A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah Commentary

A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah Commentary
Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin

Urim Publications / 238 pages

I knew from the very first sentence of the book that I was in for something radically different. As is written in the introduction: “This book rejects the notion that religious people must avoid using their intellect, live in the past, steer clear of personal and social progress, focus every moment and thought on life after death and shun the goods of this world. These people do not understand the truth and value of religion.”

There is one entry on every parsha. In some cases, the chapter is a discussion of the events in the parsha, in other cases it is a discussion of a topic, usually controversial, that is only loosely related to the parsha.  Every chapter opens with a few questions which are answered in accordance with a number of different meforshim.

Some of the chapters are indeed radical, such as the claim that Midrash might derive from Greek philosophy, the idea, based on the Ibn Ezra, that parts of Deuteronomy may not have been written by Moses, and there is a comparison between the story of Joseph and Homer’s Odyssey. Most of the chapters are interesting.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t tell the story of Homer and the Odyssey at my Shabbos table. Nor would I tell my children that the mitzva of tefiilin may actually not be a biblical mitzva. Indeed, there is a lot of reference to Greek philosophy and mythology in the book. As such, I see this book as more of a study or reference book rather than a parsha reader. 

This was the first work of Rabbi Drazin’s that I’ve read, having looked to do so after recently hearing the claim that Drazin is a radical, with some critics even calling him a heretic. The reality is that although many of the ideas are indeed radical, and it is clear that Drazin takes great pleasure in “pushing the envelope” (I do too sometimes!), I haven’t seen anything here that is patently heretical in nature. That being said, the book contains something for everyone to disagree with.

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