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.
“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.”
Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 1): Rabbi Menachem Leibtag
Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 3): Q&A session with the two authors above
Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response (Guest post by Ben Elton)
Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study (Guest post by Ben Zion Katz)