The Real Choice

The quote comes from Jay Michaelson's recent article in Forward, “How We Know The Bible Was Written By Human(s) Hand.”

But the point is that there isn’t really a choice between the traditionalist view and the historical/scholarly ones. The traditionalist view is false. So the real choice is between different ways of being religious: one that admits the truth, and another that denies it in the face of all available evidence.

And in this regard, my choice of the former has led to an important loosening of doctrinal bonds. I have come to believe that the value of Jewish religious practice exists independent of its foundation myths. If there is merit to the wisdom of the Torah, it exists on its own, not because God spoke it on the mountain. If there is value to the practices of Judaism, it exists regardless of its invention by priests in the sixth century B.C.E.

Traditionalists can act as if everything is at stake in these factual debates. If the world is five billion years old, the church service is meaningless. If the Torah was written by four sets of authors, the beauty of Shabbat disappears. None of this need be the case.


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  • Shiphrah

    I can’t remember where/by whom/when I read it, but someone once wrote that you can’t understand traditional Jewish practice from the outside. It has to be observed, done from the inside. The experience itself is the teacher. Michaelson is spot on here. He makes much the same point that R. David Wolpe did a couple of years ago – and got a firestorm of objection for it – when he asked if our faith would be lessened if the crossing of the Red [Reed] Sea were not literally true. It’s metaphoricaly true, mythicly true, spiritually true, so what’s the diff?

  • Brian P.

    A lot of the church services I’ve been to haven’t be meaningless because the universe is 14 billion years old. They’ve been meaningless because 1) the worship team sings brain-dead, anemic, theologically vacuous, redundantly repetitive lyrics , 2) the pastor preaches with poor understanding of history and theology and a uninspiring teleology, and 3) there is no symbolically robust liturgy or overarching sense of the sacred. In all of the departure of sheeple, what if the religious powers that be wondered: Could it simply be that we are uninspiring?

    • Andrew Dowling

      Hence the growing popularity of superstitious stomp-offs like many of the Pentacostal churches. They may sell snake oil but they know how to put on a good show.

      • Brian P.

        Good point. Watching snake handling can be fun.