No Fear Biblical Criticism: Introduction

Not too long ago Professor Yoram Hazony wrote an article critiquing the approach to Biblical Criticism taken by Open Orthodoxy — or at least by the Open Orthodox community he had spent a shabbat with. It’s an excellent article; one that admits to being a product of the author’s subjective experience, while still being bold enough to pose challenging questions. The main thrust of these questions, and of the article as a whole, was regarding the statement made by the Rabbi of the community that what set Open Orthodoxy apart was its willingness to confront challenging issues, such as Biblical Criticism, and to struggle with them honestly (presumably in contrast to the rest of the Jewish Community). Prof. Hazony’s article paints a picture quite at odds with this statement, a picture where anything less than absolute acceptance of Biblical Criticism is completely unacceptable, wherein even questioning Biblical Criticism merits an immediate and condescending dismissal. The article concludes by comparing Open Orthodoxy to the Protestant Movement, which a century ago decided to accept Biblical Criticism, and has paid the price for it.

While Prof. Hazony does have some harsh words for the Open Orthodox community, he does also say that he is “willing to regard [it] as a positive force.” He cannot abide the automatic acceptance of whatever opinions are popular amongst secular scholars, but he is fine with openly and honestly tackling challenges to Orthodoxy. While many people used his article as a springboard from which to offhandedly reject Biblical Criticism and Open Orthodoxy, Prof. Hazony was not proposing such an action. Instead, he was proposing nuance, both in relation to Open Orthodoxy, and in terms of how Orthodoxy may approach Biblical Criticism.

It is this approach that I would like to take in what I hope will be a series of short essays on the topic of Biblical Criticism, each dealing with different aspects of the topic. Most Jews either accept Biblical Criticism in its totality, or reject that self-same totality. Much of the goal of this series will be to show that both of these approaches are mistaken.

Biblical Criticism is not a monolithic structure. It has many complex pieces and approaches, and we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of its methods are similar to those used by the Medieval commentators of the Jewish Tradition1. Other parts of Biblical Criticism, though, are not only simply unacceptable from an Orthodox theological point of view, they are also questionable from points of view within the secular academic world. I will attempt to demonstrate this as well. Thus, I will attempt to point out not only what parts of Biblical Criticism are problematic for Orthodoxy, but also those parts that are in fact quite valuable.

And most of all, I will attempt to show that we have nothing to fear from Biblical Criticism.

1. See this article by R’ Yaakov Elman (wherein he at one point discusses the Rishonim who make use of the concept of “Resumptive Repetition”)

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