15 Тамуза 5784 г., первый день недели, гл. Пинхас

The Rebbe’s Opinion On: “Bible Criticism”

You mention, in passing, certain theories by certain Bible critics. But, as you know, it is not a case where these people have a different tradition from ours, going back to all those ancient generations.

29.02.2024 228 (0)
The Rebbe’s Opinion On: “Bible Criticism”
The Rebbe’s Opinion On: “Bible Criticism”

...Your letter of January 14th reached me with considerable delay. You posed a number of questions regarding our Torah and Mitzvoth, faith and traditions, etc.

Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss adequately in a letter such questions as you raise... However, inasmuch as you have raised these questions, I will attempt to answer them briefly.

1) How can one be certain of the authority of the T’nach in all its particulars?

The answer to this is based on common sense, and if one approaches the question open-mindedly and without prejudice, one must come to this conclusion. To put it very briefly, and going back from our present generation to preceding generations, we have before us the text of the T’nach as it was transmitted from one generation to the other by hundreds and thousands of parents of different backgrounds to their children. Even during the times of the greatest persecutions, and even after the destruction of the Beth Hamikdash, there always survived hundreds and thousands of Jews who preserved the text of the T’nach and the traditions, so that the chain has never been broken.

Now, assume that someone would come today and wish to add a new chapter or a new section to the T’nach, declaring this new addition to be of the same antiquity and validity as the other parts of the T’nach, it is clear that no one will accept it on the ground of the simple question: If this is truly a part of the T’nach, how is it that we have not had it before? The same would apply to any question as to the dating of any particular section of the T’nach, which itself contains a record of the prophecies beginning from Moshe Rabbenu to the latest prophets Zecharia, Haggi and Malachi.

You mention, in passing, certain theories by certain Bible critics. But, as you know, it is not a case where these people have a different tradition from ours, going back to all those ancient generations. It is rather a case where this one or that one has come out with theories or hypotheses which are not only speculative, but have been shown to be unscientific as well as illogical. For, according to them, it would be a case where thousands upon thousands of Jews have at one point or another suddenly changed their views and attitudes toward the T’nach in radical ways. With all the arguments about superstition or mass hypnosis, etc., such radical changes by hundreds of thousands of people of different backgrounds in different parts of the world, etc., are simply very farfetched and most illogical.

Furthermore, there is a basic difference between our Jewish tradition and those of other faiths, such as Christianity or Islam. For, whereas in the latter cases the traditions go back to one individual or a limited number of individuals, our traditions go back to a revelation which was experienced by a whole people at once, so that at no time did we have to place our trust in the veracity of one, or a few, individuals.

2) You mention the existence of other ancient codes among other ancient peoples, which are in many respects similar to the laws of our Torah.

I do not see what difference or contradiction this can have to the authenticity of the Torah. The point is that when a similarity of ideas is found between two peoples, it is necessary to ascertain which one derives from the other. More important still is not so much the similarity as the difference. Thus, you mention Mesopotamia, and presumably you have in mind the code of Hammurabi. A careful comparison will show at once that the similarities are only superficial, but the differences are basic. For the Code of Hammurabi is permeated with a spirit of extraordinary cruelty, as for example in regard to the penalties for theft, etc., and the same is true of other similar codes, whereas the underlying principles of the laws of the Torah are uniquely merciful. However, the essential thing is, as mentioned earlier, that there is no proof whatever that the laws of the Torah have been derived from other ancient codes.

In this connection, you also mention the similarity of the custom found in the Torah as well as in ancient Mesopotamia that when a wife could bear no children to her husband she could take her maid-servant and give her to her husband for a wife, with a view of adopting the children, etc. Here again, I do not see what difficulty this similarity of custom presents. For, even today, you may find similarity of customs between the most observant Jew and his non-Jewish neighbors as long as it is not in conflict with the Torah. For, to be authentically Jewish, it is not absolutely necessary to reject every possible similarity of custom or habit which might prevail in the society, but rather to bring in a spirit of holiness into a custom or practice which is otherwise not in conflict with the Torah.

(From a letter dated 27th of Shevat 5723, February 21, 1963)

Translation: Мнение Ребе о «библейской критике»

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