When we consider the answer to this question we find that the Jewish world is roughly split into two camps.
The first is the traditional one, which claims that the Torah was created by God, possibly even before the world was created. It was handed over to Moses at Mount Sinai and it is for us to follow today.
The Torah is to be considered “the words of the Living God”. It is the ultimate and unconditional truth, so we therefore ought to follow it word by word.
The second and more critical one dismisses the idea that the Torah was handed over at Sinai and even the idea that it was written by God.
Using critical analysis, we can examine the holy words of the Torah, compare them to other ancient writings from a similar period and a similar region, examine archaeological findings and study the history of other nations in the same period.
We then discover there are indications that there has been more than one author of the Torah – each belonging to a certain society, living in a certain period and with family, political and national agendas.
However this need not make the text any less divine. Even though they are written by people (like you and me), the words are divinely inspired. We are created in the image of God and therefore God can speak through our thoughts, writings and actions.
What we must not accept is the claim that the one and only form of practicing Judaism – and definition of ‘who is a Jew’ – was designed by God over 5,779 years ago, given to Moses at Sinai some 3,500 years ago and has been unmoveable and unchangeable ever since.
We must sometimes remind ourselves and the rest of the world – lo bashamayim hi. Once the Torah was given to us, it is no longer in Heaven!
Rather, our reading and interpretation of it is here and now, by us, and today.
Rabbi Yuval Keren is rabbi at Southgate Progressive Synagogue
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