5 Thoughts: It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Teacher

1. EVANGELICAL ATHEISTS LIKE TO STATE two reasons why the Torah is irrelevant: 1) It was written in the Bronze Age, and 2) it’s festering with contradictions.

2. Leaving aside the point that many of our species’ current intellectual systems also date from the Bronze Age, I’d like to address the so-called contradictions. Sure, they exist. But my argument is that they’re not accidental, but intentional.

3. The Torah’s authors (and especially its redactor/s) were tasked with creating a document that would ensure later generations poring over it: analyzing, re-analyzing, commenting, riffing. In short, they wanted to ensure Jewish cultural survival. This is why we study it in its original language (Hebrew) with occasional help from close translations[1], including Aramaic and Greek.

4. Jews have a unique relationship with this Text of Texts. Though some believe it to be the literal word of God*, all of us are free to toss our hats in the interpretive ring. That’s what the text is for. That’s why our Talmud — the Torah-derived basis of actual everyday Jewish legal, ethical and ritual practice — is a thousand-year-long collection of sagely and rabbinical arguments, some of which also had, and still have, no resolution.

5. And that’s okay. Our holy Teaching[2] isn’t meant to foster a hear-and-obey paradigm, but one of critical thought with the seeds of its own propagation. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t have been arguing over it for the past 3,000 years and counting. One of our sages says that treating each other decently is the essence of Torah, with all the rest of it being commentary. And what could be irrelevant about that?

[1] If you want to see Torah by the light of classical Jewish understanding, pick up some commentary — preferably from Rashi or Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Modern-minded readers are also directed to the translation and ancillary works of Richard Elliott Friedman.

[2] A better translation of the word “Torah” than “Law.”

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