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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Broadening the Boundaries of Revelation and Authority -

A Symposium:
The Revelation and Authority
of a Participatory Torah

Is halacha still binding if one accepts biblical criticism? Can Torah be both divine and human at the same time? Professor Ben Sommer tackles this question in his recent book Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition, which has generated broad discussion in both academic and religious circles.
Following the presentation by Prof. Sommer, highlighting the core ideas of his book, presents four responses on participatory revelation by Jewish Studies scholars from Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox backgrounds, with a (forthcoming) afterword by the author. 

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Author’s presentation: Prof. Benjamin Sommer

Introduction: Torah mi-Sinai and the Modern Jew

Does it make any sense to be shomer mitzvot if you accept the basic propositions of biblical criticism? Is it hypocritical to say “amen” to the blessing before the Torah reading if you don’t believe that God or Moses wrote the words that are then chanted out loud?[1] Can you puttefillin on or light Shabbat candles in good faith if you think the Pentateuch is, even in part, a human document?
Many modern Jews confront questions like these, which we might paraphrase more broadly as: can observant Judaism and modern biblical scholarship happily and honestly co-exist? These questions are at the heart of my recent book, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition.
The core proposition of the book is that biblical scholarship and Jewish theology provide ways to show that the binding nature of Jewish law can be harmonized with modern theories of the Torah’s origins. I also examine the interplay between traditional Judaism and modern biblical criticism, arguing that the human authors of the Pentateuch[2] intend the documents they produced not only to convey God’s will as expressed in the revelation to the nation Israel at Mount Sinai but also to reflect Israel’s interpretations of God’s will and their responses to it. The biblical authors, then, prefigure modern Jewish thinkers who understand revelation as a process that incorporates both divine and human contributions.
The book’s close readings of biblical texts bolster theologies of thinkers such as Abraham Joshua Heschel, Franz Rosenzweig, and Louis Jacobs, who regard revelation not just as a top-down phenomenon but as a dialogue between God and Israel.[3] In emphasizing the role human creativity takes in fostering an organic and ever-growing Torah, it also resonates with themes found in the work of Orthodox thinkers Yochanan Silman, Tamar Ross, Rav Kook the elder, and Yitzchok Hutner, who also value the inventiveness of Jewish sages who help to create Torah in every generation.[4] 


Direct links:

Author’s Presentation:

The Revelation and Authority of a Participatory Torah
Prof. Benjamin Sommer

< Responses >

A Torah of Participatory Revelation in Context

Prof.  Rabbi Alexander Even-Chen

The Epistemic Standards of Biblical Scholarship

Prof. Rabbi Jonathan Malino

Theology not Biblical Studies

Dr. Tova Ganzel

Broadening the Boundaries of Revelation and Authority

Dr. Rabbi Michael Marmur