Originally published in 1965 by Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue.
It is because of the reception it has received and the possible adverse effect that the opinions expounded therein might have upon the less informed, that it is necessary that the orthodox viewpoint should also be stated.
I am aware that, at the time of going to print others, more qualified than myself, are engaged on a detailed statement of the traditional approach to the fundamental issues and beliefs of our faith. This is not the purpose of this Essay.
I wish to present purely the results of an unbiased reading of Dr. Jacobs’ book, and an investigation of a few of the sources and proofs he adduces for the position he maintains.
The material contained in this critique was first embodied in a sermon to youth. The enthusiasm with which it was received and the interest it evoked have prompted me to present, in written form, this statement of my criticisms.
The value of “WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE” should not be underestimated. The general reader will be indebted to Dr. Jacobs for presenting, in a clear and concise form, the main sources drawn from Talmud and Rabbinic writings, that are utilised for an elucidation of the traditional viewpoint. However, although many sources are used, the serious student of Rabbinics will not be at a loss to realise that Dr. Jacobs has given his own interpretation to these passages and derived his own conclusions from the sources—conclusions which are not logical, but which are really “forced out” of the passage rather than appearing as a natural climax to the stages of the argument.
It will be seen that Dr. Jacobs shows a slavish sympathy with the views of the higher critics, and strives to show that whatsoever they maintain is sound and scholarly. He has less respect for the traditional viewpoint or with the world-renowned scholars who are its exponents.
Such an attitude is apparent, for example, when Dr. Jacobs endeavours to show that the Orthodox Bible commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra betrays doubt [in a particularly abstruse passage (Ibn Ezra on Deut. I, 1), the meaning of which is a matter of conjecture and dispute] as to the Mosaic authorship of Parts of the Bible: Dr. Jacobs attempts to prove this by appealing to the interpretation of that passage given by Spinoza—a man possessed of the keenest antagonism towards the authority of the Bible. Dr. Jacobs does mention that “Ibn Ezra’s comment has been interpreted in more orthodox fashion,” but he indicates that it is more likely that Spinoza’s interpretation is correct. The interpretation given by Spinoza is quoted in full, but Dr. Jacobs sees no reason to quote the “more orthodox” explanations of the passage!
M. Friedlander (“Essays on the writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra” vol. IV, pages 60-67) deals fully with the question, stating and rejecting Spinoza’s interpretation of the passage.
Friedlander shows that “Ibn Ezra is not only far from adopting the theory of interpolations, he does not even admit the possibility of any later alterations. Several passages of the Bible are declared in the Midrash to have been altered by the Soferim, and are therefore called ‘Tikkun Soferim’ (emendations made by the Soferim). Ibn Ezra ignores the authority of the Midrash, and endeavours to prove that in all cases the text as it stands, gives a good sense and that there is not the least reason why it should not be the original text. . . . All this leaves no doubt that Ibn Ezra firmly believed that the Pentateuch, with the exception of the last few verses, was the same as written by Moses, without any alteration or addition.”
In his chapter on “a synthesis of traditional and critical views” Dr. Jacobs seeks to put forward the view that the Bible was not verbally transmitted by G-d to Moses, but that there was “human co-operation with the Divine.”
This position (borrowed by Dr. Jacobs from Will Herberg) he finds very convenient for explaining away certain perplexing passages in the Bible, for example the record that Joshuah, when he captured Hazor, destroyed every soul in the place, according to the Command of G-d (Josh, xi. 10-15).
Dr. Jacobs states:
“If we would be horrified at the suggestion that after a successful war against our enemies we should utterly destroy them, how can we account for a description of such conduct, given with approval in a book in which we are expected to find guidance and inspiration?”
Dr. Jacobs’ conception of Revelation seems to him to account for such a moral difficulty. According to him, “In the Bible we have the Divine message conveyed to us through the activities and the thoughts of Human beings” and thus the command to destroy the inhabitants of Hazor did not originate with G-d (though the Bible tells us it did) but was an expression of the human partner with his human weaknesses. Of course, Dr. Jacobs is the first to admit (together with Jesus) that “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is a lofty enough teaching to deserve to be attributed to G-d himself.
I have no complaint against Dr. Jacobs entertaining such views. As an individual he is surely entitled to either accept or reject traditional Judaism. It is when he claims that “It can be demonstrated that long before the rise of modern criticism some of the Jewish Teachers had a conception of revelation which leaves room for the idea of human co-operation with the Divine,”—it is then that I vehemently object.
Dr. Jacobs proceeds to adduce ten proofs that even our sages of blessed memory believed in a human partnership with the Divine in writing and composing the Torah.
I state emphatically that none of his proofs are valid. The Rabbis never for one moment entertained such a view. The Talmudic view is clearly expressed (Sanhed. 99a): “And even if one asserts that the whole of Torah is from heaven, excepting a particular verse, which (he maintains) was not uttered by G-d but by Moses himself (of his own volition), he is included in ‘because he has despised the word of the Lord’ (Num. xv. 31)”.
Thus even the suggestion that the greatest of our Prophets had a share in the composition of the Torah is decried by our Rabbis.
Let us examine Dr. Jacobs’ first ‘Proof.’ (Page 78.)
The Talmud tells (B. M. 59b.) of an oven, the ritual purity of which was debated by R. Eliezer and the Sages. R. Eliezer said to the Sages: If the ruling is as I hold let the carob-tree prove it. Thereupon the carob-tree was torn out of its place. But the Sages retorted: No proof can be brought from a carob-tree. R. Eliezer then said: If the ruling accords with me identify himself with the let the stream prove it. Whereupon the stream flowed backwards. But the Sages said: No proof can be brought from a stream of water. Again R. Eliezer urged: Let the walls of the house of learning prove it. Whereupon the walls of the house of learning began to totter. But the Sages remained unconvinced. Finally R. Eliezer said: If I am right let it be proved from heaven, and a heavenly voice cried out: Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer seeing that in all matters the law is in accord with his ruling? But R. Joshua said: IT IS NOT IN HEAVEN—THE TORAH STATES “AFTER THE MAJORITY MUST ONE INCLINE,” and this means that the law must be decided by a majority of human judges and no appeal to a heavenly voice is valid.
Dr. Jacobs somehow sees in this passage a Talmudic recognition of a Human element in the Biblical material. This is certainly not what the passage intends to convey. The basic idea contained therein is that once the Torah had already been given by G-d to man it is then left to man to utilise his intellect and reason in interpreting the Torah. “It is not in Heaven” means ‘NOW it is not in heaven,’ and NOW not even a heavenly voice can influence man in his understanding of the word of G-d.
Nowhere in the passage is there any indication that the actual authorship of the Torah may be attributed to man. This very idea was blasphemy to our Rabbis. It was “Despising the word of G-d.”
But I have a still more serious criticism of this ‘Proof’; Dr. Jacobs has omitted from the passage two lines, that, had they been included, would have completely demolished his own argument. Let us see Dr. Jacobs’ version of the passage side by side with the authentic quotation:
Dr. Jacobs’s quotation:
A heavenly voice cried out: Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer seeing that in all matters the law accords with his ruling? But R. Joshua said: It is not in Heaven—The Torah states ‘After the majority must one incline,’ and this means that the law must be decided by a majority of human judges and no appeal to a heavenly voice is valid.
A heavenly voice cried out: Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer seeing that in all matters the law accords with his ruling? But R. Joshua said: It is not in Heaven. What did he mean by this? Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai, we therefore pay no attention to a heavenly voice. Because thou hast long since written in thy Torah at Mount Sinai—‘After the majority must one incline.’
It will be seen that Dr. Jacobs has omitted a crucial sentence in the middle of the text, a sentence that lays down categorically that the Torah, according to our Rabbis, came in toto from Sinai? Note how direct and unambiguous is the phrase . . . ‘THOU hast written in the Torah.’ What explanation can Dr. Jacobs give for such an omission?
Furthermore it must be noted that Dr. Jacobs in his keenness to preach his gospel of Human Co-operation, inserts at the end of his version of the Talmudic passage, his own comment with his specially chosen terminology—‘And this means that the law must be decided by a majority of human judges, etc.’ This comment looks like the continuation of the Talmudic passage, but in reality, it is Dr. Jacobs’ own remark, not mentioned in the source.
Let us examine another ‘Proof’ that ‘Even Jewish teachers had a conception of Revelation which leaves room for the idea of human co-operation with the divine.’ (Page 78.)
(9) Isaac of Vorka (a famous Hasidic Rabbi) said: It is told in the Midrash: The Ministering angels once said to G-d : ‘You have permitted Moses to write whatever he wants to, so there is nothing to prevent him from saying to Israel: I have given you the Torah.’ G-d replied: ‘this he would not do, but if he did he would still be keeping faith with me.’ The Rabbi interpreted this with a parable. A merchant wanted to go on a journey. He took an assistant and let him work in his shop. He himself spent most of his time in the adjoining room from where he could hear what was going on next door. During the first few weeks he sometimes heard his assistant tell a customer ‘The master cannot let this go for so low a price.’ The merchant did not go on his journey. During the next few weeks he occasionally heard the voice next door say: ‘We cannot let it go for so low a price.’ He still postponed his journey. But in the next few weeks he heard the assistant say: ‘I cannot let it go for so low a price.’ It was then that he started on his journey.
Dr. Jacobs wishes us to be convinced that the Chassidic author of this story was intending to teach, that men also had a hand in writing and composing the Torah. I read the story five times and I still failed to see in it what Dr. Jacobs apparently sees.
The simple illustration is written to convey to us the message that like the merchant who was not satisfied while his assistant simply told the customer, “The Master cannot let it go for so low a price,” so G-d is not satisfied if we only appreciate the Torah, because it came from a divine law-giver. It is only when we ourselves, speaking of the Torah say, “I cannot let it go for so low a price”—It is only when we see the Torah’s value with our own eyes and appreciate it in our own hearts that G-d, the merchant, is happy. It is only when every Jew looks upon the Torah as his own special gift from G-d, with a special value for him as an individual and as part of society, it is only then that G-d, the Master, can feel safe in leaving his treasure with us.
An example of misuse of source may be clearly seen on Page 63-4.
“And Moses built an altar and called the name of it A-donai nissi (the Lord is my banner). And he said: The hand upon the throne of the Lord: The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
The text of the second verse presents a difficulty. What is meant by ‘The hand upon the throne of the Lord?’. Furthermore the usual Hebrew word for ‘throne’ is ‘KISSE’ not the shorter form ‘KES,’ used here and nowhere else. But if as S. D. Luzzatto suggests the letter Nun is substituted for the letter Kaph which it closely resembles, the reading will be ‘Nes’ meaning ‘Banner,’ the same word in fact, as that used in the previous verse—instead of ‘Kes.’ The meaning would then be that the altar was called “The Lord is my banner” (Nissi) because the hand of the Lord was on “his banner (nes).”
If one were to take the trouble of examining the comment of S. D. Luzzatto on this verse (Exodus xvii. 15-16) in his commentary “Hamishtadel” one would immediately see that Dr. Jacobs has misquoted Luzzatto and failed to bring to our notice the end of his comment. We may very well ask, why?
The quotation reads as follows:
“Klerikos wishes to emend to “Al Nes” and he explains that Moses called the altar ‘The Lord is my (Nes) banner’ . . . But this is very far-fetched. For know that the Samaritans emended and wrote “Al Kissey” (על כסא). Thus it is clear that even before Ezra it was written Kes and not Nes.”
Thus we see that S. D. Luzzatto does not suggest this emendation, as Dr. Jacobs seems to think, but quotes it in the name of a certain ‘Klerikos,’ and then Luzzatto proceeds to demolish the emendation—another example of the unreliability of the so called “Proofs” in “We have reason to Believe.”
Dr. Jacobs wishes us to compare the eighth article of Maimonides’ creed and its rigid demand that the Torah has not changed since Sinai, with its poetic presentation in the wellknown Yigdal hymn. We are supposed to find in the less emphatic statement of the creed as found in Yigdal ‘room for permissibility of textual criticism.’ (Page 65.)
The Credal Form
I believe with perfect faith that the whole Torah, now in our possession, is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be unto him.
The Yigdal Form
Through him (Moses) the faithful in his house the Lord the law of truth to Israel did accord.
Dr. Jacobs must have a very vivid imagination to see in this simple poetic line any trace that Bible emendation is permitted. Anyone who has read a little poetry knows that stark bold details are left to prose. Poetry, fettered as it is by meter, rhyme, etc., must be content by a general, often vague allusion to the spirit of the idea which prose can express with unambiguity and full detail.
The absurdity of Dr. Jacobs’ so called “proof” becomes apparent if we compare the sixth article of Maimonides’ creed with its counterpart in the Yigdal poem. If we adopt Dr. Jacobs’ argument, such a comparison would show that we are not expected to believe that all the words of the prophets are true!
Let us compare the two:
The Creedal Form
I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
The Yigdal Form
The rich gift of his prophecy he gave unto the men of his choice in whom he glorified.
Is there any indication in the “less emphatic” Yigdal form that we must believe in ‘all’ the words of the prophets? Indeed there is not!
Of course the method of comparing verse with prose is absurd, and the author of Yigdal (Daniel ben Judah Dayyan 14-15th cent.) certainly believed that all the words of the prophets were true—just as he believed with Maimonides that the Torah we have is the one given to Moses and We have no right to tamper or interfere with it.
A reading of ‘WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE’ gives one the impression that there is a definite standpoint and position maintained by the Higher and lower critics, and that the old dogmatic Rabbinic Judaism is in difficulty, to say the least, to face and match the ‘truths’ that modern scholarship has unearthed. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is hardly a book of the Bible about which Scholars agree unanimously as to its date of composition. Conjecture and hypothesis, as well as recklessness, are the basic elements that form the substratum of their researches. To such an extent is this so that “Nearly every book of the Old Testament has been stigmatised as a literary forgery by at least one Scholar.” (W. Albright, From stone-age to Christianity, 2nd Ed., p. 78.)
Very enlightening in this connection will be the remarks of the world-famous Biblical Scholar, Professor H. H. Rowley, in his introduction to ‘The Old Testament and modern study’ (Oxford University Press). Referring to the state of Bible criticism a quarter of a century ago, he has this to say:
“Towards the text of the Old Testament, as represented by the Massoretic Hebrew, there was a rooted suspicion, and commentators vied with one another in the ingenuity with which it was emended. Where any version could be invoked in favour of a change its support was welcomed, but where no version could be laid under contribution it mattered little. Any guess was to be preferred to a text which was assumed to be untrustworthy.
“Today the whole scene is changed, and the student of The Old Testament is living in a very different climate. Many of the conclusions that seemed most sure have been challenged, and there is now a greater variety of view on many questions than has been known for a long time. It is therefore much more dangerous and misleading today to speak of the consensus of scholarship on many questions than it was . . . (p. xvi).
“In general, it may be said that there has been a tendency towards more conservative views on many questions . . .
“Coupled with this again has been the tendency to find a greater measure of unity in the Old Testament than there was formerly found . . . (p. xxiv).
“In the field of Lower, or Textual Criticism, the most significant tendency of our period has been seen in the greater respect paid to the Massoretic text. Sometimes this has been carried to the extent of holding that the text is completely inviolable, but this has been an overpressing of the tendency.” (p. xxv).
This summary of the present trend in Bible criticism, given by a leading (non-Jewish) scholar should suffice to confirm the faith of the Orthodox Jew (though he requires not such confirmation) in the integrity and authenticity of his Torah.
Not long ago the critical school viewed the patriarchal narratives as mere mythology, and the Patriarchs themselves as legendary characters. Archaeology, may not yet have proved the historical accuracy of the events in the lives of the Patriarchs, as recorded in the Torah, but ‘it has shown the historical credibility of those narratives by its evidence that they reflect the situation and the outlook of the patriarchal age in a remarkable way.’ (Rowley). Since it is now established that the setting of the Patriarchal age as depicted in the Bible, is authentic, the historicity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now seriously entertained by the Higher critics, and it is now not inconceivable that their existence may be proved.
It is regrettable that Jewry has produced so few serious Biblical scholars. We Jews, for centuries have neglected our ‘Bible’ though we have fostered our ‘Torah.’ We have ignored the literary aspects of the Biblical literature, Grammar, Syntax, etc., and laid greater stress on the Talmudic and Midrashic treatment of the text. The few outstanding Jewish geniuses who mastered the Bible as an independent subject were, more often than not, spurred on to devote themselves to its study by the necessity of meeting the criticisms of sectarians and the disputations of the Church.
It is a sad fact that we must acknowledge our great debt to non-Jewish Bible scholarship for a wealth of material which cannot be ignored. Had we Jews studied our Bible seriously we would never have been thrown on the defensive.
‘To look down with smug condescension upon the whole of the critical effort is an attitude which all too often merely hides lack of knowledge and inability to argue effectively. We, too, see many problems, some of them already indicated in our own tradition, some of them which have been sharpened by some modern criticism. Differences of opinion will come with the attempted solutions. As Jews loyal to Torah, we do not claim for ourselves the capacity to master, with our insufficient means, the deep and total understanding of a literature which flows from other spaces toward higher ultimate goals.’
We have seen the new climate of respect for our traditions. The Orthodox Jew need have no fear of acquainting himself with the ‘modern scholarship.’ The time is nigh when, to the glory of the name of G-d, that which we accept as an act of Faith, knowing within us its truth, will be axiomatically proved in the text-books of students, ‘that he may run that readeth it.’
For the present, let us have the courage to realise that the problems that exist are not new. If we know not the answers today we must strive to discover them tomorrow, instead of rejecting out of hand that which our limited minds cannot grasp.
 We must not be mislead to believe that Dr. Jacobs’ views are in any way “traditional.” I can demonstrate this in no better way than by quoting a review of “Jewish Values,” Dr. Jacobs’ later book, in the Liberal Jewish monthly.—“Naturally one cannot help wondering how a scholar of such liberal mind can continue to Orthodox establishment . . . The present work, though it does not always go quite as far as we would like, is almost completely non-controversial from a liberal Jewish point of view.” (Liberal Jewish monthly, October 1960. Review by Rev. John Rayner.)
 I have here concerned myself with but two of the ten ‘proofs’ adduced by Dr. Jacobs. The scope of this booklet prevents me from dealing with the rest.
 It is understandable that the Samaritans should change כס to the more common כסא. It is inconceivable, however, that had the text before them read נס (Nes) they would have altered it to כסא.
 This may be verified by subsequent statements made by Dr. Jacobs. In his “Jewish Values” he warns against the “spiritual tragedy” which would result from “rejecting the TRIED methods of scholarship in exchange for the blind worship of the past.”
 ‘Biblical criticism’ article by Max Kapustin in ‘TRADITION’ (Publ. Rabbinical Council of America) vol. 3. An article well-worth reading for a statement on the approach that a traditional Jew should adopt to Biblical Criticism.