This summer, the Knesset passed a draconian law unfairly targeting a segment of the Israeli public of which I am a proud part: alcoholics. Taxes on liquor shot up across the country, and the higher the alcohol content, the higher the price. Shocking! Who's to say that 4% Coors Light should be cheaper than Yekev HaGalil's 96% Gold?
he has a point. Maybe there is a difference between different types of
alcoholic drinks. After all, there's a reason that we drink beer in
steins, wine in goblets and vodka in shot glasses. The proof is in the
You see, there's a raging debate in the English-speaking
Jewish community this summer, based on the new website, TheTorah.com,
which features the writings of Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber and others, aiming
to harmonize Orthodox and academic approaches to biblical studies. From
YCT to YU, from the RCA to the Aguda, Orthodox Jews are struggling to
define what is an acceptable view of the divine origin of the Torah. You
might remember the same thing from over a decade ago in the
Hebrew-speaking Jewish world, when it was called Tanakh be-govah einayim (literally, "the Bible at eye-level"). Now the acronym is TMS, for Torah from heaven (shamayim) and Sinai.
does this all have to do with alcohol? Perhaps more than one might
think. We keep obsessing over the eighth Maimonidean Principle of Faith,
in which he basically quotes the Talmud's statement that anyone who
declares that any verse of the Torah was "not said by the Holy One,
Blessed be He, but by Moses of his own accord" is a heretic (anonymous beraita in Sanhedrin 99a; also R. Eleazar of Modiin, Sifrei, Num. 112), but the Talmud itself elsewhere (Abbayei in Megilla 31b) says exactly that, in the same words, about the Curses in this week's Torah portion (and, presumably, the rest of Deuteronomy).
seems to me that Maimonides is a bit of a straw man here, or maybe a
scarecrow. We don't really know what he means because he does not
explain it. He merely codifies both Talmudic rulings (Laws of
Repentance 3:8, Laws of Prayer 13:7). Furthermore, the core of the
objection seems to be that one is attributing the given verse or letter
to man and not to God. As far as I can tell, the current debate has
nothing to do with this, as everyone seems to concede that the Torah
comes from God. True, he does introduce the topic in his Mishnaic
commentary (Sanhedrin 10:1) by saying that "the whole Torah which
we have today was the one given to Moses," but he goes on to explain
that the problem is in viewing some parts of the Torah as having greater
holiness than others, and this introductory part is mentioned only
there, not in Mishneh Torah. It's also worth noting that
Maimonides also attributes the Oral Torah to Moses, knowing full well
that the Talmud is full of arguments and disputes.
So can we move
on from Maimonides? What is more concerning to me is the idea of our
Torah being the Torah of Moses, and this is where our alcohol analogy is
Excuse me, it's time to refill my tumbler.