Professor Martin Lockshin teaches Humanities and Hebrew at
York University in .
In a recent article in the Canadian Jewish News, Lockshin reviews a “courageous
new book” by Rabbi Norman Solomon entitled “Torah from Heaven: The
Reconstruction of Faith”. This is not the proper forum for a detailed refutation
of Rabbi Solomon’s thesis, but some of Professor Lockshin’s comments do call
for a response. Toronto
Lockshin writes as follows:
Usually “Torah from heaven” in Orthodox circles is understood to mean that God dictated the entire text of the first five books of the Bible (with the possible exception of the last eight verses of Deuteronomy) to Moses, who then wrote it down.
So far, so good.
Furthermore, the text of the Torah scroll that we have in our synagogues today is precisely what Moses wrote.
Unfortunately, this idea is not part of the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven” and is, most likely, not correct. Anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with Rabbinic literature (Talmud, Midrashim, and subsequent halachic texts), knows that the Torah scrolls we possess today are not necessarily identical, letter for letter, with what Moses wrote. Yes, the sentences – along with the message they convey – are indeed the same. However, the precise spelling of the words has, in some cases, been lost to us. The biblical phenomenon of Defective and Plene Spellings (chaseiros v’yisairos) is well-known to students of the Talmud and is clearly not dogmatic to the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven”. This point cannot be overemphasized. Its assumption renders the vast majority of issues raised by Solomon/Lockshin irrelevant.
But Rabbi Solomon notes that the Hebrew word “torah” in the Bible just means “teaching” or “instruction.”… Only many centuries after Moses did people begin to use the word Torah to refer to the first five books of the Bible and did anyone write down the claim that Moses was the author of the so-called Five Books of Moses.
This remark is a product of rank ignorance. The very first book after the Torah makes several references to the “Book of the Torah of Moshe” and the “Book of the Torah”. When Joshua (chapter 8) gathers the people to fulfill the covenant at
and Eival, he does so in conformance with the “Book of the Torah of Moshe” and
the “Book of the Torah”. Joshua built an altar at Mount Gerizim
“as was instructed in the Book of the Torah of Moshe” and wrote the “Repetition
of the Torah” on large rocks “as Moshe wrote down for the Jewish nation”. He
then “read all of the words of the Torah, the blessings and the curses in
conformity with all that was written in the Book of the Torah”! Jews have been referring
to the teachings of Moses as the Book of the Torah from the day he died. The
claim that it took centuries for this to occur is patently false. Mount Eival
Rabbi Solomon argues further that historical scholarship makes it impossible to believe that Moses was the author of Genesis to Deuteronomy, or that our text of the Torah today is identical to the original one. The Talmud often quotes biblical verses whose wording or spelling differs from our own (as do Rashi and basically every other Bible commentator who lived before the days of the printing press).
Ever since Julius Wellhausen and the advent of biblical criticism, modern academia has been on a mission to undermine the historical authenticity of the Torah. In line with this attitude, Lockshin quotes the same old tired canard of the Bible critics, to wit, “historical scholarship makes it impossible to believe that Moses was the author of Genesis to Deuteronomy”. He then repeats his original error of conflation by attempting to identify “absolute textual identicalness” with the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven”. As we noted above, there are several examples of defective and plene spellings in our traditional rabbinic literature. This phenomenon was fully acknowledged by our sages. The doctrine of Torah from Heaven is in no way compromised by this fact.
There is much more to say on this topic, perhaps for another time. Comments welcome.