Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Ani Maamin" - Intriguing Insights

Readers of this forum will all be interested in a book that came out last year, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith, by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman. It is groundbreaking in being the first English Orthodox Jewish book to deal with such issues. And while it falls short in some areas, it contains many tremendously important insights, in both academic scholarship and theology.

Originally I had planned to write a comprehensive review of the book, but I can't seem the find the time and focus. Instead, I will be referencing sections of the book in several posts. And as a preview to my conclusions, I will say this: Many people will feel that the book's rejoinders to various challenges from academic Bible scholarship are not sufficiently convincing. However, the book simultaneously provides various theological insights which, when considered carefully, often render the academic challenges rather moot. I will elaborate further in the relevant posts.

For now, here is a fascinating observation from the introduction of the book:

...Over years of discussing these issues I have discovered that looking at the same sources and the same evidence, Orthodox Jews in America speaking English and Israeli Orthodox Jews speaking Hebrew carry on different sorts of conversations about these issues...  there is much in common between the attitudes and theological proclivities of Centrist Orthodox authorities in the United States and Religious Zionist thinkers and leaders in Israel. Religious Zionism, however, never termed itself "Centrist" Orthodoxy. Indeed, within Israeli socio-religious landscape it occupies no "center" in the way Centrist Orthodoxy does in North America. Religious Zionist thinkers and leaders have no need to consider ideological threats from movements just to the right or just to the left. In Israel, there is practically no competition for adherents that equals the challenges facing Centrist Orthodoxy in North America. The result is that on a range of hot-button issues, Religious Zionist leaders and thinkers often entertain ideas and positions that would be non-starters in the English-speaking world.

There are many other insights in this book which are not only as fascinating as this, but are great importance. I urge everyone to get a copy!

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37 comments:

  1. I read some excerpts at Amazon, so not sure what he thinks about the following issues. Does RJB advocate the Sinai story is not accurate history ? What about the Avos or Noach ? That there was no 600000 plus at Sinai ? That the ancient Jews did not really believe the Sinai story actually occurred as more or less told in the Torah but thought of it as exhortations ?

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    1. I haven't read the book, but I heard once a short lecture from him on YouTube. If I remember correctly, he doesn't believe the 600K is literal. He thinks it was less, and that number is symbolic.

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    2. I agree. The number was a lot less.

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    3. Is there a mesorah that the Torahs figure and the census is symbolic ? Has the census and figures ever been considered symbolic ? If not why are the figures being interpreted symbolic in recent times ? Because it would falsify that part of the story ?

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    4. I have the book and read it. To say that the author thinks the census numbers in Bamidbar are symbolic is outright wrong. What he says is, the word for "thousand" and "chief" are nearly identical, and the tribal countings make more sense when understood as referring to chiefs of clans and the population of these clans. There is NOTHING symbolic about his interpretation.

      He does not address the single undifferentiated count in Shemos which cannot be interpreted the same way.

      I think Rabbi Berman's interpretation of Bamidbar has merit. Therefore, I think the number in Shemos is the total of all Jews present at Sinai. Direct descendants of Yaakov, as well as the Erev Rav that went out with them. That's right, the Erev Rav absolutely dwarfed Bnai Yisrael by roughly an order of magnitude.

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  2. Does RJB opine on who wrote the Torah ? Was Torah virtually all from Mosaic period and perhaps earlier, or rather substantial redactions occurred after that period ? I was only able to read some excerpts at Amazon but was surprised by how much he thinks the Tenach was a break from Ancient Near East culture. It may have been a break, but much of Torah law, rituals,mythology, concerns for the poor and widowed etc: was already extant in the ANE and the break is not as extreme as I think he arguing.

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  3. “His [RJB]piece reveals Egyptological and scriptural sources that indicate the author and audience of the Book of Exodus possessed detailed knowledge of Egypt, and he argues that this evidence is far too salient to be ignored.” There is not a shred of evidence of an Exodus let alone one of biblical portions where there should be evidence. So it very reasonable to maintain agnosticism regarding a small Exodus and a complete rejection of an Exodus of biblical proportions. Could there have been a small Exodus ? Sure why not, but we may never know unless new data shows up.

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    1. There is plenty of evidence for an Exodus, big or small. The fact that the Bible describes life in Egypt accurately is all you need to know that it is historical.

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    2. @Shmuel maybe what you and some others think of as evidence is not really evidence. You claim the Torah has some accurate information about Egypt. Yet even works of fiction have accurate information, so that would not be evidence that the story is true. It is only evidence that the author knew something accurate and put it in the story. That is why I am agnostic about a small Exodus. But a large Exodus has been ruled out by archeologist and historians by even the most sympathetic amongst them like evangelicals and Israelis. ACJA

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  4. Perhaps religious Zionists in Israel feel independent of the chareidim due to their rejection from the latters' camp.

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    1. Then why wouldn't American Centrists parallel them due to their being rejected by American Chareidim?

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    2. Because they don't realize it.

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  5. Another great book on the subject is "The Believer and Modern-Day Study of the Bible" which although a fifty dollar academic book was released as a legal free download here : https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/25322

    It includes an article by Rabbi Berman and is geared for Orthodox Jews.

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    1. I was going to recommend the Hebrew version before I realized this was a translation. Thanks for the link!

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  6. Hi Rabbi,
    Doesn't Rav Amnon Bazak deal with many of these issues in his sefer עד היום הזה?

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  7. "It is groundbreaking in being the first Orthodox Jewish book to deal with such issues"
    Shadal, the Malbim, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Daas Soferim all dealt with Bibical Criticism in their works

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  8. Very well put.

    By the way, the same is true of actual halakha as well. There's creative things going on in Israel that would never be done in chu"l- not just necessarily for these reasons, but also because there's no real need.

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  9. "It is groundbreaking in being the first Orthodox Jewish book to deal with such issues."

    I have no comment on this post other than objecting to Berman's book being first.

    Ad Hayom Hazeh by Rav Amnon Bazak was published a few years earlier. Its English translation even came out the same time as Berman's book.

    https://www.ybook.co.il/book/6141/%D7...

    https://smile.amazon.com/This-Very-Day-Fundamental-Questions/dp/1592645151

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  10. As somebody else pointed out, certainly not the first orthodox book to engage with Biblical criticism. There's also this excellent site, https://rationalbelief.org.il/ that engages a great deal with Biblical criticism as well as many other challenges of Torah and the modern world.

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    1. I'll have to disagree with your description of that site as "excellent."

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    2. It is absolutely excellent. You should read his sefer as well. He's very open-minded and agrees with you on a whole bunch of things. Not stereotypical "chareidi" perspective at all.

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  11. Ad Hayom Hazeh by Rav Amnon Bazak is in no way comparable to Berman's.

    Rav Bazak's is a very good survey of what others have said as traditional responses to some aspects of Biblical Criticism.

    Berman's is a ground-breaking, systematic, ambitious, and imaginative work of original scholarship that is itself a work of Biblical Criticism. Most importantly, unlike Rav Bazak's book (which is very good in what it does), Berman encounters Biblical scholarship on its terms.

    The two books are in no way way comparable.

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    1. David, what do you feel about "The Believer and Modern-Day Study of the Bible", recommended above?

      Ash

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    2. It's a valuable collection of individual opinions that I suspect was the catalyst for Berman's book.
      Berman felt that some approaches at a symposium he attended (I presume it was this one) had non-expert Orthodox Rabbis who gave more credence to the findings of Biblical Criticism than Berman thought necessary.

      Berman's book and all others of this genre are valuable as food for thought and the way one relates to them will be highly personal.
      All, whether it's Berman or the various authors of the other book, give approaches, not "answers".
      Some people will say that some or many or all of these approaches are not Orthodox.
      Others might say that some are Orthodox and others are not.
      And others might say all are Orthodox.

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  12. What about Professor Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology?

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    1. Only one chapter on this subject, although it's a big one.

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    2. Once again, not comparable. Shapiro’s is a survey and Berman's is a work of creative biblical scholarship.

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  13. "The result is that on a range of hot-button issues, Religious Zionist leaders and thinkers often entertain ideas and positions that would be non-starters in the English-speaking world."

    Possibly because the primary religious belief of RZ is the state of Israel and living in it. Anything beyond that is of secondary importance. Consequently, based on this principle, RZ can entertain any notion it wants, including biblical criticism. The fact that it may lead to they or their children not observing sabbath or marrying gentiles or practicing homosexuality is not important, because these and others are merely secondary religious values.

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    1. Lol. Sounds like you don't know many RZ people.

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    2. Aren't you a charmer.

      It's far more likely that those whose primary religious belief is *not* living in Israel who will have their kids corrupted. Never thought of that, did you?

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    3. Respectfully, I'm think that's a simplistic interpretation that borders on besmirching an entire cadre of rabbinic leadership. I suggest that it is the different sociological situations faced by the two populations. Israel has no conservative or reform movement of note to the left, just chilonim. That allows thinkers in the RZ to flirt with the borders awithout pressure or fear than their American counterparts.

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    4. Nachum - there's no group I know of that makes "not" living in Israel a primary value. Even Satmar doesn't believe that. (As you would surely acknowledge, not accepting a positive in no way means you accept the negative.) And yes, non Zionist religious groups also face the same issues I mentioned above - my criticism of RZ was not meant as somehow a backhand compliment of the Agudah or whoever. But I don't think those groups face the same problems in anywhere near as high the numbers in which they are found in the RZ.

      Rav Yaakov Beasley - Reform and conservative have no meaning anymore to religious Jews. This isn't the 1950s. They are not a threat of any sort, and no orthodox Jew refrains from any issue out of fear of what such people might say. Rather, they refrain from it, in most cases because they're ignorant of it, but in other cases because its dangerous. I am very well familiar with biblical criticism, and not just pop lit like Kugel. Face facts - there's no return to innocence once you're exposed to it. Many at best continue only as orthoprax. Or you find people like this blog host who don't have the guts to leave, and thus rationalize their continued outward observance with all sorts of nonsense theories. If you know biblical criticism at all, then you know what I say to be true. Nothing of what you said shields RZ from these issues. Rather, the truth is what I said. They don't value actual religious life as much as living in Israel, and thus the concerns I mentioned are not a priority. I didnt say they are entirely non existent. But they are not a priority.

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  14. I highly recommend To This Very Day by Amnon Bazak. It deals with similar matter, but does a better job. R' Berman is a starch critic of the documentary hypothesis, but there are better ways to deal with it than an all out rejection. R' Berman fails to provide a good alternative to the issues it raises. I disagree with his conclusions and Amnon Bazak does a much better job at properly addressing the issue.

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  15. I have a copy. Thank you. It was a good book.

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