The Place of Biblical Criticism in a Jewish Education

Layaliza Klein

In this paper I advance the thesis that the problems and methods with which biblical criticism deals should be neither formally incorporated nor overlooked or excluded from the years of a formal Jewish education.

In Part I, I set out what I believe to be the main tension, that is, between Torah min shamayim and Torah “kind of” min shamayim, which, as R. Carmy evocatively puts it, is kind of like playing chess without the king.

In Part II, I explain that I do not think biblical criticism qua biblical criticism, even in the light of a מאמין, should be formally taught in high school. I explain why this is a good thing not only from a religious perspective but also from a societal perspective and an individualist perspective. I point out that these arguments begin to lose their validity toward the close of secondary school education. In Part III, I argue that biblical criticism should not be entirely ignored for the pragmatic reason that students will pick it up elsewhere and possibly by themselves, and also for the positive, instrumentalist value it has in furthering both emuna and exegesis.

In Part IV, I set forth my suggestions, an attempt to balance the problems in including bible criticism and the problems in excluding bible criticism, both aforementioned. I argue that teachers should do two things. They should familiarize themselves with the issues so as to avoid exacerbating problems raised by students. They also should informally inoculate students against an Achillean vulnerability outside the classroom to uncharted waters of bible scholarship, against a directionless personal search for truth, and against an abuse of the valuable tool for insight afforded by bible criticism. I do not discuss at any length how practically to use bible criticism to augment the text, which is the topic of other Fellows’ papers.

My parameters for incorporating biblical criticism call for laying a groundwork that will enable students to confront biblical criticism where it is raised by their own minds or by others, where the issue is reactive or proactive. The informality of it is meant to preserve the religiously tendentious approach I laud in Part II. In Part V, I conclude by charting my own journey in writing this paper.

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