תנ"ך בגובה עיניים
The Tanakh Debates:
A Bibliography and Links to Online Resources
by Rabbi Uri C. Cohen
In recent years, there has been a recurrent controversy within
Orthodox circles as to how to understand the Avot and Imahot, the
patriarchs and Matriarchs–as well as other major biblical
figures–who are the key characters of Tanakh. Should we elevate
them, viewing them with great awe, and emphasizing (in Rabbi Wolpin's
words) "the vast gulf that separates us from the shevatim, as from all
personalities of Tanakh"? Or should we relate to them, viewing them
with "an appropriate reverence" (Rabbi Carmy) and presenting them (in
Rabbi Grumet's words) as "paradigms, not of human perfection, but of
the struggle for that perfection"? Should we understand the Avot and
Imahot one way but present them to our students a different way? Here
are the most important writings on the subject, most of them from
recent iterations of the controversy.
Rav Tzvi Yisrael Tau's original attack:
Rav Zvi Tau,
Tzaddik BeEmunato Yichyeh: Al HaGishah LeLimmud Tanakh
(Jerusalem, 2002). (They also sell a
CD-Rom of the 30 hours
of shiurim which were summarized into the book.)
This article gives a profile of
The responses to Rav Tau:
Rav Amnon Bazak,
"Yesharim Darkhei Hashem -- VeTzaddikim Yelkhu Bam," Yeshivat Har Etzion Daf Kesher
#845 (Beshalach 5762).
Rav Moshe Lichtenstein,
"Achat Diber Elokim -- Shtayim Zo Shamati?" Daf Kesher
#851 (Vayakhel 5762).
(Three responses, including Rav Bin Nun's, are linked at the bottom.)
Rav Shlomo Aviner,
"Tanakh BeGovah HaEinayim," BeAhava UBe'Emuna,
#32 (Vaera 5762). Linked here from Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim website.
Rav Yuval Cherlow,
"Asher Banu Shteihem Et Beit Yisrael
in Katnot Or (Jerusalem, 5760), pp. 413-422. This is the
article to which Rav Tau was reacting.
In the wake of the controversy, HaTzofeh
(the newspaper of the National-Religious movement) ran a series of
essays and responses,
This article about the controversy might be helpful background:
Yair Sheleg, Haaretz, February 13, 2002
"Charamot Nora'im uGezerot Sh'mad, Akhshav Gam BiYeshivot Hesder"
(It appeared in English as Yair Sheleg, "A Flesh-and-Blood Furor,"
Haaretz, February 15, 2002, p. B5.)
The following English articles are on the topic of relating to the
Rav Aharon Kotler, "How to Teach Torah," a Yiddish lecture from
1960 translated into English and reprinted in
The Best of Light Magazine, vol. 1
(1995), pp. 17-36. (A brief letter by Rav Kotler from 1935
was translated into English in The Jewish Observer,
March 1991, p. 50. But it's not a classic like the 1960 lecture.)
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein,
"Chazal's Criticism of Moshe Rabbenu," and
"The Sins of Gedolei Yisrael," (sichot on Shabbat Vaera 5755).
Rav Emanuel Feldman,
"A Storied Life,"
Jewish Action, Summer 2002.
Rav Nisson Wolpin and others,
"'Gadolographies'-- The Real Story,"
letters to the editor followed by Rav Feldman's response,
Jewish Action, Winter 2002, pp. 7, 68-69.
Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky,
"Kibbud Av and Kibbud Avot: Moral Education and Patriarchal Critiques,"
Tradition, Summer 1999, pp. 35-44.
Rabbi Avishai David,
"Perspectives on the Avot and Imahot,"
Ten Da'at, 5:2 (Spring 1991), pp. 24-26.
Rabbi Zvi Grumet,
"Another Perspective on the Avot and Imahot,"
Ten Daat, 6:1 (1992), pp. 25-27.
Dr. Howard Deitcher, "Between Angels and Mere Mortals: Nechama
Leibowitz's Approach to the Study of Biblical characters,"
Journal of Jewish Education, 66:1-2 (Spring/Summer 2000), pp. 8-22.
Rabbi Shalom Carmy,
"Imitate the Ramban, not the Professors - An Interview
with Shalom Carmy,"
Hamevaser, 38:1 (2000).
In January 2003 Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter delivered a seminar to the
ATID Fellows on "Must Biblical Heroes Be Perfect".
Download the packet of mekorot here.
Years later, Whitney [a Lincoln legal colleague from 1850s] recalled a
lengthy discussion about George Washington. The question for
debate was whether the first president was perfect, or whether,
being human, was fallible. According to Whitney, Lincoln thought
there was merit in retaining the notion of a Washington without
blemish that they had all been taught as children. "It makes
human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect,"
Lincoln argued, "that human perfection is possible."
--Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals, pp. 151-52.