Monday, July 16, 2007

A Muse: Devarim 2007

In reviewing Devarim what comes to mind is what Biblical scholars refer to as Deuternomic Law. The authorship of Deuteronomy isn’t as obvious as one would think and as such is treated as a separate text not having the same sacred quality as the first four books. Raising this issue causes a certain level of discomfort among the more conservative traditionalists rejecting this and ascribing to Deuteronomy the same divine quality as the other four books.

What is most fascinating however is the fact that our precursors in the Middle Ages were more open to intellectual inquiry than contemporary conservative traditionalists. Whereas the medievalists had inquiring minds reflecting significant intellectual curiosity our contemporaries are living somewhat in the Middle Ages when it comes to intellectual inquiry of text because it isn’t consistent with the “frum party line”.

Apart from the fact the Talmud ( Megilla 31b) touches surreptitiously on this very subject when discussing the division of aliyot, Don Isaac Abarbanel is very open and blunt regarding his inquiry of the authorship of Deuteronomy. In his preface to Deuteronomy completed after the expulsion from Spain he wrote to his mentor Rabbi Joseph Hayyun questioning whether or nor Mishne Torah was from God or from Moses. In his lengthy question Abarbanel sites Nahmanides who divides Deuteronomy into two sections: The first section given by God, but the second section, that of the tokheka was ascribed to Moses. Rabbi Hayyun, in addressing Abarbanel, divide Deuteronomy into three sections: 1. The section on admonishment; 2. The commandments in the main body of the text; 3. The clarification of the commandments. According to Hayyun, the first and third sections were authored by Moses, while only the second section was authored by God.

Others such as Rabbi Isaac Karo believed that Deuteronomy was divinely inspired but the work of Moses, including the admonishments. Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbai and Rabbi Moses ben Joseph Trani (16th century Safed) also shared this view. There are numerous other scholars of that period who shared this opinion with modifications and clarifications of sorts. The point here is not to compare and contrast the finer points between the various scholars, merely to point out that there was a significant place for scholarly discourse regarding Torah and its authorship. Intellectual discourse and inquiry was the hallmark among these scholars of the middle ages something that is unfortunately missing in contemporary yeshivot and their exponents.