I’ve removed the bedding from the green-and-tan dome tent that I used last night in my Portland, Oregon backyard. And I’ve just brought my favorite, very-faded, red camping chair into the tent.
I’m currently sitting in the 10+-year-old chair, listening to the sounds of rain on the top of the tent, and writing the words that will turn into this very article you are currently reading.
It is my tradition to spend the evening and the day of Yom Kippur in a tent.
Because spending time in a tent on the tenth day of this seventh month (Leviticus 23:27-28) feels very biblical.
And I can’t go to the temple anymore.
About a half hour ago, I was returning my pillow to our bed when Jane asked me if I missed going to the synagogue.
“Well, my need for community is diminished, but,” I paused and thought, “my integrity is winning out.”
In our 28 years of being together, Jane has learned to wait after my initial, cryptic answer for me to elaborate.
I continued, “I can’t buy into a community if the price is lowering my integrity for the truth. I can’t stand there and hear people sing ‘This is the Torah that Moses set before the people Israel, from the mouth of God and written down by Moses.’ I just can’t.”
On my way back to my tent, I softly sing in Hebrew those very words of liturgy, traditionally sung after a reading from the Torah—Vezot haTorah asher sam Mosheh lifnei benei Israel al pi Adonai, b’yad Moshe.
While I don’t believe the words, a nostalgic smile envelops my face nonetheless.
It’s a bit of bait and switch.
Most Jews learn the Hebrew words before they learn what the words mean.
And, then, once we’ve learned, there is already a positive association, tied to a sense of community, and who wants to give that up?
So, most rabbis, cantors, and Jews just keep saying words they don’t believe.
Spending a night and a day in a tent, reflecting, is a practice I started shortly after I chose to stop accepting a paycheck to promote Judaism.
Also, as is traditional, I fast.
I might not have a community with me, but I’m far from lonely.
I’m here with you and (the) God (of my understanding), too.
Despite our singing that it is so, Moses (1300 BCE) didn’t write the Bible as we have it.
That’s just a fact.
Every seminary teaches Julius Wellhausen’s still-standing 19th-century documentary hypothesis, which provides irrefutable evidence of multiple authors.
Moreover, Judaism has known the Bible isn’t God’s words written by Moses since at least the 10th century CE. (I’ll explain that below.)
So, when are we going to stop lying? When will we stop saying words we know aren’t true?
Why not say, “This is the Torah that our ancestors believed was written from the mouth of God and written by Moses”?
This is religion, after all.
We should care about the truth.
Religious leaders, please!
Please stop stating or insinuating that the Bible we have is a direct revelation from God’s mouth to Moses’s hand.
It’s not. You know that. We know that.
I’m not saying there aren’t beautiful truths in the Bible, and, of course, it is a document to be respected and revered for the moral effect it has had on humanity.
But it’s not God’s word.
Stop saying otherwise.
Making it seem as though God’s revelation happened clearly in an ancient language, thousands of years ago, makes it seem that God today is far off, distant, and difficult to understand.
And that’s just not true.
It also implies that morality is far off, removed, and not within.
And that, too, is just not true.
Ibn-Ezra’s 11th century commentary on Exodus 36:31 takes issue with a contemporary of his, named Yitzḥaqi. The later believed that at least part of the biblical text had to have been written almost half a millennium after Moses, during the reign of King Jehoshaphat (9th BCE).
How did Yitzḥaqi come to this conclusion?
He reasoned it from the Biblical text that reads, “These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned.”
His thinking (I didn’t get it when I read through the Bible) is that whoever wrote this verse is ostensibly telling us that they lived at a time when there was already a king in Israel—which is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years past any date in which Moses could have lived.
If you are a member of a religious group, please ask the leadership to treat you like an adult who can handle the truth.
You might bring in this quote from 18th century enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant—“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
At about 8:00 Pacific this morning, I log onto the live stream from Congregation Rodeph Sholom, the NYC synagogue I attended as a child and my family still attends.
I watch as my youngest niece is honored, being called to the Torah scroll to chant a portion of the service.
I watch and listen as she does a wonderful job.
I send her text messages after to celebrate her.
(I might not believe she was reading God’s words, but I’m still going to prioritize being her stalwart champion.)
Nonetheless, for my own piece of mind, I shut off the audio before the congregation sings “This is the Torah that Moses set before the people Israel, from the mouth of God and written down by Moses.”
Please forward this article to friends.
If you would like to read more about how classical Biblical commentators dealt with Genesis 36:31, here is a great article.