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The view of the three streams of Judaism regarding revelation (of G-d), Halachic authority and academic study.

Introduction During the nineteenth century, three major streams of Judaism developed: the Modern Orthodox, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. The greatest difference among them may be seen in how they interpret the concept of revelation of G-d (at Mount Sinai) as well as their view of Halacha and Halachic authority. As well, the academic field of study of Judaism created further gaps in the understanding of these values. When discussing the three streams of Judaism, one may look to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi Zechariah Frankel and Rabbi Abraham Geiger as the three dominant figures who formed and shaped the Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements. Each person, in his own way, affected the stream by developing it based on his beliefs regarding the revelation of G-d, acceptance (or rejection) of Halachic authority and the academic study of Judasim.

Revelation of G-d The divine revelation of G-d is considered to have occurred at Mount Sinai, after the children of Israel left Egypt. This event can be looked at as the catalyst which turned the individuals who left Egypt as slaves into a People, a Nation. Many have analyzed this event and tried to understand it. Was this revelation Divine (an act of G-d) or was it a phenomenon of nature that the people interpreted as divine? The three major streams of Judaism have very different attitudes to the event that took place at Mount Sinai. According to Modern Orthodox Jew (also known as Neo-Orthodox) the revelation at Mount Sinai was Divine; it was both supernatural and eternal. G-d spoke to

Moses at Mount Sinai and gave him the whole Torah (both the written and oral law). They believe that the Torah is the absolute truth; as stated in the Torah, Moses received the two tablets at one time and G-ds laws, as laid out in the Torah, are to be strictly adhered to According to Rabbi Hirsch in his approach Torah im Derech Eretz, we should accept the Torah and the lifestyle laid out in the Torah as well as the wisdom seen in the Torah. Conservative Judaism, which emerged as a reaction to the more liberal reform movement views the revelation of G-d very similar to the Neo-Orthodox stream, in that the event was religious (inspired by G-d). However, Conservative Jews believe the written word came from Moses (and later on the prophets) and not G-d. G-d did not tell them what to write, rather non-verbally inspired them in what they wrote. Rabbi Zechariah Frankel, who founded the school of thought Positive-Historical Judaism, which was the forerunner of the Conservative Movement, believed that Judaism tied its Torah (laws) to divine revelation. In his writings on Judaism, Frankel says that the Torah contains all the laws that were revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The laws of Moses are the result of the divine revelation but the oral law was re-interpreted by Torah sages. Both Hirsh and Frankel felt the revelation at Mount Sinai was the authoritative basis for the written law. They differed, however, in their belief of the oral law. Hirsh believed that both the oral and written laws were given at the divine revelation on Mount Sinai whereas Frankel felt that the oral laws were written by sages in keeping with the historical developments of the time. He did not believe that oral laws were given at the same time as the divine revelation at Mount Sinai.

Rabbi Abraham Geiger, the leader of the Reform Movement, did not attach great importance to divine revelation. He felt that the Bible was considered holy because it included the essence of ethics. He asserted that the essence of prophecy in the Bible was what enhanced the level of its holiness and not divine

revelation. He felt that revelation was not an individual event but rather a process. In 1937, at the Columbus Platform (which outlined the guiding principles of Reform Judaism) it was declared that revelation was an ongoing process and not limited to a specific group or for a specified period. Intelligence outweighed divine revelation. Although the revelation was divine, the writing of the Torah by human beings was inspired by the encounter between man and the divine.Geiger felt that the Torah did not rise above its historical surroundings, rather it was influenced by it. The role of Judaism was to protect the monotheist idea in light of the corruption of the pagan cultures. He distinguished between an ability to build a world based on tradition without revealing anything new, as opposed to the genius of deriving the truth from a greater external source which brings about inspiration. This, in his opinion, was the foundation of revelation, in all fields including religion. An act of revelation is a human process which results in inspiration. Halachic Authority Halacha is the collective body of religious laws, including biblical law (613 commandments), talmudic and rabbinical law, as well as customs and traditions. Halachic authority is the official body which passes and enacts the laws as laid out in the Torah (and later on the Mishnah). Hirsh believed that the source of our halacha lay in divine revelation. Therefore, the halachic authority was divine and absolute and was not open to dispute. Both the oral and written Torah were given to Moses at Sinai and as such carried the same weight. He said there was no discriminating between the commandments. The Modern (or Neo) Orthodox believe that the Torah is eternal, given complete from heaven and therefore is above history. The Jews do not make Halacha rather Halacha, which itself deals with most areas of daily life serves to protect the people. Modern Orthodox feel that arguments in favor of changes in Halacha are based on incorrect readings of the texts; our religion is not one which may be updated, nor may we change halacha to suit the needs of the people. Hirsch believed that if the Jews had adapted the religion to suit the

times in which they lived, there would be no more need for religion. Religion is not something which may be changed, rather the person, himself, must do the changing. The Torah and its laws are not to be fixed, man must make the corrections within himself. Halacha is a constant when there is agreement between behaviours of the people and the knowledge of Torah. Zacharias Frankel described Halacha as a developmental process which came about following the circumstances of the time when accepting halacha was dependant on the desire of the people. As a result of interactions between scholars involved in public safety and public benefit for scholars in everyday life, our sages came up with laws which were passed and accepted by the people. The Conservative Movement believes that Halacha is binding but should evolve to reflect the changing reality of Jewish life. As a result, the movement feels that Halacha evolves and goes forward, directly or indirectly affected by the revelation at Mount Sinai. God's will was revealed at Mount Sinai, but inspired and developed during the history of the nation. The revelation which took place at Mount Sinai is continually expanding and is thus reflected in Halachic law which evolves and reflects the changing realities of Jewish life. Geiger asserted that Halacha was not eternal and had to be the foundation upon which Judaism was built. The eternal foundations of Judaism were the ideologies and the prophets and their belief in one G-d. As such, the divine authority of classical texts must be nullified with historical criticism; note, bringing the Bible into human history does not mean denying, but rather it shows that it is not unchanging. Geiger felt an affinity of love to the spiritual development of Judaism, from its first day until the present. However, he maintained that it could not be that the Talmud was one product of an unchanging will of G-d. He asserted that the Talmud was a product of continuous legal activity conducted by man, which took place in reaction to the environment. According to Reform Judaism, we cannot lay the foundation of Jewish life on an unchanging Halacha nor on Halacha which develops and changes but, rather, on the internal creative

spirit of Judaism. Geiger viewed the Talmud as the spiritual expression of the times in which the people lived. He explained that the people accepted the religious authority during the middle ages as a means for survival. The conditions of life at that time was as such that the religious authority was very strong. However, as conditions of life change, so too should the strength of the religious authority. I would like to note that Hirsch attacked Frankel for believing that Halacha was the intellectual creation of the times one lived in. Hirsch accepted Halachic authority as given directly from God and therefore not open to change; Frankel explained this as an indirect byproduct of the revelation at Mount Sinai. He affirmed that the basis of Halacha was the divine authority, but the oral laws had not been revealed at Mount Sinai. They came about, rather, as the result of circumstances and the peoples development and would continue to develop. In contrast to both, Geiger rejected the authority of the Halacha. For him, moral autonomy was more important because he believed that as long as that moral value ass preserved, religion would continue to influence future generations. In 1937, he recorded: "each generation has an obligation to adapt the provisions of the law to his basic needs, while maintaining the spirit of Judaism. Academic Study of Judaism In 1819, a movement called "The Society for Jewish Culture and Science" was formed. The movements aim of the study of Judaism was to show the beauty of this religion to the people of Europe of the 19th century and establish Judaism on the foundation of modern science. This group developed a methodology for academic Jewish study and gave the tools for the study of Judaism. For the founders, Judaism was not a religion but the history of the people of Israel. The members believed that by exploring the historical past, they could present the human aspect of Judaism to the world. The movement, however, dissolved after five years and the majority of its members converted.

In contrast to traditional studying which was based on the traditional authority of the law, academic study interprets but does not criticize. Those who believe in the academic study of Judaism feel that traditional studying endangers the truth of the sources. However, the exploration of Judaism and historical critique of the sources seemed to be regarded by many as a threat to the real essence and authority of Judaism. According to the Orthodox and neo-Orthodox approach , the most significant time in Jewish history was the revelation which took place at Mount Sinai. Both the written Torah and the oral law were given at Mount Sinai, when G-d was revealed to the nation. The written and oral laws are the fruit of G-ds words and, as such, are fixed and cannot be changed. They are the absolute truth for all time. Therefore, any attempt to study or criticize Judaism, taints that event at Mount Sinai. The Torah is the one and only authority, given by G-d. There is no possibility of measuring it according to any external criteria, nor is there any room for criticism of any kind. Hirsch claimed that any criticism of the Torah assumed that the Torah was not from G-d; a supposition for which he believed there was no basis. Although Hirsch, was against academic historical research, he did suggest developing studies which included the study of Judaism. He supported studying the sages but absolutely forbade research of the Torah. Hirsch believed in "Theory with Derech Eretz". In his view, Judaism had to include education and culture along with the belief and knowledge of the eternal values of the Torah. Zacharias Frankel, within the Conservative Movement, suggested moderate amendments within religion and a compromise between the authority of scripture and historical criticism. He felt that the nation's unity was above all, and preferred it over the critical research; timeless faith was beyond history. He rejected any research that claimed to sort Biblical texts according to historical standards. The positive basis of Judaism was above history as it was based upon the divine revelation which occurred at Mount Sinai. Therefore, that event could not be rejected according to considerations of changes which took place in history. Frankel felt that the Torah stood outside history but did not feel this was so

regarding Jewish tradition. Tradition which was based on divine revelation, was created by human activity during the ages. Within Judaism, there is an ability to incorporate the critical science of Judaism without compromising on the principle of faith. According to Frankel, history was a process where contents not created by man but rather given to man, could be discovered, commented on and rejuvenated. The history of the Jewish people was not a political or military one like that of other nations but rather a history of laws, justice, customs and institutions. Frankel believed that the exploration of history was necessary. On the one hand, man could learn and understand the full scope and meaning of human existence. On the other hand, history offered a vast amount of sources documenting the lives of Jews through the ages. He stated that Bible study could be done on the prophets but not on the law given from God. One could also explore the literature section which, although derived indirectly from the Bible, was a human product. By the way, since the 1960s, the Conservative Movement has included the study of Torah within the areas of acceptable research. Important is the ability to integrate within Judaism, critical science without giving up the principle of faith. In his writings, Geiger tried to show that the knowledge of history was a necessary precondition for changes or amendments. He felt that that knowledge released the present from the chains of tradition which transcended time, and created a new feeling of continuity with the past. According to Geiger, Judaism always exists in the present, albeit a very long one. He discussed sacred texts on the basis of significant historical standards and presented the Bible within the changing historical contexts that had shaped its final form. Geiger proposed that the biblical text evolved and was modified in response to the religious and political circumstances. Geiger was influenced by Spinoza as well as Christian researchers. He believed that any text reflected the period of the writer. As such, anything that was created by history could change or be eliminated. He felt that the law was also written under the influence of the environment in the historical context. Geiger believed that the knowledge he gained by studying the writings within historical context, did not weaken his belief in Judaism.

Although Hirsch rejected the academic research, he encouraged education. He felt that research contradicted the absolute truths of the Torah and Halacha which originated from G-d only. Frankel understood that through academic research, we could regenerate and therefore omit the Torah from the area of study Finally, through academic research, Geiger saw the foundation of reform. Conclusion At the end of it all, it appears that the divine revelation which took place at Mount Sinai is the foundation of Judaism for all the denominations. The revelation developed our Halacha, yet we see that every denomination interprets Halacha and the authority of Halacha differently. Academic research of Judaism is a fairly new area which began in the nineteenth century. This academic research, which was a threat for Hirsch, became the basis for reform of orthodoxy for the Conservative as well as the Reform movements. Although Hirsch did not accept academic research as he felt it was a direct contradiction of the Torah and Halacha, whose foundations were based on the holy word of G-d, he did encourage education Frankel understood that through academic research, Judaism could be rejuvenated while Geiger saw it as the basis for all reform and even declared the movements commitment to a renewal of Judaism as a balance between the commitment to the people and ways of dealing with the present and the future. While it may seem that there are great differences in approaches to these three very central themes of Judaism, underneath it all lies a desire to maintain a stream of Judaism essential for the Jewish people. One can hope that in spite of the differences, the streams may one day develop a greater understanding, and acceptance, of each other.


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