Moshe Is True And His Torah Is True

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RCA Statement on Torah Min HaShamayim

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Jul 31, 2013 — In recent days there has been much discussion regarding the belief in Torah Min HaShamayim. We maintain that it is necessary not only to assert the centrality of this bedrock principle in broad terms, but also to affirm the specific belief that Moshe received the Torah from God during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai. The Rambam and others have included this in in their various Principles of Faith but its centrality is so evident that an appeal to these Principles of Faith is almost superfluous. The very coherence of traditional Jewish discourse concerning the authority of the Torah she-bikhtav and the Torah she-be`al peh rests upon this conviction.

Moshe received the Torah from God during the sojourn in the wilderness

When critical approaches to the Torah’s authorship first arose, every Orthodox rabbinic figure recognized that they strike at the heart of the classical Jewish faith. Whatever weight one assigns to a small number of remarks by medieval figures regarding the later addition of a few scattered phrases, there is a chasm between them and the position that large swaths of the Torah were written later– all the more so when that position asserts that virtually the entire Torah was written by several authors who, in their ignorance, regularly provided erroneous information and generated genuine, irreconcilable contradictions. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, none of the abovementioned figures would have regarded such a position as falling within the framework of authentic Judaism.

While we recognize and respect the theological struggles that are a feature of many a modern person’s inner religious life, the position in question is unequivocally contrary to the faith requirements of historic Judaism.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

24 comments

  1. I have always thought that bringing up Bava Basra is absurd. Claiming the last 8 pesukim (or even the last 12) were written by Yehoshua is worlds away from saying that all sorts of pesukim and perakim throughout the Torah are (much) later additions (as in, hundreds of years later).

    I agree with you, R. Gil , that the statement is well-worded in that it does leave room open for accepting at least some later interpolations.

  2. Hoffa Fingerbergstein

    I like it, especially the clear distinction made between some statements of a few Rishonim about a handful of pasukim, and what has just opined by R’ Farber.

  3. Who authored this statement (i.e. which members of the RCA)?

  4. Ye’yasher kochakha, R’ Hoffe Fingerbergstein. However, the RCA statement could be misinterpreted to legitimize rejection of any verse that suits me. Hmmmmm… I see a nice woolsey-linsey suit in the boutique down the street that I would really like to wear. No problem! The RCA implies that it is (Heaven forbid) acceptable to negate the authenticity of “a few scattered phrases” in the Sefer Torah. So all I need to do is negate the verses regarding sha’atnez in Kedoshim and Ki Teitzei, and I can wear the suit in good conscience. For this reason, I think it is essential that the RCA issue a follow-up statement for clarification, as emerges from the conversation between Rabbeinu Nachum and myself in the other forum.

  5. In case any RCA leaders are reading, please accept my congratulations on a well-worded statement. There is no current need for any follow-up.

  6. I don’t think the Ibn Ezra deserves being dismissed as a “medieval figure”. The one lack of kavod aside, it works. Perhaps they should instead have played down the “Whatever weight one assigns to a small number of remarks” and instead say “meaning one assigns”, since it’s impossible to say the IE would agree with any of this — he disparages someone who does take the idea of late authorship of significant portions.

    Anyway… Someone raised a question that still bothers me… Why does this require an RCA response? There are other Orthodox rabbis who teach things the RCA considers heretical. Like the noted Chabad shaliach who expected the Hochsteins Hy”d to survive the attack in Mumbai and “They will understand and see that the Rebbe runs the world and will take us out of golus”. I thought the saying was, “Der Eibishter firt di velt!” (Never mind harder people to take on, like when the LR said that a rebbe is “the Essence and Substance of G-d clothed in a body”, or their refusal to follow up on R/Dr David Berger’s proposal in response to messianism.) People can beat up others in the name of Torah and the RCA feels no need to say “that’s not Yahadus!” So why now do they feel a need to speak out about some heresy proposed by a member of some other group?

  7. I reject the assumption that you must either address everything or nothing.

    Beyond that, I believe the first sentence answers the question: “In recent days there has been much discussion regarding the belief in Torah Min HaShamayim”.

    As to Chabad Messianism, the RCA’s poskim disagree with Dr. Berger that it is heresy.

    • This is not the place to re-open the discussion of Chabad messianism. I must stress, however, that one will search in vain through everything I have written about the subject to locate a single assertion that the messianist belief is heresy. I have explicitly said that I can see plausible arguments on both sides of this question and that my position that messianists should not be recognized as Orthodox rabbis retains its full force even if the belief falls short of heresy. My most elaborate discussion of this point is in the introduction to the paperback edition of the book. The assertion that the Rebbe is the essence of God placed in a body understood literally, an understanding that is more widespread that popular opinion recognizes, is another matter.

  8. Gil: Do you think the average Modern Orthodox Jew on the street has heard anything about this?

    They’ve certainly heard of the Rebbe being claimed as Messiah. I agree with Micha.

    Just for the record, I completely disagree with R’ Spira’s “proposal.” His mention of my name should not imply that I have anything to do with it.

  9. The RCA issued a statement about Chabad Messianism years ago. It is no longer a hot topic.

    The latest issue is important on an institutional level. I don’t think it has reached the amcha.

  10. http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=101128

    Jun 1, 1996 — In light of disturbing developments which have recently arisen in the Jewish community, the Rabbinical Council of America in convention assembled declares that there is not and has never been a place in Judaism for the belief that Mashiach Ben David will begin his Messianic Mission only to experience death, burial, and resurrection before completing it.

  11. who is the intended audience?

    also, seems like the RCA, based on their recent statements, is better at reacting than at proactively shaping a conversation. Perhaps this is the nature of a large and diverse professional association.

  12. “I don’t think the Ibn Ezra deserves being dismissed as a “medieval figure”. ”

    And is Bava Batra 15a medieval?

  13. “As to Chabad Messianism, the RCA’s poskim disagree with Dr. Berger that it is heresy.”

    How is it different from Unitarian Christianity?

  14. Charlie: And is Bava Batra 15a medieval?

    Don’t be ridiculous. You can assume that rabbis know not only the Gemara but also the commentaries.

    How is it different from Unitarian Christianity?

    Because the Chabad Messianist concept of God is no different than that of other traditional Jews.

  15. FWIW – in answer to Micha et al, to this day the RCA membership application requires the applicant to affirm the following statement –

    By checking this box and with my signature below, I affirm that the following resolution, adopted at the RCA’s 1996 Annual Convention, reflects my beliefs: “In light of disturbing developments which have recently arisen in the Jewish community, the Rabbinical Council of America in convention assembled declares that there is not and never has been a place in Judaism for the belief that Mashiach ben David will begin his Messianic mission only to experience death, burial and resurrection before completing it.”

    Perhaps in light of recent developments, they should consider adding a statement of affirmation of Torat Moshe miSinai as well

  16. Yasher Koach to the RCA.

  17. Isn’t this pointless? Farber (and many others) came to this theology not by choice but because they are convinced that the evidence shows late, multiple authors. Declaring it heresy is irrelevant if its the truth. Also, Farber is a very passionate Orthodox Jew. MeirB, you should get out more.

  18. “Because the Chabad Messianist concept of God is no different than that of other traditional Jews.”

    Nor is that of Unitarian Christianity, or, for that matter, Sunni Islam.

  19. ” You can assume that rabbis know not only the Gemara but also the commentaries.”

    They should have made that clear. Instead, the statement resembles the false claim in the intro to the Artscroll Chumash.

  20. “Declaring it heresy is irrelevant if its the truth. ”

    While the above is indeed a true statement, I fail to see how either early or late authorship of a text in a language for which there is little if any contemporary literature in that language can be proven (or disproven) using empirical methods.

    Compare that to the question of the authorship of the disputed Federalist Papers. Multiple statistical analyses using different methods concluded that all the disputed papers were almost certainly written by Madison, based on the similarity with works known for sure to have been written by Madison and Hamilton. No such approach is possible for our Biblical texts.

    Am I missing something?

  21. Charlie, I don’t see the issue. The documentary hypothesis rests on a whole separate set of assumptions from linguistic ones. There are other ways of making such a theory. Granted, that makes the theory much weaker and ultimately unprovable, but it doesn’t mean they can’t make it.

    “Because the Chabad Messianist concept of God is no different than that of other traditional Jews.”

    Really? Well, maybe, if you narrowly define “Chabad Messianist.” But there’s definitely a strong Chabad stream, closely tied to Messianism, which has some wacky ideas about God.

    I like User Name’s comment, by the way.

  22. “that makes the theory much weaker and ultimately unprovable”

    Pretty much my point.

  23. You’re being too much of a scientist. 🙂

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