The Bible Says What? Every word in the Torah is true… or is it?

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The Bible Says What? Every word in the Torah is true… or is it?

Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel looks at a controversial passage of text and offers a progressive Jewish response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

It’s the age-old question that never goes away – is the Torah true?

 The first part of the introduction to the Bible class I teach to student rabbis deals with the apparent opposition between the traditional commentaries, Midrashic or medieval exegetes, and the historical-critical approach of the Bible.

 The traditional commentaries consider Torah as a divinely inspired word, in which everything is true. Nothing can be erased and all inconsistencies can be explained as a Divine call to use the best of our abilities to understand God’s will.

 The scientific approach considers it as a text written by humans, with a history, textual layers, later additions, variants between manuscripts, writing strategies and so on.

 Both seem irreconcilable. It is either one or the other. We live in a binary world – if one proposition is true, the other is necessarily false. 

 And yet, is it possible to read Torah and be inspired, while at the same time analyse these texts with the tools of Biblical science and still find inspiration? The Bible was not meant to be a theological treatise. It is a collection of many voices, spanning over several centuries, that can either be considered as a whole, or the accretion of a multitude of traditions put together.

 The Bible is a unique text, which had and still has a profound influence on our civilisation. But it is also a text, with its history, layers, different level of interpretations.

 Traditional and scientific readings are not in opposition. They respond to different needs and, when done together, the possibilities of readings and inspiration are endless. Truth is not a binary response. It is in the connections a reader makes with a text.

  •  Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel is co-chair of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors

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