How Many Biblical Authors?: Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman received smikha from Rabbi Moses Soloveitchik, and an LLB and doctorate of philosophy from Columbia University. He was the rabbi of the 5th Avenue Synagogue, the provost at Yeshiva University, and the chancellor of Bar Ilan University for many years.

I’ve started reading Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s very interesting and well written One Man’s Judaism (Philosophical Library, NY 1970) with the goal of summarizing some of his fundamental views of Halakha, and I want to share a fascinating point he makes at the beginning of the book. The book begins with two short essays, one a general overview of how he understands Judaism, and the second a short description of some more personal stances, including the following:

“In my commitment, what matters is the fact that God did actually contact man- patriarchs and prophets- and covenant with them. How he did it will continue to be the subject of both conjecture and interpretation, but that He did it in history is the crucial point for me. As creation is a fact for me, though I cannot describe the how, so is revelation a fact, though its precise manner eludes me.” (p. 18)

In this short expression of faith, Rabbi Rackman tells us that revelation is a historical fact, its historical reality is crucial to his faith, and that he’s not sure how it took place. This presumably means that like most of us, he does not know how prophecy works.

He continues:

“The most definitive record of God’s encounters with man is contained in the Pentateuch. Much of it may have been written by people in different times, but at one point in history God not only made the people of Israel aware of His immediacy but caused Moses to write the eternal evidence of the covenant between Him and His people. Even the rabbis in the Talmud did not agree on the how.”

I’m not sure what Rabbi Rackman’s intent is in this comment. Does he mean that God encountered man, who wrote down or preserved pieces of prophecy, before Moses rewrote it from scratch through his own prophecy? Or when he suggests that “much of it may have been written by people in different times”, does he simply mean that indeed, the Bible may have multiple authors, because the patriarchs wrote down their prophetic experiences which were supplemented and perhaps edited by Moses, who wrote the “eternal evidence of the covenant between” God and the Jewish people?

The latter understanding, controversial as it is, seems to better explain his note that “Even the rabbis in the Talmud did not agree on the how.”

Crucial to our understanding of this point is another quote from Rabbi Rackman, which I saw in a guest post by Rabbi Michael Broyde on Hirhurim:

“The sanctity of the Pentateuch does not derive from God’s authorship of all of it, but rather from the fact that God’s is the final version. The final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality.” (Judaism, Spring 1969, page 153)

As R. Broyde explains it, This is a sort of “Orthodox version of the documentary hypothesis”, allowing for “claims that there might have been a J, P, E or D, but the R (who the secularist call “the redactor”) really is Moshe Rabbenu mipi haGevura.”

This view seems to imply something which our first quote did not: perhaps when God, through prophecy, instructed Moses to write and edit the Torah, the instruction was to include materials which were not originally prophetic at all!

At any rate, Rabbi Rackman writes that while the mode and details of prophecy are subject to some disagreement, there is something the Rabbis all agreed on:

“But all agreed that the record was divine and they cherished it beyond description, even as they cherished a manner of exegesis which Moses simultaneously transmitted to his colleagues and disciples. In their ongoing relationship with God they sought to fathom the meanings- apparent and concealed- of every word and letter of His revelation. And that quest has not yet ended.”

This being the case, Rabbi Rackman seems to emphasize in two short paragraphs that the importance of revelation is that it occurred in history, but not how exactly it occurred in history, which may seem to fly in the face of Rambam’s seventh and eighth principles, which we have summarized elsewhere. However, Rabbi Michael Broyde, in the article noted above, writes explicitly that he does not consider Rabbi Rackman’s views to be in violation of the 13 principles. In his opinion, Rabbi Rackman doesn’t contradict the Jewish dogma that “each and every word” was given to Moses at Sinai; “He just speculates as to where God got the original material for the Torah from.”

Returning to Rabbi Rackman, it is also important to note that in his opinion,  the “definitive record” of God’s meetings with man (ie: the Written Torah) was accompanied by an Oral Torah, which included rules to understand every word of its written counterpart.

Does Rabbi Rackman’s overall position, if I understand it correctly, open up the possibility for the kind of vision Rabbi Zev Farber shared in his controversial essay on TheTorah.com?

I don’t know, and as I continue to read the book, I’ll revise this post if I find important supplementary points or something which contradicts what I’ve said here.

To close, we’ll allow Rabbi Rackman to finish his thought as he does in the book:

“Even as He willed that man be His partner in the conquest of the earth, so He willed that man proclaim His holiness and help history ultimately to vanquish nature. For this purpose the Law was given.”

Related:

What Are Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith?

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 1): Rabbi Menachem Leibtag

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 2): Dr. James Kugel

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 3): Q&A session with the two authors above

Was the Whole Torah Given to Moses at Sinai?: Rabbinic Sources That Say No

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 5): Dr. Nahum Sarna

Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response (Guest post by Ben Elton)

Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study (Guest post by Ben Zion Katz)

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12 Comments

Filed under Tanakh/Bible

12 responses to “How Many Biblical Authors?: Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

  1. Madel

    Why not listen to the words of the Torah itself: 1) It was written over the 40 years of wilderness wandering by Moses, not G-d (except for the 10 statements), and Moses’s memory of his conversations with G-d was as faulty as all humans; 2) Moses changed as a writer over those 40 years just as each of us has over time; 3) Remembering words written earlier was more difficult then because referring to prior writings in primitive scroll form was not conducive to research so there were different Torah versions of the same event or laws; 4) Moses was not a man of science sufficient to understand the Big Bang and Evolution so they appear in the Torah as nuanced revelation; 5) G-d blessed the discrepancies because it created the very doubt upon which faith was to be based, i.e., we would lose our free will if we had a perfect document that proved G-d’s existence; and 6) G-d blessed the inaccurate renditions of Creation and Evolution because modern science in the hands of primitive humanity would have seeded the world’s destruction. To get a better and more enjoyable picture of this, read the novel HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), published by Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem.

    • elemir

      While I respect anybody’s attempt at resolving difficult questions, your suggestions given here to reconcile the dozens of differences and contradictions between Devarim and other parts of Chumash is woefully inadequate.

      Aside from the lame suggestion that Moshe forgot what he wrote earlier, did he not have colleagues or documentation to remind him that he was contradicting mitzvoth previously given. Also, It does not explain the 2 versions of the Luchot, which were after all “carved in stone”. Or if Moshe looked at the Oron (ark of the covenant), did he see the simple wood one of Dev. or the elaborate gold-covered one of Shemot. Nor does this approach explain the many anachronistic phrases used in Chumash which hint at later authors.

      Why does he repeat the mitzvah of “cities of refuge” and provides differing parameters? He had only promulgated them recently in Bamidbar. Did he forget so fast?

      And to say that God leaves the “lies” in, to provide “free-choice” is the height of absurdity. Even if true, why did our Chazal and other great sages not warn us of this apparent trap?

      Sorry, but different authors, recording different traditions comes much closer to explaining the problems.

      • Madel

        I thought about whether I should even reply since you are obviously so set in your ways, and then I decided I would address one point at a time, and if you were into it, you could reply on the prior point or raise a new one. so on your point about the two iterations of the luchot when only one was carved in stone. my answer to that is twofold: first, moshe was in oration mode, extemporaneous throughout (no speechwriters yet), so he wasn’t about to excuse himself to check on accuracy back at the ark. and he recorded his speech later on (see dev. 31.24-26) exactly as he said it even though differing from the actual stone wording because that’s the honest, humble guy he was. second, moshe had a new audience. the generation of the exodus (that died out in the wilderness) needed to REMEMBER the Shabbat, e.g., while the generation of the conquest, already familiar with Shabbat after 40 years, needed to GUARD it. so it would follow with all the other differences.

        as to the ark of wood and ark of gold-plating (which had a wood foundation), it’s clear from the Torah that the ark of wood in devarim was intended to house the tablets of stone from the time of delivery on Sinai UNTIL the tabernacle was constructed with the ark of gold. we’re talking about two different arks not the same one. come on, you knew that! anyway, if you’d like to keep discussing this point by point, give me a couple more points with citations in your reply to this, and i’ll respond.

        • elemir

          >>> I thought about whether I should even reply since you are obviously so set in your ways.

          Isn’t everyone? :)

          Please answer me these questions?
          (1) Does the word “quote” or “quoting” mean (to you) that the text following is supposed to be an exact representation of what had been stated or communicated by the individual being “quoted”? And, does the Hebrew word “lay-moyr” imply that a quote is to follow?

          (2) As I read you, you are saying that Devarim are the words of Moshe and not God? Does this not contradict principle 8 of the Rambam who says that we must believe that Moshe was simply a stenographer of God and wrote nothing of his own?

          As for the Shabbat in the 10C’s, it’s not just the words Shomer and Zachor, it’s also the reasons given for Shabbot that are different

          And here is an interesting observation:

          Shabbat, an described repeatedly in Exodus, commemorates the 6 days of creation, while in D. it is to give one’s workers a day of rest, what the B”Y didn’t have in Egypt as slaves. This difference is coincidently consistent with the fact that nowhere in Dev. are we required to commemorate or celebrate God as the Creator or the creation. Or to put it another way, the Theology of Devarim does not care about God the Creator, but only about God our Savior.

          As for the Ark, kindly show me where “it is clear” that the wooden one was only meant to be temporary.

          BTW when Solomon brings the luchot into his newly built Temple the text in Kings and again Divrei Hoyomin both imply that the Ark DID NOT have any K’ruvim, as is seen from the fact that Solomon builds a new pair, i.e. the Ark in N’Kh is seemingly like the plain one (without Cherubs) as in Devarim.

          • Madel

            Let me start by giving you a heads up: I’m not your typical Rabbinic Orthodox madel. I believe in the G-d of Israel as revealed to me in the Pentateuch, and that alone. I have constructed a biblical viewpoint that permits me to accept the five books of Moses as authentic, literal divine revelation by which I live. There are three interpretive constucts by which I define the commandments: 1) Do not add or subtract…(Deut 4:2); 2) The hidden is for G-d, and for us there is only p’shat to carry out the words of the Torah (Deut 29:28); and 3) The revelation is totally available to us. We do not need rabbinic interpretation or Talmudic scholarship to understand our responsibilities under the Covenant we’ve made with G-d as a people (Deut 30:11-14). Consequently, I do not accept the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith…they may be his and yours, but not mine. As you pointed out in your last reply, I do not accept that G-d dictated to Moses. The only statements direct from G-d are in the Aseret HaDibrot. I also do not accept the concepts of Moshiach and Olam HaBa, both of which are creations of Chazal to answer why bad things happen to good people. Waiting for the Messiah to to deliver G-d’s promises of health, peace, and prosperity just further delays our own taking responsibilty for bringing a “heaven on earth” or a “return to Eden” by actually observing the Torah’s explicit commandments. The novel HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), put out recently by Gefen Publishing of Jerusalem says it all better than I in a brilliant, metaphoric storyline.

            So as to your questions: 1) There are quoted materials in the Torah: Shir Ha Yam and Haazinu are examples, but the Hebrew “LayMor” should be taken as “saying” or “as follows” and not as an exact quote but as a quote REMEMBERED BY ME TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY. 2) Answered above. As to the wording of the 2 iterations of the 4th commandment, I chalk that up to the different audiences Moses is addressing as well as well as a memory lapse during a speech without the reference material in front of him. We don’t celebrate G-d as Creator in Devarim because the Israelites are about to lose the MANNA and experience a hand-on way of life as they conquer the land and try to institute all the commandments in the Torah. Thus the talk of a day of rest and G-d as the discipliarian, not savior, if we stray from His Teaching. As to the arks, one inside the other works for me too. Finally on the Cherubim, you should note that the Ark was taken by the P’lishtim and the Cherubim may have been long lost before Solomon’s arrival on the scene.

          • Hanan

            So because he built another set of larger cherubim that implies that there were none already on there? Not very convincing. Why would he even put a couple of cherubim there had it not been on the ark already? I Samuel 4:4 already mentions the cherubim on top and unless I am wrong, is based on the same theory that Samuel and Kings was written by the same school as Dvarim. Also, considering many ancient eastern arks had some sort of creature on top, it is not all that difficult to assume that the ark of the covenant always had the cherubim on top, even though Solomon decided to build another set. Your other stuff is better.

            • elemir

              >>>>> So because he built another set of larger cherubim that implies that there were none already on there? Not very convincing.
              Maybe, but consider these two points
              (1) Firstly, it’s not only the fact that he built them …it’s also that upon installation, it would seem reasonable that the old cherubim (which represented “God’s focal point”) would be mentioned, yet …. In I-Kings 8:6-7, we have

              6. The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. 7. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles.
              (2) Secondly, one need to understand the mindset of Devarim: Among of the several important and hence repetitive themes found in Devarim is the abhorrence that the author(s) had towards having or making graven images. Specifically, read Deut 4:15 to 19. The author seems to go a bit wild about “images”
              Further, (I personally like this dee-uk) there’s this observation found in the repetition of the Eigel story, Deut. 9:12 “…..they have strayed quickly from the way I commanded them, they have made themselves a molten image” NOT that they worshiped a molten image, but that THEY MADE, i.e. making alone was considered deathly serious.
              So, to the author(s) of Devarim, it was impossible to imagine that there were molten images on the very Ark that housed the most sacred words of the B”Y.
              >>>> I Samuel 4:4 already mentions the cherubim on top
              and as does II Samuel 6:2 which seems to concur with Num. 7:89.
              >>> …. is based on the same theory that Samuel and Kings was written by the same school as Dvarim.
              First off, I do not subscribe to this theory. Anyone who reads carefully and absorbs the contents of these books (Devarim, Samuel, and Kings) will conclude that could not have been written by the same people (or schools of thought/belief). And thereby the books could easily reflect different views of history.
              So, as far as the Mishkan of the desert goes, there could’ve been several traditions of the trek thru’ the desert by the B”Y. And basically, they differed in details, one of which whether there was an ornate sanctuary and golden ark.
              The author(s) of Devarim clearly believed in a simple ark and possibly no sanctuary.
              If you are interested in more. I can explain to you why I do not think that the author(s) of Kings (or at least I Kings and most of II Kings) were of the same school as the author(s) of Devarim.
              >>>> Also, considering many ancient eastern arks had some sort of creature on top, it is not all that difficult to assume that the ark of the covenant always had the cherubim on top,
              Precisely the reason that the Jewish writers would vehemently oppose building and ark with graven images on it.
              >>>>> Your other stuff is better.
              Well thanks.

              • Hanan

                Ok. So to make sense of it, Dvarim AND Kings were written before Exodus-Numbers & Samuel? The problem is, you can say Dvarim brings up a different tradition, but you are picking and choosing from where to find corroborating evidence. Why shouldn’t the book of Samuel (which according to scholars is the same historical school as Kings) go counter to your assumption about the ark?

              • elemir

                To Hanan…
                >>>> Ok. So to make sense of it, Dvarim AND Kings were written before Exodus-Numbers & Samuel? The problem is, you can say Dvarim brings up a different tradition, but you are picking and choosing from where to find corroborating evidence.

                Lets see if I can be more clear.

                The chronological order, IMHO, is that the Book of Samuel (whether written as one or 2 books) was first, then Devarim, then Kings (and maybe Kings was written in 2 or more parts). And then, the first parts of Exodus-Lev-Num. by Ezra. I also believe that post Ezra, many additional sections were added to the Torah.

                Any biblical scholar that thinks that Kings and Samuel were written by the same author(s) or school of thought is, IMMHO, wrong. The theologies therein, the few references to the then Jewish history or to phrases within the Torah, whatever portion of it may have existed are different enough to imply different schools of thought.

                The pre-dating of Samuel to me, is derived from the fact that (and this stands out very sharply from reading the Book) is that it has no references to words like, Torah, Torat Moshe, Torat Hashem, and similar. Nor are there any references to phrases or mitzvot in the Torah as is often found later in N’kh..

                Further, not only are there no references, we find several pericopes describing events that seem to indicate that Samuel did not have a Torah (either no written Torah at all or at the very least no Torah as we have it.). Examples, the “request for a king” pericope, the divine instruction to kill off Amalek, the training of Samuel. Etc.
                What’s more, both David and Saul transgress what we know as Torah edfined sins without being criticized for it E.g. The various revenge killings, the Bathsheba story, Saul and Samuel’s ghost, etc. There is little doubt in my mind that this Book was written long before the first Torah scroll was ever publicized.

                >>>>> Why shouldn’t the book of Samuel (which according to scholars is the same historical school as Kings) go counter to your assumption about the ark?

                Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I never said that the Ark did not have Cherubim.

                What I said was that Devarim and Kings indicate that there were no Cherubim on the top of the Ark. OTOH the book of Samuel says there were. Since the 2 books had different authors, they could be recording different traditions Or, as I explained further that the authors of Devarim, even if they had believed or thought that there really were some icons on top of the Ark, its not unexpected that they would’ve denied it or at least overlooked it because of their obvious abhorrence for icons or graven images.

                Remember humans wrote the Torah and likely had human agendas.

                For more on the inconsistencies to be found among the various books of N’kh, and how they support the evolution of the Pentateuch, here are 2 interesting links.

                http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2013/04/the-arguments-from-nkh-part-1.html#disqus_thread

                http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2013/04/the-arguments-from-nkh-part-1.html#disqus_thread

  2. “In my commitment, what matters is the fact that God did actually contact man- patriarchs and prophets- and covenant with them. How he did it will continue to be the subject of both conjecture and interpretation, but that He did it in history is the crucial point for me.”
    The whole “in history” part goes against Farber, for whom the patriarchs and Moses and Exodus and Sinai are a figment of Jewish imagination. (But no matter what Rackman held, not sure how that would help Farber–Rackman didn’t have the authority to define the parameters of acceptable Jewish belief.)

    • Anonymous

      I don’t recall that as Farber’s position- I think his point (while it is far from our mainstream beliefs) was similar to rabbi rackman’s.

      While the latter does not determine Jewish dogma, rabbi broyde did write that it does not contradict the 13 principles. Obviously these are all complex issues, but if I do recall correctly, farber was not denying prophecy in history.

  3. Eddie

    He is suggesting that Bereishit was already written before the Torah was given. Or at least a version that was kept with the forefathers. As far as I know, Moses is not mentioned in Bereishit, nor is he referred to as the author.

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