Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith. Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2012. ISBN 978-1-906764-13-5

I am often asked how long it took me to write this book. The answer is usually something like sixty or seventy years. Of course, I have done other things in between, but the problems the book addresses have been with me for as long as I can remember. That’s why the book starts with an autobiographical ‘orientation’; many readers will have shared the same enthusiasms and doubts, perhaps trodden a similar path, on the one hand enthralled by the richness of tradition and in awe of its spiritual masters, on the other persuaded by the evidence of the physical and moral sciences that the sources of tradition are marred by historical and scientific error as well as occasionally dubious ethical positions.

We might simply be eclectic in our recourse to tradition, cherry-picking the bits that appeal. But this is ruled out by the traditional doctrine of Torah min ha-Shamayim (Torah from Heaven), which claims that the whole system, scripture together with rabbinic interpretation, was received by Moses direct from God, and stands in its perfection for all time. I trace the history of this doctrine, outline the critiques to which it has been subjected and the responses given, and suggest a way in which the doctrine may be reconstructed in line with modern science and values. Torah from Heaven, I argue, is to be understood as the foundational myth of the Jewish people, not as the literal account of an historical event.

The book is addressed to people of all faiths who find that their head and their heart are not firmly in accord with each other. I ask them not to be afraid of the evidence, nor to be cowed by authority, but to seek truth wherever it may be found. Tradition is certainly to be respected, our lives are enriched through the communities in which we form our identity, but this should never be at the cost of embracing falsehood.

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