Prophets and Writings: Divinely Inspired?

Moshe Ben-Chaim

With His verse in Deuteronomy 18:19, God obligates us to follow the Prophet. God also threatens our rebelliousness towards the Prophets' commands with punishment by His hand.  Maimonides states (Yesodei Hatorah 10:1,2) that we affirm a Prophet as true, only once he repeatedly predicts the future and all details materialize. We need not ask him to perform miracles. His commands that we adhere to the Torah and his true predictions, God tells us, are only possible if he is in fact a Prophet. If he were a charlatan, he would not have Divine access to future events and all of their details. This knowledge emanates from God alone.  

If the Prophet then tells us certain writings are to become part of Prophets or Writings, then they shall become a part. His commands are of equal weight to Moses' words. This validation of these new writings is no less Divine than Revelation at Sinai and its validation of the Five Books. My friend Josh said similarly, "The proof of the Prophets and Writings may also be connected to the proof of Sinai, "According to the Torah which they teach you (Deut. 17:11)"  applies to the question of "What is Tanach?" "

The Rabbis also possess the authority to determine whether certain books will be hidden away or sustained in accessible status. It appears this is what Rabbi Chait referred to regarding the Rabbis' debate whether to hide away Koheles and Proverbs due to their "contradictory" content. Ultimately neither was hidden away: Koheles was not hidden since it commenced and concluded with "words of Torah." Apparently this means that King Solomon's message was consistent (beginning to end) that Torah must be followed. And as the King would not contradict himself, thus, all intermediary words too within this book must be consistent with Torah. This mitigated the concern for certain "conflicting" statements found within the book. Proverbs too was not hidden, since after due study, its "apparent" contradictions were also revealed as harmonious. (Tal. Sabbath 30b)

My friend asked, "If the Rabbis had to debate it, then it wasn't clearly validated by a prophet.  Thus, it can only be held as a work written by someone of potentially high scholarship.  The sheer presence of a debate seems to be prima facie evidence of a lack of prophecy and, thus, Divine inspiration.  I'm not aware that any Rabbis got together and debated whether, say, Numbers should be included in the Torah."

It is important to note that the Rabbis sought to "store away" these books, not abolish them. Storing away indicates a desire to preserve these works. Thus, the Rabbis must have seen the truth of these books, but their concern was not to confuse the masses lacking the skills to unravel the riddles and metaphors of one of the wisest men to have ever lived. There was no question whether either book was "Divine." The Rabbis understood that once a Prophet is deemed a prophet by God' standards, then we must follow his word. His words are then Prophetic. The Rabbis debate centered only on whether the works in question would be received properly by the masses. Talmud Baba Basra 14b-15a teaches who were the authors of Torah, Prophets and Writings. While there is debate concerning who wrote certain verses (how could Moses write, "and Moses died there") and the time frame of Job, the Talmud does not reject any work as not Divinely inspired. Parenthetically, the debate whether Moses wrote the final eight Torah verses (matters subsequent to Moses' death) intends to enlighten us about "ideas." This is not a simple debate over historic fact.  Rabbi Yehuda says Moses did not write the last eight verses; he is not concerned that some of the Torah's verses are of different status. Rabbi Shimone contends that Moses wrote those last eight verses, but with tears. Rabbi Shimone's position is that the Torah must all be written by Moses, as his level of prophecy and writing by God's dictation bestows halachik significance to the Torah over all other works. But in order not to be accused of writing fallacy, as Moses was not yet dead when he wrote of his death, Moses wrote these verses with tears as an admission that he desired not to write a falsehood. Therefore, he differentiated these verse from all previous verses by not using ink. 

Discussing these remarks above with a friend, he asked the following important questions. I respond after each one. But please note that his questions below were actually made "during" our discussion noted above. So some questions are already answered. I am merely repeating them as received, in a cohesive list:

Question:  To the best of my knowledge, nowhere does King Solomon claim within the writings that his words are prophetic or that they should be included in any canon.  

Response: Talmud Baba Basra discusses which prophet wrote which of our Prophets and Writings. Rashi comments, "Ezekiel did not write his own book, possibly due to his living outside of Israel where prophecy was not granted. In that case, Ezekiel was not given prophetic direction to write his own book." What Rashi teaches thereby, is that these works were written by God's directive. Although King Solomon does not say so "within" his work, as he was already proven to be a Prophet, nothing more was required. If he tells us his work is prophetic, the Rabbis deem it part of the Torah. Jeremiah 36 commences with an example of God directing him to write his prophecies. The Talmud teaches us that the Prophets — men who received God's communications — would not have written books as God's word, unless it was so. We trust men inspired by God to be ruthful, that their words demand to be studied as divinely inspired texts. 

A fellow Rabbi added that the Talmud seems to indicate the Prophets wrote "their books" by Divine directives. This explain why its says "Moses wrote "his book", Joshua wrote "his book," etc.  "His book" means the Prophet was guided (Divinely) to write discrete sections and form a book.

Question: When you say that the writings of a prophet are "Divine", I don't know what that means.  Does that mean that every word is specifically selected by God?  Does that mean that every word has the same importance and depth as the written Torah?  If not, how is its "lesser" status defined?

Response: Yes, the words of every Prophet – from Moses to Malachi – are equally God's messages. Every word has the same importance and depth as the written Torah. They both have the same Author. The only difference, as Rabbi Chait taught, is that Prophets and Writings do not add any new idea that is not already part of the Five Books. They come to elaborate the Five Books. 

Question: I'm not clear what the "proof of Divine origin" is that you refer to.  If it's the proof of 2M people hearing God's voice at Sinai, that isn't a proof of the Divine origin of the Torah, my argument being that 2M people didn't see the written Torah; they just heard God's voice.  In fact, we don't seem to know exactly when the written Torah was actually written, as you indicated.  

Response: Our confirmation that all of Torah was Divinely given, is derived from Moses' continual miracle of his face shining light. God would not endorse Moses, had he fabricated the entire Torah, or parts of it. But as God produced this miracle as Moses wrote the entire Five Books, we know that all Moses' transmission are of Divine origin. 

Question: The only indication that I've seen regarding the Rabbis' judgments in a matter seems to be in Deuteronomy 17:8, when it says that if you have a "matter of judgment", then you are supposed to "do according to the word that they tell you, from that place that Hashem will choose."  My reading is that this is referring to matters of law judgment, and I can't see a justification for expanding this to include other matters.

Response: This applies to all areas of Torah. It is our Mesora, our transmission, that this is its accurate application.

Question: How does accepting Koheles as Divine help us?  The commentators appear to be all over the map with regard to their interpretations.  As we discovered if I recall correctly, Ibn Ezra had a particular interpretation on one verse, while Rashi said the verse refers to human organs.  So how would anyone know what the Divine intent is?  At that point, I'm quite tempted to throw up my hands and say to the commentators, "Who says YOU guys know what you're talking about, if your views differ so widely?"

Response: You are correct. None of the commentators can say, "I know God's intent of this verse." Prophecy has ceased, so such statements cannot be made by honest people. But we must say this is precisely God's plan!  Man can only use his intellect to derive what he can. If his idea is reasonable, then he has learned a truth, regardless of whether God intended "that" specific meaning, or another. In act, God could have intended "all" of the meanings the various Rabbis suggest.

Question: I don't mean disrespect to the scholars here, but I am concerned that there is such a lack of cohesiveness amongst scholars - and apparently of almost any generation - that one starts to wonder if anyone really has the correct ideas.  Judaism is a small group.  Orthodox Judaism is even smaller.  Microscopically smaller within that are those of your thinking.  I've listened to orthodox Jewish rabbis who seem to be all over the map, which makes me wonder what to think, other than to trust my own reasoning.  Rabbi Soloveitchik had a point of view.  So did Rabbi Kotler.  So did Rabbi Feinstein.  So did Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Schneerson, and on and on.  And those views are not consistent.  Is only one accurate, but the rest are heretics?  If so, who gets to name the heretic?  If not, what is anyone to do but trust in what is clear to their own mind?

Response: If Rabbis suggest contradictory ideas in the sphere of halacha – Jewish Law – then their rulings must be followed by those seeking their leadership, despite their debate. You referred to this above citing Deuteronomy 17:8-11, this refers to matters of "law." Of course, two Rabbis with opposing views cannot both be correct; either one, or both are incorrect, in the "absolute" sense of God's knowledge. But you must understand that in the area of law – halacha – the very "law" is to be created by human intelligence. That is God's will. Both Rabbis must be followed, as they are adhering to the system of discerning the Law. We are not trying to arrive at Moses' or God's absolute knowledge. That is impossible. What we are bound to do is arrive at our best understanding of interpreting the Law.  

But in matters of philosophy, opposing views are not both correct. If Rabbis argue here, someone is wrong. His views are not endorsed by Deut. 17:11. We are fortunate that most Rabbis do not debate matters that border on heresy. Those matters are quite clear to intelligent people learned in Torah and natural sciences. The Torah is clear on fundamentals, so Torah "names the heretic." The ultimate arbiter is God's words. We don't find intelligent Rabbis debating whether God is physical, has emotions, had assistance in Creation, if He knows all, whether Moses was a true Prophet, and other clear matters. We do find debates concerning the Afterlife, for example: is it here on Earth, or is it a metaphysical existence? But no one debates the existence of the soul after life. 

In philosophical debates, one of the Rabbis must be incorrect. But again, we must tread lightly, as their debates are not like ours. They are debating over deep ideas, and despite their conclusions, there is great insight to be derived by patiently studying their words. (And I refer to the great Rabbis, Maimonides, Ramban, Rashi, Saadia Gaon, not today's Rabbis.) If we don't agree with either Rabbi, we are honest and accept that we don't have a decision for ourselves. Rabbi Chait explained that in matters of philosophy, "You cannot be told what to think. No one can tell you that you believe some notion, when you do not." So until we see a side that makes sense, we cannot say "I agree with so and so." That would be a lie. But if we do see one Rabbi as making sense to us, then we say "I don't agree with the other Rabbi", regardless of how great he is. 

We see a great cohesiveness among the Rabbis. I do not see any of them with doubts concerning major Torah themes. The great Rabbis spoke words of wisdom that ring true. It is today's teachers who have done a grave injustice to Torah; spreading false and even superstitious notions. When truth is clearly seen, we pay no attention to numbers. There are even greater numbers of Christians and Muslims. Yet, we know they follow belief, and not proof. Numbers are meaningless, when truth is what we seek. Additionally, other religions differ greatly as having no original proof, upon which to lay claim to Divine origin. Judaism has proof of Divine origin; others do not. So although it appears both groups follow a system of relying on the leaders' decisions, Judaism alone possesses an original event of proof, while all others do not. And Judaism's act of relying on the Rabbis is actually a Divine mandate. The mandate to follow the Prophets and Rabbis is equal to every other command God gave us at Sinai. There is no reason to differentiate.