It is only in recent times that Yeshivas (post-high-school religious schools) began again to teach Bible. The problem that the rabbis faced was that enlightenment scholars raised multiple questions about the Bible, questions that seemed to show that God did not write or inspire the Bible, but that it was composed by many different authors with different agendas, some of whom made mistakes. The Yeshiva rabbis did not know how to respond to the attacks. So, the rabbis stopped teaching Bible and told students that if they wanted to study the Torah they should do so on their own. Instead, the rabbis taught only Talmud and ethical books. This situation existed when I attended a prominent Yeshiva in the 1950s.
Today, many Yeshiva’s have scholars of their own, rabbis with a well-grounded knowledge of secular books. Amnon Bazak is a leading figure in the renaissance of Tanakh (Bible) study. He offers a very readable yet sophisticated understanding of Tanakh rooted in a firm belief in the sanctity of the Bible while examining it from the perspective of science, archeology, and logic.
“To This Very Day, Fundamental Questions in Bible Study” is published by Maggid Books, a division of the prestigious Koren Publishers Jerusalem and is part of the Maggid Studies in Tanakh series. The series examines the text, themes, and personalities of the various books of the bible using an approach that incorporates traditional rabbinic interpretations with scholarly literary techniques, both Jewish and non-Jewish, reflecting the view of Maimonides (1138-1204) that the truth is the truth no matter what its source. Maggid has published more than a half dozen of these splendid books so far. Rabbi Bazak reveals many understandings about the Bible that most people do not know as well as ideas that are true despite they being contrary to what many people believe is good traditions. The following are some examples of issues examined by Rabbi Bazak.
The word Torah appears in the first five books of the Torah, but it generally refers to the observance of a single commandment; only one or two incidences could possibly refer to the entire five books but this is debatable. Thus, the Five Books of Moses does not say that God dictated the Torah. II Kings 22:8 describes that a book of the Torah was found, but scholars and Rashi state this was only the book of Deuteronomy or parts of it. There is no way of knowing how, when, and by whom the Five Books of the Torah were committed to writing. For many centuries, the Five Books were called “The Books of Moses” and “The Torah of Moses,” not the Books of God. It was not until the beginning of the Second Temple Era that the idea arose that God dictated the Torah to Moses; the Torah itself does not make this claim. According to Midrash Exodus Rabba, God did not dictate the Torah, but trusted Moses to write it in accordance with God’s will.
Some rabbis, such as Rashbam, Bekhor Shor, Yehuda HaHasid and collections of midrashim believe that Moses wrote the narrative parts in the Five Books of Moses along with the entire book of Deuteronomy of his own accord, while only the laws and commands were written by Moses at God’s command. There are midrashim that recognize that the statement in the Torah “Until this day” as well as many other statements indicate that these sections were composed after Moses’ death. There are many different opinions among the sages on how the Torah was written.
These are just a small sampling of the many fascinating discussions that Amnon Bazak has in his very interesting book.