Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How can we follow an imperfect Torah?

On Facebook, in a Jewish group dedicated to debate and discussion between believers and non-believers someone asked:

"How can a book such as this, written with misleading passages, be used as a guide?"
I answered:

Short answer? It can't.
Not so much because of scientifically inexact passages, but more because of the commandments of slavery and genocide called for therein.
That's why very few Jews today actually use the Torah as any sort of guide for living. Rather, they use a vast body of interpretations of the Torah as their guides, interpretations that span well over 2 millenia. It is upon those interpretations that Judaism rests, not the original document (which even has interpretations in the actual text).
It's not about the foundational text, admittedly a composite document of bronze and iron age legends and laws, it's what we do with it. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Refuting the Kuzari hypothesis

In a discussion on Facebook, a friend (a non-believer, BTW) made an incidental argument that the Kuzari hypothesis a slightly stronger argument that other "proofs" for the Torah's authenticity. He does not believe that the Kuzari proof is any sort of "proof", but that since its claim is more philosophically based than empirically based, it's less disprovable, since empirical proof is not the currency of argument in the philosophical realm.

However, the Kuzari hypothesis does rest on an empirical assumption of an unbroken chain of transmission of the mesorah since Mount Sinai. However, that very mesorah tells of several "re-introductions" of the Torah, such as Ezra's. Therefore, the entire "proof" is refutable in a somewhat empiric manner.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The better place was unreachable

Sad - A Better Place, which was an ambitious project to introduce a very innovative business model for electric cars in Israel, is filing for the Israeli version of bankruptcy and liquidation.

I had high hopes for this back in 2010:

Maybe it was just before its time. Maybe in another few years, someone will take another stab at it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Women's ritual roles - March 2008

One side effect of "going public", so to speak, is that I'm looking back at a lot of posts that I wrote some 5 or 6 years ago, to decide if I want to publish them under my own name. In the process, I'm seeing how my thinking has evolved since then (which is appropriate, given the name of this blog).

In a post titled "Women's ritual roles", in March 2008, I praised the new partnership-type minyanim for giving women more of a role, and for taking up a time-honored tradition of "stretching (not breaking) halacha to enable women to expand their roles."

Though I still greatly admire those minyanim for the work they are doing, I've accepted a more pluralistic perspective since then, and feel that there are multiple approaches to worship. I happen to affiliate with Orthodoxy, for the most part, but I have no problem with full egalitarianism. My way works for me, but halachic mores on shul seating and gender roles is entirely man-made, and everyone should choose the path that's most meaningful for them.

Isn't this a new blog? Where are your old posts coming from?

I've been blogging for over 6 years, under a variety of names, including Yehudi Hilchati, DYS, Rabba bar bar Chana, and Philo. This is a new blog in the sense that the site is new, and I'm using my real name, but I've imported most of my old posts. However, I don't feel comfortable posting them all at once, so I've kept them private and will gradually be making public the ones I feel comfortable sharing under my real name. That will eventually likely be most of them. But there may be a few posts where I've changed my mind from my feelings at the time, or ones that are no longer remotely topical, like posts about the 2008 presidential election.

For the ones that I feel are still of current interest, I'll be putting up a new post pointing out the emergence of that old post, perhaps with some introductory comments.

Hope this clears up any confusion!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Faith vs Evidence - December 2007

I originally posted these under my blogging name "Yehudi Hilchati" in December 2007. My thinking on this topic has definitely evolved somewhat since then, as I no longer have a "salvage what I can of the dogma" attitude. But my basic overall perspective remains the same. I still see no reason not to see holiness and value in my Judaism.

1) Faith vs Evidence, posted December 24, 2007

2) More on Faith vs. Evidence, Dec 27, 2007

3) Answers to a couple of recent comments on Faith vs. Evidence, Dec 31, 2007

TABS: Torah And Academic Biblical Scholarship

There's a new project out there called TABS, which stands for Torah and Academic Biblical Scholarship.
It's got a lot of big name advisors, some of whom I've heard speak, and was founded by Marc Zvi Brettler and David D. Steinberg. The website,, seems to be a site for religiously committed Jews who nonetheless accept the scholarship of the documentary hypothesis. That's me, so I was very happy to discover it!

The site is definitely a work in progress, but they do have a few things posted. One is an overview of the various different approaches for dealing with modern biblical scholarship.

The list includes:
  • Cumulative Revelation
  • Myth of Origin
  • Core Revelation
  • The Maculate Torah
  • The Interpreted Torah as Service of God
  • Rejection of Dogma
  • Sanctified by the Community
  • Aspects Theory
  • Liberal Supernaturalism

The full list and accompanying descriptions of each approach is here:

My personal sympathies are closest to "Sanctified by the Community", which reads:
"According to this approach, the fundamental insights of academic biblical studies are true. The Torah is a composite document that has developed over time; it is not always historically accurate, and indeed should not be taken as a historical or as a scientific treatise. Nevertheless, the historical-critical method and traditional Jewish observance are compatible, as the dogmatic content of Judaism is not binding. 
"Whether one affirms revelation or not, the Bible remains a sacred work. However, its sacredness is connected to the Jewish community that declares it to be sacred.  The earlier Jewish community, the real and spiritual ancestors of the Jews, understood the Bible to be sacred, and we follow their example.  The Bible, in this approach, becomes a sourcebook for current Jews, who select, reevaluate and interpret its texts to give meaning and substance to contemporary Judaism."
I was gratified to see that the source given for this approach is a book by Mark Zvi Brettler, who is one of the founders of the project, which bodes well (from my perspective) for its future.

What approach do you take? Do any of them strike a chord with you?

Monday, May 20, 2013

My First Post?

Well, not really. I've been blogging since 2007, under a variety of names. But I'm leaving my pseudo-anonymity behind.

Here's what I wrote on my old blog (of the same name, but on Wordpress) today:

A new chapter for me

I realize I haven’t posted much in the past couple of years. My heaviest blogging time was probably around 2008-2010. Lately, I’ve been more focused on what I love about Judaism, and a more positive perspective. That doesn’t change my opinions about the authorship of the Torah, or about issues that confront Judaism today. But I want to be able to have a public dialogue about these ideas and issues. I want to be able to chat in shul with a friend about something that excites me in the parsha and comfortably point him to a post on the topic on my blog. Yes, some of my ideas may be unorthodox (pun intended), but I’m at an age, and I live in a community, where I don’t feel like I need to hide certain ideas out of fear of possible repercussions. I am a religiously observant Jew who loves the Torah and my Judaism, even if my beliefs aren’t precisely in line with what tradition demands.
Still, though on the whole I feel like I’ve been respectful and non-sensationalistic, I need to think about which of my old posts I want the public to see under my own name.
So I’m yet again starting a new blog. I like the name “The Evolving Jew”, so I’m keeping it, but moving over to Blogger (which I’ve decided I like better anyway). I’ve made all the posts here private, for now, but will be posting them on the new blog from time to time, if I deem them appropriate. Where I might have been too strident in the past, I may edit the post to soften the tone and make it more respectful. And I hope to continue to write new posts under my real name, David Staum, at the new blog,, exploring Torah, Jewish history, and many other topics.
Thanks for reading!
David Staum
AKA Yehudi Hilchati, DYS, Torat Ezra, Rabba bar bar Chana, and Philo