The Federation situation: The good, the bad and the ugly collide in online debate

Last week, as the world wondered if an Iran nuclear agreement would be reached, the online Jewish world was being consumed by a different, but no less passionate debate: the role of Jewish Federations in today’s world.

The conversation began with an online post in

Who Wrote the Bible?

So many people seem to be concerned with the question, "Who wrote the Bible?"

It reminds me of a story that a professor from the University of Judaism once told me. He was discussing a movie that he had recently seen, and he asked his students what they thought of this particular film. One student gave a scathing review, and he asked her when she had seen it. Her answer was that she had not seen the film, but based on what she had heard about it, she felt equipped enough to critique the film.

"That’s absurd" he said to her. "How can you possibly critique a film you have never seen? Could you also critique a book you have never read?"

"Sure," she said, "I learned that art in Bible class. We were taught to critique the Bible and conclude who wrote it before we ever even read it or understood it."

I raise this issue as we begin anew the cycle of Torah reading, especially because of the nature of the first two chapters of Genesis. Both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 tell the story of the world’s creation. Genesis 1 presents the classic day-by-day listing, with no detail as to how anything happened.

Genesis 2 presents the story of God shaping man out of the dust of the ground, placing man in a certain Garden of Eden and then creating a partner for man out of his own rib.

Most modern Bible courses, with very few exceptions, begin with the question of "Who wrote the Bible?" and "Genesis 1 and 2 according to Astruc," written by Jean Astruc, an 18th century Frenchman, as the classical trigger point for this discussion.

I have met several so-called Bible students who can discuss the various theories about the authorship of the Bible, but have very little to say about the actual meaning of the text. So let’s say that there were two separate authors for Genesis 1 and 2. What does that teach us about the nature, meaning and message of the text beyond hypothesizing over who wrote it? Students of the Bible would be much better off spending their time probing the text for its deeper spiritual and intellectual messages.

A brilliant contemporary example of this more substantive approach, studying Genesis 1 and 2, is the philosophical work "The Lonely Man of Faith," by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik. Soloveichik states that the answer as to why there are two accounts of creation in the Bible "lies not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man." The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity."

"Adam the First" and "Adam the Second," as Soloveichik calls them, represent different philosophical and psychological features of humanity. "Adam the First" represents a community-oriented personality, because the Bible records that he was created together with Eve. "Adam the Second" is the more lonely type, because the Bible tells that he was created alone, his partner Eve being created as a result of his loneliness. "Adam the First" is the "majestic man of dominion," whereas "Adam the Second" represents the "lonely man of faith."

Soloveichik concludes that these are not two separate accounts of creation stemming from two authors with different styles, rather they are two complementary accounts that "are not about two different Adams locked in an external confrontation, but about one person who is involved in self-confrontation."

Who wrote Genesis 1 and 2? Read the text again in light of Soloveichik’s deep insights, and you will quickly see that the answer is irrelevant.