R Michael Broyde / One writer asked me a question about Rabbi Rackman’s biblical theology and raised the possibility that Rabbi Rackman was a technical heretic in that he did not believe in the Torah being revealed by God at Sinai to Moses (Torah miSinai). In truth, I had never spoken to Rabbi Rackman about the issue raised by this writer, although I had myself seen the view of Rabbi Rackman and been troubled by it. In a symposium in Commentary in 1966 entitled “The State of Jewish Belief”, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman wrote

Biblical Theology of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

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A Note on the Biblical Theology of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman zt”l on the Occasion of His Third Yahrtzeit

Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde

Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta, and is a member (dayan) in the Beth Din of America

When Rabbi Rackman zt”l left this world on December 1, 2008 – 4 Kislev 5769, I wrote a eulogy for him of some length (which was published in the Jewish Press on December 10, 2008 and posted on Hirhurim shortly thereafter: link). I confess that I received dozens of emails about this eulogy, many of which I did not understand. One group wrote to me complimenting me on how proper it was that I now agreed with the view Rabbi Rackman took on the matter of Jewish family law that had disagreed with him about (and which I noted that I still disagreed with him about!). Another group of writers complained that it was wrong of me to write such a kind eulogy, since I did not agree with Rabbi Rackman on a serious matter of Jewish family law (a position I explicitly disagreed with in my eulogy). Yet another group simply used this hesped to complain about me personally (because I am either too frum or not frum enough, take your pick). I generally wrote back to none of them as there seemed to be little point. It seems hard to explain to people that one can admire someone while disagreeing with them, even though that seems obvious to me.

But one writer raised a significant issue and I share his question and my answer to it with the readership of Hirhurim around Rabbi Rackman’s yartzeit. He asked me a question about Rabbi Rackman’s biblical theology and raised the possibility that Rabbi Rackman was a technical heretic in that he did not believe in the Torah being revealed by God at Sinai to Moses (Torah miSinai). In truth, I had never spoken to Rabbi Rackman about the issue raised by this writer, although I had myself seen the view of Rabbi Rackman and been troubled by it. In a symposium in Commentary in 1966 entitled “The State of Jewish Belief”, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman wrote:

The most definitive record of God’s encounters with man is contained in the Pentatuch. Much of it may have been written by people in different times, but at one point in history God not only made the people of Israel aware of his immediacy, but caused Moses to write the eternal evidence of the covenant between Him and His people. (Commentary, August, 1966 at page 128)

Nor was this a mere slip of the pen, as Rabbi Rackman confirmed this view of his in a 1969 article published in Judaism entitled “A Challenge to Orthodoxy” when he wrote:

The sanctity of the Pentatuch does not derive from God’s authorship of all of it, but rather from the fact that God’s is the final version. The final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality. (Judaism, Spring 1969, page 153)

I confess that while I do not personally agree with this approach, I do not find these two statements theologically bothersome. I do not think that they are at all inconsistent with any of the thirteen ikarim that Rambam shared with us and which I do know from a conversation with Rabbi Rackman directly that he found binding.

Understanding why Rabbi Rackman’s view is not heretical is important for us all. I think the notion that God took pre-existing texts and then God himself wove these pre-existing text into the Torah that God gave Moshe on Sinai is not inconsistent with any of the Rambam’s ikarim, and that all that Rabbi Rackman did was propose (albeit in an incomplete form, which he never elaborated on) the thoughts that Rabbi Mordechai Beruer subsequently developed at great length. This Orthodox version of the documentary hypothesis claims that there might have been a J, P, E or D, but the R (who the secularist call “the redactor”) really is Moshe Rabbenu mipi haGevura. I do not think that Jewish theology posits a binding and firm notion of how God created the texts of Torah and if God perchance took some of these texts from some other source, I don’t think that this creates theological problems for Rabbi Rackman or anyone else who believes such. Rabbi Rackman never denies that God gave the Torah to Moshe, each and every word exactly as we have it. He just speculates as to where God got the original material for the Torah from.

The motives behind Rabbi Rackman’s speculation as to the origins of the book of Bereshit is both clear and sincere. The Epic of Gilgamesh in tablet XI (which is generally thought to predate the giving of the Torah to Moshe by centuries) contains a flood story that is surprisingly similar to that found in the Torah in any number of specific details, such as the ark and the animals and many of the precise dimensions. Rabbi Rackman’s point is as follows: since the flood actually happened, there is no reason to think that contemporary accounts of it might have been written centuries before the Torah was written, and there is no heresy in believing that God, when He wrote the Torah to give to Moshe, examined the contemporary accounts of the flood and took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah.

Let me add that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher in his Torah Shelema (Volume 19, pages 356-362) considers this view as well and it is elaborated on at great length in Professor Yehudah Kil’s Daat Mikra on Bereshit. Indeed, this approach is hinted at in Shemot Rabbah 5:22, and is elaborated on the Perush Maharzu on this, as well as in Yalkut Shimoni on Chukat (247) as well as many other places.

Nor do I think that it is fair to read Rabbi Rackman’s words (as some have done) as indicating that God did not dictate the text of Torah to Moshe word by word, but that somehow Moshe used his own creativity to determine what was actually placed in the Torah. I understand Rabbi Rackman’s poetic claim that “the final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality” to be simply a claim that even if one can show that some parts of the Torah texts show literary similarity to other pre-existing texts, that was God’s intentional plan and he dictated such texts directly to Moshe.

I would certainly eat from the shechita of someone who believed this, even as I would not eat from the shechita of someone who said that Ezra revealed the Torah even with God’s blessings.

Let me add one theological thought. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman understood – as do I – that changing reality requires that one reexamine some previously thought-to-be-true assumptions to make sure that they still reflect the truth as we now understand it. These new truths can be mathematical, sociological, or scientific, but the one true God is the God whose seal is truth, as told to us in Shabbat 58a. Of course, there are some theological questions that we are committed not to ponder the data about, as we are axiologically committed as a matter of theology to certain answers – Divine revelation of the Torah to Moshe is one of these axioms. But the expansion of the ikarim to create a vast network of theological beliefs is neither called for in the halachic tradition nor a wise idea in modern times. For example, a person who thinks the world is now more than 5772 years old is certainly not a heretic, has said nothing inconsistent with the Rambam’s ikarim, has violated none of the theological rules of Judaism, and if otherwise fully halachic in his practice is to be considered fully achicha bemitzvot without limitation.

Rabbi Rackman contemplates the possibility that the Torah has in it texts that were written by humans in a different form prior to God taking these text, incorporating them into Torah and then giving that Torah to Moshe in its fully revealed form, word by word to Moshe. This belief violates none of the Rambam’s ikarim. Anyone who claims that this idea by Rabbi Rackman is heretical can only do so by adding dogma to the ikarim that we have accepted as binding through the historical mesorah accepted by the halachic community. I think that just like the contraction of the thirteen ikarim into 12 or 8 or 3 is to be resisted as a violation of that historical mesorah (even as I am well aware that Albo advocates such), so too the expansion of the ikarim into 15, 19 or 613 principles is to be resisted as a violation of that same mesorah (even as I am well aware that Chatam Sofer advocates such).

May the study of Rabbi Rackman’s works be a blessing for us all and remind us that we can disagree some someone about important matters without growing to hate them.

About Michael Broyde

121 comments

  1. Nicely written. In less words one could have just said that this view is totally at odds with modern Bible scholarship, not an embrace of it.

  2. “if God perchance took some of these texts from some other source”

    The Torah openly acknowledges some external sources. Num. 21:14-15, perhaps 21:27, too, for example.

  3. There is a typo in the opening line. R. Rackman died in 2008 (5769) not 2009. Which means this is his 3rd yahrtzeit, not his 2nd.

  4. A relevant interview with R. Rackman from 1990: http://thejewishreview.org/articles/?id=184

  5. It’s an interesting understanding of the Torah’s divine origin, but I would not get that from reading the Rambam’s own elucidation of his eighth principle:

    היות התורה מן השמים. והוא שנאמין כי כל התורה הזאת הנתונה ע”י משה רבנו ע”ה, שהיא כולה מפי הגבורה. כלומר, שהגיעה אליו כולה מאת ה’ יתברך, בעניין שנקרא על דרך השאלה “דיבור”. ואין ידוע היאך הגיע, אלא היה משה ע”ה שהגיע לו, וכי הוא היה כמו סופר, שקוראים לו והוא כותב כל מאורעות הימים, הסיפורים והמצוות. ולפיכך נקרא “מחוקק”. ואין הפרש בין “ובני חם כוש ומצרים” “ושם אשתו מהטבאל” “ותמנע היתה פלגש” ובין “אנכי ה’ אלקיך” ו”שמע ישראל”. כי הכל מפי הגבורה, והכל תורת ה’ תמימה טהורה וקדושה אמת.

    Rambam thus depicts the relationship between God and Moshe as one of Speaker to scribe: presumably, this analogy means that the text of the Torah was dictated by God to Moshe, who merely transcribed it. In this narrative, God is the original Author, while Moshe is the “redactor.” While I am all in favor of not multiplying dogma beyond the 13 Ikkarim, this is Rambam’s own description of the ikkar: how can we say that Moshe was the true author, and God merely granted it His “stamp of approval”?

  6. I don’t see why it’s contradictory. Is it because this supposes that we do know by which manner Moshe received it (written or oral legends to compile together)? What’s the difference to the Rambam so long as it was communicated and received prophetically? This may raise reasonable questions, such as what exactly is a prophecy that actually consists of stories and texts originating, presumably, by people? But so long as God communicated it to Moshe, should that be outside the bounds of the Rambam?

    I think the first statement at least clearly communicates the idea that Moshe was not the true author.

  7. This was not Mordechai Breuer’s view as far as I am aware. He claimed not that God collected previously written documents but that he wrote the Torah from scratch deliberately using several different voices.

  8. S. – That is a fair read of R. Rackman, but as you implicitly acknowledge, the quote from his 1969 article somewhat connotes that the Torah’s divinity is based on God’s *approval* of Moshe’s text, not that the text originated with God. You are right about the first article, though: it clearly is saying that God selected prior texts and dictated them to Moshe for transcription.

  9. One group wrote to me complementing me on how…

    I rather think his eminence meant to write ‘complimenting me’.

  10. What about the sources in Chazal and Rishonim that indicate that there have been a few post-Mosaic changes?

  11. According to Rav Kasher, Rashi himself held that Moshe incorporated earlier divinely-inspired writings into the Torah.

  12. “The Epic of Gilgamesh in tablet XI (which is generally thought to predate the giving of the Torah to Moshe by centuries) contains a flood story that is surprisingly similar to that found in the Torah in any number of specific details, such as the ark and the animals and many of the precise dimensions.”

    On a semi-related note, check out the discussion here:

    http://www.jewswithquestions.com/index.php?/topic/71-the-mabul/

  13. S., why is his approach not an embrace of modern Biblical criticism? Besides for the dating, he accepts it.

  14. R’ Schachter once quoted R’ Chaim Brisker as saying something similar- that there was a Sinai Torah, a Midbar Torah, and a Moav Torah, and the Torah as we have it is a seemingly (but not really) random combination of these. “You think the Bible critics were the first to notice this?” he asked.

    Didn’t Wellhausen base himself, at least partly, on what we now know to be the mistaken idea that people weren’t literate enough in the time of Moshe to write the Torah?

    On the other hand, it’s pretty clear from parts of Nach (and a number of places in Chazal) that parts of the Torah were unknown through the time of Ezra, and restored or revealed (take your choice) only then. It would perhaps be too neat to say that davka one of the Moshe’s “revelations” was lost and restored exactly as it was, but it’s not completely illogical, especially if God was involved.

  15. A Little Sanity

    A. “changing reality requires that one reexamine some previously thought-to-be-true assumptions to make sure that they still reflect the truth as we now understand it. These new truths can be mathematical, sociological, or scientific, but the one true God is the God whose seal is truth…”

    vs. (next sentence)

    “there are some theological questions that we are committed not to ponder the data about, as we are axiologically committed as a matter of theology to certain answers…”

    Is there not a slight… er, contradiction in thought evident here? Would HKBH, Elokim Emes, ever want us to believe something that was, say, demonstrably not true, even if it were an “axiological commitment”?

    B. “I would not eat from the shechita of someone who said that Ezra revealed the Torah even with God’s blessings.”

    Because,I presume, even though such a viewpoint would be consistent with , say,R. Y. Albo, it contravenes Rambam’s 8th Ikkar, which is generally understood to require belief in complete Mosaic authorship. Well, in that case, the view expressed by R. Yehuda in the gemora [B. Basra 15a] that Yehoshua wrote the last few pesukim of Devarim simalarly would similarly contradict Rambam. And so would the views of Ibn Ezra [see e.g. his comment on Devarim 1:2] and Rashi [see his comment on Bereshis 18:22]. Would the shechita of R. Yehuda, Ibn Ezra and Rashi be pasul too?

    Or, perhaps, could the very existence of such views by various universally acknowledged gedolim be evidence that the current popular understanding of the eighth ikkar is overly rigid?

    We are a small and beleaguered people. Do we really need to go out of our way to find heresy? Would it not be wiser to find a way to, on the contrary, use our intellectual powers to justify those who are sincere maaminim, but for reasons of perceived emes hold views that may be somewhat out of the mainstream. If we are going to pasul anyone’s shechita, let it be that of the child molesters, money launderers, and stone throwers among us [even if they hold by the eighth ikar l’mehadrin, even if they dress in black from head to toe,even if their beards are long, and even if they are as rich as Korach and donate profusely to our institutions]. Hobn mir a groissen Gott, and he is strong enough to look out for his own kovod. He has given us plenty of opportunities to “do justice, and to love kindness”, and perhaps we should be more focused on those things.

  16. 1. “that changing reality requires that one reexamine some previously thought-to-be-true assumptions to make sure that they still reflect the truth as we now understand it”
    2. “that we have accepted as binding through the historical mesorah accepted by the halachic community”

    The first statement would indicate, that we may challenge many previously held truths, which would include Rambam’s axioms as well. In the second statement you intend to uphold Rambam’s axioms as still binding because of a supposed historical mesorah. But wouldn’t that same mesorah also require us to interpret Rambam’s required creed in the traditional sense. You predication seems arbitrary. Perhaps many of us are only wishing to push the envelope as far as it still leaves us in the fold.
    But I do applaud you for going as far as you did in ‘koshering’ some beliefs. But do you really think there won’t be repercussions from what you already published? I think there are many people who would be appalled by your sympathy. Many will see your ‘personal opinion’ as nothing but a clause for escape, when they start pointing the finger.
    I think it behooves you to bring proofs to you claim of a historical halachik indoctrination of Rambam’s ikkrim. Mark Shapriro’s book was written to counter this claim. There was at no one time any consensus of required beliefs. It is certainly is true that the overwhelming majority did uphold them. But the Mishna in Eidiut says precisely for this reason that the divrei hayachid were recorded so that a later generation may rule like them if they so see fit. Wouldn’t the “changing reality” be good enough reason to reject Rambam’s precepts? Again I get the feeling that we have preconceived limits, which hamper our ability to think objectively.

  17. I do not understand these conversations.
    The Talmud is very explicit that Joshua had a hand in the writing of the Torah.
    The Torah is very explicit that some of it was written after Moshe’s death.

    The Torah is also explicit that the “Torah” was written on pillars while moshe was alive, carved into stone, and still exist “until this day”

    Earlier, the Torah also mentions that Moshe wrote the “Torah” on some pillars at Mount Sinai, as well again wrote 40 years later in the plains of Moav.

    Any thinking person will recognize that the Torah text that Joshua gave to the people, was not Moshe’s torah with a few lines added at the end (as if someone just added some words to a physical diary), but had to be a complete copying /rewriting and distribution to the tribes after taking over the land of Israel and everyone was living in their place.

    The Gemorah for example, says that Joshua added the cities of refuge… these are not in the last 8 verses, but inserted earlier in the text.

    So why do thinking people talk about DH vs Moshe, or try to label Moshe as “the redactor” when clearly Joshua had some hand in the affair after Moshe’s death? In Sefer Yehoshua we even see Gd commanding Joshua to do just that!

    I completely understand why in everyday talk, and in the rambam, and when we talk about emnuah we speak of Moshe’s Torah, and the books of Moshe, and the face to face prophecy of Moshe’s communication with Hashem. (After all, whatever additions Joshua made, it was through Moshe’s prophecy that we have any of it. And when it comes to Prophecy Joshua is certainly second fiddle.) But why speak/write this way when you are already talking about the Chumash in a critical /historical manner? If there is any final “redactor” from the point of view of the Gemorah, it had to be Joshua, and not Moshe.

    I’m not suggesting that people who say it was Moshe are wrong, just that they seem to stop the critical thinking process at a place which I do not understand. And who can really complain if we say that Joshua was the “final redactor” when the Gemora says this itself!?

  18. “S., why is his approach not an embrace of modern Biblical criticism? Besides for the dating, he accepts it.”

    Because modern Biblical criticism (MBC) is defined by the dating!
    You only have modern biblical criticism if you accept that certain words and phrases could only be written after certain dates or points in time.

    To say you accept MBC but reject the dating, is to say that you accept Weather data from ice core samples, but reject the dating. It just doesn’t make sense.

  19. Avi, MBC consists of 2 parts. 1: a few different writers, and editors. 2: different dating. Is one completely talui in the other?

  20. “God did not dictate the text of Torah to Moshe word by word, but that somehow Moshe used his own creativity to determine what was actually placed in the Torah.”

    Like Sefer Devarim?

    I see how “The final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality” can be interpreted as a dictation, in light of the preface: “God’s version.” However, I can just as easily see “God’s version” as a reference to divine approval–the stamp of divinity–of what was essentially Moshe’s own take on his encounter with God’s command, just like Sefer Devarim. Granted, this would clash with the distinctions made by our tradition between Devarim and the other sefarim.

  21. “Avi, MBC consists of 2 parts. 1: a few different writers, and editors. 2: different dating. Is one completely talui in the other?”

    Yes, my understanding is that dating lets them know how many authors there are. Word choices give hints to dates, different dates means it must be different people. Further, words and events in the story give hints to dates, which rule out certain people from writing various sections.

    Granted this wasn’t true for Biblical criticism from 200 years ago, but now that isn’t modern anymore.

    This is why archaeological finds which put the use of Hebrew writing back further and further in history, makes some of the criticism require reformatting. (This is more true for Nach than for the Torah though)

  22. I Tick, it’s ok to combine pieces of information.
    Devarim is one form of a “divine stamp”, the use of words from the “book of god’s wars” is another usage of a “divine stamp”. The writings of “these are the generations of x”, is another form.

  23. Rav Soloveitchik, himself, once noted that Sefer Devarim started off as Torah she’b’al Peh and that it was elevated to the status of Torah she be’khetav when God said: Kitu lakhem. (The shiur was given to the RCA as part of a series on Mishnah Torah).

  24. Michael Feldstein

    Yasher koach to Rabbi Broyde. Once again he proves that he is intellectually honest enough to appreciate Rabbi Rackman’s strengths as a scholar, without agreeing with everything that he has said and written.

    Unfortunately, Rabbi Rackman will be remembered unkindly by most people solely for his controversial beit din solution and the Rav’s statements about him when he was being considered as President of Yeshiva University. It’s important to point out that he left a rich legacy of other significant (and less controversial) contributions to the Orthodox community.

  25. Some of the discussion in the comments remind me of the machloket in the gemara between R. Yochanon and Resh Lakish IIRC, about whether Torah was given all at once or “megilla, megilla”. Perhaps the view ascribed to R. Rackman by R. Broyde is part of his understanding of “megilla megilla nitnah.” By that view the final text given by God to Moshe certainly included at a minimum the earlier texts God had given Moshe.

  26. On Modern Bible Scholarship, see yehuda on December 12, 2011 at 1:45 am in http://torahmusings.com/2011/12/post-modern-objections-to-academic-jewish-studies/comment-page-1/.

    “In essence, all that anyone can agree on anymore is that the text can’t have one author, and said author(s) couldn’t have lived in Moses’ time, but they can’t really agree on anything beside that.”

  27. “Yes, my understanding is that dating lets them know how many authors there are. Word choices give hints to dates, different dates means it must be different people. Further, words and events in the story give hints to dates, which rule out certain people from writing various sections.”

    Avi — As I have shared before, Robert Alter writes the following in the introduction to his Chumash translation:

    It is small wonder that the Documentary Hypothesis, whatever its general validity, has begun to look at though it has reached a point of diminishing returns, and many young scholars, showing signs of restlessness with source criticism, have begin exploring other approaches – literary, anthropological, sociological, and so forth – to the Bible.

    My sense is that a lot of Hirhurim readers have an impression of Bible Scholarship that was taught by people with dated knowledge and an ideological need to dismiss it as nonsense, similar to the way Jews have traditionally been taught about Christian theology.

  28. IH,
    Richard Elliot Freedman still teaches at the University of Georgia (though I was surprised to discover that he has left UCSD) with his book “Who wrote the bible” and his further updates. So Hirhurim readers are not the only people who are taught by people with dated knowledge. 😛 This is falling into, the internet favorite, “no true Scotsman” territory.

    So what I don’t understand from your comment is if you think dating is central, or if you think dating is not central to the field?

  29. As we refer to God as a “Bochair BaTorah” in the b’rachah before the haftarah, it makes sense to view God as “selecting” which texts became the Torah.

  30. I am not in the field, but as far as I can tell, Freedman is a da’at yachid these days. In every field there are orthodoxies.

    On dating, you have posited a causality that I do not think is a reflection of current Bible Scholarship in its diversity.

    Personally, I think the key is in the transition from orality to literary which allows me to reconcile Modern Bible Scholarship with our principles of faith. Dating is largely irrelevant in such a shita.

  31. Yeedle

    “S., why is his approach not an embrace of modern Biblical criticism? Besides for the dating, he accepts it.”

    That’s kind of a big “besides”, isn’t it?

    It’s a huge deal to say that Moshe wrote it. This means that

    – it is historically true, at least in part. He is saying there was a Moshe. Presumably then there was also a Mitzrayim, and a Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a few other things we can infer from that.
    – that any linguistic dating of Hebrew is completely off. How can Az Yashir be very archaic, and how can Deuteronomy be very late?
    – that God had something to do with the Torah.

    and more things besides. His position is very much at odds with modern Biblical criticism. It may not be entirely traditional, but it’s hardly an embrace of modern Bible scholarship. If anything it’s dressed up in words that sounds like it is modern, and that was probably intentional.

  32. Nachim “R’ Schachter once quoted R’ Chaim Brisker as saying something similar- that there was a Sinai Torah, a Midbar Torah, and a Moav Torah, and the Torah as we have it is a seemingly (but not really) random combination of these. “You think the Bible critics were the first to notice this?” he asked.”

    R. Chaim was born in 1853, so I don’t really get that.

  33. Nacum-see the CI’s Maamar on Matan Torah which he also talks about Sinai, Midbar and Arvos Moav at length.

  34. Is the “midbar” torah the same as “Ohel Moed” Torah?

    The Torah itself says that some information was given on Sinai, some in Ohel Moed and some on the plains of Moav. Or is something else meant by “midbar” here?

    Once, when I was reading a midrash about educating Children and the book of Vayikra, I got a strong impression that the Midrash was telling us that Sefer Vayikra “came first”

  35. “Once, when I was reading a midrash about educating Children and the book of Vayikra, I got a strong impression that the Midrash was telling us that Sefer Vayikra “came first””

    The ultimate counterpoint to Wellhausen!

  36. FWIW, despite R Broyde’s fascinating article, as well as the interview linked here by IH, the undeniable historical facts are that RYBS clearly, vocally and publicly opposed RER’s views on Hafkaas Kiddushin. It is no accident that the same played no small role in RER leaving the US, not becoming President of YU , and becomong head of BIU. Denial of the same IMO borders on revisionism of the Acharei Mos Kedoshim Emor variety,

    One should also note RER’s complaints about the move to the right, and his claims of being the subject of religious McCarthyism. In fact, his JW coulmn, more often than not, often displayed a marked hostility to the Charedi world, claimed to represent the views of RYBS despite RYBS’s own opposition to being a member of the NY Board of Rabbis, as opposed to the SCA.

    To his credit, R Broyde notes that he disagreed ( see the Edah journal archives for a substantive critique) with RER’s Bes Din, which he previously viewed as simply not presiding over Gittin in accordance with basic halachic requirements. One can only wonder what the RCA and its Vaad HaKavod would have done if a musmach who was substantially younger and had presided over such a Bes Din, whose procedures raised the substantial possibility that the results effectuated therein were disastrously not in congruence with Halacha.

  37. “Denial of the same IMO borders on revisionism of the Acharei Mos Kedoshim Emor variety, ”

    What denial?

    It seems like your three paragraphs are intended solely to remind us that Rabbi Rackman really was a shvantz after all, not like Rabbi Broyde who says that one can disagree with another on an issue or two and still appreciate them. Is that more or less it?

  38. Regarding Steve’s contrasting of RER and RYBS:

    Rackman and Soloveitchik represent two strongly articulated, strongly opposing approached to halakha. Soloveitchik’s approach has the benefit of supplying a strong answer to the question, how do we deal with a world that we have no control over? […] By adopting a worldview that refuses to validate subjective experience of reality over traditional descriptions of reality, we may transcend the human sense of vulnerability to history, contingency and chaos.

    […]

    Rackman’s halakha is guided by a different image of God. For him, as for me, reality speaks, and the most important question for the present and future viability of halakhic way of life is whether or not we will allow ourselves to listen.

    From R. David Hartman’s The God Who Hates Lies (Jewish Lights, 2011) pp. 155, 157

  39. “Avi, MBC consists of 2 parts. 1: a few different writers, and editors. 2: different dating. Is one completely talui in the other?”

    As far as I understand it, not really.

  40. Hesh,
    Did Hashem also choose which parts of Moshe he wanted?

  41. I also think that based on these two snipits it is impossible to reconstruct R. Rackman’s Biblical Theology in any detail. Hence we cannot evaluate it from heresiological perspective.

  42. Lucky that Rackmans theory is not kefirah, since Gil has written similarly. Also, of course none of this helps with respect to the real questions raised by BC and the DH, its just apologetics designed to take the sting away.

  43. Lawrence Kaplan

    I grew up in Far Rockaway and attended for eight years the High School and College local Mizrachi Ha-Tzair meetings, always presided over by Rabbi Rackman. I remember on several occasions that being somewhat of an intellectual trouble-maker (some may say I still am), I would raise in the course of discussion some issues of biblical criticism. I do not pretend to remember all the details, but R. Rackman’s views were always quite traditional. One point I do remember, which I believe he said more than once, is that since we have answers to 90% of the questions posed by the biblical critics, we can assume there are answers to be had for the other 10%, for which at present there seem to be no answers.

  44. S.: “R. Chaim was born in 1853, so I don’t really get that.”

    The quotes was from R. Schachter.

  45. I too attended those Mizrachi Ha’tzair meeting (albeit 3 years behind Lawrence). And I think that the major lesson that R. Rackman taught us (hundreds if not thousands of young people) at those meetings was not about the authorship of the Torah or any other specific halachic or theological issue; rather,it was to get the facts and think for ourselves, and that if we do that we can disagree with anyone (ncluding, of course, him), as long as we do respectfully.

  46. “The quotes was from R. Schachter.”

    Right, I don’t get why citing the views of someone born in 1853 is taken as an anticipation of the difficulties raised by Bible critics. ““You think the Bible critics were the first to notice this?” he asked.”” isn’t really answered by referencing R. Chaim.

    That said, “You think the Bible critics were the first to notice [these issues]” is kind of a fake argument which people give, presumably because if the critics didn’t make new discoveries somehow their answers can’t be plausible. Of course if the reverse were true, and our tradition did not even recognize the difficulties then people would point to that to negate the possibility that there really are those difficulties.

    Either way, it’s a fake argument simply because Spinoza already pointed out in the first tract of modern Bible criticism that Ibn Ezra raised some of these difficulties.

  47. Fotheringay-Phipps

    R’ Broyde: “Rabbi Rackman’s point is as follows: since the flood actually happened, there is no reason to think that contemporary accounts of it might have been written centuries before the Torah was written, and there is no heresy in believing that God, when He wrote the Torah to give to Moshe, examined the contemporary accounts of the flood and took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah”

    I believe there is a typo here and should read “there is reason to think …” or “might not have been …” or something – basically you need to flip the negative or remove it.

    Without commenting about any of the other issues or about the man generally, I would observe that the underlying motivation for this type of theory is the belief that the flood never happened.

    Because if it did happen, then there’s no occasion for surprise if many of the details parallel other descriptions of the same event. (No one would think the NYT and the WSJ are copying each other if they report many of the same details about the same incident.) It’s only if you look at it as a work of fiction that you start to wonder how it is that so many details are the same as in other fictional accounts, and this is the impetus for thinking one copied the other.

  48. MDJ — God chose Moshe out of the rest of the Jews. As a parallel, God chose the Torah from pre-existing material.

  49. “Without commenting about any of the other issues or about the man generally, I would observe that the underlying motivation for this type of theory is the belief that the flood never happened.”

    On the contrary, many (frum) people who are aware of Gilgamesh see it exactly as you say: a confirmation, not a negation. I mean, no one can deny that the parallels are there. So I don’t see how “if the flood actually happened . . . ” gets inverted into “the underlying motivation for this type of theory is the belief that the flood never happened.”

  50. Fotheringay-Phipps

    I have no idea what you mean.

  51. Ye’yasher kochakhem R. Broyde, shlit”a, and respondents.

    R. Broyde writes: “For example, a person who thinks the world is now more than 5772 years old is certainly not a heretic”.

    I wish to share that I have personally received an ruling from R. J. David Bleich (in an oral conversation during the spring 5767) that a person who thinks the world is older than (what was then 5767 years and what is now 5772 years) is indeed a safek kofer and it is forbidden to eat his shechitah. The testimony of such an individual would be doubtfully disqualified. The basis for this conclusion of R. Bleich is Teshuvot Chatam Sofer YD 356, where Chatam Sofer writes that it is heretical to deny any event in the Torah, including Genesis. Since some poskim (like RMF in IM YD 3:73) regard allegorization of Genesis as tantamount to denial, R. Bleich regards this as a safek and we need to be stringent on both sides of the doubt.

    R. Bleich emphasizes that the books of R. Natan (Nosson) Slifkin are kosher and are genuine masterpieces of Torah study. R. Slifkin correctly cites some sources that do interpret Genesis in an allegorical manner. It is indeed a mitzvah to study these opinions, concedes R. Bleich. But the point is that other sources (including RMF) disagree, and so we are left we a sfeka de-dina. We must be stringent on a possible biblical prohibition.

  52. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Spira: I find R.Bleich’s ruling exceptionally troubling. It effectively puts a stranglehold on all Jewish thought. Has he ever written anything similar to what you report in his name? Ironically, this was not the way Rav Moshe went about pesak halakhah.

  53. Did you ask Rabbi Bleich where the dinosaur bones came from? Or does he think that God placed them in the earth to test our faith?

  54. Hesh,
    That mean’s that Hashem chose the torah as opposed to other sources, but it doesn’t mean that it is composed of a selection from other sources (which is what I took you to be saying earlier).

  55. You’re putting a lot of meaning into “surprisingly similar” for a man who also wrote “since the flood actually happened . . . “

  56. F-P “I have no idea what you mean.”

    You’re putting a lot of meaning into “surprisingly similar” for a man who also wrote “since the flood actually happened . . . “

  57. If I had to guess, I’d say that Rabbi Bleich was being mefalpel to wake his talmid up.

  58. Pesach Sommer

    Whether we are compelled to accepts the Rambam’s Ikarim is one thing, but if we are, it is difficult to fit R’ Rackman’s vies as explained by Rabbi Broyde into the Rambam’s view of Nevuah. From there it would seem that Moshe reached the level of Nevua to fully comprehend G-d’s highest truth, The Torah. To suggest that highest truth happened to coincide with what various authors had written, strikes me as forced.

  59. ” I mean, no one can deny that the parallels are there.”

    I think the parallels are weak. If anything they are contrasts and not parallels.

    If someone tried to use the subsection of Gilgamesh as proof of the flood story, the differences would be too much.

    You basically have 3 similarities of the two stories, all of which are really the only way to tell such a story and have it retain any meaning.

    ” where Chatam Sofer writes that it is heretical to deny any event in the Torah, including Genesis.”

    Well, I guess it’s a good thing that nowhere in the Torah does it say the world is 5772 years old then.

  60. Pesach Sommer: If you believe the previous documents were written by the Avos, then it becomes much more plausible. Here is my summary of R. Menachem Kasher’s essay: http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_torah.html

  61. R’ Spira, it is possible that you misinterpreted what Rav Bleich told you. He may have alluded to possible heresy in believing that parts of the torah are allegorical (although the Rambam in the Guide apparently believed the snake in Gan Eden story was an allegory). Accepting the strong scientific evidence of an earth far older than 6 millenia does not necessarily require allegorization of the creation text. Rather, it requires treating some expressions metaphorically. The obvious example is to consider the creation ‘days’ as eras. In any case, Rav Bleich appears to invalidate the shechitah or juridical testimony of some of his colleagues. Aside from the audaciousness of such a viewpoint, how does a safek (seemingly based on one source) overrule the chezkat kashrut that these colleagues have?

  62. Fotheringay-Phipps

    S: “You’re putting a lot of meaning into “surprisingly similar” for a man who also wrote “since the flood actually happened . . . “”

    It’s not the terminology. It’s the impetus for the theory.

    IMHO, “since the flood actually happened . . . “ is just a rhetorical device, since his argument is meant to assauge people who believe that. But for someone who genuinely believes that the flood happened, there’s no reason at all to assume that the second of two descriptions of the event was copied from the first.

  63. Larry and/or Joseph Kaplan-can you point us to some printed remarks by RER re the Parsha of Sotah that got RER into some very hot water with the Charedi world re his view of the same?

  64. Larry Kaplan commented:

    “Rabbi Spira: I find R.Bleich’s ruling exceptionally troubling. It effectively puts a stranglehold on all Jewish thought. Has he ever written anything similar to what you report in his name? Ironically, this was not the way Rav Moshe went about pesak halakhah”

    How about the well known views of both RMF and RSZA ( IIRC) re a sefer attributed to R Yehudah HaChosid and the views expressed therein re the last eight verses of the Torah?

  65. I wish to share that I have personally received an ruling from R. J. David Bleich (in an oral conversation during the spring 5767) that a person who thinks the world is older than (what was then 5767 years and what is now 5772 years) is indeed a safek kofer and it is forbidden to eat his shechitah. The testimony of such an individual would be doubtfully disqualified. The basis for this conclusion of R. Bleich is Teshuvot Chatam Sofer YD 356, where Chatam Sofer writes that it is heretical to deny any event in the Torah, including Genesis. Since some poskim (like RMF in IM YD 3:73) regard allegorization of Genesis as tantamount to denial, R. Bleich regards this as a safek and we need to be stringent on both sides of the doubt.

    This cannot mean that anyone who accepts a nonliteral interpretation of an event in the Torah is a kofer. The Rambam said, for example, that the talking donkey of Bilaam was a vision and not a real event. Yet surely neither R. Bleich nor the Chasam Sofer nor Rav Moshe would consider the Rambam in the category of a safek kofer, and all would eat his shchitah if he were alive at their time.

  66. I thank Mori ve-Rebbi R. Kaplan and the other talmidei chakhamim who have responded to me. To help clarify what I heard (-and of course it is possible I was a bit sleep at the time, as R’ S. indicates), I will relate the full conversation.

    The conversation commenced with my asking R. Bleich why in CHP Vol. 5, ch. 3 he writes that a mountain with slopes so steep so as to serve as a mechitzah for hilkhot eruvin is considered non-existent for purposes of calculating zemanim. [E.g. sunset will be calculated based on mountain-base conditions, even at the mountain peak.] What does hilkhot eruvin have to do with calculating zemanim, I demanded? Seemingly, I continued, R. Bleich should have just followed R. Tukatchinsky’s thesis in Bein Ha-Shemashot (which R. Bleich discusses in that chapter) that a mountain which existed at the time of Ma’aseh Bereisheet counts for purposes of calculating zemanim, whereas a structure (such as the Sears Tower) that did not exist at the time of Ma’aseh Bereisheet does not count for purposes of calculating zemanim.

    R. Bleich answered me that he cannot accept R. Tukatchinsky’s thesis because we don’t know how long Ma’aseh Bereisheet lasted and which mountains were in existence then. Therefore, R. Bleich feels that the concept of calculating zemanim should not depend on geological history (as R. Tukatchinsky asserts) but rather on present geological conditions: it depends upon what is considered “karka” professes R. Bleich – if the mountain ascends on a gentle slope, it is part of the karka, but if the mountain ascends on a steep slope, it is not part of the karka and (like an artificial building) one ignores it for purposes of calculating zemanim.

    I then asked R. Bleich how he can question the time length of Ma’aseh Bereisheet, in light of Chatam Sofer YD 356, IM YD 3:43, Shu”t Mishneh Halakhahot 2:35 (final paragraph) and the Steipler’s Karyena D’Iggreta 1:115, which seemingly point to a literal approach to Genesis. [The excerpt of Chatam Sofer I emphasized is that he writes that even Adam Ha-Rishon saw that he was miraculously created without parents, thus serving as testimony to Ma’aseh Bereisheet. Clearly, this Chatam Sofer is contrary to Darwin who believed that Adam Ha-Rishon had proto-human parents.] Moreover, I said (quite confident I had R. Bleich in a state of checkmate) R. Bleich’s own Artscroll Bircas Ha-chammah seems to take a completely literalist approach to Genesis.

    So R. Bleich answered me. Yes: there are literalists to Genesis, and because of the highly mysterious nature of Ma’aseh Bereisheet, we have no way of adjudicating against these literalists. Thus, as a matter of safek de-oraita (“ve-lo taturu acharei levavkhem”, which the gemara in Berakhot 12b explains is a prohibition against heresy) we must be strict, and we cannot eat the mear slaughtered by or the STA”M written by one who rejects the literal approach to Genesis. But still, in light of R. Slifkin’s excellent defense of the non-literalist approach, R. Bleich is not prepared to surrender to R. Tukatchinsky regarding calculating halakhic time on mountains, either.

  67. Thank you, R’ Steve Brizel, for the kind defense.

    R’ Y. Aharon, thank you for the valuable rejoinder. I assume – when you say that R. Bleich is challeging his colleagues – you are referring to the interview of R. Hershel Schachter at http://www.kolhamevaser.com/2010/09/an-interview-with-rabbi-hershel-schachter-2/ where we find the following:

    [RHS is asked:] What do you believe about the opinion of R. Nachum Eisenstein, quoted in R. Elyashiv’s name, that any dayyan (judge) who believes the world is more than 5771 years old is a dayyan pasul (disqualified judge) and that his conversions are invalid?

    [RHS responds:] It’s an extreme position, and in this case, he had to retract it the next day. It is not a position I would take seriously.

    [end of quotation]

    I guess R. Bleich would hold that the dayan is safek passul.

  68. That said, I fully agree with you and concede to you, R’ Y. Aharon, that every person has a chezkat kashrut. Thus, there is no need to specifically ask a shochet, or a sofer, or witness, or a judge, what he believes about Genesis. We assume that all Jews have a chezkat kashrut.

    R’ Mike S.,
    Thank you for the excellent question regarding the episode of Bilaam as understood by Moreh Nevukhim. I have to investigate this, because Chatam Sofer specifically cites Bilaam as the one episode in the Torah we have to accept on faith alone (all the others, writes Chatam Sofer, were witnessed). The mishnah in Pirkei Avot refers to the mouth of the donkey being created on Friday at twilight, seemingly pointing to its real existence. Yet, Chatam Sofer was definitely a fan of the Moreh Nevukhim (as we know from the brain death sugya). I don’t know the answer.

  69. Shalom, I see you were not asleep. However, it does sound little bit like you cornered him into a position. I’m not sure if that is something he chewed over and thought of for years.

  70. Mike S,

    Yet surely neither R. Bleich nor the Chasam Sofer nor Rav Moshe would consider the Rambam in the category of a safek kofer, and all would eat his shchitah if he were alive at their time.

    I’m not so sure. See Shu”t Chatam Sofer YD 356 in which he essentially says that R. Hillel (who denied the future coming of mashiach) would be considered a kofer today.

  71. R J Woolf’s comments re RYBS’s comment re Sefer Devarim being TSBP are very important. R B Simon has a wonderful shiur on this subject in which R Simon shows how Sefer Devarim is interpreted via such means as Smuchim, etc, that one does not find in Breishis through Bamidbar.

  72. FP: “But for someone who genuinely believes that the flood happened, there’s no reason at all to assume that the second of two descriptions of the event was copied from the first.”

    Aside from the fact that this logic doesn’t follow at all, I’m not aware than anyone thinks the later description “copied” the first. I’m not even sure what this means (I presume you mean copied the description of the actual flood, although again, no one thinks this).

    In reality, a number of possibilities arise in this case:

    1) a flood occurred, and different people affected by it authored contemporaneous (albeit different) accounts of it
    2) a flood occurred and one early, popular account survived, to which later authors – with different socio-cultural/theological assumptions – felt the need to respond
    3) a flood occurred and the earliest, most accurate account of the flood, which was supplanted by later, more popular accounts, ended up resurfacing in a textual context that itself is later than the later-popular accounts
    4) a flood did not occur, but the myth that one did occur was very popular in the common cultural birthplace of many subsequent literary cultures, each of which put their own spin on this particular myth

    I’m sure there are other scenarios one could imagine. Some are more likely than others to have occurred. And likewise some (not necessarily different ones) may be more appealing to traditional folks. Furthermore, some (again, not necessarily different ones) may be more appealing to those to whom it’s important to be able to say that the flood story is a bunch of hogwash. It’s a messy reality, and at the end of the day those of us who believe in the flood story are left with plenty of breathing room without having to make the (false) claim that “our shitah is the only shitah that doesn’t come with kashyas.”

  73. Larry Kaplan_IIRC, RER wrote an article about Sotah which he evaluated the entire Maaseh Sotah in the sense of whether the same was an “Ordeal or Pyschodrama.” Can someone post a link to the same inasmuch it would aid the within discussion?

  74. R’ Spira (et al,

    1. As far as I understand, the 13 ikkarim do not require us to interpret the Torah literally, only that we believe in its Divine authorship/origin/stamp of approval (pick your flavor.)
    Therefore, any figurative or metaphorical speculations as to the goings-on during the period of Creation do not violate our traditional beliefs.

    2. Literal interpretation cannot necessarily be equated with “chumrah” – otherwise, we could all start eating chicken parmesan so long as we don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.

    3. I’m not sure I understand how a “safek” in the interpretation of Biblical verses that do not have any halakhic ramifications falls under Chazal’s protocols for resolving sefekot.

  75. Fotheringay-Phipps

    Jerry: “I’m not aware than anyone thinks the later description “copied” the first. I’m not even sure what this means (I presume you mean copied the description of the actual flood, although again, no one thinks this).”

    Here’s what RMB wrote in this very blog post (attributed to RER):

    “there is no heresy in believing that God, when He wrote the Torah to give to Moshe, examined the contemporary accounts of the flood and took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah”

    Are you making some sort of subtle distinction between “took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah” and “copying”? If so, it eludes me.

  76. Pesach Sommer

    “Pesach Sommer: If you believe the previous documents were written by the Avos, then it becomes much more plausible. Here is my summary of R. Menachem Kasher’s essay: http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_torah.html

    Even with that explanation it seems to minimize the difference between the level of nevuah of the Avos versus that of Moshe. Still seems to be a bit forced.

  77. Perhaps the very fact that so many debates and hypotheses are recorded amongst Chazal (and after) is indicative that modern searchers for answers are part of our long-standing mesorah.

  78. Avi, yes, I think it was Ohel Moed.

    Fred, of course R’ Chaim lived after Spinoza. I think he was speaking in a more general sense.

  79. S., Nachum.

    Alternatively, we can say that by “the first” RHS meant “the only”.

  80. R’ Spira I would suggest that if R’ Bleich, certainly a prolific writer, did not put that view into written form, he may have had a reason why.

    R’ Broyde, certainly in these days, deserves credit merely for potentially expending personal capital to defend a person whose views he did not always agree with, particularly on some notable issues. How many today undercut those they disagree with. How easy it would have been simply to write nothing. With R’ Rackman no longer able to defend himself, after a life (agree or disagree with him) dedicated to the Jewish people and the service of G-d, it is honorable and more that someone stands up for R’ Rackman’s place in the mesorah.

  81. Lawrence Kaplan

    HAGTBG: Indeed, despite his (in my view) unfortunate decision in the last decade of his very long life to establish the Rackman Beit Din, Rabbi Rackman’s life, as you correctly say, was dedicated to the Jewish peiople and the serivce of God, as so many people, including my brother and myself, can personally testify. I thank R. Broyde for his excellent article.

  82. FP: “Are you making some sort of subtle distinction between “took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah” and “copying”? If so, it eludes me.”

    Unless you’re thinking of the possibility of Noach’s himself having authored an account that Moshe eventually incorporated into the Torah (I suppose that’s a possibility) without any editing at all, then I’m pretty sure that’s not what Rabbi Rackman was talking about.

    Rabbi Rackman is concerned, as far as I can tell, with sources like Gilgamesh. And no one claims one account was copied straight from the other. Someone might claim that one was AWARE of the other – and that this influenced the presentation of one of the accounts – but that is a totally different matter.

  83. Joseph Kaplan

    Lawrence certainly speaks for me about R. Rackman’s life and R. Broyde’s article.

  84. Rabbi Rackman contemplates the possibility that the Torah has in it texts that were written by humans in a different form prior to God taking these text, incorporating them into Torah and then giving that Torah to Moshe in its fully revealed form, word by word to Moshe. This belief violates none of the Rambam’s ikarim.

    But Shabbos 88b says the Torah was written 976 generations before the creation of the world. (How there was time before Breishis I don’t know). This is an aggadata which probably should not even be taken literally. But it has some important meaning. How should we react to the ignoring of aggadic statements?

  85. You’re always going to have to ignore SOME aggadic statements since many of them either contradict, or otherwise don’t sit well together.

  86. Fotheringay-Phipps

    Jerry: “Rabbi Rackman is concerned, as far as I can tell, with sources like Gilgamesh. And no one claims one account was copied straight from the other. Someone might claim that one was AWARE of the other – and that this influenced the presentation of one of the accounts – but that is a totally different matter.”

    You’re not addressing the actual words that RMB wrote in describing RER’s position.

    Again, my comments are in reference to the statement, in this blog post, that “God, when He wrote the Torah to give to Moshe, examined the contemporary accounts of the flood and took that which was well written and incorporated it into Torah”. I’m not discussing any other formulation.

  87. Yes I am. You’re just not understanding it correctly.

  88. RER noted in a comment in the linked interview:

    ” I myself was a victim of the age of McCarthy in 1951.? I was regarded as a bad security risk by the United States government.? I was then a Major in the United States Air Force Reserve, and I did some things which the rightists in America disapproved of.? I tried to get the judge in the Rosenberg case not to impose the death sentence after their conviction on treason.?”

    Larry Kaplan or anyone else who might have some knowledge-did RER ever indicate that he had read the documents that have been released by the Kremlin that , in the opinion of many objective analysts, provided overwhelming proof of their roles as active Communists, spies and acts of treason?

    Joseph Kaplan-would you agree that the National Lawyers Guild has consistently had a far more leftist agenda than the ACLU?

  89. Steve,
    Unless you are leaving something out, R. Rackman didn’t say that he thought they were innocent, just that they shouldn’t be executed. So why do you ask if he read documents released decades later? Because you are convinced that if he did, he would turn around and say “Yes! Kill them! They deserved to die!”? What is your point?

  90. MDJ-My question was did RER ever reconsider his views on whether their sentence should be less than death, in light of the evidence made available by the FSU?

  91. MDJ-let’s be realistic-the Rosenberg case divided anti Communist liberals and the radical left-and still divides academic scholars of Communism in the US who debate the impact and influence of Communism in academia, labor unions , mainstream politics and the CPUSA’s undeniable allegiance to the USSR. RER’s comments on clemency IMO deserve to be seen in light of whether he ever reconsidered his advocacy of clemency in light of all of the evidence that we know about that era, and not just because of a generalized opposition to McCarthyism. IOW, just opposing the excessess of McCarthyism IMO is an insufficient basis for ignoring the abject oppressive nature and failure of Communism in practice, whether in the FSU, China, Cuba or Southeast Asia. One cannot deny the degree of evil perpretrated by Communism, as well as Nazism throughout the world on free minds.

  92. Joseph Kaplan

    I can’t imagine what the National Lawyers Guild has to do with this discussion, but what is interesting is what happened to RER in the early 50s in connection with his being a victim of the age of McCarthy. He was denied security clearance by the Air Force as a bad risk since he was an outspoken civil libertarian and was against the death penalty for the Rosenbergs and the American Legion’s opposition to Paul Robeson. He had the opportunity to resign from the Air Force with honor or face a court martial. He chose the latter and was acquitted which ended up resulting in a promotion from major to lieutenant colonel. He also once told me an interesting story about an incident when he was on duty in the reserves. When he serving as a chaplain of high rank, a Jewish officer (of a lower rank) was refusing to give his wife a get. Rabbi Rackman tried to use all his pastoral skills (which were immense) to convince the man otherwise, but was unsuccessful. Towards the end of the conversation, the man said “But Rabbi Rackman…” at which point RER cut him off and said “you mean Colonel Rackman.” He then told the man that while he couldn’t force him to give the get, he could put in charges against him for conduct unbecoming an officer. As a result, an agunah was freed.

  93. It’s déjà vu all over again. So, here is the final comment from the thread in which Steve last brought it his hobbyhorse:

    Charlie Hall on August 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    ‘he (and the bigger “villian,” HUAC) was right about most everything’

    He never did come up with the names for any of his infamous lists of communists.

    He claimed that the fall of China to the Communists had been the work of Soviet spies in the State Department. Sen. Millard Tydings, a right wing Senator who had opposed FDRs New Deal (and who had been the very first Senator to speak about against the Nazis, way back in 1934), launched an investigation. When Sen. Tydings’ committee determined (correctly) that the charge was a hoax, McCarthy’s staff doctored a photograph to show Tydings meeting with notorious Communist leader Earl Browder. The fake photograph cost Tydings his re-election.

    McCarthy did not distinguish between real communists and people who just happened to be working for an agency he wished to target. Motzi shem ra was McCarthy’s game; there was never any regard for the factual accuracy of the allegations. McCarthy helped make anticommunist a laughingstock among sensible people who had no interest in supporting totalitarianism. He deserved the disgrace to which he fell.

  94. “But Shabbos 88b says the Torah was written 976 generations before the creation of the world. (How there was time before Breishis I don’t know). This is an aggadata which probably should not even be taken literally. But it has some important meaning. How should we react to the ignoring of aggadic statements?”

    The great thing, is you don’t have to ignore such agaddatahs. Was there Time before Bereshit? No. So what does the aggadatah mean? It means that the dating of the Chumash is not exact, and that the Torah was written 979 generations before we thought it was. Or perhaps, society is 979 generations older than we think it is? Or, we can just take it to mean, that the precepts of the Torah existed long before the world was created even though the text as we have it today was not.

  95. Lawrence Kaplan

    Steve: I am not an expert (and I doubt you are either), but from what I have read my impression is that the vast majority of scholars nowadays bleive that Julius Rosenberg was guilty as charged, and also that he did not deserve the death penalty. Certainly Ethel did not. I do not understand why you find it so hard to allow anything good to be said about Rabbi Rackman without challenging it. You really do not come out looking good.

  96. Larry Kaplan-RER maintained that he was proud of seking clemency for the Rosenbergs, both of whom were unrepetent Communists until their deaths, even though the evidence obtained from the FSU corroborated their active roles as spies for the FSU. I wonder how Natan Sharansky or anyone else who was a prisoner in Siberia would have regarded RER’s activism for the Rosenbergs.

    Charlei Hall-Ask yourself which prominent liberal Democrat Mayor,crusader for civil rights, Senator and future VP led the fight against Communist sympathizers in the Democratic Party during the late 1940s.

  97. Lawrence Kaplan

    Steve: Being an unrepentant communist is not, the last I heard, a capital crime. Julius was an active spy, although, according to all the evidence of which I am aware of, Ethel was not.

    Bottom line: Is it not the case that most schlars feel that neither of the Rosenbergs, most certainly not Ethel, deserved the death penalty. What is your view? Do you really believe they both should have been put to death? And does one have to apologize for seking clemency for them? Again, we are not speaking about a claim of innocence. I fail to understand your stubbornness and your mean-spirited criticism of R. Rackman on this matter, but both appear, alas, to be in character.

  98. Lawrence Kaplan

    To be more precise: Ron Radosh, the leading scholar who has consistently argued in favor of the Rosenbergs’ guilt, has stated that most Americans should have no problem admitting that putting Ethel to death was a miscarriage of justice. He takes no position regarding Julius’ beng put to death. Certainly no one has to apologize for seeking clemancy for them, as long as that person did not deny the Rosenbergs’ guilt. I don’t think Sharansky would disagree. He is a bigger man than you can imagine, Steve.

  99. “Certainly no one has to apologize for seeking clemancy for them, as long as that person did not deny the Rosenbergs’ guilt.”

    While that may be true, Lawrence, for someone opining at the present time, it was certainly not true in the early 50s or 60s or 70s before the information from the FSU came out. I remember reading a book by Louis Nizer in the early 70s, I think, where he gave a disinterested trial lawyers’ analysis of the case, coming to the conclusion that they were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I found it extremely unconvincing then, even if his guilt is now not in dispute.

  100. “putting Ethel to death was a miscarriage of justice”

    Then it was all Jules’ fault, no? It seems that his Communism was more important to him than his wife’s life (and his sons’ loss of both parents).

  101. Lawrence Kaplan

    Joseph: I agree that “apologize” is too strong a word. Say, admit one was wrong.

    Nachum: “All” his fault??? Did he pull the plug–twice? It is clear now–I am citing Radosh, whose anti-communist credentials, I dare say, are as good as yours– that 1) some of the evidence against Ethel was concocted by the prosecutor; that 2) while she was aware of Julius’ activities, she did NOT play an active role in the spying; and 3) that at least part of the reason for sentencing her to death or at least not grant her clemency was to pressure Julius, etc. So those who concocted the evidence, those who sentenced her for political reasons, and those who actually put her to death do not bear part of the blame?? Really Nahum. Have you forgotten that it’s only the “lefties” who deny personal blame?

    As for Julius, he was a nasty piece of work, and I have no great sympathy for him. But I do not believe he deserved to be put to death. Certainly, his responsibility for his wife’s death was only partial and indirect. Heaven knowns that is guilt enough.

  102. R’ Shasdaf,

    I believe your approach, viz. that the Torah preceded Creation, is cogent. Rashi to Pesachim 54a, s.v. resheet darko, writes that the Torah was originally written before Creation “like black fire on white fire”. And so writes Ramban in his introduction to his commentary to Pentateuch. R. Yehudah Nachshoni, in his Hagut be-Parshiyot ha-Torah, on Ve-Zot ha-Berakhah, cites the Vilna Ga’on as employing this idea to elucidate how the final eight verses were written “be-dema” (as per the gemara in Bava Batra 15a), i.e. jumbled. Namely, opines Vilna Ga’on, the entire Written Torah preceded Creation, but no human observer (from Creation onward) could fathom the meaning of any verse in the Sefer Torah until those events actually transpired in the space-time continuum of our universe.

    Somewhat similarly, in Rambam’s eighth principle of faith (in his introduction to Perek Chelek in the Peirush ha-Mishnayot), he refers to all the verses of the Torah, even the seemingly (ke-ve-yakhol) “superfluous” ones throughout Genesis, as containing lofty meanings beyond human comprehension. Although Rambam does not say so explicitly, it sounds as though he is implying that HKB”H originally authored those verses, and not that the verses were copied from other sources. [This is analogous to the point R’ Pesach Sommer raised.]

    It is true, as R. Broyde, shlit”a, correctly catalogues, that there is overwhelming evidence marshalled by the Torah Shelemah for books describing the events of Genesis that preceded the birth of Mosheh Rabbeinu.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=51488&st=&pgnum=186
    Still, it seems to me that Torah Shelemah indicates that those books were themselves the product of prophecy to Avraham and the like. HKB”H then adapted from the contents of those prophetic books (plus the new material of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and formally dictated them to Mosheh Rabbeinu as the Sefer Torah we have today.

    I think that R. Broyde’s thesis is to be melamed zekhut on R. Rackman, and show (correctly and praiseworthily so) that R. Rackman has a share in Olam Ha-ba, because R. Rackman simply professed the thesis of the Torah Shelemah.

    Parenthetically, I was privileged to hear the following story from R. Moshe Ashen, shlit”a, the mashgi’ach of the kitchen at RIETS. R. Rackman sent a team of scholars to represent him before RMF, asking RMF to pasken that R. Rackman should be appointed successor to R. Shmuel Belkin. RMF – after hearing all the evidence – verbally acknowledged R. Rackman’s greatness and the many contributions he has rendered toward Orthodox Jewish life, including much gemilut chassadim. At the same time, RMF pursued the nuanced approach that R. Rackman could lead Klal Yisrael in a more appropriate capacity elsewhere (as he ultimately would at Bar Ilan), since R. Lamm, shlit”a, professes the traditional (and hence correct) view toward the authorship of Scripture. Perhaps one might speculate that if R. Broyde had been on hand at the Din Torah, R. Rackman might have been vindicated, because R. Broyde would have explained that all R. Rackman meant to say was to affirm the Torah Shelemah. [Tzarikh iyun…] But, in any event, I think we all agree that the right choices were made: Klal Yisrael has been (and continues to be) immeasurably enriched by R. Lamm’s leadership at RIETS, and also (le-havdil bein chaim le-chaim) by R. Rackman’s leadership at Bar Ilan.

  103. That said, I must disagree with invocation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an idolatrous text which is certainly not one of the books to which Torah Shelemah refers. My understanding is that R. Broyde, shlit”a, refers to the Epic of Gilgamesh simply “al derekh mashal”. I found the same phenomenon in the writings of R. Broyde’s teacher R. Bleich, shlit”a. On p. 119 of Bioethical Dilemmas, Vol. 1, R. Bleich quotes an idolatrous passage from Plato. Obviously, R. Bleich did not mean to grant it any credence. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true with R. Broyde.

  104. R’ Joseph Kaplan,
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha for the fascinating story about R. Rackman’s efforts to free an agunah. To clarify the halakhic background of this episode, may I ask, with your kind permission: what would have been the consequences imposed upon the recalcitrant husband had he refused R. Rackman’s (or Colonel Rackman’s) directive to divorce his wife? It is the nature of those consequences that determines whether the resulting bill of divorce was kosher. If, for instance, the husband would have been denied promotion in the army, then that is simply withdrawal of additional privileges, and the bill of divorce would be kosher. If, on the other hand, the husband would be incarcerated, the bill of divorce would be disqualified. Thank you for your help on this question.

  105. [Postcript to my question: even if the sole consequence would have been withdrawal of the privilege of promotion, and so the bill of divorce would have been kosher, this does not mean that R. Rackman would have been permitted le-katchilah to charge the Jewish soldier in military court. After all, a Jew can only file adversarial claims against a fellow Jew before a Beth Din (not before a Noahide court, including a Noahide military court), as per Shulchan Arukh CM 26. Here, I am only inquiring be-di’avad, whether the sefer keritut is kosher. Thank you.]

  106. FOR THE RECORD: An intrepid reader forwarded R. Shalom Spira’s original comment to R. J. Daavid Bleich who replied that the report is highly faulty and does not represent his views. Please keep in mind that second hand statements sometimes suffer in transmission due to no one’s fault.

  107. Prof. Kaplan, I claim to be no expert. (I just happen to loathe Communism and Communists. Family history; it’s how I raised, and thank God for that.) But the defenses of Ethel simply seem to point in the direction that had Jules confessed, he could have saved her (and who knows, maybe his own life), but his (and maybe her) ideology was too strong for theat.

  108. Also, I think it’s fair to assume that R. Menashe Klein was joking when he suggested R. Moshe Feinstein’s responsum was forged.

  109. The question-what did RER think of the Rosenbergs’ guilt, as opposed to their punishment, and did his view ever change in light of the documents released and obtained from the FSU?

    Larry Kaplan-WADR, I tend to doubt that Natan Sharansky , any other refusenik or activist for Soviet Jewry who spent any time either in a KGB prison or the Gulag for any stretch of time would be impressed by anyone wno supported the Rosenbergs or anyone else convicted of supplying state secrets to the FSU during the height of the Cold War.

  110. For crying out loud, Steve, there is no indication that RER “supported the Rosenbergs”.

  111. “To clarify the halakhic background of this episode, may I ask, with your kind permission: what would have been the consequences imposed upon the recalcitrant husband had he refused R. Rackman’s (or Colonel Rackman’s) directive to divorce his wife?”

    I don’t know; I didn’t ask him. My guess is neither; it was simply to make the point more clearly and put the fear of God into him. Had he still refused to give the get, my guess is that RER would not have actually pressed charges. But that’s only a guess. And unfortunately we can’t ask him any longer.

    “The question-what did RER think of the Rosenbergs’ guilt, as opposed to their punishment, and did his view ever change in light of the documents released and obtained from the FSU?”

    That’s a fair question but unfortunately here too we don’t have the answer. RER, in an interview, said he opposed the Rosenberg’s execution. He did not say in that interview, or if he did it was not reported, what he thought of their guilt or innocence. You seem to infer that he thought them guilty. I have no reason to have an opinion on that issue one way or the other. The point of the story was that RER was a man of great courage, who refused to cower in the face of McCarthyism and put his career on the line to defend his convictions. How many others would have simply taken the honorable discharge and move on to a rabbinical career.

    And what also shows his greatness to me is that although I attended probably more than a hundred youth meetings with RER where issues of the day were discussed and where in some of those discussions it would have been perfectly appropriate for him to tell us this story, he never did, because, unlike so many other rabbis leading such groups, his goal was to teach us to think for ourselves and express those thoughts in a fair, civil, respectful and reasonable manner, and not to tell us what to think or speak about himself.

  112. Lawrence Kaplan

    Nachum: I did not say that Julius did not share part of the guilt for his wife’s death. I took exception to your comment that it was “ALL Julius’ fault,” and your seeming exoneration of the prosecutor who concocted evidence agaist Ethel, the judge who sentenced her to death, those who used the sentence as a pressure tactic to get Julius to confess, etc. I think my point was clear and your answer non-responsive.

    Steve: First, you have no basis at all to claim that RER “supported” the Rosenbergs. Second, Sharansky was and remains opposed to the politicization of justice. I think that the Rosenberg trial was an example of that, obviously not nearly to the same extent of what went on (and still goe on) in Russia.

    R. Student: Did R. Bleich inform the intrepid reader what he did tell R. Spira?

  113. Prof. Kaplan,

    Ah, I see what you mean. OK, I’m willing to accept that. I’m still not too sympathetic to either of them, but I see your point. (I mean, should I be sympathetic to, say, Alfred Jodl or Hermann Goerring or Mussolini or some teenage Wehrmacht footsoldier or Dresden civilians? Yeah, I know, during World War II the Soviets were our allies blah blah. I’ve heard it all. 100 million dead people and seventy years of persecuting Jews makes it very hard for me to at all sympathetic to any Communists or radical leftists [which, come to think, would include the National Socialists above as well], including certain causes celebre in Latin America. I can feel sympathy because they were stupid, but not much more.)

    And now to Joseph:

    “How many others would have simply taken the honorable discharge and move on to a rabbinical career.”

    And perhaps he really wanted to serve his country and not have his name tarnished in its service. Which, of course, would have been a very honorable thing to do as well. Or perhaps it was a combination of all these.

    Prof. Gurock has remarked on the interesting fact that three students of Joseph Lookstein- Herschel Schacter, Israel Miller, and Rackman- who all were chaplains in World War II, went on to leadership roles in the greater American Jewish community. He suggests that this was a result both of the influence of the elder Lookstein as well as the experience of being a chaplain- you are, perforce, required to work with clergy both from other streams of Judaism and other religions, and so it comes more naturally to do so once the war is over. (And liberating concentration camps has a way of focusing the mind away from divisions.) It’s an interesting thought.

  114. R’ Joseph Kaplan,
    Thank you very much and ye’yasher kochakha for the elucidation. It sounds eminently reasonable.

    To our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student,
    Thank you for the valuable information. I am prepare to publicly say “tzadkah mimeni” and to acknowledge my error, as soon as we hear what precisely R. Bleich told the anonymous reader. I believe this is the epistemological point Mori ve-Rebbi R. Kaplan raises, and I thank him for that. In any event, thank you for being melamed zekhut on me that I was not engaged in willful perjury. Certainly, I will have to offer a reckoning before HKB”H for everything I say or write, so I hope I do not engage in willful perjury.

  115. “Nachum on December 18, 2011 at 2:58 am
    “putting Ethel to death was a miscarriage of justice”

    Then it was all Jules’ fault, no? It seems that his Communism was more important to him than his wife’s life (and his sons’ loss of both parents).”

    The issue is the death penalty if I recall correctly at the time of the Rosenbergs crime-there was not a death penalty for espionage to a non enenmy-the Soviet Union was still an “ally” I am not an expert but I do recall something technical unseemly aboutthe governments punishment and the charge re Rosenbergs.

    “Prof. Gurock has remarked on the interesting fact that three students of Joseph Lookstein- Herschel Schacter, Israel Miller, and Rackman- who all were chaplains in World War II, went on to leadership roles in the greater American Jewish community. He suggests that this was a result both of the influence of the elder Lookstein as well as the experience of being a chaplain-”

    I don’t know the answer but one would have to compare the porportion of Rabbis of relevant age who became Chaplains to the porportion who became leaders later. Of course, if I recall correctly some of the leadership was JWB/ Chaplaincy which would only have gone to former chaplains-including much later those who never became leaders in anything else. It is an interestingthought by Prof Gurock which on first impression makes sense-but really should test it.

  116. For Rabbi Bleich’s views, why not contact him directly?
    His number is in the phonebook and he answers shailos. Don’t rely on what someone says he heard him say and on simplistic paraphrases.

  117. Thank you, R’ reader, for your illuminating response, which is much appreciated.

    Also, I do want to emphasize my hakarat ha-tov to the “intrepid reader” (which is intended in a purely complimentary manner) who took the effort to verify the accuracy of my report.

  118. “Nachum on December 18, 2011 at 2:58 am
    “putting Ethel to death was a miscarriage of justice”

    Then it was all Jules’ fault, no? It seems that his Communism was more important to him than his wife’s life (and his sons’ loss of both parents).”

    certainly people treat it as praiseworthy if someone gives their life for their ideology-its Channukah and many such stories exist.

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