Even if Wellhausen would turn out to be right in all his theories, . . . it would not make the slightest difference to our faith. . . . We, too, translate the Torah as one book. For us, too, it is the work of one spirit. We do not know who it was; that it was Moses we cannot believe. Among ourselves we call him by the sign which the Higher Criticism uses to designate the final redactor assumed by it, "R." But we resolve this sign not into "Redactor," but into "Rabbenu" [Our Teacher]. For, whoever he was, and whatever sources he might have utilized, he is our Teacher, and his theology is our Teaching.[1]


(From Heirs of the Pharisees, by Jakob J. Petuchowski. N.Y., 1970: Basic Books, pp. 100-109.)


It is generally held in Reform circles that the Higher Criticism has irrevocably destroyed the authority of the Pentateuch. The Jew in the past held that the Five Books of Moses were dictated by God to Moses. Modem scholarship is said to prove that this could not have been so, that, on the contrary, the Torah is a compilation of documents composed during several centuries.

If these premises are accepted, we can draw from them the logical conclusion that the Jew in the past was mistaken in his view about the authorship of the Pentateuch. What does not follow logically from the findings of the Higher Criticism is the widespread notion that, because Moses did not write the Torah, it can no longer be the authoritative rule of-Jewish life.

“Let us be clear about this: the Jew in the past lived by the dictates of the Torah, not because Moses had written it down (although he was firmly convinced of this), but because the Torah was divine revelation, because God had made known His wilI in its pages. The information that it was not Moses… who wrote the Torah merely shows-if the claim can be fuIly substantiated-that the Jew in the past was not too familiar with the literary history of his own people. It does not necessitate the conclusion that God could not have made use of J. E. P. and D in the same way in which, at one time, it was

thought (mistakenly, it is now said) He had made use of Moses.

“Again, the question of whether or not a certain ritual is a divine commandment cannot be settled with a reference to archeological findings pointing to a non-Israelite or pre-Israelite provenance of the particular rite under discussion. No Reform Jew would insist that the prohibition of murder is not a commandment of the God of Israel-merely because murder is also discountenanced in the Egyptian Book of the Dead…. This is an interesting piece of information, but it can hardly rule out the possibility, on logical grounds, that God used this pre-Israelite raw material and incorporated it in His Torah. Does every worthwhile religious ordinance have to be a creatio ex nihilo?

“After all, according to the view of the Higher Critics, and of Reform's own Julian Morgenstern in particular, each "code" now contained in the Pentateuch was accepted at a specific historical occasion by the people as a whole, in a solemn covenant. Accepted as what? As the definite demands which the covenant deity made upon his partners of the covenant. If we follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we must arrive at a point in Jewish history when the Pentateuch as a whole (in the form in which it left the hands of its last redactor) was accepted as divine revelation by the people. This would be the canonization" of the Torah. Tradition ascribes this "canonization" of the complete Pentateuch to the time of Moses. Modern scholarship would set the date at about 400 B.C.E.-that is, a good 700 or 800 years after the time of Moses. Inasmuch as the findings of modem scholarship clash with the traditional notion, it is very much a question of temperament and training as to which of the two dates a modern Jew will ultimately accept.  But,… the question of dating the Pentateuch has very little to do with the authoritative or non- authoritative character of that book.”

Problems of  Reform Halacha by Jakob J. Petuchowski in Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought edited by Bernard Martin, Quadrangle Books 1968




[1] Rosenzweig Briefe