Defragment your Torah for better performance [fun]

Picture looking like Windows defragmentation but listing the different authors of the Torah as postulated by bible criticism.

[hat tip: e-kvetcher at Search for Emes]

How did you become interested in Judaism? [Interview with myself]

That’s a good question and I guess some basic interest goes far back into my childhood. I remember talking about Judaism in class (we also did other religions, but I don’t remember those). Particularly I remember tasting the different food items for the Pesach seder in elementary school and I remember acting as the bride (or bride mother?) in a Jewish wedding*. I also remember reading all the holocaust-related books in the local library, and I remember a workshop on Yiddish songs together with children of some other nationality, maybe Polish.

But apart from these bits and pieces, I grew up sort of protestant. My parents are not religious at all and never went to church. My grandmother went and I used to go with her a few times, especially during the year when I was confirmed. Me and my siblings spent a week or two each summer at a children’s retreat organized by the church. I really liked that, so after I grew too old to participate, I became a counselor. Eventually, I took on a weekly girls’ group. But I wasn’t too much into the religious part of it, it was more about the people and the music.

I started to read more about (Christian) theology and actual beliefs around the age of 16, I don’t really know what triggered it. And the more I read, the more doubts I had. Jesus, virgin birth, original sin, all these miracles, all the contradictions between what the text said and what people actually believed? Coincidentally we got internet at the same time, and soon I was wildly browsing throught the internet in search of religious stuff. As I said, I was researching Christian Lutheran-protestant theology.

And by chance somehow I ended up in a Jewish chatroom. There were all these people talking about odd stuff. And I was hooked. I don’t remember what exactly they discussed. I think it must have been about Shabat. And I think the fascination of Hebrew played a big role. But I returned to this chatroom every day from then on and started to learn about Judaism.

* Now, as an adult, and on my way to becoming a Jew, I am unsure what to think about this method of teaching. Is it appropriate and respectful to stage ceremonies of a different religion? I don’t know, but it certainly made a big impression on my 10-year-old self.

Religion, Truth, and the Five Stages of Grief

Not a lot of time, but I thought I’d share these thoughts from the Jewish Atheist on religion and science (also old, from 2005 this time).

I think that when religion is confronted by truth that conflicts with their most basic beliefs, it goes through the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
(Jewish Atheist: Religion, Truth, and the Five Stages of Grief )

When a scientific theory* is young enough that not everybody has accepted it, or maybe even the scientific establishment is sceptical, you can get by with ignoring or denying it. Next comes the stage where you cannot ignore it anymore. Lines have to be drawn, correct beliefs defines, heretics outlawed. A classic example of the third phase is Chabad defending its geocentrical worldview with relativity theory. This stage may be absurd, really convincing or really confusing, depending on how articulate and intelligent the person making the argument is. When bargaining doesn’t help anymore and depression sets it, people go OTD, become buddhists or start to write blogs. And lastly, finally, we arrive at the end, where the science can be acceppted as just one more fact of life that is not life-shattering.

These phases do not only apply to religion and science, often the general public or even the established scientific community reacts the same way to a new, revolutionary theory*. Take climate change. First it was largely ignored by many. I’d say now we are between anger (the people who will shout at you for just using the word) and bargaining (the people who say climate has always been changing and it’s a natural process during the earth’s lifecycle – it may look like it changes, but it’s not our fault). I’m not sure what depression is going to look like, but I hope acceptance starts before it’s too late for this earth.

* "A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation." (Wikipedia: Scientific theory)

Support babelism! [satire]

One of the best parodies of creationists I have ever read, written by Gail Davis in December 1996 (yes, it’s old, but I’m young, so I hadn’t seen it before): Godless Linguistics!

Clearly, we can see the very structure of our civilization crumbling around our ears. Sexual perversion runs rampant as our once-proud moral culture slides ever closer to the gaping maw of oblivion. One need only turn on the TV to witness ample evidence of the degradation of our current Godless society, slipping closer to destruction with the wanton disregard for proper diction, and the torrid abomination of corrupted grammar!

Why, just listen to the “music” of the young people these days. Such trash! The words slur together (when they can be understood at all) into a putrid mush of incomplete sentences and split infinitives. It’s awful. And it has been PROVEN to induce young people to commit acts of violence, theft, and unwed pregnancy. And surely, it is no mere coincidence that this dire threat to the fabric of our very civilization coincides exactly with the indoctrination of our young people with Godless LINGUISTICS in the public schools.

Our public schools have turned away from the source of Truth, to teach our children that our sacred English language has descended from other languages. The poor impressionable youngsters are taught AS A FACT that English words have certain “root words”, even though this is only a theory. The FACT is, God Almighty created all languages complete when he confused mankind’s original language as punishment for our transgression at the tower of Babel. But the athiest/lingusts don’t want this mentioned in public settings, because it goes against their FAITH, and forces them to face their own accountability. So they have BANNED the teaching of Babelism, because they are afraid that it might expose the weakness of their own linguistic ideas. Is this fair? I don’t think so. It goes against all that America stands for.

Therefore, join me in the campaign to have a balanced and fair treatment in public education. All english teachers should be required to include Babelism as a valid alternate theory to Linguisticism, whenever the origins of the English language is discussed.

Oh, of course we can expect opposition from the entrenched vested interests. They will point to certain similarities (i.e. “mother”, “madre” “mater”) as evidence of the relatedness of various languages. But this is a complete misinterpretation of the evidence. Clearly it is more economical for God to use similar phonic structures to designate similar meanings. Therefore, the existence of such similarities PROOVES that the various languages must have had the same author.

Second, a language is a complex thing. The odds that some first speaker could randomly string together a complex series of sounds, and then multiply this by the odds that someone else would UNDERSTAND him, and the probablity could be calculated to be less than 1 in 10^500. That’s a one with five hundred zero’s. A statistical impossibility. Obviously, the first language must have a designer: God.

Third, there is NO evidence that transitional languages ever existed. What use is half a language? A noun without verbs conveys no meaning! Sure, there is middle and old-English. But these are ENGLISH! A complete nontransitional language. We do not deny that micro-lingustics can happen, but this process can create only DIALECTS. There is NO EVIDENCE that a series of random micro-lingustic events can create a WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE. I’ll beleive in Macro-linguistics when I see a video tape of a child growing up in an Eskimo village suddenly become fluent in Armenian! It takes A LOT MORE FAITH to beleive in athieistic linguisticism than the truth of Babelism.

So join me in the crusade: Babelism must be included in the public school English curriculum.

There are only two theories which explain the origin of our language: Babelism and Linguisticism. Shouldn’t they BOTH be given a fair hearing?

Thank you.

Support babelism!

Shaming G-d vs. shaming people

Somebody told me the following story: Shabat morning service at a festival, a crowd of people who usually pray in different (orthodox) settings, in a small room with a mechitza. The Torah is brought out, passed among the men, and is read. During the reading of the women asks whether the Torah can be passed around the women as well when it is brought back. One of the rabbis says yes. One of the rabbis says no. In the end, it’s not done.

I don’t want to talk about the halachic aspects here. Some say that it’s perfectly fine halachically that women kiss the Torah. Some say it shames G-d. I don’t know. Let’s assume the second rabbi sincerely thought it would be a big shame for G-d and it completely forbidden. But what not passing it to the women certainly does is shame people. The women who want to express their love of Torah and are deprived of an opportunity to do so. And not after a private discussion, but they are rejected in public, during the service.

And there are other examples of similar behaviours that in the end come down to following (that person’s very strict interpretation of) G-d’s law and shaming other people, or doing something that shames G-d (by disobeying his commandments). Refusing to sit next to a woman in a plane. Refusing to shake a woman’s hand. Insulting women who wear the wrong clothing or soldiers. Refusing to eat kosher meat because it doesn’t have the right hechsher or doesn’t follow some chumra.

So, what is more important? That shame is not brought to G-d or to other people? The Talmud talks about the severity of shaming others: "He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood" (Talmud, Bava metzia 58b)? Isn’t it as much required by Torah to prevent shame for your fellows as following the ritual laws? For all the mitzvot you do, don’t forget to be a mentch!

Omer counting notifications on shabat

This year I am counting the omer with the help of an app. Every evening, just after nightfall I get a reminder to count. It is quite practical actually, not only because of the reminding, but also for keeping track of which day in the omer it is.

At some point I started wondering about the halacha of sending a notification on shabat. Intuitively, probably one might think it is forbidden, as this is an electronic device and basically anything with electricity sets the "forbidden"-flag. But the notifications are automated, so it should be the same as setting an alarm (which you can do) or timers for light (which you can do) before shabat starts. The notification is programmed beforehand by the app developer.

So you might think what does it matter? Anyway, the religious person wouldn’t see the notification, because she certainly turns her phone/tablet/thingy off for shabat. But there are Jews who use their phone on shabat and are still religious (though not orthodox, probably). I know a few who count the omer and use phones on shabat. So if they rely on the app to remind them for the omer and on shabat it dosn’t, and they forget to count… isn’t that near to the category of causing someone to sin? After all they are obligated to count the omer.

I haven’t really looked into this, way too busy at the moment, but I’m curious. As far as I know, my app doesn’t give notifications on shabat. It’s from Chabad, so probably the app developers just don’t think shabat-phone-using-omer-counting-jews exist? Or is there another reason an app shouldn’t send notifications that I have missed?

Pater Noster and Amidah – the language

In my last post I have looked at the structure of the Christian prayer Pater Noster and tried to align it with the Amidah. In this post I am going to look at some of the language.

The language of the Amidah is Hebrew (like most Jewish prayers). There are many arguments for thinking that the Pater Noster was originally given by Jesus in Aramaic (the commonly used language at the time) or Hebrew (the language of prayer). But it has come down to us in the gospels in Greek. I don’t speak Greek, so I am basing myself on the English translation here.

Our Father in heaven
Often Christians cite this personal, intimate adressing of G-d as a crucial difference of their faith to Judaism. This isn’t quite correct. Of course there are lots of instances of "Lord, our G-d", or "G-d, king of the world" in Jewish prayer. But the concept of G-d as a father is present as well. A famous example that has inspired quite a few musicians is the prayer "Avinu Malkeynu" that is used for Rosh haShana (new year) and Yom Kipur (day of atonement). It literally translates to "our father, our king" and asks for forgiveness of our sins. But the Amidah contains the phrase as well, in blessing six (also in the context of forgiving our sins).

Hallowed be your name
Jewish tradition has always assigned a special meaning to G-d’s name. When G-d shows Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He reveals His name to him. During the time of the temple, G-d’s name was used only once a year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest. The name was too holy to use in other circumstances, there paraphrases like "Adonay" ("Lord") or "Eloheynu" ("our G-d") were used. Today the holiness of G-d’s name has expanded even to these designations and orthodox Jews use them only in prayer. In everyday life "haShem" ("the name") is used to refer to G-d. Jewish liturgy is full of calls to sanctify G-d’s name. In the Amidah, blessing three has "You are holy and Your name is holy" and "we will sanctify Your name in the world", blessing eighteen has "for everything Your name may be praised and glorified". The well-known Kaddish prayer, that is also said in every service, starts with the words "May His great name be exalted and sanctified" (in Aramaic). These are only a few examples that underline the importance of G-d’s name in Jewish prayer.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, […] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
All these lines could as well be part of any Jewish prayer. The Amidah prays for sustenance (blessing 9), forgiveness (blessing 6) and deliverance (personal in blessing 7, communal in blessing 15). Jews, similar to Christians, await the coming of the messiah when G-d will reign as king over all the earth. The Amidah talks about the coming of the messiah in blessing 15, and about the rebuilding of Jerusalem (which will also happen in the messianic era) in blessings 14 and 17.

As we also have forgiven our debtors.
You may have noticed that I left out this line in the above. I have written in my post about the structural similarities that the Amidah is no place for our promises. Still, it is implicitly understood in all pleas for forgiveness from G-d, that G-d can only forgive sins against G-d. Sins against another person must be forgiven by that person. So Jews do (must!) also forgive their debtors.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
This is a very common theme in many prayers, I’ll just give two examples where the language is very very similar. The first is from the Aleinu prayer which is said at the conclusion of every prayer service: "For the kingdom is Yours, and You will reign for all eternity in glory as it is written in your Torah: haShem shall reign for all eternity" (Wikipedia doesn’t have the second part, you have to take my word for it). The second quote is from 1 Chronicles 29 verse 11 which is recited when the Torah is removed from the ark at Shabat morning services: "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as head above all."

So, in conclusion, most lines of the Pater Noster would not be out of place in a Jewish prayer. Many sound really familiar to a Jew (if you translate them to Hebrew, that is). Does this mean that Jews should pray the Pater Noster? No, by its history it has become a Christian prayer, maybe even the quintessential Christian prayer. And Jews do not use prayers from other religions. But the text itself doesn’t have anything really objectionable from a Jewish point of view (in contrast to other prayers, e.g., the Credo, the Christian statement of faith).

Pater Noster and Amidah – structural similarities

A central prayer in Christianity is the Pater Noster (or the Lord’s prayer), which Jesus taught his disciples. The central prayer of every Jewish prayer service is the Amidah (or Shmone Esre). Both are roughly from the same time. But are they in any way similar?

In this post I am going to look at the structure of both prayers. The Pater Noster is pretty short. As my Jewish readers might not know the prayer, here is the complete text as given in the gospel of Matthew [this is from Wikipedia, I am confused about what the actually used English version is, sorry if I got it wrong; it doesn’t really matter though, we are concenred with the content and structure here, not the exact words]:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9–13)

The Amidah is pretty long, it consists of 19 blessings (or petitions) that can be grouped into three sections: praise, request and gratitude. What I am going to try to do in this post is to associate the lines of the Pater Noster to the parts of the Amidah. As the text of the Amidah is pretty long, I will only give you the topics of the blessings, you can use any siddur (Jewish prayer book) to look up the complete text, but it doesn’t matter so much for our purpose here.

The first part of the Amidah (praise) consists of three blessings:

1. G-d, helper of our forefathers
2. G-d the almighty who raises the dead
3. G-d the holy one

There is a very nice correspondance of the first part of the Amidah to the first two lines of the Pater Noster. The first blessing/line establishes who we are talking to, each with a special twist that ties into the self image of the religion. Judaism’s main concept is the chain of unbroken tradition starting at the forefathers and continuing onward. G-d is the one who chose the Jewish people and helps them throughout history. In contrast this, Christianity uses a location,heaven, to specify who is the addressee of the prayer. I’m not very well versed in Christian theology, but to me this has associations of universalism, G-d is not with any special human group, but he is there for all of us – just like Christianity claims to be more universal than Judaism [I might be totally off here though]. The second line of the Pater Noster corresponds to the third blessing of the Amidah in invoking the holiness of G-d as way of praise.

The second part of the Amidah (request) in the weekday version consists of thirteen blessings which I am not going to list here completely. Rather I will put the rest of the Pater Noster as given by Matthew here again and after each line I will indicate the corresponding blessing of the Amidah in brackets:

Your kingdom come, [15. Coming of the messiah]
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, [9. Sustenance, a good year]
and forgive us our debts, [6. Forgiveness for all sins]
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, [7. (Personal) Redemption]
but deliver us from evil. [7. (Personal) Redemption]

As you can see most of the topics of the Pater Noster are reflected in the Amidah (we wouldn’t expect the reverse to be true, as the Pater Noster is so much shorter). There is no explicit place where the Amidah prays for G-d’s will to be done in heaven and earth, but there are a few sentences that start with phrases like “yihye ratzon miLfaneycha” or “yihye leRatzon” (both meaning something like “it shall be your will”), so I would argue the idea that G-d’s will is the thing that really counts is definitely there in the Amidah. That there is no line parallel to forgiving our debtors is probably due to the fact that nowhere in the Amidah we are talking about us. As an example here the translation of the complete blessing about forgiveness:

Forgive us, our father, for we have erred. Pardon us, our king, for we have wilfully sinned. Because you pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, G-d, the gracious One, who always forgives.

All blessings in the Amidah follow the same pattern. First a concrete petition (here to forgive). Followed by a reason why G-d should do whatever we ask for, usually appealing to some attribute of G-d (here his pardoning nature). The last sentence thanks G-d in advance for doing what we ask for. The Amidah is not a place for us to tell G-d something or promise something. Its purpose it to praise, petition and thank him.

The version of the Pater Noster as given in Matthew stops at this point, but in the protestant version of the prayer (and maybe in others?) there’s an additional line:

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

The most similar part of the Amidah would probably be when Kedusha is inserted into the third blessing as it is repeated aloud. In this part the community praises G-d as the ruler of all whose glory fills the earth. Praise is the first part of the Amidah, not the last (although every petition ends with a praise, or rather a thank-you-in-advance-for-doing-what-we-want as discussed above).

The third and last part of the Amidah (gratitude) contains a plea that G-d hear our prayer (and restore the temple), thanks for everything we have, and finally asks for peace. All of this is missing in the Pater Noster [you know, haughty war-loving ungrateful Christians – just joking!!].

So, is there a 1-to-1 correspondance? No. Are there similarities? Yes. Are these surprising? Maybe not so much. If you want something from someone, it is common courtesy to say something nice first, then proceed to what you actually want and in the end thank in advance or say someting like "you are so great". This is what both prayers do. It would be interesting to look at other prayers from other religions that were definitely not influenced by Judaism to see if this format of prayer is exceptional or universal.

Pessach is over, you can come out of the kitchen now!

I spent Easter at my (non-Jewish) boyfriend’s family and as you probably know Pessach started on Easter this year. I was reluctant to go at first, because things get so complicated in a non-kosher kitchen on Pesach, but my boyfriend talked me into going and so I went with my own dishes and lots of stuff (we went by car, so this was possible, yay!).

The original plan was that the family do their thing and I prepare my own food, but as his mother wasn’t feeling so well, we changed plans. So "we young people" prepared all of the meals – "we" pretty soon meaning myself alone. This setup made meals much easier and there were very few screw-ups, but it meant that I basically spent the whole time in the kitchen. Next year I’ll definitely cook in advance and come with a bag full of prepared meals that I only have to heat!

So what did I cook? Indian potato curry, Spanish tortilla, imam bayildi (Turkish eggplant dish), carrot salad, potatoes with cream cheese, carrot soup with ginger. I also ordered egg matza with onion this year which turned out to be very yummy.

An advantage of going away for (most of) Pesach was that it made cleaning easier. Of course I still had to clean, but I didn’t have to empty out the kitchen to make space for the Pesach stuff, and I didn’t have to kasher the oven and stove for use on Pesach. I used the time I saved to prepare the hagada and it was the best-prepared seder I have ever done. Yay again :)

Invite a convert to your seder!

This heartbreaking snippet comes from a post about the difficulty of being a convert on family-oriented holidays:

Here’s what will happen: I’ve bought tickets for the two seder meals at the local Jewish community. It’s an Orthodox synagogue, but as common in Germany, only the rabbi and maybe five other families are religious. The rest is made up of ancient Russians, who go to the Seder because they’ve been promised a lavish meal with their all-time-favorite dishes like chicken soup, beet salad, and – most importantly – alcohol. Much alcohol, this time. I’ll take a seat among that illustrious group of people forty years my senior. Then I’ll give my whole attention to the vegetarian dishes for about three hours while the others happily chat in Russian and ignore me. I’ll stay till we’re done with the Seder, walk home, and cry.
(Nadine Grzeszick: Passover: A Plague to Converts)

I have felt the same way, experienced the same thing. In ten years, I have once (1 time, exactly) been invited to a holiday by a Jewish family. A few times I have celebrated with a group of Jewish student friends far from home (fun), or a bunch of other converts (fun, but also awkward), most holidays I celebrate with the community (more or less fun depending on the people). To have nowhere to go on a holiday, is the worst.

But everybody can help the lonely converts. Let Nadine have a better seder this year! Jewish families – invite the converts, the lonely students, the baal teshuva, and all those who have nowhere to go. And you, the lonely ones – do something, invite other lonely people. Even if you throw a party for your non-Jewish friends, don’t sit at home, alone, in the dark. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Dovid Mordachai: What the Hell are Kitniyot?

It starts with a funny discussion/rant about the logic of kitniot, then a small song. Have fun!

A few comments:

  • "it looks like a grain" is also among the reasons given for kitniot. Crop rotation explains why legumes (beans, peas, etc) became kitniot, but I don’t think it fits for rice or millet. Here the similarity to grain is a better explanation.
  • There’s way more reason to forbid maize/corn than potatoes because corn is actually botanically in the same category as the grains that become chametz (see my post on maize/corn).
  • Actually that people make peanuts kitniot is a good example for his argument that kitniot is a custom and a decree by rabbis. Although Rabbi Moshe Feinstein decreed them to be non-kitniot, the people want them to be kitniot (see my post on peanuts). It seems people like to expand the list of kitniot.
  • Not all kitniot are beans, rice is isn’t a bean, it’s a cereal grain. Botanically speaking if we were to say that beans and cereal grains can be kitniot, this would mean we should make peanuts and corn kitniot, but not quinoa and coffee (see also my posts on quinoa and coffee). That might be a semi-rational route to take, but it’s still

Other that that I pretty much agree that if people want to continue to not eat kitniot, that’s fine, but don’t expand the list every year!

Kitniot index page

Pesach is rapidly approaching and I get more and more hits from search terms like "hemp seeds kitniyot" (5 searches in the last 30 days), "why is sunflower oil considered kitniyot" (2 searches), "are pumpkin seeds kosher for passover" or "is safflower kitnios". To collect all the kitniot posts I have written in one place, I have created a page with an index of all my is-X-kitniot posts. I will update it whenever I write new posts.

Pessach sameach veKasher!

Who’s who of my community

From the lofty heights of theology I come down to reality. It is my blog, so I can whine a bit if I want to. Again I’m struggeling with my path and thinking about abandoning everything. It’s not theological doubts, or that it is difficult to live as a Jew (although it really is!), or antisemitism that might make me leave Judaism. It is the feeling that my community doesn’t give me anything and there is no point in going there.

I live in the middle of Jewish nowhere, with only a very small community here. This is the typical attendance list for a Friday kabbalat shabat service: The rabbi, the chazan (cantor, prayer leader), 2-3 old Russians, 2-3 (Russian) yeshivah guys, 2 converts, the messianic woman, the foreign Jewish visitor, 1-2 would-be-converts, 1-5 non-Jewish visitors. The last three in this list vary and may be male or female.

Now let’s see who I will talk to at kiddush. The rabbi, the yeshiva guys and the successful converts are all very haredi and all male. I’m female and more modern. Mostly they don’t talk to me and anyway they disappear pretty quickly because their wives are waiting at home with the children. The old Russians are pretty much secular, but have known each other for possibly 20 years and we cannot talk because we have no common language (they only speak Russian). Anyway, they are about two or three times my age. So who’s left? Usually, I either help the would-be-converts or the visitors to understand what the service was about, explain various Jewish holidays and try to prevent the messianic from talking too much about crazy stuff. Or I talk to the Jewish visitor and tell him that yes, this is normal turnout.

There is just nobody I can be friends with. The differences in age and/or outlook are too great. Sometimes a student or an intern is new in town, but after she/he has been to services once, she/he never shows up again. Why should she/he? We have a student group, I’ve been there a few times. They are nice, but I am not a student anymore and feel just too old for the crowd. And I’m inconveniencing them, because I’m the only non-Russian and they have to switch language for me (which they can do without a problem, but somehow normally they prefer to speak Russian).

So why should I go to services or community events? Why should I even make an effort to fit in? At the moment I really don’t see the point. And that makes me very sad.

Multiple authors of the Torah and literal truth

In my last post I have written about the question of whether the Torah’s relevance or divine origin are negated if it were written by multiple authors (spoiler: I don’t think so). In this post I would like to offer my opinion on why this topic is still so hotly debated in so many places of the J-blogosphere.

I think the issue people actually mean when they discuss the authorship of the Torah is this: Does every single word in the Torah come directly from G-d? This matters, because halachot (religious rules) are attached to different spellings, certain words in context, or a specific order of verses. If the document is written by a human and not dictated by G-d, all of this may not mean anything. Note that here even divine inspiration does not quite suffice. It has to be word-by-word revelation if you want to attach meaning to every letter.

But this is really in no way connected to the authorship problem. G-d can dictate different parts to different people. Even if G-d dictated X to person A and then (maybe even at a later point) told person B to insert Y at place P, the result is that the text is directly from G-d. G-d can choose several people to write down his exact words, it really does not matter who or how many people wrote the document if it is the word of G-d.

At this point we can get sidetracked by several seemingly related questions. Why are there different writing styles? What about similar documents like the Code of Hammurabi? Why would G-d "trick us" by making the Torah appear like one book written by one author? Or conversely, by making it appear as the work of several people? But while these questions might be interesting to discuss as theological questions, they do not say anything about whether the Torah is the word of G-d. If I believe the Torah is the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. Also, if I believe the Torah is not the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. There cannot be a proof for G-d’s authorship anyway. Fundamentally it is a question of belief.

So, in my opinion, people feel threatened by the possibility of multiple authors to the Torah because they take it as an attack on their literal reading of the text. Somehow people automatically assume that multiple authors means human authors. The automatic response is not "G-d talks to many people and he ordered each person to insert exactly this exactly at this point", but "you are a heretic". But this does not follow. The fact in itself that there are different writing styles or multiple authors does not automatically does not automatically mean G-d cannot have dictated every word*. While I don’t really share the view that every word of the Torah has been dictated by G-d verbatim (more on that later, maybe), if you want to believe that, I don’t see a logical reason why absolutely have to reject the documentary hypothesis.

Ok, I read this again later, too many negations in this sentence. Let’s try this: G-d can have dictated every word, even if we somehow were able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that different people were doing the writing.

Does it matter who wrote the Torah?

Lately I have read a few things about "who wrote the bible" aka the documentary hypothesis, refutations of it and such things. I am not sure what I believe and I haven’t researched it enough to offer any opinion. What I want to talk about is the question whether it really matters.

So the basic dispute is about whether the Torah (the five books of Moses) was written by one person (Moses), or by several (at least four different people). I think there are two questions to be asked: If it were true that the Torah was written by several people, what would that say about (a) its relevance, and (b) its divine origin.

So, first let’s look at relevance. Would the Torah be automatically irrelevant if written by several people? No. Books written by several people can be relevant. There is no one claiming that the entire Tanach or the Talmud was written by one person. Both books are still pretty relevant for most Jews. Christianity bases the faith of Jesus on the gospels and there are four of them, written by different authors. I don’t think anybody claims they were written by the same person. They are still the basis of the faith in Jesus. So no, single authorship is no requirement for relevance.

What about divinity? Does "divine" mean "single author"? I don’t think so. Tanach and Talmud are not just any books, they are divine (maybe it’s not the same level of divinity as Torah, but still). For Christians all four gospels are divine books. I’m sure there are other examples of multi-author revelations in other religions. If G-d can inspire one person, he can inspire several persons. Even if instead of "inspire" we use "revelation" in the sense of G-d dictating every word, there is no inherent problem. There are Christians who believe that every word of the bible was dictated by G-d (Verbal dictation). This definitely means G-d dictated to different people, but surely G-d can do that. So no, a multi-author document can be divine.

To summarize: Having multiple authors does not in itself make the Torah irrelevant or the work of mere humans. Unfortunately most proponents of the documentary hypothesis present it in a way that at least implies one of the two points. But this doesn’t mean this is a justified conclusion.