Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 36

Two (?) is Better Than One

October 17, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

By the time you see this, I hope this correspondence finds you well, in good health and in good cheer. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any issues or concerns. We, at CBIOTP, are always here for you!

This Shabbat we begin the book of Genesis,


Back in the day, the most disturbing class that students at JTS took was the introduction to bible study with Professor Neil Gilman, of blessed memory (also, a Canadian). Students were literally yelling at the professor while he subtly undermined our faith. Many of my cohorts wanted to transfer out of the Seminary.

Based on a theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, Dr. Gilman suggested to us, as pious, naןve, young yeshiva students, that the Torah was not written by God. How can that be?

Basically, the documentary hypothesis posited that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. The first of these, J, was dated to the Solomonic period (c. 950 BCE). E was dated somewhat later, in the 9th century BCE, and D was dated just before the reign of King Josiah, in the 7th or 8th century. Finally, P was generally dated to the time of Ezra in the 5th century BCE. The sources would have been joined at various points in time by a series of editors or "redactors."

Believing, as we were brought up, that Torah was directly from God, this intellectual, critical literary analysis, was somewhat unsettling in a foundational manner.

But what did it mean? Yes, we had to accept critical scholarship; however, could we still do that and maintain our faith? Could we still point at the Torah during Hagbah (while lifting up the Torah) and say, “This is the Torah of Moses given to him by God at Mount Sinai.”

Bringing critical analysis to text, was so unsettling. However, regardless of your position on the authorship of Torah, let me share the following:

Bereshit begins with the letter B (the number two in Gematria). We always stand on the shoulders of giants and we also have so much that we have accomplished. We are the second step of the first interpretations. We have done well and will continue to do so.

By the time you go into this Shabbat, know that we can have these biblical and intellectual conversations, knowing that we are building on what came before and knowing that we are solid, and building as a community every day.

By building, I want to encourage you to check out our upcoming programming which will include instrumental Kabbalat Shabbat services, adult education, educational initiatives for young people, and a Jewish film festival, amongst other offerings.

Be confident that we will be a light to the world and others always.

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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