Friday, December 24, 2021

Biblical Theology of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

 But one writer raised a significant issue and I share his question and my answer to it with the readership of Hirhurim around Rabbi Rackman’s yartzeit. He asked me a question about Rabbi Rackman’s biblical theology and raised the possibility that Rabbi Rackman was a technical heretic in that he did not believe in the Torah being revealed by God at Sinai to Moses (Torah miSinai). In truth, I had never spoken to Rabbi Rackman about the issue raised by this writer, although I had myself seen the view of Rabbi Rackman and been troubled by it. In a symposium in Commentary in 1966 entitled “The State of Jewish Belief”, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman wrote:

The most definitive record of God’s encounters with man is contained in the Pentatuch. Much of it may have been written by people in different times, but at one point in history God not only made the people of Israel aware of his immediacy, but caused Moses to write the eternal evidence of the covenant between Him and His people. (Commentary, August, 1966 at page 128)
The sanctity of the Pentatuch does not derive from God’s authorship of all of it, but rather from the fact that God’s is the final version. The final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality. (Judaism, Spring 1969, page 153)


  1. What he says is logical.
    Did Avraham know about Adam? Did Isaac know about Noah?
    How? Either they had an oral version or written.
    He is simply positing that they had a written version.
    Isn't it forbidden to learn the written law b'al peh?


    "I confess that while I do not personally agree with this approach, I

    do not find these two statements theologically bothersome. I do not

    think that they are at all inconsistent with any of the thirteen ikarim that Rambam shared with us and which I do know from a conversation with Rabbi Rackman directly that he found binding.


    why Rabbi Rackman’s view is not heretical is important for us all. I

    think the notion that God took pre-existing texts and then God himself

    wove these pre-existing text into the Torah that God gave Moshe on Sinai

    is not inconsistent with any of the Rambam’s ikarim, and that

    all that Rabbi Rackman did was propose (albeit in an incomplete form,

    which he never elaborated on) the thoughts that Rabbi Mordechai Beruer

    subsequently developed at great length. This Orthodox version of the

    documentary hypothesis claims that there might have been a J, P, E or D,

    but the R (who the secularist call “the redactor”) really is Moshe Rabbenu mipi haGevura.

    I do not think that Jewish theology posits a binding and firm notion of

    how God created the texts of Torah and if God perchance took some of

    these texts from some other source, I don’t think that this creates

    theological problems for Rabbi Rackman or anyone else who believes such.

    Rabbi Rackman never denies that God gave the Torah to Moshe, each and

    every word exactly as we have it. He just speculates as to where God got

    the original material for the Torah from."

  3. The Torah itself attests to other books of the time like the Book Of The Wars Of The Lord. Our ancestors in Egypt likely had scrolls telling the stories of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov along with all the various midrashim that were later transmitted orally. Much of that probably made its way into the Torah because God decided that He wanted it to be part of the text. How is that kefirah?


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