Rabbi Avi Shafran
More than 2000 congregants of a Los Angeles Jewish house of worship were treated to an unusual sermon this Passover. Those attending Sinai Temple "learned" that the Torah's account of the Jewish exodus from Egypt - the event the holiday commemorates - likely never happened.
The Los Angeles Times correspondent who covered the sermon was clearly gratified, noting that the rabbi had merely shared with his flock "what scholars have known for years."
Not "what they have theorized" or even "what they have believed." Rather, "what they have known."
With all due respect to both rabbi and reporter, "know" is not a word one should use lightly.
Not all "-ologies" are equal. There are "hard" sciences and "soft" ones. Physics and pharmacology land in the former category, relying as they do on measurements and observations, and theories which can be measured and tested, proven or disproven by experiment. Psychology and sociology, on the other hand, are part of the latter, relying on subjective opinions and dealing with ultimate unknowables.
The particular science invoked, archaeology, may involve a good deal of digging and hauling, but that still doesn't make it hard science. It relies exclusively and inherently on speculative interpretations of evidence, upon theoretical reconstructions whose veracity can never be conclusively confirmed. A chemical compound can be placed under an electron microscope and its molecular structure, to a considerable degree, perceived. Its effects on an organism can be observed and measured, and the experiment can be repeated without limit. A collection of shards, bones and papyri from thousands of years ago, on the other hand, can certainly suggest things, at times even convincingly, but it can never prove anything conclusively. And, in no discipline, "hard" or "soft," can a lack of evidence constitute a disproof.
Yet that is precisely what some archeologists - like those the rabbi trustingly quoted - maintain in the case of the Torah's account of the exodus from Egypt and conquest of the Promised Land. They insist that there is a paucity of corroborative archaeological evidence for the events -- and, therefore, they could not have transpired.
As it happens, scholars such as the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks, have concluded that there are indeed indications in the archaeological record of those events. Welcome to the world of "soft" science scholarship.
But there is something else, entirely outside the realm of archaeology, that argues, loudly and powerfully, for the historicity of the Torah's account. Its Hebrew name is mesorah.
The word translates as "heritage" or "oral tradition" but the concept is more complex - and it constitutes nothing less than the essential component of Jewish history and the Jewish faith.
When masses of people experience or witness something, and entrust the next generation with the knowledge of what happened, that is called history. We know that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, that there was a Revolutionary War and that Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, all by virtue of a simple fact: the events were witnessed by large numbers of people. Individuals can fabricate things, but masses cannot. For when some folks claim that something happened to, or in front of, the multitude, if in truth it did not, others will stand up and heartily dispute the contention.
The historical tradition of the exodus from Egypt is no different. It could not have been fabricated, suddenly "made up" one day, as some scholars imagine, because it involved hundreds of thousands of people whose children were solemnly entrusted with the account and sworn to entrust it in turn to their own children, and theirs to theirs... down to our own generation. That perpetuation of the Jewish historical tradition is what transpires most notably as the story of the exodus is recounted - indeed re-experienced - at the Passover seder, which the congregants presumably conducted despite this most unusual sermon.
The historical event's distance from us in time does not weaken its historicity but, on the contrary, empowers it. So powerful was the memory of the exodus from Egypt (and the subsequent receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai), so important to the people who received the account, that they preserved it through thick and thin, through exile and massacre, through displacement and pogrom.
How sadly ironic that after 3000 years of uninterrupted mesorah, the Jewish collective memory should have come to be assailed in a country where Jews are more free and secure than at any time since the Holy Temple's destruction.
And how much sadder that its assailants include a Rabbi.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
|(T.B., you spoke eloquently. You should do so more often.)
We have the same problem in Christianity. Liberal seminaries and colleges are cranking out "theologians" who don't believe the fundamentals of the faith. They have a zeal to improve the human existence, I'll give them that, but they have no connection to the Source of Power who alone can change a heart. And congregations are putting up with it! In those churches where the Bible is held to be the only rule for doctrine and practice, church discipline is administered, and false teachers are voted "out". Unfortunately, today the emphasis is on tolerance rather than orthodoxy. In his letter to Titus, Paul, a Pharisee, instructs him thusly: A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject. Unfortunately, the other problem is that the average congregant doesn't know his Bible well enough to recognize false teaching when it appears. Let us all examine ourselves and make sure we know the difference...and speak up like Rabbi Shafran and those in this thread.
- S. I. -0/9-/2009
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|I wonder why we care what others think? Even if it were not literally true, would it change anything? In the final analisis we are a legal system. We have little in common with religion in its modern context.
- B. D. -1/1-/2002
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|The definition of being Jewish, is the Core belief in One God. That said, I don't see how one can call themselves Jewish, and at the same time, throw out the Torah -- the very object that is our only evidence that only One God reigns in the first place. |
- J. Z. -0/5-/2002
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|I cannot begin to articulate the spiritual and emotional pain I felt after reading this article. I have had the help of dedicated Torah observant Jews and without that help I might have fallen into a sect or group who have settled for a watered down "religion" that is so prevelant in today's society. I am just beginning my studies into the different "degrees" of Judaism and it saddens me to greatly to see some Jewish people sell out to what is convienent or liberating to their personal desires! What happened to the Orthodox beliefs? What can you tell those watching your lives for some sign of the existance of one G-d? Make no mistake: the world watches the Jew. They are a special people chosen by Hashem Himself and if they fall, where is truth? Where is hope? Judaism has survived ONLY because the Torah is G-d's road map and those who make the choice to follow His path will now and forever be blessed.
This weekend was my first experience of keeping the Shabbat. I can no longer deny or make excuses for denying the Torah or it's principles. |
- S. E. -0/8-/2001
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Actually, even the "hard" sciences are unknowable - unknowable to humans, that is. My fine NYC public education taught about the inert elements, those chemical elements we now know are not inert. Tounsils, too..., that vestage of evolution does have a purpose.
All knowledge comes from HaShem. "I will tell you wonderous things. Secrets you have not known." Jeremiah 33:3
The scientific method isn't scientific. What human knows if the instrument is calibrated as accurately as yesterday?
Besides Hershal Shanks ([in] famous ref the Dead Sea Scrolls [not Jewish]), even Episcolalian National Geographic magazine ran a feature on the ACTUAL Exodus.
The Los Angeles Rabbi's pronouncement on "what scholars have known for years" omitted the Rabbi's real contribution - how to change gold into lead ! Ezekiel 44:13
Babylon West - coastal Virginia |
- B. W. -0/6-/2001
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