June 20, 2024
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Note on ‘The Revelation at Sinai’

I was pleased to read Ben Rothke’s review of the book “The Revelation at Sinai: What Does ‘Torah from Heaven’ Mean?” in the March 17 issue of The Jewish Link. I appreciate Mr. Rothke’s attempt to describe this book’s criticism of my own book on revelation at Sinai in a serious and respectful manner. Not every machloket is handled in this admirable way.

I would like to take issue with a different aspect of this article, however: its characterization of the idea of “unfolding revelation” as a “non-Orthodox notion.” In fact, one of the two most significant proponents of this idea during the 20th century was Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook. Of course Rav Kook is generally considered to have been an Orthodox religious authority. Similarly, the scholar Yochanan Silman argues that the notion of unfolding revelation is already found in Talmudic and medieval Jewish sources in his magnificent book “Qol Gadol Velo’ Yasaf: Torah Yisrael bein Shleimut Lehishtalmut.” Silman was an Orthodox Jew who taught in the Department of Jewish Thought at Bar Ilan University, Israel’s premier Orthodox institution of higher learning. Among the most sophisticated contributions to this stream of thought in recent decades is the book “Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism,” by Tamar Ross, a faculty member at Midreshet Lindenbaum as well as Bar Ilan University. Her book focuses on Rav Kook’s understanding of how revelation continues and accumulates over time. While Ross’s approach is, theologically speaking, very much to the left of my own, she identifies as an Orthodox Jew.

Moving a few generations back, among the clearest and most succinct expressions of revelation as an enduring moment that repeats itself throughout each generation are those of the Apter Rav in his sefer, Oheiv Yisrael (in his comments on Parashat Ki Teitzei), as well as those of Isaiah Horowitz, the Shl”a, in “Shenei Luchot Habrit” (25a-b in the Amsterdam edition of 1648 = 1:18b-19a in the Warsaw edition of 1930). To be sure, other Orthodox thinkers repudiate this point of view. But the suggestion that the notion of revelation as unfolding over time is somehow non-Orthodox is simply incorrect.

Benjamin D. Sommer
Teaneck
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