This is PEP student Rabbi Julie Gordon‘s presentation on her theological views presented today in Zvi’s Critical Issues in Modern Jewish Thought class, responding to the following questions:
- Where does the Torah come from? What is God’s role, if any? And how do you deal with the challenges of biblical criticism?
- What authority does the biblical text have, if any, and for whom?
- How does your experience of studying the Torah affect your view(s)?
I believe in the validity of Biblical criticism and thus I affirm that the Torah is a human document. It was written by our people as they searched to create a holy community guided by their views of God and society. It reflects the authors’ attempts to explain the history of our people who were influenced by the nations among whom they lived and the values of their time.
There is great power in this primary metaphor of our people: that God “spoke” to Moses and the children of Israel at Sinai- it is our master story. The TaNaKh contains the record of the authoritative version that our community holds dear. We are blessed to have this text to communicate our master story to our descendants.
I understand God to be the power within the natural order. “It is that God, functioning with us and throughout all of nature that constitutes our religious impulse. When we as humans discover how to live religiously, it constitutes God’s “revelation” to us.”
[Ira] Eisenstein: “Torah is “sacred literature” in the sense that Jews have always seen in it the source and the authority for our way of life and that view of history which gave meaning and direction to their lives.” The Torah’s authority is derived from the Jewish people’s recognition of these partial and tentative glimpses into the true nature of human life. “ The Torah contains ideas our people have sanctified as being of enduring worth. The Torah contains truth-meaningful insights. However, some of the laws which governed our people in Biblical times reflect values that are not consistent with our ever growing understanding of human nature. The rabbis interpreted the Torah to find answers to the challenges of their day. They wanted to help our people grow in a variety of environments in which we lived. We are the heirs to the Rabbinic tradition and have the responsibility as a community to continue adapting Torah for our day.
Whether one sees the Torah as literally given by God to our people at Sinai, or as the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of our people’s attempt to live righteous, meaningful, and spiritual lives, we can’t discount the importance of Torah as a guide to living.
I recognize that understanding Torah as sacred literature is a very intellectual view of the Torah and it impacts the commanding nature of a person’s observance. Some people believe God commanded the Torah and thus one must observe it. But for me, the Torah inspires me to seek to live a life filled with meaning guided by our tradition.
I enjoy studying classical texts in a traditional manner and developing skills so I can learn Torah on my own or with a hevruta. I also value it when we study texts and compare the minimalist and maximalist approaches to questions in the text.
When I study Torah, I seek to accomplish two primary purposes:
- To find personal meaning as I seek to become a righteous human being and knowledgeable leader within the Jewish community.
- To develop an approach to assist others to find personal meaning in our tradition. I want to invite the students I teach and their families into the age-old conversations between our people seeking God. I want to guide them as they address this question, “How do we live meaningful lives in the Jewish world today?” When they have personal experiences studying Torah, my hope is that they will come to believe that they can access Torah to find answers to their existential questions.