Torah from Heaven

BookTorah from Heaven

Torah from Heaven

The Reconstruction of Faith

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


February 19th, 2018

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Traditional Jewish religious belief speaks of a divinely revealed, perfect text, authoritatively expounded. The question this book addresses is one with which the author has struggled all his life: in the light of historical criticism, advances in knowledge, and changing moral attitudes, is the traditional notion of divine revelation and authoritative interpretation still valid? The focus is on Judaism and the examples are mostly drawn from that tradition, but the arguments are easy to transpose to other religions. Norman Solomon's discussion will appeal to those who seek to identify with a religious community but who are troubled by the claim of divine authority made for the scriptures of that community. Ranging across several academic disciplines, it is addressed to people of all religions who find their heads and their hearts are not in accord with each other. It is accessible to a general readership interested in the relationship of scripture, interpretation, and religious authority, though scholars will find original observations and historical interpretations in many areas. It should find a ready place in university and popular programmes in Jewish studies, general theology, and philosophy of religion.


'Solomon intends that his book appeal to both popular and academic readership, a task he rather successfully fulfils. His literary style is characterized by the art of brevity . . . Footnotes are concise and not burdened with endless bibliographic citations. For the interested reader, references throughout the book lead to further reading . . . Theologians will benefit from a plentitude of thought-provoking critique and insight. It is for these reasons that I recommend the book . . . interesting and successful in giving a broad historical perspective as well as provoking thought.'
Dan Baras,

'An excellent resource for researching Jewish intellectual discussion about the Bible.'
Zvi Grumet, Bookjed

'A courageous new book . . . has an impressive range, from scholarship about biblical times to twenty-first century theology and almost all periods in between . . . despite all the detail in the book, it is very readable and comprehensible even for the beginner. It should be required reading for any modern woman or man who thinks seriously about Jewish theology in general and the question of Torah from heaven in particular.'
Martin Lockshin, Canadian Jewish News

'An important book for anyone grappling with traditional Judaism . . . stands with Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology as a seminal work that delves into the richness of our heritage to show that there is more than one way of looking at core religious ideas . . . This book gives us a history of the issues and how different thinkers over the centuries have dealt with the challenges of the Torah. It is a major contribution.'
Jeremy Rosen's blog

'Judicious and erudite.'
Lawrence Grossman, Jerusalem Post

'A scholarly book, it is not written in a difficult style. And for a hardback of this print quality, it is a bargain. On one level, it is an invaluable source book on what he calls the “central doctrine” of Judaism.' Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle

'In this refreshingly fair, sophisticated, and engaging analysis of the doctrine of Torah from Heaven (the Jewish belief in the inerrancy and divinity of scripture), Solomon surveys the history of Jewish biblical interpretation, and concludes that every prior conception of this doctrine is lacking in either intellectual honesty or in its capacity to foster religious conviction. [He] concludes that the only religiously meaningful and intellectually coherent conception of this notion is that of myth . . . can be read by members of any religion whose faith in scripture is challenged by modern archaeological, literary, and scientific evidence . . . The book is sorely needed in Orthodox circles; it should be required reading for all Jewish seminary students, and is highly recommended for any religious individual seeking to establish intellectually stable grounds for belief in the sanctity of scripture.'
Daniel Goodman, Religious Studies Review

Author Information

Norman Solomon retired in 2001 from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where he was Fellow in Modern Jewish Thought. He remains a member of Wolfson College, Oxford, and of the Oxford University Unit for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He was previously Director of the Centre for the Study of Judaism and Jewish/Christian Relations at the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham. Dr Solomon was born in Cardiff, and educated there and at St John’s College, Cambridge. He has been rabbi to Orthodox Congregations in Manchester, Liverpool, London and Birmingham. He is a Past President of the British Association for Jewish Studies, Vice President of the World Congress of Faiths, and a Patron of the International Interfaith Centre. He has participated in Interfaith Dialogue in over twenty countries on five continents; in 2004 he was Scholar in Residence at Mandelbaum House, University of Sydney. Awards he has received include the Sir Sigmund Sternberg CCJ Award in Christian-Jewish Relations (1993) and the Distinguished Service Medal of the University of San Francisco (2000). His publications include Judaism and World Religion (1991), The Analytic Movement: Hayyim Soloveitchik and his School (1993), A Very Short Introduction to Judaism (1996), Historical Dictionary of Judaism (1998), and The Talmud: A Selection (2009), as well as numerous articles and reviews. From 1985-91 he was Editor of the quarterly Christian Jewish Relations.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Dedication Page3
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Note on Transliteration and Classical Sources17
Where I Come From20
The Seduction of ‘True Belief’21
What Does It All Mean?22
Philosophical Beginnings24
Facing the Questions26
Pulpit and Prejudice28
Interfaith Dialogue30
Academic Detachment?31
Part I: Revelation: Torah from Heaven: Growth of a Tradition34
Chapter 1: Holy Books36
What Is ‘Torah’?42
The ‘Sacred Canon’45
Why the Five Books Are Special46
Philo on Moses and the Ancestral Books48
Chapter 2: Torahs? Scripture and the Rabbis50
Divine Revelation: The Story50
Mythic Accounts of Torah53
The Written Torah and the Oral Torah55
Rules of Interpretation57
Interpretation Against the Plain Meaning60
Chapter 3: Mystics and Kabbalists64
Pythagoras, Numerology, and the Book of Creation65
Mystical Significance of the Mitsvot68
Prophets after the Bible70
Nahmanides (Ramban) the Mystic71
Chapter 4: The Great Chain of Being: Philosophers and Kabbalists73
Platonists and Aristotelians74
The Ascent of the Soul75
The Descent and the ‘Shells’77
Reasons for the Mitsvot79
Chapter 5: Maimonides: The ‘Classical’ Position81
Revelation as History81
The Oral Torah82
Torah and Dogma83
Conclusion: Maimonides the Minimalist84
Chapter 6: Oral Torah: What Does It Contain?86
Does the Torah Teach Science?87
The Torah of Kabbalists and Rationalists88
Summary of Part I90
Part II: Attack: The Counter-Tradition: Hard Questions92
Chapter 7: The Counter-Tradition94
The Alexandrians94
Sadducees and Pharisees97
Pagan Philosophical Critiques99
Later Developments107
Chapter 8: The Original Torah110
How Texts Were Written110
Evidence of the Scrolls and the Ancient Versions112
The Severus Scroll116
Can the Original Text be Recovered?117
The Masoretes120
Rabbinic Responses to Textual Variation122
Modern Editions of the Bible127
Chapter 9: Contradictions, Moral Problems, Factual Errors130
The Reconciling Hermeneutic131
Interpreting Aggadah133
Historical and Archaeological Problems136
Moral Issues138
Scientific Inaccuracy142
Fantasy, Arbitrariness, Superstition146
Chapter 10: The Rise of Historical Criticism150
The Beginnings of Biblical Criticism152
Deists and Sceptics155
The Bible as Literature156
From History to Myth157
Source Theory158
Higher Criticism = Higher Antisemitism?162
Summary of Part II164
Part III: Defenders of the Faith: Repairing the Breach: In Defence of Tradition166
Chapter 11: Defenders of the Faith168
What Must be Defended168
Ancient Wisdom Restored: The Renaissance169
Jewish Bible Commentary Rekindled171
Chapter 12: The Transformation of Judaism: Interpretation,Interpretation, Interpretation175
Elijah, the ‘Vilna Gaon’ (1720–1799)178
Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786)184
Torah—Mystical Code, or Source of Values?187
Chapter 13: Mendelssohn’s Influence189
Isaac Samuel Reggio (1784–1855)189
Samuele Davide Luzzatto (1800–1865)191
Heinrich Graetz (1817–1891)195
Umberto Cassuto (1883–1951)196
Chapter 14: Independents197
Jacob Tsevi Mecklenburg (1785–1865)197
Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888)201
Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Weiser, 1809–1879)207
Chapter 15: In the Steps of the Gaon: Written and Oral Torah Are One212
Naftali Tsevi Yehudah Berlin (1816–1893)212
Me’ir Simhah Hakohen of Dvinsk (1843–1926)218
Barukh Halevi Epstein (1860–1942)219
Chapter 16: Hoffman and German Orthodoxy221
David Hoffman (1843–1921)221
Hayim Hirschensohn (1857–1935)222
Benno Jacob (1862–1945) and A. S. Yahuda (1877–1951)223
Isaac Breuer (1883–1946)224
Jehiel Jacob Weinberg (1884–1966)225
Joseph Herman Hertz (1872–1946)226
Summary of Part III228
Part IV: New Foundations: Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Belief230
Chapter 17: Non-Orthodox Reconstructions232
Moses Mendelssohn: Revealed Legislation234
Salomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789–1866): Empiricist of Revelation235
Samuel Holdheim (1806–1860): Radical Reform238
Progressive Revelation: Krochmal, Formstecher, Hirsch, Cohen238
Leo Baeck (1873–1956): Essence of Judaism241
Martin Buber (1878–1965): All Life Is Meeting242
Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929): Creation, Revelation, Redemption243
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972): Passion of the Prophets245
Emmanuel Levinas (1905/6–1995): The Face of the Other250
Chapter 18: Joseph Dov Soloveitchik and the a priori Torah254
The Hermeneutics of ‘Torah’257
Historical Criticism259
The Oral Torah Problem260
Chapter 19: Feminist Critiques265
The Sinai Covenant268
Language and Gender270
Images of God271
Equality before the Law273
The Need for Change275
Chapter 20: Four Defences of Traditional Belief276
David Weiss Halivni: The Maculate Torah277
Louis Jacobs: Liberal Supernaturalism281
Menachem Kellner: Rejection of the Dogmatic Approach283
Tamar Ross: Cumulative Revelation285
Strengths of the Four Approaches288
Chapter 21: Divided by a Common Scripture289
The Reform Torah292
The Orthodox Torah294
The Conservative Torah298
Go Compare Denominations303
Summary of Part IV305
Part V: Torah from Heaven308
Chapter 22: Options310
The Community: Costs and Benefits of Belief311
The Individual: Costs and Benefits of Belief313
Chapter 23: What Is Truth?316
What Is Truth?319
Excursus: Consistency and ‘Double Truth’323
In What Sense Is ‘Torah from Heaven’ True?326
On ‘Narrative Theology’330
Conclusion. ‘Torah from Heaven’: A Myth of Origin330
Chapter 24: Myth of Origin: Opportunities and Dangers333
What ‘Torah from Heaven’ May Signify334
History and Myth Do Not Conflict335
‘Torah from Heaven’: Uses and Abuses335
Benefits of Understanding ‘Torah from Heaven’ as Mythos rather than Logos337
Dangers from Understanding ‘Torah from Heaven’ as Logos rather than Mythos338
Things That Worry People339
Chapter 25: Demography versus Reason: The Future of Jewish Religion342
Does Reason Matter?345
‘Authentic Judaism’348
Survival of the Fittest350
Chapter 26: Confronting Change356
A Meditation at the Mountains of Fire (January 2004)356
Coming to Terms with Modernity358
Intellectual Violence360
Who Decides?362
What I Have Dealt With362
What I Have Not Dealt With363
Index of Scriptural References390
Index of Rabbinic References394
General Index398