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Congregation Or Zarua

Adult Education Class with Marc Ashley

May 2022//Iyar 5782

"Abominable Heresies and Monstrous Acts":

Spinoza's Jewish Roots and Legacy

Session 2: Biblical Criticism

Source Sheet by Marc Ashley
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Created May 15, 2022 · 357 Views נוצר 15 May, 2022 · 357 צפיות

  1. David Ben-Gurion, Let Us Rectify the Injustice (1953)


    [T]he Amsterdam community of that time was not the Hebrew nation, the seventeenth century was not the eternity of the eternal people, and the Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 did not have the authority or power to excommunicate the immortal Spinoza forever. . . What Athenian justice could not do to Socrates, the rabbinic court of Amsterdam could not do to Spinoza. Each is the pride of the nation to which he was born, and their endeavors are organic parts of the history of their people's thought. . . . The rectification required is not a religious but rather a cultural-literary one. Hebrew literature is not complete as long as it does not include all the writings of Baruch Spinoza among the great works of the mind produced by the Jewish people.


    There is no need to agree with all of Spinoza's ideas and views regarding the critical reading of the Bible, about politics, or about the identity of God and nature and human destiny in order to recognize the genius from Amsterdam as one of the great sons of our people and the most original and profound thinker who emerged in our nation between the redaction of the Bible and the birth of Einstein. Everything Spinoza wrote, both what we like and what we do not, belongs to the spiritual treasury of Judaism and belongs on the bookshelf containing the most honored works produced by the Jewish people.


    The Amsterdam community had sufficient reason to banish Spinoza then. Greater and more important reasons require the redemption of Spinoza's heritage from a foreign language. The ban was the product of circumstances that prevailed in a specific and passing time and place. Spinoza the blessed is an immortal born of the eternal people, and we must bring back into our Hebrew language and culture the writings of the most original thinker and most profound philosopher Judaism has produced in the last two thousand years.

  2. Letter by Rabbi Joseph Serfaty to Prof. Yitzchak Melamed (November 28, 2021)


    The chakhamim [scholars] and parnassim [officers] of Kahal Kadosh Talmud Torah excommunicated Spinoza and his writings with the severest possible ban, a ban that remains in force for all time and cannot be rescinded. You have devoted your life to the study of Spinoza’s banned works and the development of his ideas. Your request to visit our complex and create a film about this epikores [heretic] in our Synagogue and Yeshiva (Etz Chaim) is incompatible with our centuries-old halakhic, historic and ethical tradition and an unacceptable assault on our identity and heritage. I therefore deny your request and declare you persona non grata in the Portuguese Synagogue complex.


    I wish you a meaningful Chanukah.

  3. Response letter from Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo (November 30, 2021)



    Yesterday I was overwhelmed by the emails I received showing me the letter from the 28th of November that you sent to Professor Yitzchak Melamed in the USA. In this letter you forbid him to enter the complex of our synagogue . . . to study documents concerning the ban on Spinoza in his efforts to create a film about this philosopher.


    It would seem that you may be ignorant of the fact that the famous former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog z"l (1888-1959), has already stated that the ban was only in force halakhically as long as Spinoza was alive. Furthermore, it would seem you are unaware of the story concerning the ban and the many deliberations concerning the real cause of this ban and the very teachings of Spinoza himself.


    As for Prof. Melamed, it may be necessary to inform you that he is a deeply religious Jew who was raised in the ultra-Orthodox B'nei Brak in Israel and studied in Yeshivot. Your view that the ban on Spinoza’s works is still in force clearly indicates that you are not familiar with his writings, and are thus completely incapable of expressing an opinion about his philosophy.


    As an orthodox rabbi who studied in the ultra-Orthodox Gateshead Yeshiva in England for many years and who has read all of Spinoza’s works, I am of the opinion that Spinoza sometimes deliberately misrepresents Judaism. I am also aware that Spinoza wrote remarkably noble observations about human beings, nature and society which have helped all of us. For all these reasons I strongly object to your terming the professor as a “persona non grata” – an act that is a tremendous insult and chutzpah.


    By banning the professor from the complex of the synagogue, and as such, not even allowing him to join a minyan in our synagogue, you have created an enormous chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, making Orthodox Judaism a farce in the eyes of the many. You have done all of us, who fight for the honor of Judaism, a great disservice.


    Shame on you! You have all the right in the world to disagree with Prof. Melamed, yet it behooves you to invite him to discuss his intentions and the contents of the film, and possibly contribute to his endeavor. I hope the lay leaders of the Portuguese-Spanish Community in Amsterdam will take the necessary steps to undo this great damage.

  4. Maimonides, Commentary on Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Introduction to ch. 10 (1168)

    The eighth principle is that the Torah came from heaven.  We are to believe that the whole Torah that is in our hands today is the Torah that was brought down to Moses, our Teacher, and that all of it is from God by the transmission that is called "speech" metaphorically.  We do not know exactly how it reached us, but only that it came to us through Moses, who acted like a scribe taking dictation.  He wrote down the events of the time and the commandments, for which reason he is called "Lawgiver."   

    There is no distinction between, on the one hand, "the sons of Ham were Cush, Mitrzrayim, Fut, and Canaan" (Genesis 10:6) and "the name of his wife was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred" (Genesis 36:39), and, on the other hand, "I am the Lord your God" (Exodus 20:2) and "Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is One"(Deuteronomy 6:4).  All [Torah] verses are from the mouth of the Almighty; everything is the Torah of God: perfect, pure, holy, and true. 

    Anyone who says that Moses wrote some passages on his own is regarded by our Sages as an atheist of the worst kind of heretic, because he tries to distinguish essence from trivia in the Torah.  Such a heretic claims that some historical passages or stories are trivial inventions of Moses and not Divine Revelation.  But the Sages said that if one accepts as revelation the whole Torah with the exception of even one verse, which Moses himself and not God composed, he is referred to in the verse, "he has spurned the word of the Lord" (Numbers 15:31), and is heretical.  

    Similarly, the authoritative interpretation of the Torah as it has been handed down

    [i.e., much of the Oral Torah] is also the Word of God.  The sukkah we build today, or the lulav, shofar, tzitzit, tefillin, and other forms that we use, replicate exactly those that God showed Moses and which Moses faithfully described for us. 

    This fundamental [eighth] principle is taught by the verse: 

    "And Moses said, 'By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising'" (Numbers 16:28). 

  5. (א) בֶּן־שָׁנָ֖ה שָׁא֣וּל בְּמׇלְכ֑וֹ וּשְׁתֵּ֣י שָׁנִ֔ים מָלַ֖ךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

    (1) Saul was . . . years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel two years.

  6. (ז) וּמֹשֶׁה֙ בֶּן־שְׁמֹנִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַֽהֲרֹ֔ן בֶּן־שָׁלֹ֥שׁ וּשְׁמֹנִ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה בְּדַבְּרָ֖ם אֶל־פַּרְעֹֽה׃

    (7) Moses was 80 years old and Aaron 83 years old, when they made their demand on Pharaoh.


  7. ״בֶּן שָׁנָה שָׁאוּל בְּמׇלְכוֹ״, אָמַר רַב הוּנָא: כְּבֶן שָׁנָה, שֶׁלֹּא טָעַם טַעַם חֵטְא.







    The Gemara continues its discussion of Saul and David. It is written: “Saul was one year old when he began to reign” (I Samuel 13:1), which cannot be understood literally, as Saul was appointed king when he was a young man. Rav Huna said: The verse means that when he began to reign he was like a one-year–old, in that he had never tasted the taste of sin but was wholly innocent and upright.

  8. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, ch. 9 (1670) [on 1 Samuel 13:1]


    That the text is mutilated cannot be doubted by anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with the Hebrew language. . . .  Who can fail to see that the number of years of Saul's age when he began to reign has been omitted?  And I do not think that anyone can doubt too that the narrative itself requires a greater number for the years of his reign.

  9. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, chapter 7 (1670)


    I say that the method of interpreting Scripture does not differ at all from the method of interpreting nature, but agrees with it completely.  For the method of interpreting nature consists above all in putting together a history of nature, from which, as from certain data, we infer the definitions of natural things.  In the same way, to interpret Scripture it is necessary to prepare a straightforward history of Scripture and to infer from it the mind of Scripture's authors, by legitimate inferences, as from certain data and principles.  For in this way everyone -- provided he has admitted no principles or data for interpreting Scripture and discussing it than those drawn from Scripture itself and its history -- will always proceed without danger of error. . . . 


    To know whether Moses believed that God is fire, we must in no way infer our answer from the fact that this sentence, taken literally, agrees with reason or is contrary to it.  Instead, we must rely only on other statements that Moses himself makes. . . . 


    Maimonides assumes that it is legitimate for us to explain away and distort the words of Scripture to accord with our preconceived opinions, to deny the literal meaning and change it into something else even when it is perfectly plain and absolutely clear.

  10. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, chapter 7 (1670)


    On every side we hear men saying that the Bible is the Word of God, teaching mankind true blessedness, or the path to salvation. . . .  We see that nearly all men parade their own ideas as God's word, their chief aim being to compel others to think as they do, while using religion as a pretext.  We see, I say, that the chief concern of theologians on the whole has been to extort from the Holy Scripture their own arbitrarily invented ideas, for which they claim divine authority. . . .  They ascribe to the Holy Spirit whatever their wild fantasies have invented, and devote their utmost strength and enthusiasm to defending it.

  11. וּמִי כְּתָבָן? מֹשֶׁה כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת בִּלְעָם וְאִיּוֹב; יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּשְׁמוֹנָה פְּסוּקִים שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה; שְׁמוּאֵל כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וְשׁוֹפְטִים וְרוּת.




    The baraita now considers the authors of the biblical books: And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam in the Torah, and the book of Job. Joshua wrote his own book and eight verses in the Torah, which describe the death of Moses. Samuel wrote his own book, the book of Judges, and the book of Ruth. ​​​​​​​

  12. (א) וַיַּ֨עַל מֹשֶׁ֜ה מֵעַרְבֹ֤ת מוֹאָב֙ אֶל־הַ֣ר נְב֔וֹ רֹ֚אשׁ הַפִּסְגָּ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֣י יְרֵח֑וֹ וַיַּרְאֵ֨הוּ יְהֹוָ֧ה אֶת־כׇּל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֶת־הַגִּלְעָ֖ד עַד־דָּֽן׃ (ב) וְאֵת֙ כׇּל־נַפְתָּלִ֔י וְאֶת־אֶ֥רֶץ אֶפְרַ֖יִם וּמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וְאֵת֙ כׇּל־אֶ֣רֶץ יְהוּדָ֔ה עַ֖ד הַיָּ֥ם הָאַחֲרֽוֹן׃ (ג) וְאֶת־הַנֶּ֗גֶב וְֽאֶת־הַכִּכָּ֞ר בִּקְעַ֧ת יְרֵח֛וֹ עִ֥יר הַתְּמָרִ֖ים עַד־צֹֽעַר׃ (ד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֵלָ֗יו זֹ֤את הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִ֠שְׁבַּ֠עְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָ֨ם לְיִצְחָ֤ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹב֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לְזַרְעֲךָ֖ אֶתְּנֶ֑נָּה הֶרְאִיתִ֣יךָ בְעֵינֶ֔יךָ וְשָׁ֖מָּה לֹ֥א תַעֲבֹֽר׃ (ה) וַיָּ֨מׇת שָׁ֜ם מֹשֶׁ֧ה עֶבֶד־יְהֹוָ֛ה בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מוֹאָ֖ב עַל־פִּ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃ (ו) וַיִּקְבֹּ֨ר אֹת֤וֹ בַגַּי֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מוֹאָ֔ב מ֖וּל בֵּ֣ית פְּע֑וֹר וְלֹא־יָדַ֥ע אִישׁ֙ אֶת־קְבֻ֣רָת֔וֹ עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ (ז) וּמֹשֶׁ֗ה בֶּן־מֵאָ֧ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֛ים שָׁנָ֖ה בְּמֹת֑וֹ לֹא־כָהֲתָ֥ה עֵינ֖וֹ וְלֹא־נָ֥ס לֵחֹֽה׃ (ח) וַיִּבְכּוּ֩ בְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּעַֽרְבֹ֥ת מוֹאָ֖ב שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וַֽיִּתְּמ֔וּ יְמֵ֥י בְכִ֖י אֵ֥בֶל מֹשֶֽׁה׃ (ט) וִיהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֗וּן מָלֵא֙ ר֣וּחַ חׇכְמָ֔ה כִּֽי־סָמַ֥ךְ מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־יָדָ֖יו עָלָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁמְע֨וּ אֵלָ֤יו בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וַֽיַּעֲשׂ֔וּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶת־מֹשֶֽׁה׃ (י) וְלֹא־קָ֨ם נָבִ֥יא ע֛וֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כְּמֹשֶׁ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יְדָע֣וֹ יְהֹוָ֔ה פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽים׃ (יא) לְכׇל־הָ֨אֹתֹ֜ת וְהַמּוֹפְתִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר שְׁלָחוֹ֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפַרְעֹ֥ה וּלְכׇל־עֲבָדָ֖יו וּלְכׇל־אַרְצֽוֹ׃ (יב) וּלְכֹל֙ הַיָּ֣ד הַחֲזָקָ֔ה וּלְכֹ֖ל הַמּוֹרָ֣א הַגָּד֑וֹל אֲשֶׁר֙ עָשָׂ֣ה מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְעֵינֵ֖י כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

    (1) Moses went up from the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, opposite Jericho, and God showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan; (2) all Naphtali; the land of Ephraim and Manasseh; the whole land of Judah as far as the Western Sea; (3) the Negeb; and the Plain—the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. (4) And God said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ‘I will assign it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there.” (5) So Moses the servant of God died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of God. (6) God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, near Beth-peor; and no one knows his burial place to this day. (7) Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.

    (8) And the Israelites bewailed Moses in the steppes of Moab for thirty days. The period of wailing and mourning for Moses came to an end. (9) Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him; and the Israelites heeded him, doing as God had commanded Moses. (10) Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses—whom God singled out, face to face, (11) for the various signs and portents that God sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, (12) and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.

  13. (ו) וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם עַ֖ד אֵל֣וֹן מוֹרֶ֑ה וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֖י אָ֥ז בָּאָֽרֶץ׃


    (6) Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

  14. והכנעני אז בארץ. יתכן שארץ כנען תפשה כנען מיד אחר; ואם איננו כן

    יש לו סוד והמשכיל ידום:





    It is possible that the Canaanites seized the land of Canaan from some other tribe at that time. Should this interpretation be incorrect, then there is a secret meaning to the text. Let the one who understands it remain silent.

  15. וכן פי' ככל אשר צוה ה' אותו אליהם בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה ואם תבין סוד השנים עשר, גם ויכתוב משה, והכנעני אז בארץ, בהר ה' יראה, גם והנה ערשו ערש ברזל, תכיר האמת:






    "[Moses addressed the Israelites] in accordance with the instructions that the Lord had given him for them" (verse 3), refers to the commandments given "beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Aravah" (verse 1).

    If you understand the secret of the twelve and also that of "So Moses wrote "(Deuteronomy 31:22); "And the Canaanites were then in the Land" (Genesis 12:6);

    "As it is said today, 'On the Mount of the Lord it shall be revealed'" (Genesis 22:14); and "Behold, his [King Og's] bedstead, an iron bedstead, is now in Rabbah of the Ammonites" (Deuteronomy 3:11) --

    then you will recognize the truth.

  16. (ח) וְנָתַ֧ן אַהֲרֹ֛ן עַל־שְׁנֵ֥י הַשְּׂעִירִ֖ם גֹּרָל֑וֹת גּוֹרָ֤ל אֶחָד֙ לַיהֹוָ֔ה וְגוֹרָ֥ל אֶחָ֖ד לַעֲזָאזֵֽל׃

    (8) And he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for God and the other marked for Azazel.

  17. R. Shlomo ben Shmuel HaTzarfati (1160-1240), supercommentary to Ibn Ezra

    Do not be surprised that "Azazel​​​​​​​"is written in Aramaic [rather than Hebrew]; for Moses did not write this verse.  This is a secret that we share, that Moses did not compose this verse, but someone else did.  And do not be taken aback at what I say, that another person wrote it, because this is not unique; there are many [verses] that Moses did not state, such as from "And Moses went up" until the words "before the eyes of all of Israel" (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) [i.e., the Torah's conclusion detailing Moses's death].

  18. (לא) וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמְּלָכִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר מָלְכ֖וּ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ אֱד֑וֹם לִפְנֵ֥י מְלׇךְ־מֶ֖לֶךְ לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

    (31) These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Israelites.

  19. (יד) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם כִּ֥י נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אָחִ֑יו וַיָּ֨רֶק אֶת־חֲנִיכָ֜יו יְלִידֵ֣י בֵית֗וֹ שְׁמֹנָ֤ה עָשָׂר֙ וּשְׁלֹ֣שׁ מֵא֔וֹת וַיִּרְדֹּ֖ף עַד־דָּֽן׃


    (14) When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he mustered his attendants, born into his household, numbering 318, and went in pursuit as far as [the geographical region of] Dan.

  20. (י) כִּ֤י עֶזְרָא֙ הֵכִ֣ין לְבָב֔וֹ לִדְרֹ֛שׁ אֶת־תּוֹרַ֥ת יְהֹוָ֖ה וְלַעֲשֹׂ֑ת וּלְלַמֵּ֥ד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חֹ֥ק וּמִשְׁפָּֽט׃        

    (10) For Ezra had dedicated himself to study the Torah of the Lord so as to observe it, and to teach laws and rules to Israel.

  21. Bemidbar Rabbah III, 13


    Some give another reason why the dots [puncta extraordinaria] are inserted. 

    Ezra reasoned thus: If Elijah comes and asks, "Why have you written these words"

    [i.e., why have you included these suspect passages]?  I [Ezra] shall respond: "That is why I dotted these passages."  And if he says to me: "You have done well in having written them," then I shall erase the dots over them.

  22. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, chapter 8 (1670)


    I will begin with the received opinions concerning the true authors of the sacred books, and, in the first place, speak of the author of the Pentateuch, who is almost universally supposed to have been Moses.  The Pharisees are so firmly convinced of his identity that they account as a heretic anyone who differs from them on the subject.  [Abraham] Ibn Ezra, a man of enlightened intelligence and significant learning, was the first, so far as I know, to address a [contrary] opinion, but dared not express his meaning openly, rather confining himself to obscure hints that I shall not hesitate to elucidate, thus throwing full light on the subject. . . . 


    We have explained Ibn Ezra's opinion and also clarified the passages of the Pentateuch he cites to prove it.  However, Ibn Ezra does not call attention to every instance [of textual evidence proving non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch], or even the primary ones; there remain many of greater importance that may be cited. . . .   


    From the foregoing, it is clear beyond a shadow of doubt that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but rather by someone who lived many generations after Moses. . . .

    We can conclude that all the books of the Hebrew Bible that we have so far considered are the works of other hands, and that their contents are narrated as ancient history. . . .

    I cannot imagine that anyone but Ezra the Scribe was the writer of these books.

  23. Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, at 97 (2004)


    Faced with all the textual differences, even Maimonides' son R. Abraham agreed that there was no authoritative text, and he was therefore unwilling to invalidate scrolls that differed from Maimonides' prescriptions.  Maimonides' establishment of the authority of the Ben Asher Masoretic text as dogma means that the sages of the Talmud and Midrash, the Babylonian Masoretes, and countless medieval scholars stand in opposition to Maimonides' [Eighth] Principle, thus making them heretics! . . . 

    It is thus impossible to speak about the Torah "found in our hands today" without clarifying that there is no such single text.

  24. David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash, chapter 5 at 133 (1991)


    A consequence of this process of sinning and correlative neglect of the text of the Torah, therefore, was the phenomenon of a divine text whose peshat ["plain" meaning] in some places had become corrupt and thus in need of midrashic emendation.  Rabbinic derash ["applied" meaning] restores the "genuine" peshat of these problematic verses, displacing the current peshat which, through the corrosive process of chate'u Yisrael [i.e., sinful neglect of the Biblical text], had become textually entrenched.  These instances of problematic peshat, however, were not allowed to become exegetically canonized, primarily because of the restorative efforts of Ezra in the early Second Temple period. 


    Ezra impelled the process of the "rehabilitation" of the text of the Torah, partly through a system of markers flagging certain words as spurious [i.e., the puncta extraordinaria], but more comprehensively through restorative midrashic exposition.  Despite the historical process of chate'u Yisrael, which had created a faulty [biblical] text, Ezra possessed sufficient authority to render the potentially misleading peshat of certain Torah passages harmless by reinstituting their correct meaning, but he did not possess sufficient authority to actually emend the faulty [biblical] text in most instances. . . . 

    And therein lies the religious Jew's guarantee that, though the Torah is, in places, textually blemished, his halakha lema'ase [body of practical law] does correspond with and express the divine will as embodied in the original revelation.

  25. (יג) נָחִ֥יתָ בְחַסְדְּךָ֖ עַם־ז֣וּ גָּאָ֑לְתָּ         נֵהַ֥לְתָּ בְעׇזְּךָ֖ אֶל־נְוֵ֥ה קׇדְשֶֽׁךָ׃


    (יז) תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔         מָכ֧וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ יְהֹוָ֑ה מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כּוֹנְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ׃ (יח) יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ יִמְלֹ֖ךְ לְעֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד׃




    (13) In Your love You lead the people You redeemed; In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode. . . .

    (17) You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain,

    The place You made to dwell in, Lord,
    The sanctuary, O my lord, which Your hands established.

    (18) The Lord will reign for ever and ever!


  26. Baruch J. Schwartz, The Song at the Sea: What Does it Celebrate?,


    The historical horizon of the hymn, the dramatic period in Israel’s history that this sublime Song celebrates, thus extends well beyond the time of the Exodus and the deliverance at the Sea. The Song indeed begins with the miraculous, terrifying annihilation of Egypt’s elite forces, devoting to it a full twelve verses. But it then goes on to recount subsequent events. It telescopes the journey through the wilderness, focusing on Israel’s unimpeded progress to, and conquest of, the land of Canaan, and it climaxes in the building of the Temple on God’s holy mountain.


    The victory at the Sea is therefore the Song’s starting-point, but it is not its object. The Song is not a hymn of thanksgiving offered at the moment of Israel’s salvation at the Sea but rather a celebration of God’s providential lovingkindness, from that time until the present day. The present day, obviously, cannot be earlier than the latest event mentioned: the establishment of God’s Temple on His holy mountain in Canaan, centuries after the time of Moses. The hymn thus celebrates God’s enthronement in His permanent abode, His Temple in Jerusalem, which, for the poet, is the climax and goal of Israel’s election and redemption, the most wondrous stages of which are described in retrospect.


    Numerous translators, and quite a number of commentaries from all periods, have obscured this fact. They have done so by interpreting verses 13–19 as though they spoke of events still in progress or yet to come. . . .  Those familiar with Biblical Hebrew grammar and style, however, will immediately recognize that this is impossible. In biblical poetry, the imperfect (or prefixed) form of the verb very often indicates actions completed in the past. That this is the case here can be demonstrated conclusively. . . .


    Linguistically then, there is no justification for reading the Song as if it celebrated the miracle at the Sea as an event that had just taken place and looked forward to Israel’s future progress. The recent event that the Song celebrates is the building of the Temple, presented as the culmination of a process of uninterrupted divine providence that began with the Exodus. Of course, translators and commentators who have concealed this have not done so because of any deficiency in their command of Biblical Hebrew. Rather, the notion that the Torah might contain passages that refer explicitly to events well after the time of Moses as though they belonged to the distant past was simply unthinkable.

    The implication, that portions of the Torah did not even exist in Moses’ time and could not have been written by him, was unimaginable. And so it fell to critical scholars to realize that the author of this portion of the Torah’s narrative evidently embedded in his account of the events surrounding the Exodus a poem – most likely not of his own creation – originally designed for a different purpose entirely: to mark the completion of God’s earthly dwelling-place, the Jerusalem Temple.


    Critical scholars have taken their cue on this and similar matters from Abraham ibn Ezra who, in the twelfth century, laid down two iron-clad rules about validity in interpretation: first, that no interpretation that fails to meet the rigorous demands of Hebrew grammar is admissible; second, that no author, not even a prophet, indeed not even God, speaks or writes in the past tense of events that have not yet taken place. Ibn Ezra thus admitted that certain passages in the Torah date from, and pertain to, time periods long after the lifetime of Moses and therefore could not have been written by him – even at God’s own bidding. And while Ibn Ezra did not include the Song at the Sea among the passages he so identified, it is through our own unfailing adherence to the principles of intellectual integrity on which he insisted that we are able to gain a new appreciation for the Song at the Sea – both in its original role and in its eventual incorporation within the Torah narrative.

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