Review of Between the Lines of the Bible: Genesis

By Ben Rothke, The Times of Israel

There’s a famous Yiddish expression men shtarbt nisht fuhn ah kasha, roughly translated as “no one ever died from a tough question”. Judaism views doubt and questions as positive, as they can be mechanisms that lead a person to greater spiritual growth.BetweentheLinesoftheBibleGenesisWeb1

While that saying is true in certain contexts; when it comes to dealing with contradictions and challenging questions in the Bible, many people unfortunately haven’t taken the time to determine what the true answers are. Often these unresolved questions or unsatisfactory and unfulfilling answers will lead them to abandoning any future interaction with the sacred text.

In a fascinating new book, Between the Lines of the Bible: Genesis: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text (Urim Publications ISBN-13 978-9655242003), author Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom has written an engaging work that provides significant new insights and a fascinating approach to the Biblical text. The book is a pleasure to read and the reader is certain to come out with significant insights to the text. Continue reading “Review of Between the Lines of the Bible: Genesis

Between the Lines of the Bible



OU Press announces the publication of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text – Genesis, published in conjunction with Urim Publications.

This new and expanded edition of the Genesis volume of Rabbi Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible series, presents an opportunity for readers to become familiar with the work of one of the great proponents of the “new Orthodox school” of Biblical commentary. Rabbi Etshalom advocates a return to the pshat, or plain sense, of the text, while incorporating insights culled from modern disciplines such as archeology and literary analysis.

This methodology, which has emerged over the last generation primarily in religious Zionist circles in Israel, offers an approach which is rooted in tradition but also highly innovative. In encountering the text on its own without preconceived notions, Rabbi Etshalom discovers new solutions to ancient questions, as well as solving more recent questions raised by Biblical critics. Between the Lines of the Bible is an excellent introduction to a new world of Torah commentary which is both highly original and deeply committed.

Between the Lines of the Bible is the newest book from OU Press, the publishing division of the Orthodox Union. OU Press publishes high quality works of Jewish thought and Torah commentary, including the Chumash Mesoras Harav, the first Chumash containing the commentary of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Rabbi Norman Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot, a selection of sermons by one of the most gifted pulpit rabbis of our time; and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Covenant & Conversation, essays on the weekly Torah portion by the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.

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A Review of Between the Lines of the Bible

Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

by Yaakov Beasley

Having begun t read the parshiyot of our leaving Egypt, it behooves us to review one of the more important books on parshanut on Sefer Shemot to come out in the past several years Volume 2 of Rabbi Yitz Etshalom’s work Between the Lines of the Bible. Like his original ground-breaking volume, this book is hailed as an exemplar of the “new school” of Biblical interpretation, what is being called either the “theological-literary approach” or the “Gush/Herzog derech”. The roots of this methodology are two-fold, stemming from both the appearance almost four decades ago of a literary-based approach stream in academia that focused on the poetics and structure of the text as opposed to traditional critical questions about the formation of the text (and supposed pre-texts) and speculations as to the historical milieu in which it occurred; along with the revolutionary shiurim and articles that simultaneously emanated from the Yitzchak Herzog Teacher’s College and Yeshivat Har Etzion. (The exact relationship between the two streams has yet to be fully charted, see the author’s review of R. Etshalom’s first volume in Tradition 2009, 42:1, “Return of the Pashtanim” for the first attempt in this direction).

Within pages of opening Rav Etshalom’s book, one senses both the forethought and planning that went into achieving both of the goals that he set for it: to demonstrate the fundamental mechanics of how the “new school” reads the Biblical text, and to serve as an interpretation of Sefer Shemot. In this respect, volume 2 differs from volume 1, which used Sefer Bereishit as a springboard to present methodology, but not as a commentary on Sefer Bereishit itself. This time, the entries are sorted by chapter, and are meant to serve as a running commentary on Shemot as well. That R. Etshalom is an engaging speaker comes through in the clear and lucid prose; more importantly, especially for a book on methodology, he doesn’t simply present his conclusions, but guides the reader through his thought processes so that the tools can be applied elsewhere.

Almost of all the ‘tools’ of the “new school” toolbox are on display:  parallelisms, chiasms, differing points of view, archeology, philology, etc. Responsive to one of the criticisms of the first volume, where each chapter consisted of only one example to demonstrate it, in volume 2, R. Etshalom provides several examples of each pattern when it is presented. The first entry reveals R. Etshalom’s structuralist roots, as he attempts to find the underlying structure of chapter 1. Like his mentor R. Elchanan Samet, he divides the chapter (ignoring the first verses, which serve as the introduction to the entire book) into two equal halves, both in terms of verses and words, with Pharaoh’s first commands to enslave the Israelites comprising the first half, and his command to the midwives to kill the male children comprising the second half. However, unlike Samet who concentrates on the literary parallels between the two halves, R. Etshalom develops a philosophical explanation as to why the two halves are necessary, based on the principle of dual causality (events in the world unfold due to both Divine plan and human actions), and then attempts to find literary parallels for each half with their literary precedents in Bereishit.

Several examples from R. Etshalom demonstrate not only the strength of his readings, but the necessity for the usage of the “new school” methodology. In his analysis of the conversation between Hashem and Moshe in the attempt to convince Moshe to serve as the Divine agent to free the Jewish people, R. Etshalom notes that Moshe speaks seven times, beginning with the eager response “Here I am” “hineni“, and ending with the rejection “Send whom you will send [but not me]”. How did this change occur? By placing Moshe’s seven statements in a row, R. Etshalom Continue reading “A Review of Between the Lines of the Bible

Review of Between the Lines of the Bible by Yitzchak Etshalom

by Ben Zion Katz

Between the Lines of the Bible: Exodus: A study from the new school of Orthodox Torah Commentary, by Yitzchak Etshalom (Urim/OU Press, NY 2012) is a thought-provoking look at the second book of the Torah. One can tell that its author, a Rabbi and Tanakh educator in North America, is a dynamic teacher, because the book is quite engaging. The “new school” of the book’s subtitle seems to refer to a mainly literary approach to Torah, familiar to those who study midrash, and popularized by figures such as Robert Alter, beginning with the Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, NY 1981). Etshalom also seems to be clearly in the “modern” Orthodox camp, as he is not afraid to criticize the patriarchs (eg Jacob for his lack of parenting skills [p. 29], or Joseph indirectly leading to the enslavement of the Israelites [p. 31]), to say that the Bible needs to be interpreted in the context of its time (p. 139) or to be unhappy with an explanation of Rashi and offer his own (chapter 13).

The book begins with Continue reading “Review of Between the Lines of the Bible by Yitzchak Etshalom”