When the Torah Scroll is raised after it has been read during the synagogue service, the congregation chants "vzot ha- Torah asher sam Mosheh liftzei b'nai Yisra.el al pi Adonai, b'yad Mosheh" (This is the Torah that Moses set before the Israelites by the command of YHVH through Moses!; Deut. 4:44, Num. 4:37). Is that statement truly believed?
This is not a new question. Both Judah ben Ilai in the Talmud (BT BB 15a, BT Men. 30a, Sifrei Deut. 357) and Ibn Ezra in his commentary (to Gen. 12:6, 22:14; Deut. 1:2, 3: 11, 34: 1,6) realized that several verses in the Torah are post-Mosaic. Joseph Bonfils, in his supercommentary to Ibn Ezra's commentary on Gen. 12:6, commented that this fact does not affect the belief in the revealed character of the Torah. But how is it possible to affirm the Mosaic origin of the entire Torah, not as blind faith but with conviction-rationally? I resort to a Rabbinic story.
During a discussion about how the Torah would be interpreted in the future, Moses requested of God that he be allowed to visit Akiva's academy. The request was granted. Moses sat down in the back of the classroom and listened to Akiva exposit a law purportedly based upon the Torah. Moses didn't understand a word. … Akiva replied, "halakhah l’Mosheh mi-Sinai" ([It is] an oral law from Moses at Sinai). The story concludes that Moses was reinvigorated-" his mind was put to rest" (BT Men. 29b).
This story leads to an obvious deduction. Between the times of Moses and of Akiva, the laws of the Torah underwent vast changes, to the extent that Moses was incapable even of following their exposition. But the story conveys a deeper meaning. After all, why was Moses pacified when Akiva announced that his law is traceable to Moses? It couldn't be true. Moses never said it! The answer, however, lies on a different plane. After announced that the specific law was given by Moses at Sinai, Moses recognized that it was based on Mosaic foundations. Akiva was not creating a new Torah, but was applying the Torah's law to new problems. Moses had been given general principles; successive generations derived their own implications. Presumably, although Moses was not the author of Akiva's legal decision, he might have intended it. That is, had Moses lived in Akiva's time he might have concurred with Akiva's conclusion.
This interpretation is explicitly confirmed in Scripture…. (In the case of) Nehemiah's amanah (covenant, agreement) subscribed to by Israel's leaders and accepted on oath by the people (Neh. 10:1ff.). The amanah comprises 18 laws, "b'yad Mosheh eved ha-Elohim" (given through Moses the servant of God; Neh. 10:30, cf. vv. 35-37), yet none of them can be found in the Torah precisely as prescribed in Nehemiah's amanah. Nonetheless, Nehemiah feels authorized to attribute the 18 laws to Moses since they are built on Mosaic foundations.
Each law can be derived from a precedent in the Torah….
What were the Mosaic principles that lay behind the traditions within the Torah? It could well be that each such tradition derives from the Decalogue….
In effect, the Torah's "va-y'daber YHVH el-Mosheh leimor" (YHVH spoke to Moses, saying . . .) is equivalent to the rabbinical "halakhah l’Mosheh mi-Sinai" ([it is] an oral law from Moses at Sinai). The anonymous authors of the Torah's legislation were certain that the laws they proposed were not of their invention but were derivable from Mosaic principles, i.e., traceable to Moses himself. They might have agreed, for example, that the dire economic conditions of their time, probably 8th century-B.C.E. Judah, would have been remedied by the laws of jubilee and redemption. On that basis, they attributed these laws to Moses, even though he himself had not been their author.
Talmudist David Weiss Halivni presents a systematized perspective on divine revelation in Rabbinic literature. He refers to the story of Moses and Akiva as the "minimalist" position, arguing that only general principles were revealed at Sinai. This is in contrast to the "maximalist" position that dogmatically asserts that the entire oral and written Torah, including "whatever text an earnest scholar [talmid Hakham] will someday teach, has already been declared to Moses at Sinai" (JT Peah 17a). Halivni cites another minimalist position, illustrated by the following midrash: "R. Yannai said: The words of the Torah were not given as clear-cut decisions. . . . When Moses asked, 'Master of the Universe, in what way shall we know the true sense of the law?', God replied, 'The majority is to be followed' [a play on Exod. 23:2]-when a majority declares it is impure, it is impure; when a majority says it is pure, it is pure" (Mid. Psalms 12:4; cf. BT Hag. 3b). As Halivni perceptively concludes:
Contradictions are thus built into revelation. Revelation was formulated within the framework of contradiction in the form of argumentation pro and con. No legitimate argument or solution can be in conflict with the divine opinion, for all such arguments and solutions constitute a part of God's opinion.
These two minimalist stories about Moses portray the human role throughout the generations in the revelatory process. Revelation was not a one-time Sinaitic event. It behooves and indeed compels each generation to be active partners of God in determining and implementing the divine will.
I submit that what Halivni discovered in Rabbinic tradition applies as well to the written Torah. If it can be maintained that insights of, or disagreements among, the Sages are traceable to Sinai, this is also true for innovations or discrepancies ensconced within the biblical text. Legal formulations may be presuming earlier, reputedly Sinaitic precedents (Moses in Akiva’s academy); and conflicting laws may be justifiable claimants to Sinaitic origin (Moses in Yannai's midrash).
We should, therefore, acknowledge that each of the schools that contributed to the composition of the Torah had a valid claim to its conviction that its laws were traceable to Mosaic origins; and as for their differences, we might adapt the coinage of a later generation of rabbis concerning the differing schools of Hillel and Shammai: "Eilu v'eilu divrei Elohim Hayyim" (Both [statements] are the words of the living God; PT Ber. 1:7, BT Er. 13b).
From THE NATURE OF REVELATION AND MOSAIC ORIGINS by Jacob Milgrom in ETZ HAYIM: TORAH AND COMMENTARY, THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY, THE UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM, Produced by THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY 2001