Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The First Jews in Gateshead

Manchester Jewish historian Yaakov Wise has pushed back the date for the settlement of Jews in Gateshead, North East England, by twelve years from 1881 to 1869-70. Most historians of Anglo-Jewry had previously believed that the Gateshead settlement had been founded in 1881 by shopkeeper Zechariah Bernstone who ‘walked across the Redheugh bridge from Newcastle to Gateshead’ looking for a remote site to found a new orthodox Jewish community, due to his disappointment with what he considered to be the unacceptably low standards of Judaism he found in the bigger city.

However whilst researching my new illustrated history of the Jewish communities of Prestwich, Whitefield and Bury [suburbs of Manchester] I found a reference to Jews living in Gateshead as early as 1872, many years before Mr Bernstone’s arrival. In the Manchester Great Synagogue’s Prestwich Jewish cemetery’s burial register I discovered the following entry: “Gabriel Hirsch father of Mr E Gabriel of Gateshead-on-Tyne, died at 4 Melbourne Place, Strangeways 7th May 1872, buried at Prestwich 8th May 1872.”

According to most historians such an exact entry in a burial register alone proves conclusively that there were Jews living in Gateshead at that time. However to be certain, I followed this reference by visiting Gateshead Central Library and searching for the Gabriel family in the 1871 UK census and in the local town directories. An Elias Gabriel appears in the trade directories for 1870 to 1873 as a clothier with a shop and living accommodation at 35 West Street, Gateshead; a prime retail location on a main road near the town hall, courts and police station.

In the 1871 census Gabriel is described as aged 30, born in Prussia and married. His wife Fanny, 28, was also born in Prussia and their daughter Elizabeth aged four born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and son Myer aged 15 months, born in Gateshead. This means the family must have been living in Gateshead in January 1870 and most probably at the peak pre-Xmas retail sales season of November-December 1869.

Also living at the address on the night of the census were two Jewish lodgers, bachelors born in Prussia, a tailor and a farrier and a female non-Jewish servant. Incredibly, also staying in the house was Elias Gabriel’s father, Gabriel Hirsch, a widower also born in Prussia, who had presumably come from Manchester to stay for Passover – the census was taken on 3rd April 1871 and Passover that year began on the evening of 6th April.

I also found an earlier local newspaper reference to a hawker, a travelling watch and jewellery salesman, Isaac Goldmann of Sunderland working in Gateshead in June 1864. This pattern of hawkers visiting a provincial town, followed by a pioneer shopkeeper who becomes the first resident and who is then followed in turn by other Jewish traders is very common in all Diaspora communities. The significance of this find is that the history of the Jewish community is Gateshead has been extended back in time, with hawkers in the early 1860s and the first residents in late 1869 or early 1870. A Jewish businessman called Solomon Wilkes then set up a small furniture factory in Gateshead in 1875.

Whilst most local orthodox Jews previously believed Mr Bernstone was ploughing virgin territory, we now know that this was not in fact the case. Jews had already been visiting and living in the town for many years. However, Mr Bernstone still gets the credit for founding the first organised Jewish community in Gateshead. Mr Bernstone and his protégé Eliezer Adler, the first president of the official Gateshead Jewish community, founded the first regular minyan [congregation] in 1883.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Was the late Pope Jewish?

Manchester historian claims ‘considerable circumstantial evidence’ that late Pope might have been Jewish

The media misquoted me when it said last summer that I claimed the late Pope John Paul II 'was Jewish.' What Yaakov Wise actually claimed was that there was ‘considerable circumstantial evidence’ that the late Pope John Paul II might have been an ethnic Jew on his mother's side. I investigated the maternal ancestry of Karol Josez Wojtyla and found that his mother, his mother’s mother and her mother were all probably Jewish women from the small town of Biala-Bielsko, Galicia not far from Krakow where the Pope was a priest and cardinal archbishop before his election to the papacy. According to Orthodox Judaism, a person’s Jewish identity is passed down through the maternal line.

I believe the Pope’s father was an ethnic Pole, and I now believe his mother Emilia Kaczorowska (or in English: Emily Katz, born in Krakow in 1884) was probably a Jewish convert to Catholicism, the daughter of Feliks Kaczowski a businessman from Biala-Bielsko (not to be confused with Biala-Podlaska near Lublin). Katz is a common surname amongst east European Jewish families. Appropriately enough is an acronym of Kohein Zedek – the Hebrew for ‘holy priest.’ Emilia’s mother was Maria Anna (Miriam Hannah?) Scholz, born in Biala-Bielsko in 1853. Scholz (or Schulze) is also a common surname amongst Ashkenazi Jews as is Rybicka (Ryback), the surname of Zuzanna (from the Hebrew Shoshanna) Rybicka, the Pope’s maternal great-grandmother. All the names or variations of the names Katz, Scholz and Ryback appear on gravestones in the old Biala Jewish cemetery as does the surname of Felik’s mother Urszula Maklinowska.

Whilst such evidence is not in itself conclusive, it does prompt the question, was the late Pope Jewish according to the traditional Jewish view of ethnicity. It would also explain why the Pope had to go into hiding from the Nazis in November 1940. If he had been a pure ethnic Pole this would not have been necessary. Although secretly training for the priesthood this in itself was not sufficient to attract the attention of the SS. If his mother was an ethnic Jew however... It would also go a long way to explain why this Pope in particular felt a strong desire to improve relations between the Church of Rome and the Jewish people. What we shall now probably never know is how much the Pope himself knew about his own ancestry.

Maternal ancestry of the late Pope, John Paul II
(key names in bold) © Z Yaakov Wise who must be credited on publication

First Generation: Karol Jozef (Lolek) WOJTYLA was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, Poland.

Second Generation (Parents): Karol WOJTYLA Sr., an Army lieutenant, was born on 18 July 1879 in Lipnik, near Bielsko, Poland and died on 18 Feb. 1941 in Kraków, Poland.
Emilia KACZOROWSKA was born on 26 March 1884 in Kraków, Poland. She died in childbirth on 13 April 1929.

Third Generation (Maternal Grandparents):
Feliks KACZOROWSKI was born 26 June 1849 in Biala (now Biala-Bielsko), Poland and died in 1908. He was a pack-saddle maker and carriage refurbisher.
Maria Anna SCHOLZ was born in 1853 and died in 1897.
Feliks KACZOROWSKI married Maria Anna SCHOLZ in 1875 in Biala, Poland. They had the following children:

Fourth Generation (Maternal Great-Grandparents):
Mikolaj KACZOROWSKI was born in Biala, Poland.
Mikolaj KACZOROWSKI and Urszula MALINOWSKA were married and had the following children:

Jan SCHOLZ was born in Biala, Poland.
Zuzanna RYBICKA was born, date unknown.
Jan SCHOLZ and Zuzanna RYBICKA were married and had the following children:
Maria Anna SCHOLZ

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Methodist judge and the immigrant shul

When a Lord Chief Justice from Bury dealt with the ‘Holy Law’

Several members of the Holy Law Synagogue, Bury Old Road, Prestwich joined the audience at the Bury and District Local History Society’s November meeting to hear a new lecture by BLHS committee member and Manchester University historian Yaakov Wise. Earlier this year, whilst I was researching local Jewish burial records for the new illustrated edition of my fascinating (only if you're a local) booklet ‘A Brief History of the Jewish Community in Prestwich, Whitefield and Bury,’ I discovered the transcript of a 1927 Manchester High Court case between the Holy Law Synagogue, then still on Cheetham Hill Road in the City of Manchester (it was rebuilt in Prestwich in 1935), and Failsworth Urban District Council (now part of Oldham MBC), the local authority within whose borders lies the Holy Law’s 'Failsworth' cemetery.

The dispute was caused by the synagogue’s claim that the cemetery was exempt from the Private Street Works Act 1896 which entitled local authorities to levy a rate on properties specifically for road repairs and maintenance. The Act exempted churches and ‘graveyards attached to a church.’ As the cemetery was owned by the Holy Law Burial Board, its president Louis Fidler (father of the Conservate politician the late Ald. Michael Fidler, MP of Prestwich) and his fellow honorary officers argued that this meant the cemetery although over five miles away from the main shul building was legally ‘attached’ to the shul. The synagogue was represented by (Judge) Neville Laski, KC, elder son of Jewish community leader Nathan Laski, JP, and Manchester City Councillor Mrs Sarah Laski, who later became a Liverpool district court judge and President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews 1933-1939. He was the father of the writer and broadcaster Marghanita Laski.

Unusually for such a relatively minor matter, the case was heard by three high court judges led by Lord Hewart of Bury, the Lord Chief Justice of England, born the strict Methodist son of a Bury draper, a former unsuccessful Liberal candidate for North West Manchester, who had been supported by the constituency chairman Nathan Laski, and who as Sir Gordon Hewart had been MP for Leicester, Lloyd George’s Attorney General and a cabinet minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration. Hewart, born in 1870, had been educated at Bury and Manchester Grammar Schools before winning a classical scholarship to Oxford. He had been parliamentary correspondent of the ‘Manchester Guardian’ before reading for the bar and joining the Northern circuit in Manchester. As a senior judge, Hewart was responsible for several landmark decisions one of which enabled the football pools industry to develop. As a libel lawyer he was partly responsible for all those disclaimers at the end of films and TV programmes stating "no actual person is intended ..."

After hearing evidence from both sides, Lord Hewart and his fellow judges ruled that the word ‘attached’ in the Private Street Works Act meant ‘adjoining, in other words, physically next to…’ and that a cemetery several miles away from a synagogue was therefore not exempt from local authority rates. However, five years later the Laski family had their revenge when Neville’s younger brother the socialist politician, Professor Harold Laski of the LSE, sometime chairman of the Labour Party, was a member of a parliamentary committee investigating whether governments had too much influence over new legislation, and publicly criticised Lord Hewart’s 1929 book ‘The New Despotism’ which had alleged that ministers had begun to rule by executive orders rather than by obtaining proper parliamentary approval.

Princess Camilla and Sir Jonathan

Historian claims Princess Camilla will pose major problem for Chief Rabbi

Manchester University researcher Yaakov Wise, who specialises in the history of Jewish orthodoxy, claimed that the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles has created a difficult problem for the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. Traditionally the inclusion of a new, senior member of the house of Windsor automatically results in a corresponding change in the prayer for the royal family that is said during the Shabbat morning service in most British modern orthodox synagogues. However on this occasion Prince Charles 'married', in a civil ceremony, a woman with whom he had committed adultery whilst he was still married to Princess Diana and she was married to Brigadier Andrew Parker-Bowles. In addition, the current rules of the Church of England forbid the religious marriage of a divorcee whilst her first husband is still alive.

“If the Chief Rabbi sanctioned a change in the prayer for the royal family to include Camilla he would have beeen accused of weakening the Biblical prohibition against adultery, the seventh of the Ten Commandments,” says Mr Wise. “In addition there is a specific Talmudic lifelong ban on the marriage of a woman to the man with whom she committed adultery, subsequent to her divorce from her first husband. This is exactly the case of Charles and Camilla. The Chief Rabbi did not change the prayer, excluded Camilla, and thus, in effect, has spurned the future king and his consort. This has destroyed the whole reason for having the prayer said at all – to publicly declare the Anglo-Jewish establishment’s uncritical devotion to the royal family and the state.”

The prayer goes back several hundred years to the early days of the house of Hanover. It is not said in most strictly orthodox synagogues. A practice that the Chief Rabbi might now wish had been adopted by his United Synagogue before the gradual erosion of the sanctity of marriage within the royal family led to this latest problem.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Louis Jacobs: Beyond reasonable scholarship


Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Louis Jacobs, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation, London, 1999. Subtitled “ A sequel to We have Reason to Believe.”

“It is now well over forty years since my book We Have Reason to Believe was published, during which time the views expressed there have been criticized again and again; by the right for alleged heresy and by the left for failing to go too far enough in the direction of liberalism. My aim in writing yet another book on the subject is to try to meet the arguments against a position I still maintain after all these years and which I now seek to defend in a systematic matter. It is for readers of this book to decide whether I have presented a case ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ ” [i]

So begins Dr Jacobs’ introduction to this sequel to ‘We have reason to believe.’ The purpose of this article is not to enter into a theological debate with Dr Jacobs but to question his academic scholarship in the presentation of the orthodox (i.e. traditional rabbinic views) of the authorship of canonical texts. This paper will attempt to disprove the central thesis of ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’ that there is a unified rabbinic view of the sole authorship of Psalms by David and that this can be used to question the veracity of the rabbinic view of the divine origin of the Pentateuch.

Dr Jacobs is perfectly entitled to his views, right or wrong. What he is not entitled to do is to ascribe views to others they do not hold and then buttress his own arguments by proceeding to knock down these mythical Aunt Sallys. To do this is beyond reasonable scholarship.

Psalm 137 and the authorship of the Book of Psalms
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and also wept, as we remembered Zion. On the willows in her midst we hung up our lyres. For our captors asked us there for words of song, and ridiculers for amusement: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ Oh how can we sing the song of God on the soil of a foreign [nation]? [ii]

If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [its skill].[iii] Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not put Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Remember the day Jerusalem [was destroyed], O God, [and take revenge] against the Edomites, who said, ‘Raze it! Raze it to its very foundations!’ O plundered daughter of Babylon, praised be he who repays you in kind for what you have done to us. Praised be he who grabs your infants and dashes them against the rock!”

The central thesis of ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’ is that the rabbinic view, based on a midrash [exegesis], on Sefer Tehillim [Book of Psalms] is one of sole authorship by Dovid Hamelech [King David]. Therefore, if this can be disproved then the rabbinic view is incorrect and, by extension, the rabbinic view of the sole (divine) authorship of the Pentateuch is also mistaken. Why this should be, Dr Jacobs fails to explain but we shall return to this logical fallacy later. Jacobs introduces his case by quoting and elaborating on Nachman Krochmal (1785-1840), a founder of the Wissenschaft des Judentums:
“Krochmal’s introduction, after stating that G-d in his wisdom has created each age with its own particular way of understanding and interpreting eternal truths, cites Psalm 137 (‘By the rivers of Babylon’) as an illustration of how this philosophy works. In rabbinic midrashim this psalm is seen as having been composed by King David, to whom the authorship of the whole book of Psalms is attributed. But the anachronism involved in such an interpretation is too glaring to be ignored. How could David, in whose day the Temple had not even been built, write about the events which (sic) followed on its destruction over four hundred years later? How could he have known of the Babylonian Empire in an age when people had hardly heard of the existence of Babylon? The traditional reply is that David, in a prophetic vision, did, indeed, see events that were not actually to happen until centuries after his time. But as early as the Middle Ages, a commentator like Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) could put forward, albeit as only one opinion, the view that nowhere in the Jewish tradition is David regarded as a prophet and that there is, in fact, no attribution of authorship to David in this particular psalm, only in some of the other psalms.” [iv]

The first place to disprove the Krochmal-Jacobsonian presentation of the rabbinic view of Psalms and especially of 137 is Rashi’s commentary:
“Ten righteous men (Adam, Malkizedek, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Assaf and the three sons of Korach. Some add Yedusun) sought to compose Sefer Tehillim. The Holy One Blessed Be He said to them, “all of you are pleasing and devoted, praiseworthy and fit to sing a hymn before me. However it is David who will compose Tehillim through all of you [i.e. using the psalms you have written in addition to his own]. Why? Because his voice is sweet. [The meaning of ‘sweet’ in this context is outside the scope of our debate].” [v]

Rashi was in fact basing his commentary on the Gomorrah in BT Bava Basra 14b-15a:

“Dovid wrote Sefer Tehillim through the hands of ten elders; through Adam Harishon, through Malkizedek, through Abraham, through Moshe, through Himman, and through Yedusun, and through Assaf, and through the three sons [i.e. descendents] of Korach.”

No mention of prophecy here and certainly no claim of sole authorship.

On the other side of the argument is the Gomorrah in BT Gittin 57b:

“The Holy One Blessed Be He, endowed David with prophetic vision, and he foresaw the destruction of the first Temple [Psalm 137:1]. He also foresaw the destruction of the second Temple [Psalm 137:7].”

Are Krochmal-Jacobs really saying that the Ibn Ezra did not know the Gomorrah in Gittin which obviously does regard David as a prophet or the Gomorrah in Bava Basra which confirms that there was never a rabbinic claim to a sole authorship by David or, indeed, by anyone else? As Dr Jacobs knows well, a midrash however ancient and venerated cannot overrule an explicit Talmudic statement. As his namesake Dr Irving Jacobs, erstwhile Principal of Jews’ College London and a far greater expert on midrash than his former colleague once told me, “anyone who says every midrash is only a fable is an apikorus [heretic] and anyone who says every midrash is literally true is a fool!” [vi]

In fact although Psalms is commonly referred to as ‘by David’ most Akhronim [later commentators] agree that it is actually a compilation of songs composed at different times throughout Jewish history; beginning with Adam and spanning the generations to the return of the exiles in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yehiel Michael, 1809–1879) explains why the collection as a whole is nonetheless ascribed to King David: all later compositions were actually based on a selection of psalms which David chose not to include but were passed down from generation to generation by way of oral tradition.

“ Whilst the spirit of the Lord was in the land and he rested his glory on his prophets and seers, on all those with clear understanding and a generous spirit, to speak or to sing with the ‘holy spirit’ the gates of this treasury were not closed, for elders of each generation added to fill his treasury with produce of generations, whether a plant from days gone by [before David] like ‘the prayer of Moses the man of God,’ whether plants from men of spirit later [after David such as] ‘a song of degrees to Solomon,’ … ‘a song of Menasha son of Hezekiah,’ the great praise about the miracle of Sennacherib, tunes of Asaff on this miracle also Eitan the Ezrachi, Himman the Ezrachi, Yedusun, the descendents of Korach and the prayers which were formulated in the Babylonian exile about the burning of the Temple and about the exile itself until the return to Zion in the days of Cyrus.” [vii]

Thus, the structure of Psalms can be understood in a form parallel to the formation of the Mishna by Rav Yehudah Hanassi. The mishnaot left out of Rav Yehudah’s redaction, known as braitot, were still passed down through the generations to supplement and to explain the official Mishna text. There is no major rabbinic concern about some of the basic themes of lament by David being taken up by the exiles in Babylon, adapted to their own tragic situation and incorporated into a new edition of Psalms.[viii]

Perhaps the most notable opposition to this approach comes from the Babylonian sage Saadiya Gaon. He follows the view expressed by Rav Yehudah in BT Gittin 57b and maintains that the entire book of Psalms was revealed to David by prophecy and that all the names appearing in it are of the Levites whom David charged with singing these specifics psalms when the Temple would be built. Psalm 42:1 refers to the prophet Samuel. Samuel was a descendent of Korach and Samuel’s grandson was Heimman ben Yoel (I Chronicles 6:18) who had fourteen sons who were the Levites chosen by David to be the nucleus of the Temple choir and orchestra (I Chronicles 25:6-6). This is the basis for Saadiya Gaon’s thesis.

Virtually all other rabbinic commentators, however, do not share this view. They maintain that the sages who edited the canon of ‘Holy Writings’ also incorporated compositions by a few of David’s contemporary psalmists as well as a number composed several generations after the king’s demise. For example psalms 50 and 73 to 83 are attributed to Assaf and psalm 88 to Himman, seers who “prophesied by order of the king” (I Chronicles 25:6). Some commentators do cite homiletic interpretations for these names but this does not preclude the plain meaning of the verse. It is also generally held that King Solomon composed 45, that Menasha son of King Hezekiah composed 46 and that Jews exiled to Babylon composed 137 and 85. [ix]

According to the Radak (Rabbi David Kimkhi, circa 1160-1235) this is also the rabbinic understanding of the earlier characters listed above. For example that Adam composed 92, Malkizedek 110, that Eithan the Ezrachite of 89 is a pseudonym of Abraham and that 90 which begins “ a prayer leMoshe” means that it was originally composed by Moses in the desert and later included in David’s edition of Psalms.[x] The introduction of the Radak to the Book of Psalms is as follows:

“These are the words of David son of Kimkhi, the Sephardi:
Our Rabbis have said that King David wrote his book through ten elders who are Adam, Malkizedek, Assaf, Abraham, Himman, Yedusan, Moses, the three sons of Korach, Asir, Elkhonah, and Aviosaph. I mean by this that these ten wrote those psalms written in their name. Our Rabbis have said that the psalm said about the Sabbath was composed by Adam who was created on the eve of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath day he arose early and said this psalm. Further they said that Eitan the Ezrakhi is Abraham and they said that Psalm 110 was composed by Malkizedek. Our sages said, “just as Moses divided his book into five sections so David divided psalms into five sections.” They said further that ten expressions of praise were used in this book and that this was said with Divine inspiration. This is why it is included in the Writings [Ketuvim] and not in the Prophets [Neviim] for this was divinely inspired not actual prophecy.

This book was compiled by David who included the words of the aforementioned sages. Also the psalms he composed he gave to singers to sing like the psalm [105 – see also Chronicles 16:7] where it says “then David gave praise to Hashem through Assaf and his brothers. Psalm 62 says “to the musicians for Yedusan a psalm of David which David composed and handed to Yedusan. Some psalms were said about Israel with their enemies, some are only praise and thanks not recalling an historic event. Those saying “to David” were composed by him. The authorless ones were also composed by David. Some, where it says “for David” were composed for his sake. There were those said about the future beyond his time, referring to the Babylonian exile or other exiles. Some were said with instruments and some without.” [xi]
Thus Dr Jacobs’ thesis, based on Krochmal, that there is a unified theory on Psalms that can be ascribed to the Sages and later rabbinic tradition, crumbles to dust as soon as one starts to examine the freely available evidence. The majority rabbinical opinion does not hold that all Psalms were written by David and does not object to the idea of 137 being written in Babylonian exile. Aunt Sally go home.

Comparing the Psalms to the Pentateuch
As explained above, Dr. Jacobs then seeks to disprove Torah min Hashamayim [the divine origin of the Pentateuch] on the back of his misrepresentation of the rabbinic view of Psalms. Thus he asserts:

“In contemporary scholarship the division of the Pentateuch into the four sources J, E, D and P maybe rejected on scholarly grounds, but hardly any Bible scholar today, Jewish or non-Jewish, holds otherwise than the Pentateuch is a composite work.” [xii]

The Hebrew Bible [Tenakh – Torah (Pentateuch), Neviim (Prophets) and Kutuvim (Writings)] is divided into three distinct sections and in descending order of holiness. The Book of Psalms is traditionally placed at the beginning of the Writings, i.e. in the least holy division. There is no Jewish or other tradition that states that the kedusha [holiness] of Torah is in any dependent on the kedusha of the other two sections. Thus David can edit Psalms from a multitude of authors, with additions by his successors, without any implication for the unity or sanctity of the Pentateuch. But this is what Dr. Jacobs clearly tries to prove. Otherwise why devote such a substantial part of his book in trying to discredit (his version of) the traditional view of Psalms?

For the sake of brevity I shall follow Dr Jacobs’ lead and base my analysis of the evidence for Torah min Hashamayim on the principles formulated by Maimonides.

What is the traditional rabbinic view of Torah from Heaven?
Historically Judaism never separated belief from performance, doxology from praxis. In the Torah the commandment to believe in God is not stated differently from the commandment to lend money to a fellow Jew or to refrain from eating non-kosher food. As the centuries rolled by however, philosophic speculation and dogmas of faith became prevalent amongst other religions and, in time, began to influence a number of Jews. To counteract this trend, medieval rabbis were motivated to respond by defining the principles of Judaism. Maimonides [xiii] (1135–1204) formulated thirteen principles of faith in an age when various Jewish and non-Jewish sects were questioning the boundaries of belief and the authenticity of their religious and cultural traditions. With the growth of interest in Judaic scholarship since the nineteenth century, and the unparalleled burgeoning of the field in recent decades, there has been a renewal of interest in the philosophic work of Maimonides.[xiv] As our own age seems replete with similar uncertainties this renewed interest in Post-Talmudic Judaism’s greatest philosopher seems appropriate and germane to our argument. [xv] The Rambam’s eighth principle reads as follows:

“We believe that the entire Torah [xvi] in our possession today was given [to us] by the Almighty through Moshe Rabbeynu; by means of the medium we metaphorically call ‘speech.’ No one knows the real nature of this communication except Moshe, to whom it was transmitted. He was like a scribe receiving dictation. He wrote the history, the stories, and the commandments. Therefore he is called [the] ‘inscriber.’ ”

Clearly the thrust of this principle is the conviction that every letter of the written and oral law transmitted through Moses was of divine origin. Moses merely served as a conduit for communicating it, or as a ‘scribe,’ as Maimonides describes him. The emphasis of this principle is that Moses edited none of the text in any way. He had no input of any kind but functioned only as the mouthpiece of the Almighty. Kal v’Homer [BT even more so] none of the text could have been added by later ‘authors’ such as the Krochmal-Jacobs school claim especially for Deuteronomy. If the greatest of all prophets was denied free will to edit the text then it is impossible to conceive of lesser men or women being granted such permission. The traditional view stands on this ‘all or nothing’ principle. Either the Torah is the word of the living, ineffable, infinite, unknowable God and has to be scrupulously obeyed (that is the relationship of a Jew to his/her God) or it is not. If it is not divine then why obey any of it?

A non-divine belief system is a culture not a religion. Man-made it is subject to man’s evolutionary ideas and circumstances. An eternal God (who was, is and shall always be) is hardly likely to lay down temporary laws or to change his mind and backtrack on what he had previously decided. A God who changes his mind on basic principles is not fit to be worshipped by Jews. Hence the refusal of the Jews to accept the Brit Hadash [New Testament] which can only be true if God had reneged on his eternal contract with the Jewish people as his representatives on Earth: “You shall [always] be a nation of priests and a holy people.”

Dr Jacobs describes the traditional position as obscurantist, fundamentalist and mythical. He bases this view solely on the Documentary Hypothesis whilst admitting its flaws and failing to come up with any corrections to it. Of course he is silent on the question of the two other great monotheistic religions that developed from Torah (i.e. Historic) Judaism – Christianity and Islam. If the Torah is not the word of God where does that leave the gospels and the Quran? Perhaps the fate of Salman Rushdie has encouraged an uncharacteristic Jacobsonian reticence on this point.

Finally Dr Jacobs airily dismisses the internal and external proofs of the supernatural nature of the Torah that do not accord with the Documentary Hypothesis without really addressing the science behind them. For example he ignores the oral law (which can be traced through documentation at least as far back as the Talmud) that every fish that has removable scales also has fins (to be kosher a sea creature has to have both, hence sea mammals such as whales and dolphins are not kosher). Therefore, one can ascertain whether a fish is kosher or not even by looking at a fillet as long as there is skin attached. One need not worry that a fillet with scales has come from a fish without fins because in none of the >25,000 species is this true. But how did the supposed ‘human authors’ of the Torah know this according to the Documentary Hypothesis? Presumably Moses, Ezra, Hezikiah and company were professional submariners who had visited every ocean and verified this enormous claim.[xvii] The same issue arises with the four land animals that exhibit one of the two signs of kashruth (fully cloven hoof and chewing the cud) and not the other. The oral law clearly states that these are the only four animals and that there will never be any others.

Dr Jacobs spends some considerable time and space attempting to dismiss the Bible codes as a proof of both supernatural authorship and of simultaneous transmission of all five books including Deuteronomy. Firstly he incorrectly assigns the first discovery of the codes to the mid 20th century rabbi and Holocaust rescue hero Michoel Weissmandel, when there is some evidence that Rashi knew the codes [xviii] and that the Maharal of Prague [xix] actually produced diagrams (based on a five branch candelabra) explaining how some equidistant letter sequences (ELS) run through all five books – for which the author of Genesis must have known how many letters there were going to be in Deuteronomy. [xx]

In the early 1980s the secular Israeli scientist Dr Doron Witztum, whose area of study is modem physics and general relativity, began looking for hidden word patterns in the Pentateuch. He enlisted the cooperation of world-renowned mathematician, Dr. Eliyahu Rips, Professor of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Rips developed a mathematical system for measuring the statistical significance of the results. Neither were observant Jews.
Statistically Rips could, by mathematical formulae, determine whether the ELS words extracted from the Bible by computer are only random coincidences or can be statistically proven to be deliberately encoded by intelligence. Mathematically, the odds are too small for it to ‘just happen’. He stated that theoretically there is no limit to the amount of information that could be encoded. At least ten or twenty billion combinations and permutations are possible. Starting from one and never stopping day and night, it would take a person 100 years to count up to three billion. He claimed that this is only the first and crudest level.

Witztum and Rips enlisted the help of Yoav Rosenberg who created the computer program that could search the letters of the Pentateuch for hidden codes. Together they began to make what seemed to be astonishing discoveries of hidden information that could never have been extracted until this generation - with the aid of a computer. In their now famous experiment, they took a sample of 34 renowned rabbis and wrote out their names, dates of birth or death, taking the information from the Encyclopaedia of Great Men in Israel, for the sake of uniformity and objectivity.
Their computer program found the names of all 34 rabbis plus their date of birth and/or death encoded in the letters of the Pentateuch. They took a second list of 32 rabbis, and performed the test again. Similar results. They used a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is of similar length, as a control text and attempted to find the same rabbis encoded there. Negative results. [xxi]
In the Rips-Witztum experiment the odds for finding the information on the rabbis by random chance was 1 in 1,000,000. Israel's most famous mathematician, Professor Robert J. Aumann, who is a member of both the Israeli and the U.S. National Academies of Science, stated:
“The science is impeccable. Rips' results are wildly significant, beyond anything usually seen in science. I've read his material thoroughly, and the results are straightforward and clear. Statistically it is far beyond what is normally required. Rips' results are significant at least at the level of 1 in 100,000. You just don't see results like that in ordinary scientific experiments. It's very important to treat this like any other scientific experiment, very cold, very methodical. You test it, and you look at the results.” [xxii]

Aumann had been sceptical. “It goes contrary to all my training as a mathematician, and even the religious thinking I've come to be comfortable with,” he said. “It's so different from anything known to science. There has been nothing like it in all the hundreds of years of modem science.” On 19th March 1996 Professor Aumann told the Israeli Academy of Science, “The Bible Codes are an established fact.”

Dr Howard Gans a senior cryptologic mathematician (code-breaker) at the Pentagon with 28 years experience in the U.S. National Security Administration heard about the Bible Codes, and decided to investigate. He was an orthodox Jew and understood the Hebrew language. He believed he could prove it was a hoax. He wrote his own computer program, and checked one list of rabbis and then the other. His computer program found the same information, but he could not believe it. The data was correctly matched which seemed to rule out random chance.
Gans decided to look for entirely new information. “If this was real,” said Gans, “then I assumed that the cities where these men were born and died ought to be encoded as well.” In his 440-hour experiment Gans checked not only the names of the thirty-two sages Rips used, but also the thirty four others from the earlier list, checking all sixty-six against the names of the cities. The results made him a believer. The cities also matched the names of the sages in the Bible code.” [xxiii]
So the traditional view is that the Torah is divine, Moses was the scribe and that it contains internal proofs of both unity and supernatural knowledge of creation unobtainable by human beings. None of Dr Jacobs’ assertions to the contrary are either new or unanswerable to any one with an open and scientific mind. But regardless of one’s opinion of the authorship of the Pentateuch, Dr Jacobs’ misrepresentation of the rabbinic view of Psalms is certainly beyond reasonable scholarship.

The Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary, New York, 1949
Babylonian Talmud, Romm edition, Vilna, 1896
Atz, Dr J W, Curator Emeritus of the Department of Herpetology and Ichthyology, American Museum of Natural History, Kashruth of Fish, in Lipschutz, Y, Kashruth, New York, 1988
Baker, J and Nicholson, E, The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimhi on Psalms CXX – CL, Cambridge, 1973
Baude, W, The Midrash on Psalms, Yale, 1979
Charlesworth, J, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Pseudepigraphic and non-Masoretic Psalms and Prayers, London, 1997
Drosnin, M, The Bible Codes, New York, 1997
Fox, M, Interpreting Maimonides: Methodology, Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy, Chicago, 1990
Jacobs, I, The Midrashic Process: Tradition and Interpretation in Rabbinic Judaism, Cambridge, 1994
Parkoff, E, Fine Lines of Faith, New York, 1994
Sarna, M, On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, New York, 1995
Simon, U, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadiah Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra (Suny Series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion), New York, 1991
Weinberg, Y, Fundamentals and Faith: Insights into the Rambam’s 13 Principles, New York, 1991
Witztum, D, Rips, E and Rosenberg, Y Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis, Statistical Science 1994, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp 429-438

[i] Jacobs, first paragraph of Chapter One, p1, emphasis mine. Jacobs’ title is not original; it was used by the apostate Jew Hugh Montefiori (later Anglican Bishop of Birmingham) for a collection of Christian sermons in 1963.
[ii] A word must be added here because admath [soil] is a feminine noun in construct form whereas nekhar [foreign] is a masculine adjective.
[iii] In playing the Lyre (Radak)
[iv] Jacobs p32, emphasis mine
[v] Rashi to Tehillim 1:1
[vi] See also Baude, W, The Midrash on Psalms, Yale, 1979
[vii] Translation by the writer, believed to be the first into English. Malbim's fame and his immense popularity rest upon his commentary on the Bible, which was widely esteemed. His first commentary published was on the Book of Esther (1845), followed by one on Isaiah (1849). In 1860 his commentary HaTorah v’haMitzvah on the Sifra was published in Bucharest. His commentary on the Song of Songs, Shirei haNefesh, was published first in Krotoszyn and then in Bucharest in 1860. The remaining commentaries to the books of the Bible were completed and issued during the years 1867–76. See fuller entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica by Prof. Y Horowitz of Ben Gurion University.
[viii] Variant editions and non-canonical texts have been found at Qumran see Charlesworth, J, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Pseudepigraphic and non-masoretic Psalms and Prayers, London, 1997 and Flint, P, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, London, 1996.
[ix] See Malbim op. cit.
[x] Kimkhi began his exegetical activity with a commentary to the Book of Chronicles (in Rabbinic Bible, Venice, 1548) written in response to the request of a student of his father's for an exegesis of that book in accordance with the plain sense or derekh hapeshat in contrast to the homiletic commentaries that were then prevalent. This was followed by commentaries to Genesis (ed. by R. L. Kirchheim, 1842), all the prophetic books (Guadalajara, 1482), and Psalms (1477). In all of these, Kimkhi endeavored to utilize the methodology of Ibn Ezra and the elder Kimkhis, stressing scientific philological analysis and de-emphasizing homiletical digression. Unlike these predecessors, however, Kimkhi relied heavily on rabbinic literature, distinguishing between perush or interpretation which conformed to his standards of peshat, and purely homiletical interpretations or derashot, many of which he included nonetheless for added interest. For further details see essays on Kimkhi by Prof. F Talmage of Toronto University.
[xi] Translation by the writer, believed to be the first into English.
[xii] Jacobs p36
[xiii] Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon; known in rabbinical literature as ‘Rambam’; from the acronym Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon;), rabbinic authority, codifier, philosopher, and royal physician.
[xiv] See especially the works of the late Rabbi Dr Alexander Altmann (1906-1987), Professor of Jewish Philosophy and the History of Ideas at Brandeis University
[xv] See also the works of the late Prof. Marvin Fox of Boston University, an orthodox Jew and one of the greatest academic experts on the Rambam in recent times and whose last lecture in the UK I was privileged to attend.
[xvi] Torah in its narrowest sense of the Chumash (the ‘Five Books of Moses’), not the entire religious corpus.
[xvii] Modern science agrees with the Torah. See the essay on the kashruth of fish by Dr J W Atz, Curator Emeritus of the Department of Herpetology and Ichthyology, American Museum of Natural History in Lipschutz, Y, Kashruth, New York, 1988
[xviii] See Rashi to Genesis 37:10. Rashi states the mother referred to in Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and stars is Bilhah. The word Bilhah is encoded through these verses.
[xix] Judah Loew ben Bezalel (known as Der Hohe Rabbi Loew and MaHaRaL miPrag; c. 1525–1609), rabbi, Talmudist, moralist, and mathematician.
[xx] Apparently using the ‘textus receptus’ of the Hebrew Bible as reproduced in the Koren edition. This is the version used by the Israeli mathematicians who formulated the ‘Bible Codes.’
[xxi] Witzum, Rips and Rosenberg, Statistical Science, 1994 Vol. 9 No. 3
[xxii] Drosnin, M, The Bible Codes, New York, 1997
[xxiii] Drosnin op cit