Monday, May 17, 2010

OMT Classic: Thoughts for Shavuos: Why I Gave Up Biblical Criticism and Just Started Loving...

My title is a bit misleading. For to tell the truth, I never was much for the Biblical criticism--that academic discipline founded in the nineteenth century, promising to tell the truth about Biblical authorship. There's been a lot of talk about Biblical criticism recently, with a new book claiming once and for all to provide a vision of the Bible "as it really was." The assumptions upon which Biblical criticism are based is that the methods of the sciences can be brought into the humanities, and that if we just occupy the right perspective, we can sift through all of the facts and evidence and have an objective picture of things. I'm a scholar, and I love evidence as much as the next guy, but I've never been compelled by the readings of Biblical scholars with their alphabet soup of authors--J, D, P--which in my view is just their way of not facing the complexities of a Biblical text with which they don't truly engage or understand. I certainly wouldn't want a Biblical scholar to help me read Milton's Paradise Lost; where Milton argues through paradox, they would just see contradiction and evidence for multiple authorship. Now is probably not the time to go into the way in which enlightenment beliefs in reason are also faith-based practices (Stanley Fish has written brilliantly on this as a columnist in the New York Times). Nor is it the time to cite those scholars in various academic fields (in both the humanities and sciences) who have called into question the whole conception of objective neutrality upon which the Biblical Criticism is founded.

When my wife and I began our paths to Torah, I remember someone (I think it was my father-in-law) saying that if G-d wanted to give a handbook to humanity, he would have given it in binary code. To him, this would have been a form of revelation that could be objectively understood, a crystal clear revelation requiring no interpretation at all. But the Torah in it's very first verse asserts itself not as an objective knowledge, but one that is based upon relationship--the relationship between G-d and His people, Israel. As Rashi explains the בראשית--"In the Beginning"--of the first verse is a contraction of ב-שביל ראשית b'shvil reshis, 'on behalf of the first.' And 'the first,' as Rashi shows from other passages in the Holy Writings refers to Torah and Israel. The world was created for the sake of the divine revelation through Torah and for Israel, the nation through which the divine revelation comes into the world. Torah and Israel are together the purpose of creation; without one, the other could not exist.

G-d did not choose Israel to be an objective observer, but he founded a relationship with Israel based upon love. "With an abundant love you have loved us"--so begins the second of the two blessings which precede the recitation of the Sh'mah in the morning. And in the evening blessings preceding the Sh'mah: "With an eternal love, you have loved us"--a love expressed through G-d's bestowing of "Torah--and mitzvot, decrees and law" to His people Israel. Torah and love are thus linked together. The morning blessing continues with an entreaty "to instill in our hearts to understand, to elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teaching with love." That we ask that G-d grant understanding to our hearts (and not, for example, to our minds) emphasizes again that Torah founds a relationship based upon love. So the morning blessing concludes with the praise of G-d who brings Israel close to Him so that they can "praise his unity with love," and the benediction of "G-d who chooses Israel with love." A reciprocal relationship of love: the numerical value (or gematria) of the word אהבה is equivalent to that of אחד--love is based upon unifying. In this sense, the act of receiving the Torah is an act of union or love.

Our sages refer to the giving of the Torah as yom chasanatu, the day of our chuppah or marriage. The blessing from the marriage ceremony includes five קולות or sounds--the 'sound of joy and of gladness,' the 'sound of joyful wedding celebrations,' and the 'sound of youthful feasting and singing'--which correspond, the Talmud tell us, to the five 'sounds' that accompanied the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. That the sages compare the giving of the Torah to marriage is not merely a poetic embellishment; it expresses a deep philosophical truth. G-d chooses Israel with love, and we respond with acts of love. There is no external perspective, no possibility of disengagement, but rather learning Torah is an act of love. The Sh'mah begins: "And you shall love the Lord your G-d..." How, our sages ask, do we follow the injunction to love the G-d? For the answer, they turn to the continuation of the verse, "let these words which I command you today be your hearts." It is through 'these words'--learning Torah--that I express my love for G-d.

But even more than this, as Rav Yitzchok Hutner writes, the continuation of the verse in the Sh'mah further refines the definition of learning Torah: "Let these words...be upon your hearts, and you shall teach them to your children." The act of Torah study is only fully realized through teaching. Torah study then is an act of love which connects me to G-d, but is consummated in the teaching of children and students. There's a vertical relationship, a double connection, where with love I strive upwards to the divine, and complete that act of love through a corresponding downward movement--bringing Torah into the world through teaching the next generation. My love of G-d, realized through Torah study, reaches its perfection with the love expressed in "you shall teach your children." A double movement of connection and love.

In this dynamic, there is no external place of objectivity. As Jonathan Lear, the Chicago classicist and psychoanalyst, writes the position of objectivity and the so-called "neutral perspective" is just a myth, and attempting to occupy it leads to "developmental failure and pathology." We've all been there, even if not as Miltonists or Biblical critics--who forestall genuine engagement with texts through their flat and preachy readings. We've more likely occupied that perspective in bad moments as spouses, or equally bad moments as parents where we flee to a place of disengaged complacency and crabbiness (or self-righteousness) instead of engaging with those whom we love. So this Sunday night--z'man matan Toraseinu, the time of the giving of our Torah--we should give up that very contemporary and Western desire for objectivity and cool disengagement, and start loving a little--by renewing our efforts to connect, to make the Torah our own.

6 comments:

Daniel said...

Slowly but surely, you are heading in the right direction.

The content is far more edifying and in line with nature of your character as personified by that powerful picture of you with the open gemorrah on the shtender- within reach of your hands and your eyes ...

Mi Chayil LeChayil...

Jewish Atheist said...

I'm disappointed that you are so dismissive of the Documentary Hypothesis. Note that it doesn't have to be even close to right for the "Mosaic Authorship Hypothesis" to be clearly wrong. Even if you don't buy the JPED stuff, the Torah was clearly written by human beings many hundreds of years after Moses supposedly lived.

You basically just said, "Oh, they're biased" and "oh, they don't have the exactness of science" (as if Orthodoxy does!) and then launched into a feel-good dvar torah based on nothing but cute wordplay. ("Breishit" means "bshvil reishit?" Come on.)

If one of your students used this kind of reasoning in a paper about a different subject, I doubt he'd get a C.

Yaakov A. Mascetti said...

Yshar koach Bill, and chag sameach. There is much to be said on and objected to the dualist model you propose here (either love or objective criticism), but I see where you are coming from and where all this is aiming to. There are myriads of ways of relating to the Torah, there are hundreds of years of people who have brought all sorts of complementing ideologies into their interpretations, and Judaism is certainly not as pure as the supposed Ur-Torah from Har Sinai. Perceiving complexity as a dualist either / or opposition points to the (certainly legitimate!) need for authenticity and a true interpretational key. But it suffocates the inherent creativity of Judaism and its capacity to assimilate, integrate and adapt itself to times and cultures of different kinds. Chag sameach.

Yaakov A. Mascetti said...

"Slowly but surely. you are heading in the right direction...." Daniel, the bastion of Truth and Authenticity, has spoken...

Anonymous said...

פרופ' קולברנר,

מאד מאד נהניתי לקרוא את הדברים.

רציתי לציין שבשנים האחרונות נכתבו מס' ספרים המתמודדים בכלים מחקריים עם שאלות שמעלה ביקורת המקרא. למשל, ספרו של יהושע עציון: התנך האבוד.
ובכל מקרה כפי שציינת חג השבועות מסמל את החופה של עם ישראל עם הקב"ה לפני שלושת אלפים ושלוש מאות ועשרים שנה. הרב פינקוס בספרו "פסח ספירת העומר ושבועות" אומר כי "הנעשה ונשמע" שענו ישראל לפני מתן תורה שייך לכל אחד מאיתנו. לכל אחד מאיתנו הנקודה הכואבת הפרטית שהוא בשום אופן אינו יכול להתנתק ממנה ובשבועות דורשים מאיתנו "נעשה ונשמע" התאמת העצמיות של האדם לתורה ולא את התורה לאדם.
תודה על הבלוג המרתק!!!
חג שמח!!

韋于倫成 said...

性感辣妹辣妹聊天情色文學情色遊戲情色自拍情色聊天情趣聊天室情趣自拍免費情趣影片素人自拍情趣短片性感辣妹性感美女美女性感遊戲性感遊戲裸體遊戲美女裸體女生裸體正妹裸體做愛偷拍偷拍自拍性愛偷拍偷拍視訊一夜情視訊一夜情聊天室一夜情交流網一夜情色網洪爺色情貼85cc影片5278影片網77p2p影片洪爺免費色情85cc觀看5278貼圖區77p2p觀看洪爺成年人網85cc成人片sogo成人77p2p成人片洪爺貼圖85cc影片區go2av影片77p2p影片區洪爺色論壇85cc免費影片區go2免費影片77p2p免費影片區洪爺影城85cc影城go2影片77p2p影城