Ten Questions with Bible Scholar R’ Ben Zion Katz

October 20, 2013

Reposted from TheTorah.comDocumentaryHypothesis-fullCover_1.5

1) How did you come across academic biblical studies?
I have been interested in these issues since my last year of high school, when I learned of E. A. Speiser’s Anchor Bible volume on Genesis from a young rabbinical student, and the following year at Touro College, where I took courses in Western literature and the Ancient Near East with Professor Albert Baumgarten. For me, this has led to a life-long passion where I have read much primary, scholarly literature in the field as well as material written for ambitious lay readers. The culmination of this study came upon my publishing a short book (A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis [Urim, 2012]) in which I have set forth my thoughts on these matters.

2) Can you give us a short overview of your book?
In the first 2 chapters of my book I critically examine the linguistic and literary evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. In chapters 3-8, I demonstrate that traditional Bible exegetes can also be quite critical, in ways that would probably not be acceptable in today’s yeshiva world. In the concluding chapter I provide an approach that I believe is traditional and academically sound, based on early sources that assume the pre-existence of scrolls that Moshe then incorporated into the Torah.

3) As a traditional Orthodox Jew, why do you value academic study?
An academic by nature, I cannot shut off my academic brains when I study Jewish texts.  As an experimentalist and a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, it takes hard data to make me change my mind.  With this outlook, I believe that Orthodox Judaism today is much less broad than Rabbinic Judaism has been in centuries past, but at the same time, modern, academic Bible scholarship is not always the hard science many of its practitioners claim it to be.  Be that as it may, modern academic scholarship has much to teach the faith community who take the Bible religiously, be they Orthodox Jews or fundamentalist Christians.

4) Can you give us some examples of what academia has taught you about Torah?
Yes. The tragic story of Yiphtach and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) cannot be understood without realizing that houses in ancient Israel were constructed on 3 sides of a courtyard, with the animals housed outside (where we today would often have a lawn); thus when Yiphtach rashly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house after his battle with the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-31) he thought the first thing that would come out to greet him would be an animal, not his daughter.  Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means “sustainer of life” an apt name for the one who saves Egypt from famine, and that Moshe’s name means born of (water), while Ramses’ name means born of Ra.

5) Was there ever a time that in your life that you did not accept the traditional belief?
Not really.  I have never been convinced of the evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. However, unlike a fundamentalist (and as I say in my book) I can outline the type of proof that would persuade me of its truth – e.g. finding a scroll similar to P or D. Right now, for me, the Documentary Hypothesis is like evolution without fossils.  If hard evidence were ever discovered, I would need to rethink my approach. Read the rest of this entry »


Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood

June 26, 2013

by The Curious Jew Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

Urim Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary on the book of Shemot quite a while ago. It has taken me a while to read the book, but it was well worth the effort. It is uniquely fitting to read this book before Pesach, and in fact, I think many of you might enjoy reading it, so I recommend ordering it today- that way, you’ll probably get it over Chol Hamoed and will have something interesting to read during the Second Days.

Between the Lines is a thoughtfully considered, well constructed, carefully written text. Etshalom has clearly put a great deal of thought into the issues he addresses, and focuses on overall themes in addition to specific literary techniques (including chiastic structure) in his analysis. His book is academic in nature, and for academic texts, is quite readable. However, I prefer narrative-style books, especially those that weave in the original Hebrew rather than making use of the English translation. They are easier to read, and thus accessible to a larger audience. Ideally, I would have liked this book to have been written more in the style of Rabbi Ari Kahn, who uses that method of writing. While this text does have the Hebrew quoted and highlighted at the beginning of each chapter, I found that flipping back and forth between Etshalom’s analysis and that first page was somewhat of an annoyance.

Topics included in the book range from the binary structure of biblical narrative when it comes to the roots of our subjugation in Egypt, to the different derivations of Moshe’s name, to literary patterns in the education of Pharaoh, studies of intertextuality, a comparison of major characters and a focus on sanctity in time. I am going to sum up one of the Divrei Torah that I found particularly beautiful below.

In Shemot 1:1-4 we read, “These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.’ Etshalom notes that:

If we compare this list to Read the rest of this entry »


Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

June 3, 2013

From The Canadian Jewish NewsHerod The Man Who Had To Be King

Last month, in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum opened a new exhibit of wide panoramic proportions called Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey. The exhibition has sparked a great deal of excitement and is attracting large numbers of visitors. (Please go to cjnews.com for a story about the exhibit.)

Herod strides imperiously and brutishly through the cities and villages of Judea and, of course, in Jerusalem in the last century BCE. Historians have tried to imagine precisely who he was ever since time, wind and nature’s eternal elements buried the broken columns of his spectacular archeological masterpieces in the sand and earthy clumps of the ancient land.

And now, a new book, brings Herod to life once again, enabling us to imagine him afresh, if not actually anew.

Written by Yehuda Shulewitz, Herod: The Man Who Had to be King (Penina Press, 2012) is an ambitious work that sweeps character, drama, intrigue, history, classics and theology into one epic novel.

The novel, however, was not completed by Shulewitz. Alas, he died around this time six years ago, during Passover 2007. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a renowned scholar of Jewish history in her own right, completed the work that was ultimately published some five years after the author’s death.

Yehuda Shulewitz was a rare multi-disciplined scholar: economist, historian of Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of A Neuropsychologist’s Journal

March 21, 2013

by Dr. Batya L. LudmanA Neuropsychologist's Journal

I was recently invited to review A Neuropsychologist’s Journal: Interventions and “Judi-isms.” Normally this wouldn’t take me long as I would get the gist of the book by quickly skimming through it. Instead I found myself engrossed in reading this book word by word, cover to cover. The short chapters had me hungrily turning the 459 pages for more, and at times, I just could not put it down.

Now, I must admit, I am acquainted with Dr. Guedalia’s work as we are professional colleagues and I have heard her speak on numerous occasions, and, as I read her book I could almost feel her presence because her writing style manages to capture the essence of who she is, both as a person and a professional. This makes the book enjoyable for both the professional and lay reader alike.

Dr. Guedalia, in describing the American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson’s approach (p. 83) captures her own style as well: “For [Milton] Erikson, the unconscious mind was creative, solution-generating, and often positive. But more than anything else, his ability to ‘utilize’ anything about a patient to help them change, including their beliefs, favorite words, cultural background, personal history, or even their neurotic habits, fit with my ideas of the goals of therapy: to help my patients solve problems, achieve goals, and change their behavior.” This is what she shows us in this book.

Dr. Guedalia wears many hats. The head of neuropsychology at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, she brings us into her life – whether as a member of the hospital’s emergency response team, while conversing with Chaim K (a respirator dependent quadriplegic man who co-authors her column for The Jewish Press), winning an award, or as an eshet chayil around her Shabbat table.

We gain insight into Guedalia’s world through her little “Judi-isms,” 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!