Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Do You Believe This Book?

At the Republican YouTube debate, one of the questioners inquired as to whether the candidates believed that every word of the Bible was literally true. The Jerusalem Post thought it would be interesting to pitch the question to a bunch of Jewish Rabbis (using the Hebrew Bible, of course). Their answers are fascinating, and shed important light on how Judaism as a religion is operationally different from its Christian cousin.

Jews are all about interpretation. The "literal truth" of the Bible, such a point of controversy in Christianity, has never been a big fissure point in Judaism. As early as the Saadia Gaon (6th Century C.E.), and possibly earlier, Jewish scholars have held that the Bible should be understood metaphorically when it conflicts with science. The tradition of oral law and Talmudic interpretation necessarily has created a religion comfortable with differing views, and a rather unique tolerance for interpretative diversity (e.g., the "These and These" principle).

I'm not entirely sure how that would be gotten across to a polity that is largely unfamiliar with the development of Jewish law and largely doesn't realize how different we are from our Christian peers. I suspect that an Evangelical audience, in addition to rejecting the substance of our answer, would also reject that it is a legitimate "Jewish" (or "Judeo-Christian") answer. But that's their ignorance, not ours.

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