BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel



HASHKAFAH STUDY GROUP

Studies in Jewish religious ideology in the climate of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism
Originally published: October 1st 2002 / Tishri 25th 5763



Bet Midrash Virtuali

A Masorti (Conservative) Theology
by
Rabbi Simchah Roth
Herzliyya, Israel

I  N  T  R  O  D  U  C  T  O  R  Y    N  O  T  I  C  E 


This series of essays does not claim to be an "official" theology of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism. It is one rabbi's personal viewpoint, and this should always be borne in mind by the reader. Nevertheless, I do hope that even those points with which the reader might disagree will afford him or her an opportunity for thought and evaluation.


Part 3:
Revelation
In the previous part we concluded that God may represent for us the functioning in the universe of the eternally creative process, the power that makes for the self-fulfillment of men and nations and gives purpose and meaning to their existence, that impels man ever to transcend himself.

We also concluded that the Deity may represent interdependence, or that moral responsibility which compels man so to control and direct his strivings so to satisfy all his life needs without reversion to strife and war [MM Kaplan, The religion of Ethical Nationhood, 1970].

We also arrived at a conceptualization of God as a non-physical force, as the personification of the universe in its totality imposing upon us its absolute "thou shalt": Thou shalt do that which is absolutely and universally right, the right that is not relative but absolute; and you should feel yourself bound to it and by it absolutely; you will thereby set yourself upon the arduous path that will elevate you from being a mere human animal to being a complete human being.

At the very end of part 2 I also claimed that if someone behaves in accordance with the dictates of Jewish tradition he actually believes in God even if he thinks of himself as an atheist! Conversely, if someone does not observe the major requisites of the Jewish tradition he might well be an atheist even if he claims that he believes in God. In both cases, what the "man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts". It follows that, for me, the important question is not what or how God really is, but whether or not I accept upon myself what may be considered to be the dictates of God.

Now for Jews, Torah is the means by which we come to understand what these dictates are, and halakhah is the mechanism through which these concepts become actual in our lives and direct our behaviour. Torah is what we understand to be the demands that the very existance of the Deity makes on us behaviour-wise.

Communication between the non-physical Deity and physical human beings is conceivable only through the human mind. In times gone by, when a person thought thoughts that were recognizable as a striving towards man's most sublime aspirations, such a person was deemed a prophet. The subject matter of prophecy is divine; the artistic means - grammar, syntax and style - belong to the prophet.

In the book of Deuteronomy [18:4-22] the Torah deals with the vexing question of how to authenticate a person's claim to be a prophet, and the answer given there leaves a lot 'hanging in the air'. Personally, I think that the question was answered beautifully, if obliquely, in the book of Jeremiah.

In the first chapter Jeremiah [1:4-10] describes how he hears the word of God telling him that he is appointed a prophet. It would be tempting to attribute this 'voice' to Jeremiah's own sensitive conscience. Often a person feels 'constrained' to follow a certain path, even though it is really his own will that is constraining him, however much he may prefer to think (or prefer us to think) that he is bowing to the will of the movement, the people, necessity, the times etc. Our rabbis refer to this in very clear terms [Makkot 10b]: "In the way that a person wishes to go, so is he led".

But this cannot be true in the case of Jeremiah (typifying for us the true prophet). His first reaction to the 'call' is to reject it with an exclamation of utter dejection:


Ah! dear Lord God! I don't even know how to speak! I'm too young!

But his rejection is in turn imperiously rejected.

Don't you tell me you're too young! Wherever I send you that is where you will go,whatever I command you that is what you will say! Do not be afraid of them: I will be with you to rescue you.

This could not have been very comforting, for it could only put into the young man's head the fact that there might be something to be afraid of. Indeed, a few verses later [1:17] the reluctant prophet is given further 'comfort':

So roll up your sleeves and go and tell them everything that I command you. Do not be afraid of them, or I will give you very good cause to be afraid of them!

To make it even worse 'them' is clarified [1:18] as referring to "the kings of Judah, the ministers, the priesthood and the members of the National Assembly".

So we have a young man (Jeremiah could hardly have been out of his 'teens at this time) feeling himself required to proclaim a depressing and unpopular message to a recalcitrant audience, whose major opponents will be "the kings of Judah, the ministers, the priesthood and the members of the National Assembly", when he himself is very unwilling to take up the challenge and does so only under a perceived superior force. Is this really "Jeremiah's own sensitive conscience" forcing him into this escapade? Or does Jeremiah really and truly feel that he has no choice, that there is some power greater than he that is forcing him to do something that all his logical faculties tell him to leave alone?

The prophet himself gives us the answer. In chapter 20 we are given an insight into the kind of humiliations and dangers that Jeremiah had to face. After a speech that Jeremiah had given (whose content ran counter to the policy of the government), a certain high-ranking priest arrested Jeremiah and exhibited him in some kind of revolving contraption - probably much like the 'stocks' of medieval Europe, except that the poor culprit was constantly being turned around and around.

When Jeremiah was released from this contraption he showed no sign of repentance, fear or retraction ("Do not be afraid of them, or I will give you very good cause to be afraid of them!"). On the contrary, his fire and brimstone burst forth all the more fiercely. But this was only in public. Starting from verse 7 we are suddenly plunged into Jeremiah's personal and private feelings at what is happening - one of the most human documents in the whole of the Bible!


Dear God, You seduced me, and I allowed myself to be seduced!
You raped me, You had your way with me!
I have been a laughing-stock all day long, everyone mocks me!
Every time I speak I shriek -
I proclaim violence and rapine.
That is why God's word for me has turned into shame and degradation the long day through.
So I say to myself: No more will I mention Him, no more will I speak in His name!
But there is within my heart something like a burning fire, Imprisoned within my very bones.
I am weary of trying to hold it in, I can no longer.
I have heard the treacherous gossip on all sides:
You denounce him and we'll denounce him! -
All my dearest friends watching my every step:
Maybe we can seduce him, get the better of him, get our own back on him!

This is certainly not the picture of a man doing what he really wants to do. Jeremiah wants out! He would dearly love to keep his big mouth shut; but he can't, however much he wants to, however much all his logical faculties tell him to - for "there is within my heart something like a burning fire, imprisoned within my very bones; I am weary of trying to hold it in, I can no longer".

Now we can repeat what we said before: when someone has thoughts that are recognizable as a striving towards man's most sublime aspirations, such a person is deemed a prophet. Jeremiah is a perfect example.

Thus God may also be seen as the apotheosis of mankind's most noble aspirations. Every age has different aspirations, but when seen in spans of centuries of evolutionary philosophic development, the latest aspirations are the most sublime yet. This is a supremely optimistic view of man's history and destiny: even if man takes two steps backwards for every three steps he takes forward, the net gain is one step forward. Every age thus conceptualizes God's demands differently, while building upon the aspirations of the last.

The Written Torah states that at Mount Sinai the prophet Moses delivered Torah to Israel. For the Jewish people, the real importance of the event at Sinai was the utter conviction of the participants of the reality of God; that conviction is what has been passed on throughout our generations. The awesomeness of the occasion was impressed upon the people by a violent electric storm: it seemed to them that God spoke in the thunderclaps, and delivered to Moses what was required of the people:


Moses spoke and God matched him with a thunderclap.

Inspired by the utter conviction of the reality of God, what the mind of Moses then apprehended was mankind's noblest and most sublime aspiration yet. This was cherished and passed on from one generation to the next.

Modern scholars perceive within the text of the Torah four separate recensions, each having a different origin and emphasis, but all representing Israel's understanding of God's demands of man. (Later on we shall explain more fully the relationship between the Written and the Unwritten Torah and the nature of both of them.)

According to scholarly opinion the components of the Written Torah as we possess it today where already woven together by the middle of the fifth century B.C.E. Indeed, it is all but certain that the ceremonies described in chapters 8-10 of the book of Nehemiah record the canonization of the Written Torah in Jerusalem in the year 444 B.C.E.

Modern scholarship perceives four recensions in the Torah,though there is not complete unanimity as regards the exact periods from which each hails. The present consensus is that the earliest recension of the Torah is an account of the story of Israel's pre-history, the patriarchal period, Israel in Egypt, the Exodus, and the wandering up to the death of Moses that was produced in the southern kingdom of Judah around the middle ofthe ninth century B.C.E. The next recension is very similar in outline to the first, but was produced (possibly at Shiloh) in the northern kingdom of Israel about a century after the Judean account was produced. These two recensions were amalgamated sometime after the fall of Samaria in the year 722 B.C.E. The third recension is a version produced by the priests of Jerusalem during the the early seventh century B.C.E. It covers the same history as the previous recensions, but has a particular interest in the sacrificial rite, sacerdotal duties and genealogical tables. (Other scholars think that this recension dates from the period of the judges, which would make it the earliest; others, now fewer and fewer, think that it dates from the period of the Second Commonwealth, which would make it the latest.) The fourth recension corresponds to the book of Deuteronomy, and was produced in late seventh century Jerusalem (possibly by the descendents of Levitical refugees from the defunct northern kingdom). All scholars are agreed that these recensions were welded together into the written Torah that we recognize today under the aegis of Ezra (and Nehemiah?) in the middle of 5th century B.C.E.

However, the constant re-understanding of God's will did not stop with the recension of the Torah, but was continued thereafter in the form of the development of the Oral Torah. Not only does the Written Torah itself represent constant forward development, but also the Oral Torah is an organic continuation of the Written Torah. The difference is that the Written Torah offers a new revelation for each new understanding, while the Oral Torah offers a new interpretation.

The proceding of Torah from God to man is called revelation. What is the difference between the mechanics of revelation presented here and the more traditional view?

For those who have no conceptual problems with a God that is quasi-human, or at least is possessed of personality, there is nothing untoward or problematic in the Deity having a will and informing mankind of that will. When I play my CD or my DVD too loudly my neighbour has a will and informs me of it quite clearly. So, too, for our ancestors in the past and for many contemporaries today, God may be understood as revealing His will - either by theophany as at Mount Sinai or by inspiration as with the classical prophets.

If you have got this far I may reasonably assume that you find it difficult or impossible to accept such a conceptualization. The conceptualization of the divine such as we expounded in part 2 cannot accomodate itself to such a view either, it being too simplistic. In the view presented here, man is constantly reaching upward, striving to understand what the moral, ethical and practical implications of the very existence of the Deity are for him. According to this view, instead of a quasi-human God reaching down to man, man - constantly trying to be more Godlike - reaches upwards towards God, trying to achieve a more perfect apprehension of the implications of the divine for man; trying to understand more clearly, more perfectly what exactly is being imposed upon us as an absolute 'thou shalt'; what must we, here and now, understand by the behest Thou shalt do that which is absolutely and universally right?

The former view (in which God leans down from His heaven, as it were, and announces His will) is theocentric; the latter (in which man tries to pierce through to make intellectual contact with the divine) is anthropocentric. In the former the impetus is deemed to come from God, whereas in the latter the impetus comes from man.

According to this latter view man has a new perception of what God demands of him (what used to be called a new revelation) from time to time. (When scholars perceive within the text of the Torah four recensions, each having a different origin and emphasis, it is merely a reflection of this concept.) According to this view not all the Torah was produced at once in the time of Moses, but some of it is the result of several different revelations, each at a different time. Such a view, which is considered to be heterodox in some quarters, was not considered to be exceptional in the past.

The great medieval commentator Abraham Ibn-Ezra several times in his famous commentary on the Torah makes veiled innuendos that the text of the Torah (as opposed to its historical kernal) postdates Moses. One such place is his comment on Genesis 12.6. At this point the Torah has described how the Patriarch Abraham arrived in Canaan from Mesopotamia, and traversed the country in a symbolic act of taking possession, despite the fact that 'the Canaanite was then in the land'. Ibn-Ezra comments:


'The Canaanite was then in the land' - possibly the land had just been conquered by the Canaanite. If this interpretation is incorrect, there must be an esoteric one - but it would be prudent to leave it unsaid.

What Ibn-Ezra leaves looming in the air, his glossator, Yosef Bonfils (fifteenth century) makes explicit:

How can [the Torah] here say 'then' with its connotation that the Canaanite was then in the land but now is not, if Moses wrote the Torah and in his day the land was indeed possessed by the Canaanites? Obviously, the word 'then' was written at a time when the Canaanite was not in the land, and we know that they were only dislodged subsequent to Moses' death... Thus it would seem that Moses did not write this word here, but Joshua or some other prophet wrote it. Since we believe in the prophetic tradition, what possible difference can it make whether Moses wrote this or some other prophet did, since the words of all of them are true and prophetic?

(Please note how simple it was in the pre-orthodox ages: if Ibn-Ezra were writing today he would have been dubbed 'Reform'; who knows what would have been said about Bonfils.)

Thus we have arrived at one of the most meaningful differences between orthodoxy and Masorti Judaism. Orthodoxy sees Torah as a document delivered from Heaven on a once-only basis whose validity is unchangeable for all time. Masorti Judaism sees Torah as a document in which is revealed for us the practical results of the ongoing attempt to ascertain the divine behest over a long period of time.

As I have indicated previously, in the year 444 B.C.E. at the very end of the biblical period, under the religious and political aegis of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Written Torah in the form in which we possess it today was contractually accepted by the assembled representatives of the community of Israel as the statutory instrument of Israel's government, both public and private. Our commitment to the Torah to this very day stems both from the contractual nature of its acceptance and from our conviction that it all comes from the Deity.

But the immutable Written Torah is not the rule by which Israel lives: the Torah, as understood and interpreted by the oral tradition is Israel's rule of law. In this way, the Written Torah is constantly being re-understood by the rabbis, its licensed practitioners. The Oral Torah (rabbinic law) is, in essence, developmental - dynamic and not static, and is a living continuation of the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is the means whereby the Written Torah is made constantly relevant. Should rabbis abdicate this duty, Torah is in grave danger of becoming outdated and irrelevant.

We have already noted that this is the major difference between Masorti Judaism and Orthodoxy. Masorti Judaism is committed to the oral tradition maintaining for us a vibrant and relevant Torah. In Masorti Judaism the Torah lives, is dynamic, is eternally valid and eternally relevant. This is achieved through the developmental mechanisms of the Oral Torah. But these developments must be permitted to come about with great caution and with the general consent of the majority of the authorities of the age (or at least, with the general consent of the majority of the authorities of the age that accept the principle of dynamic Torah), thus preserving Klal Israel.

At this point we must elaborate upon this concept. The Written Torah is the ideological basis of Judaism, but in its details it was never intended to be a 'once and for all time' statement. Built into the very mechanism of the Written Torah itself is an assumption, a demand for interpretation [Deuteronomy 17:8-11].


When any case ... is too difficult for you, go to that place which God shall have selected, and approach...the judge that shall be at that time, and make your query: they will tell you what the law is... According to the Torah as they teach it to you and according to the law as they tell it to you, so shall you do. Do not depart from what they tell you to the right or to the left.

Here it is quite explicitly stated that the Written Torah is not exhaustive, but at various times in the future will have to be supplemented and expanded by 'the judge that shall be at that time'. There are many classical rabbinic statements as the true nature of the Oral Tradition, the 'updating' of the Torah by 'the judge that shall be at that time'.  We  shall  here  examine  a  very  few  of  them.

Firstly a very apposite quotation from the Talmud of Eretz-Israel [Sanhedrin 22a]:


Had the Torah been given with no room for development the situation would have been impossible. What does And the Lord said to Moses mean? - Moses said to God, as it were, "Dear Lord, please tell me what the exact halakhah is". God replied, "Follow the majority opinion. If the majority [of the rabbis] favours permission, then permit; if the majority favour prohibition, then prohibit. In this way it will be possible to interpret the Torah in up to forty-nine ways for permission and up to forty-nine ways for prohibition!

Even more to to point is this excerpt from the second chapter of a midrashic work called Seder Eliahu Zutta.

To what may this be compared. Imagine a human king who had two servants whom he loved very dearly. To each of them he gave a measure of wheat and a stalk of flax. The clever one took the flax and wove it into cloth, took the wheat, turned it into flour, sifted, ground and kneaded it, baked it into bread and laid it on the table on the cloth, awaiting the king's arrival. The foolish one did nothing. Later the king returned to his palace. "My sons," he said, "bring me what I gave you". One of them brought out his bread on the table with the cloth; the other produced the measure of wheat in its box with the stalk of flax on top. Oh, the shame of it! Which one did the king love more? - You must agree that it was the one who brought out his bread on the table with the cloth underneath it... In the same way, when God gave Torah to Israel it was only as wheat is for making bread and flax for making cloth.

Just one more quotation should suffice to prove what is really self-evident, that the rabbinic tradition was intended ab initio to 'update' the Written Tradition. This oft-quoted passage comes from the Babylonian Talmud [Menaĥot 29b].

When Moses ascended on high he found God busy affixing coronets to the letters of the Torah. "Lord of the Universe," said Moses, "why is this necessary?" God replied, "After many generations there will come a man, one Akiva ben-Yosef by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws." "Lord of the Universe," said Moses, "please let me see him". God replied, "Turn around!" Moses went and took his place at the end of the eighth row. Not being able to follow the discussion he was uncomfortable. Soon they came to a particular point and the student asked the Master how he knew this to be the law; he replied, "It is the law as given to Moses at Sinai". Now Moses felt better. When he returned to God he said, "Lord of the Universe, You have such a man available and yet You give the Torah through me!?"

The development of the Written Tradition through the mechanisms of the Oral Tradition must have been well under way in the period after Ezra and Nehemiah, in the years after 444 B.C.E. Unfortunately, almost all those active during this period remain anonymous and the exact nature of their contribution unknown. They were not yet called rabbis, but scribes - probably because they had to copy out the text of the Written Torah to serve them as the basis for their teaching of its development which was, of course, passed on orally.

The conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great towards the last quarter of the third century B.C.E. brought the population of Eretz Israel into direct contact with the developing western civilization that was being propagated by Alexander and his successors, called hellenism by scholars. (Hellas is the Greek word for Greece; hellenism is therefore an appreciation of the Greek way of life and the advocacy of its adoption.) There were people from Judah who approved of hellenism, some even to an inordinate degree. There were others who were equally opposed. Matters were brought to a head by the popular uprising against hellenistic coercion led by Mattathias and his son Judah the Maccabee, members of a provincial priestly family. Their victory against the hellenists (165 B.C.E.) is celebrated annually to this day as the festival of Ĥanukah.

The teachings of the scribes and their successors were passed on from master to student orally, from generation to generation. Scholars must have developed phenomenal memories. Although they were permitted to maintain their own private written records, teaching and public study had to be done orally. The process of explicating a text - of deriving new laws from their implication in the text of the Written Torah - was called midrash. In the third century C.E. the ban against committing the oral tradition to writing was eventually lifted, and these halakhic midrashim were published. The collection of halakhic midrashim on the book of Exodus is called Mekhilta; that on the book of Leviticus is called Sifra; and that on the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy is called Sifrei.


There are aggadic as well as halakhic midrashim. These are philosophic in nature, concerned not so much with law (halakhah) as with values, concepts, morals and ethics. Quiite often these aggadic midrashim are couched in a very simple, homely style which belies the depth of their content.

However, the system of midrash (in which material had to be remembered in the order that its topic occurred in the Torah) was cumbersome. Already at the start of the second century C.E. a new arrangement had been created by Rabbi Akiva and his students and successors. This method was called mishnah. (The word mishnah comes from a Hebrew root which means to 'con by rote', to 'learn by heart', as the result of constant repetition.) This system was perfected and published by Rabbi Yehudah the President of the Sanhedrin in the last decade of the second century or in the first decade of the third. In this system the prescriptions of the Oral Tradition are reduced to short, pithy paragraphs, arranged according to subject matter, that could be learned by heart. These paragraphs (each one of which is called a mishnah) are organized into chapters, the chapters into tractates and the tractates into orders, of which there are six. Thus the material, instead of being attached to the verses of the Written Torah, is arranged in a logical order according to topics.

The publication of the Mishnah caused a complete revolution in the study of the Oral Tradition. One of the students of Rabbi Yehudah had come from his native Babylon to stay with family in Eretz Israel in order to study. His name was Abba, which is a familiar form of Abraham; he was also given the epithet 'Arika', which means tall, his name thus being somewhat like 'Tall Abe' in modern terms. But he is known to all students of the Oral Tradition by his sobriquet, Rav.

When Rav returned to Babylon to start his own Yeshiva he made there an epoch-making innovation. Instead of studying the Written Torah and the midrashim attached to it, Rav's students studied the Mishnah of Rabbi Yehudah, the President. They queried it, compared it to other material that had come down to them, and became thoroughly acquainted with its every nuance of meaning. The system caught on and was accepted in Eretz Israel as well. The elaborate and incisive study-sessions that were held on the Mishnah were eventually edited as the Gemara . When the Mishnah is printed together with the Gemara, the resultant work is called Talmud. The Talmud of Eretz Israel (erroneously referred to as the Jerusalem Talmud) was edited around the year 400 C.E., and the more voluminous and compendious Babylonion Talmud was edited just before the year 500 C.E.

The Babylonion Talmud fast became the standard and basic work on the Oral Tradition. However, devlopment did not cease, and further codification was necessary. The most salient and authoritative codifications are those of Rabbi Isaac of Fez, of Rambam called Mishneh Torah, of Rabbi Ya'akov ben-Asher called Tur, and of Rabbi Yosef Karo called Shulĥan Arukh.

All this makes it sound as if the Divine law is very human, and to a certain extent this is true. But Judaism is insistent that the ultimate source of the moral law is truly God. God, the personification of the ultimate 'thou shalt', is the standard against which we must measure our behaviour. The practical expression of this standard is halakhah, which represents the way that this standard requires us to lead our lives.

While it is true that halakhah is developed by man, the danger of its appeal to the lowest common denominator can be limited. Firstly, the concept of catholic Israel requires wide-spread support and agreement, a general conviction that a proposed development is indeed Torah, not the personal whim of one sage or the passing fad of one generation. Secondly, the organic development of halakhah prevents 'revolution', and assumes that all three aspects of time are represented in the decision - past, present and future. In traditional Judaism there can be no 'revolution', only 'evolution' - the constant organic development of Torah as representing God's perceived will.

One of the lynch-pins of rabbinic philosophy is the concept of Torah min ha-shamayim, that Torah (both written and oral) comes from God. This presents Masorti Judaism with no difficulty. The rabbis state [Sanhedrin 99a]:


For he has denigrated God's word and nullified his command - such a person shall be utterly excised and it is his own fault: this verse refers to a person who claims that Torah is not from God. Even if such a person claims that all of Torah is from God except that a certain verse originated with Moses and not with God - he has denigrated God's word. Even if such a person claims that all of Torah is from God, except that a certain fine point or a certain academic inference is not - he has denigrated God's word.

This view, although based upon an earlier conceptualization of revelation, holds no terrors for us Masorti Jews: we, too, ardently maintain that the whole of the Torah (both written and oral) comes from God - in the sense already described above, in which God's will is perceived more perfectly as the human perceptors progress onward and upward. We insist that man's reaching for God is, indeed, a reaching for God, and that which is finally accepted into the tradition has proceeded from God. Even when some element or other is superceded later on with an improved understanding, it does not mean that the former teaching was not divine; it merely means that man was not yet philosophically developed to a degree that would permit him to understand the full implications of the divine in that particular matter - very much as we understand our parents more intelligently the more we grow.

However, matters do not rest here. Rambam, in the Thirteen Fundamentals that form part of a long excursus that he inserted into the preamble to his commentary to the first Mishnah of Chapter Ten of Tractate Sanhedrin, codified this concept of Torah min ha-shamayim in a way that is problematic for us.


We believe that the [Written] Torah now in our possession is identical to that given to Moses and that all of it comes from God. That is to say that all of it came to him from God in a manner that may be metaphorically termed 'speech'. No one but Moses can know the true nature of that contact. He was a kind of secretary taking down everything that was dictated - dates, stories and commands - which is why he is referred to as a 'tradent' [Numbers 21:18]. There is no qualitative difference between a verse like 'the offspring of Ham were Ethiopia, Egypt, Punt and Canaan' [Genesis 10:6] or a verse like 'his wife's name was Mehetavel, daughter of Matred' [Genesis 36:39] - on the one hand, and between a verse like 'I am the Lord your God' [Exodus 20:2] or 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One' [Deuteronomy 6:4] on the other. It all comes from God and it is all God's perfect, pure and holy Torah of truth.

Surely, had Rambam been formulating his principle today he would have phrased it differently. That which we find problematic in his words is not to be found in the original midrash, but was added by Rambam in order to counteract a tendency that may have been prevelant in his day - to ascribe a relative value to the various components of Torah.

In his day, it would appear, there were people who claimed that the lofty passages came from God and the rest came from Moses. We, too, would combat such a claim. We agree with Rambam that "it all comes from God and it is all God's perfect, pure and holy Torah of truth". We disagree with him when he states that "the [Written] Torah now in our possession is identical to that given to Moses". This formulation of Rambam is, of course, entirely at odds with the sentiments implied by Abraham Ibn-Ezra in several places in his commentary on the Torah; for instance see the quotation brought earlier in this essay, and in particular the gloss on it made by Yosef Bonfils. Ibn-Ezra surely would have rejected Rambam's extension of the original midrash, as we do - and as Rambam himself almost certainly would if he were alive today.