Marc Brettler

Torah and modern scholarship: Not just academic

Current methods of biblical scholarship can, indeed must, inform contemporary Jewish life and belief

As the cofounder of Torah and Academic Biblical Study (TABS) and its new website, I read Levi Brackman’s recent blog post with interest. I am of course gratified that he noted this new website, launched for Shavuot and updated weekly with divrei Torah on the Torah reading and other sections, and I appreciate his observation that our approach is not precluded by Orthodox Judaism. Indeed, one of our co-founders is an Orthodox rabbi; two of the five members of our advisory board are Orthodox rabbis; one is a yoetzet halachah (a female halachic adviser). One teaches at Yeshiva University while another teaches at Bar-Ilan. Thus, the methods that we are suggesting are finding their way into the Orthodox world, and I hope that the website will hasten that process.

Yet, there are parts of the blog post that I find puzzling. Why should methods that are used for study of the Talmud not be applied to the Bible as well? After all, such methods are used, or at least strongly hinted at, by various medieval sages, as we illustrate on our website. And a careful study of the great history of Jewish biblical interpretation shows that new methods, often influenced by outside cultures, were introduced time and time again within Judaism. More significantly, the blogger shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our goals when he notes that “when it comes to the Torah I prefer a mode of interpretation that adds value and meaning to my life over one that relegates the study of Torah to a mere academic pursuit.”

This sentence makes me wonder if he looked at the website at all. Those who are participating in our website are academic scholars who are observant Jews interested in fostering engagement with Jewish tradition. We all believe that academic biblical pursuits do not deserve the adjective “mere,” but can, indeed must, inform contemporary Jewish life and belief. It is not dry scholarship that is of historical value only, but is relevant. Furthermore, as the various pieces already posted on the site indicate, such study can add value and meaning to our lives as Jews. This is what each of us has felt, and we hope that others, who will look at more carefully, will come to a similar conclusion.

About the Author
Marc Zvi Brettler is Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University, and the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies emeritus at Brandeis University. He is author of many books and articles, co-editor of The Jewish Study Bible and The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and co-founder of