The following is one of our reader's responding to another person's philosophy. We thought you would appreciate seeing his arguments. Our reader's words are in italics:
I would like to respond to your comments to my e-mail regarding the new Conservative commentary on the Torah, Etz Hayim, which espouses the view that the Torah only contains a “kernel” of historical truth, and that it was not written by G-d or by Moses. My responses will be in the following form - your comments are in regular type and my responses are in italics and indented.
Thank you for forwarding that article. Your comments saddened me. The tone was much worse than the words themselves.
The tone is set by the words used. Any additional “tone” is a product of the reader’s mind. See my comments to the final paragraph on the issue of hatred. I merely pointed out the inconsistencies and contradictions in a belief system that posits that the Torah was created by man and is not factually true yet requires its followers to obey, in part, the Torah. If the Torah is not divine, then why should a person seeking “spirituality” look to the Torah, rather than Buddhist or Hindu or other “spiritual” texts.
I am the first to acknowledge that bifurcating Torah into religious/spiritual truth and factual/scientific truth is difficult for many people. That the contents of the Torah tell tales that are not factually or historically accurate, but yet contain extraordinary and profound spiritual truths that are indeed evidence of the metaphoric presence of G-d in humanity’s existence is not an easy concept.
Something is true or it is not true. Something is divine, or it is not. There are certain areas where even today’s politically correct society cannot compromise. There is only one truth; scientific, religious or spiritual. The reason that the “bifurcation” is difficult and not easy to understand is that it flies in the face of rationality. However, the idea can gain acceptance by people because it caters to both their desire for security by providing a higher being yet caters to the instinctual drives that rebel against the restrictions of religious observance. People want to be free to choose what they can do and what they are not required to do. I take it from your use of the phrase “the metaphoric presence of G-d” that you do not believe in the existence of an actual G-d. That saddens me.
That distinction was a major component of the philosophy of Mordechai Kaplan, who articulated a Judaism without supernaturalism that nonetheless called for intense respect for, learning from, and yes, adherence to Torah and mitzvot as creating kedushah. Jewish observance and learning bring, if not a supernatural G-d, then, certainly, G-dliness, into our lives,
Rabbi Kaplan and Conservatism are relatively new. Meaning, that their ideas do not date back to Sinai. G-d evidently didn’t give man a Conservative system. G-d gave a different system. Man created the Conservative movement later. If the Torah is man made, then what meaning do the words mitzvot and kedushah really have. The Torah tells us to be kadosh because G-d is Kadosh. If there is no G-d or if the Torah is not His word, then what does being kadosh mean? How are we to ascertain the parameters of being kadosh?
Our Sages have told us that “One should not say ‘I do not desire meat and milk, wearing shatnez and sexually prohibited acts’. But one should say ‘I do desire meat and milk, wearing shatnez and sexually prohibited acts, but what shall I do, my Father in heaven commanded me against them.’ “Adherence to Torah and Mitzvot, as advocated by you, for some spiritual reason without reference to G-d’s will is an empty act.
We do not know what happened at Sinai, even according to the most traditional and literal interpretations of Torah, which specify only the revelation of the Ten Commandments at that defining event, not all of Torah. May I refer you to a book I presented to the Jewish book group I led at the late Borders World Trade Center, Revelation Restored, by the respected (by traditionalists also!) scholar Rabbi David Weiss Halivni. This short scholarly work does address the issue of reconciling a belief in Torah’s divine origins with the insights of secular academic scholarship.
The revelation at Sinai was not of the Ten Commandments, it the revelation of G-d. Judaism is the only religion that had a public revelation of G-d. Moreover, in Deuteronomy, the Torah states that all of Torah was given to Moses. I do not believe that there is any inconsistency between the Torah being G-d’s word and scientific scholarship that needs to be reconciled.
May I suggest that you consider the perhaps painful reality that the majority of Jews are not engaged with the Jewish religious tradition on any meaningful level. In this context, how can we afford the luxury of denigrating another committed Jew’s engagement with Judaism in a manner different from our own?
I do not advocate engaging in Judaism in my own manner, I assert that we must follow the Torah as explained by the Sages and passed down to us, generation to generation dating back to Moses. Catering to the weaknesses of the majority of Jews by allowing a watered down Judaism that is contains incorrect ideas inconsistent with the truth of the Torah would only result in weakening Judaism and ultimate would lead to its demise.
Of course there will be disagreements. Conservative Judaism considers it somewhere between difficult and halachically impossible to recognize converts from the Reform movement who did not undergo mikveh and beit din.
One of the 613 commands in the Torah is not to alter the Torah. Once you claim that the Torah is not divine truth and can be altered, then the difference between Reform and Conservative is only a matter of choice; which parts of the Torah each of these movements wishes to keep. How do you choose which parts of the Torah to keep and which to discard? Why is it more proper to require converts to go to the mikveh than to refrain from violating the Sabbath? Is the choice merely a matter of personal preference? If so, then Reform is just as valid as Conservative.
But some two thousand years our sages recorded a characterization of contradictory interpretations of Torah’s truth with the observation, ”Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim.” Both these and those are the words of the living G-d. The future of Am Yisrael will be endangered if we put our energies into a self-congratulatory denigration of Jewish engagement that differs with our own, rather than focusing on sharing the maximum amount of Judaism with the maximum number of Jews.!
The concept of “eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim” never was used by the Sages to allow compromise on the absolute truth of the Torah. It means that within the confines of acceptedTorah truths, there can be disagreements and that both views may contain truth. If “eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim” encompassed beliefs as to the truth and divine nature of the Torah, then the Prophets in Tanach would not have been able to rebuke those who”sincerely” held such other beliefs. The fact that the Prophets did rebuke the people for such beliefs demonstrates that the concept of “eilu v’eilu” is inapplicable to disagreements such as the one we are discussing.