JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review March 23, 2001 / 28 Adar, 5761

The Bible as fiction

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- A number of articles over the past few weeks clearly delineated the basic fault line that exists in Jewish life today. It is from this difference that I believe that all other basic differences in the Jewish world today stem. And that fault line concerns the divinity of scripture --- the holiness of the Hebrew Bible.

The Bible is very old-fashioned and much of it today is politically incorrect. One of the aforementioned articles was a slashing attack on the Book of Esther for being male chauvinist and not feminist enough to meet the standards of today's avant garde society. The second article, written by a Conservative rabbi, dealt with the problems of us moderns in dealing with the story of the destruction of Amalek as prescribed in the Bible and as described in the Book of Samuel. These articles come on top of a number of other articles, written before the recent Israeli elections, disclaiming the importance of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. What all of these articles share in common is a basic denial of the holiness of the Jewish scriptures of the Bible.

The basis of the divide between Orthodox Jewry and the other sections of the Jewish people -- Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, secular, etc. -- lies in this basic issue. The holiness of the Bible was and is the basis of the faith of Israel. The slogan of Rav Sadya Gaon "Our nation is a nation only by virtue of the Torah" reverberates down the corridors of our history. It was the belief in the divinity of our Torah and therefore in the destiny of Israel that it outlined that preserved the Jewish people in its long and often tragic history. Once the divinity of the Bible is denied, the reason for Jewish existence and the struggle to maintain Judaism and the Jewish people essentially disappears.

Why should anyone remain Jewish if the entire story of Israel as portrayed in the Bible and our oral tradition is a lie? If the Bible offends our current modern civilized sensibilities, then of what value is it? These are hard questions and Jewish history provides even more stony answers.

German Reform in the eighteenth century was almost swept away, not by effective Orthodox responses to the enlightened world of Germany, but by the wave of conversions and intermarriage that Reform itself engendered in its attack on the Bible. The pseudo-science of Biblical Criticism and the beliefs of both social and physical Darwinism were adopted as being true and the Bible as being false. No facts, scientific objections or archeological discovery and evidence could change the minds of the intellectual elite. Well, if the Bible was false, then why should not the Jews convert or marry out of the faith?

Hitler supplied an answer to that question, but by then the question itself was only academic to a large section of the Jewish world.

David Ben-Gurion, far from being an Orthodox Jew himself, repeatedly stated that "The Bible is our deed to the Land of Israel." The Zionist movement was founded and prospered on biblical basis and justification. But the grandchildren of the original Zionists no longer believe in the Bible as anything significant. The faculties of Biblical Criticism still flourish in Israeli and Jewish universities, long after they have closed shop in most other schools. The post-Zionists see themselves as without justification in living and ruling in this country. Our modern sensibilities are offended by the fact that we have to shoot back at people who are shooting at us. Such recourse to force to save ourselves is so "biblical" and not in tune with the fantasy world of the intellectual elite.

Observance is one thing, but belief in our Bible and our past is quite another thing. The Bible, if taught by scoffers and non-believers, as is unfortunately often the case in many "Jewish" schools, will not inspire. And if there is anything that our society needs today it is inspiration, tenacity, dedication and a self-confident belief in the justice of our cause. The place to acquire these necessary emotions and national character traits is to be found in the sanctity of our scriptures --- in the belief in our Bible and what it represents.

Modern sensibilities, political correctness, social mores, come and go with different times and societies. Our grandchildren will certainly live in a world far different than ours. But the words of our Bible, which alone have stood the test of time in human history, will remain to guide and inspire them.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein