From this week’s Forward:
While the Jewish community is energetic about replying to perceived slurs against Jews or the State of Israel, we are remarkably passive when it comes to answering insults against our religion or our God.
Seems like a workable presmise.
The article first take on the athiests, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. So far we’re good. There’s a bit about apologists and The Guide for the Perplexed:
In fact, the Mishnah makes it every Jewâ€™s obligation to be an effective apologist, an obligation that most of us ignore nowadays: â€œKnow how to answer an unbelieverâ€ (Pirke Avot 2:14) â€” with the word for unbeliever being apikorus, a follower of Epicurus, the Greek philosopher.
Epicurus is known as a primary exponent of materialism, the belief that material reality is all there is in the universe. And materialism happens to be one of the most serious challenges that religion is up against today.
Right on! Then things take a turn:
There are other challenges, like the idea, taught in many university religion departments around the country, that the Torah is in effect a literary fraud. According to more than a few secular scholars, the Five Books of Moses werenâ€™t authored by Moses, as the Torah claims, but rather were stitched together centuries later from works by other writers.
Richard Elliott Friedmanâ€™s book â€œWho Wrote the Bible?â€ gives a popular-level rendition of this theory. No one in academia that Iâ€™m aware of has been bold enough to directly call the Torah a fraud. But surely if we were talking about any nonsacred book, that is what the conclusions of modern biblical criticism would add up to.
The same academic viewpoint designates the Zohar, the Bible of Jewish mysticism, as a cynical medieval hoax masquerading as the more ancient work it purports to be.
We hardly even consider that these opinions present our faith as nothing better than, to quote Hitchens, â€œa plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.â€
So you’re saying Hitchens is bad news, and then you’re using his argument to support your own? I realize there is a segment of Am Yisrael that is unwilling to accept historical criticism of our sacred texts – fine. Scholem spent twenty years attempting to prove that the Zohar pre-dates medieval Spain, and couldn’t do it. Not to mention the fact that without Scholem, there would be no academic study of Jewish Mysticism. As David Solomon once explained, the academic and religious pursuits of Kaballah feed one another – the scholars are digging up old texts that we haven’t had access to for hundreds of years, which are to be found in obscure Beitei Midrash all over the world. For those of us who have yet to learn Hebrew, English translations of mystical texts (often produced in academia) can enrich our Jewish practice, are serve as a wonderful motivation to learn lashon kodesh (the holy tongue) and access the original. This of how many people have been brought closer to Hashem becuse of the work of these men.
Traditional Jews may see the problem, but they do virtually nothing to address it. The Orthodox community, to which I belong, invests generous resources in Torah for consumption by other Orthodox Jews. Thatâ€™s wonderful. But we donâ€™t see the need when it comes to defending Judaismâ€™s honor before the world â€” as the future King David did in facing down Goliath, who had â€œdisgraced the battalions of the living Godâ€ (I Samuel 17:36).
In the case of David, the other Jews were too timid to face down the blaspheming giant. But at least the young hero had the sponsorship of the king, Saul, and thus the blessing of his fellow citizens. We have no David and no Saul.
Liberal Jews may not initially see the problem. Judaismâ€™s assailants arenâ€™t born-again Christians, after all, and the Jewish community has been conditioned by an irrational prejudice that the primary domestic threat worth worrying about is from born-again Christians.
But the children of liberal and traditional Jews alike will grow up in a world where God is routinely dismissed in academic and media venues as a fiction and a fraud, and where these charges go unanswered in the wider public by any Jew.
We thus teach our children, implicitly, that their religion is either indefensible or not worth defending. For anyone concerned about the future of the Jews, that is an utter disaster.
Let’s be clear – I’m fine with you calling out the atheists. If you think they’re dis-respecting your religion (and I do think so), you rightly have a bone to pick. But to claim that for Scholem & Idel, and for pretty much all of Jewish Academia, Torah is “fiction and fruad” is simply unacceptable. These are men and women who have devoted their lives to understanding their spiritual heritage – doing exactly the wrestling inherent in our name – Yisrael. To claim that the only legitimate struggle takes place in the Beit Midrash is, in my mind, born of an ignorance of the scholars of whom you speak. Ask them if they agree with Dawkins and the like before you go slandering half of the Jewish people in such a public forum.
You might as well blame the Reform movement for the Shoah.