or adopt an entirely new approach.

As for the observations, there are two things a reader should be aware of. First, in this book there is a significant economy of words; the writing is terse, dense, and often highly technical. It does not provide easy reading and its intended audience appears to be scholars familiar with the arguments and sources or at least prepared to examine them while reading. The uninitiated should be prepared for slow reading. Second, given the wealth of sources and resources in this book, I would have appreciated an index for reference.

This review first appeared in Bookjed Digest

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Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport’s Speaking Tour

February 26, 2013

SelfDiscovery-fullCover_resizedCheck out The Jewish Art of Self Discovery author Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport’s  speaking tour!

Presentations can include:

• Life Lessons from the Exodus: How to Free Your Mind
and Soul from Limitations this Pesach
• Finding Your Passion and Leaving Egypt
• How to Recognize Your Strengths: Intellectually,
Emotionally, and Spiritually. A Torah Approach
• Seven Ways to Powerfully Enrich the Lives of Others
• Self Discovery and Personal Freedom

Contact Stuart Schnee PR at ami@stuartschnee.com, or 973-796-2753 to schedule an event!


A Review of the Nehalel Siddur

February 24, 2013

Nehalelby Zvi Grumet

When the Nevarech bencher first appeared in 1999, it attracted attention. The notion of integrating full-page color photographs with the text of birkat hamazon caught people’s eyes. The beauty of the photographs, and he fact that they brought images of Eretz Yisrael into the birkat hamazon (perhaps redirecting the attention of that prayer to al ha-aretz hatovah), was, to many, irresistible.

As the common saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Since 1999, a number of other photographically rich birkhonim have hit the market, including the Toby Birkon (by The Toby Press) and the Praise the Land of Israel Birkon (by Koren). At a recent wedding it became clear just how far the genre had penetrated the psyche, when the family of the groom put together their own, personalized, photographic birkhon which they distributed to their guests.

In 2011, Koren moved beyond the birkhon, publishing the Koren Shabbat Evening Siddur. This slim volume is built on the foundations of the Koren Sacks Siddur, with the elegant translation and commentary of Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. It adds comments from a number of younger rabbinical figures as well as an entire section it calls “œLimmud Shabbat.” The innovation here is not so much in the selection of texts, most of which already appear in many siddurim (KeGavna, from the Sefardic tradition, Bameh Madlikin, from the Ashkenazic tradition, and Shir Hashirim, often recited by Oriental Jews), but in their classification as texts to study rather than to recite. This presentation is not only true to the origins of those texts in the siddur, but is probably linked to the siddur’s target audience: œtraditional and progressive minyanim in many contexts, from standard denominational to experimental services, from community service to Birthright trips, from classroom settings to weekend retreats (from promotional materials provided by the publisher).

Although the text of this siddur is clearly Orthodox, it seems to be designed for an audience seeking not to discharge of their religious obligation on Friday night but to Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

February 19, 2013

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From Jewish Media Review:

The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach provides a glimpse into the unusual way in which the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach received and transmitted Torah. It also aids the reader in bridging ‘œRabbi Shlomo Carlebach the great composer/singer’ and ‘œRabbi Shlomo Carlebach the great scholar/teacher.’ Those who sing his songs, but do not learn his Torah, only sing half a song. When Reb Shlomo speaks of Abraham and Sara, you are sure he is speaking about his own grandparents. When delving into the lives of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, it is as if he is speaking of his own parents.

The teachings in this book of commentary are not just meant to be read – they are intended to be enjoyed and experienced as œholy music. Ultimately, they are intended as a lesson in living a holy life. Wherever Reb Shlomo traveled in the world, he brought several suitcases of holy books with him. This book makes Reb Shlomo’s teachings accessible to help us carry on our journey through life.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (Reb Shlomo) was born in Berlin, Germany in 1925. He grew up with his twin brother, Eli Chaim and his sister, Shulamith, near Vienna where his father, Rabbi Naftali, was Chief Rabbi. In 1939, as the war began to escalate and the Nazis’ grip tightened, Shlomo and his family miraculously escaped to New York where he spent time learning by some of the greatest Torah scholars of the last century, such as Rabbi Ahron Kotler, Rabbi Shlomo Heiman and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Even as a young boy, Shlomo’s vision and clarity of thought set him apart from his peers as being amongst the most brilliant of the scholars. Through that vision, courage, and a deep love of all people, Shlomo took on a mission and set off on a path that many didn’t believe in.

Reb Shlomo believed that to uplift, inspire, and bring joy to every human being was truly his reason for existing. Through his words of Torah, his music and his stories, Reb Shlomo touched the hearts and souls of all who were blessed to hear him. He sought to remind people that they are never alone, that there is one God who loves them, and that every person has a unique and important mission to discover for themselves. He was able to mend the spirits and lives of the most broken, distraught people worldwide, people of all faiths and cultures. Much of Reb Shlomo’s life was spent traveling the world, where he would sing with the poor, the lost and the lonely, and always swear he learned from them.

Even since his passing in 1994, many lives have been influenced and touched by Reb Shlomo’s teachings, messages and melodies.


Joseph on Joseph: The Rav’s take on the Tzaddik

February 17, 2013

by Alan Jay GerberVisions and Leadership

The subject of the life’s journey of Joseph, Yosef Hatzaddik, is the subject of weekly Torah readings till the end of December, which includes the festival of Chanukah.

This week’s essay focuses on the work Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses [Ktav Publishing House, 2013] by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, Dr. David Shatz, and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky for the Toras HaRav Foundation.

This review deals with the Rav’s take on Joseph.

According to Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, the Rav identified with Joseph, not just because they both had the same name and because Joseph was misunderstood by his siblings. Rabbi Soloveitchik identified with Joseph mainly because he was a dreamer and Joseph demonstrated, throughout his life’s experience in Egypt, that one can remain a loyal Jew even while living in the most advanced society of that era. Further, both were to spend their life’s work interacting within their respective societies at the highest levels.

Much in this work points to the Rav’s highlighting Joseph’s activities as parallel to the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people.

In the Rav’s essay, “Joseph The Dreamer” he observes: “As Jews, we have a living memory which spans centuries and millennia. We also have an awareness of a common destiny. The past is real to us; the future is also real – as real as the past. Basically, this memory of the past, together with anticipation of the future, are two experiences of brothers. And since Jews are brothers, that is what unites us: the common past and the common future.”

This common bond, when joined with trust, has forged for Jews, throughout history, the binding force that assured for us that collective strength that has guaranteed our existence through the ages.

The relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh was predicated upon the wise advice that Joseph gave the monarch that led to the continued economic integrity of the Egyptian governance. Consider the following interpretation of Joseph’s words by the Rav:“However, there is a way to avoid the distress and disaster which will be caused by the seven cows, and that is the Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel

February 13, 2013

by Rebeca Kuropatwa A Financial Guide to Aliyah

Originally from Winnipeg, Baruch (Brent) Labinsky, who has been living in Israel since 1993, published his book, A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel.

Labinsky, who today works as a financial planner/investment manager, was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End. Today, he lives in Beit Shemesh with wife Tammy and their seven children. The couple made aliyah 19 years ago, about six months after having married.

“We came to Israel for a period of time to learn in Yeshiva in Jerusalem, having in mind that if it worked out and we enjoyed it, we’d stay,” said Labinsky. “Thank G-d, it has worked out very well.”

For their first three or four years in Israel, the Labinskys lived in Jerusalem, later moving to Beit Shemesh where they have remained for some 15 years.

“Beit Shemesh at that point was a very strongly growing English-speaking community, and we were Read the rest of this entry »


Join us at the Jerusalem International Book Fair!

February 7, 2013

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Please visit the Urim Publications booth (#412) at the Jerusalem International Book Fair at Binyanei HaUma

February 10-15, 2013

Sun: 6pm-9pm, Mon-Thurs: 10am-10pm, Fri: 10am-12:30pm

–Free Admission–

Special Book Fair Offer:

BUY 1 BOOK AND GET 1 FREE*!

*of equal or lower value, while supplies last. Does not include multiple copies of the same title. Sale applicable for all books at the Urim booth.

A selection of quality books from these publishers will be available:

Urim, KTAV, Yashar, Lambda, Devora, Penina, Penlight, Flashlight

Summer 2013 catalog now available!

WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!