R. Dr. Moshe Bernstein, a Professor of Bible at Yeshiva College, writes a very eloquent (and surprisingly forceful) opinion piece on the Kugel incident (link) in the current issue of The Commentator (link):
Why Lines Need to be Drawn (and Where)The full article can be found here: link
When a writer for The Commentator asked me for a brief reaction to the invitation to Professor James Kugel to lecture at the Beren Campus of Yeshiva University last month, my response was that the query was more complicated than it seemed on the surface, and that a "sound-bite" type of answer could not do justice to it. When the issues of ostensible "academic freedom" and that of the appropriate hashkafa to be expected of speakers on matters of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University are apparently in conflict, the one-liner and the bon mot do not suffice. So I am grateful to the editors of The Commentator for giving me the opportunity to react to their article somewhat broadly under this rubric.
James Kugel is a friend (and I hope that he will still be one after he reads this piece) as well as a professional colleague in the discipline of early Jewish biblical interpretation whose work in that area I admire (and assign in a number of my classes at YC). I should have welcomed his lecturing at Yeshiva on the topic of early biblical interpretation that he discussed at the Beren Campus recently, were it not for the views that he has expressed in his recently published How to Read the Bible.
Click here to read moreJames Kugel is a friend (and I hope that he will still be one after he reads this piece) as well as a professional colleague in the discipline of early Jewish biblical interpretation whose work in that area I admire (and assign in a number of my classes at YC). I should have welcomed his lecturing at Yeshiva on the topic of early biblical interpretation that he discussed at the Beren Campus recently, were it not for the views that he has expressed in his recently published How to Read the Bible. I am not going to discuss the question of whether the views that Professor Kugel espouses regarding the composition and authorship of the Torah are acceptable within Orthodox tradition; I take it for granted that there is no source in the masorah, no matter how broadly we define it, which will allow for the denial of Torah miSinai and the assertion of composite authorship for the Pentateuch. ("The belief in the unique divinity of Torat Mosheh is the only one adopted by the Jewish people, accepted by all sages." [M. Breuer, "The Study of Bible and the Fear of Heaven," in S. Carmy, ed., Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations, p. 169]) So the point at issue is not whether someone who holds a minority view within the tradition should be addressing our students, but whether one who holds a view which is antithetical to the tradition on this very significant point should be speaking. The fact that he self-identifies as an Orthodox Jew, and his lifestyle is in consonance with that self-identification in terms of shmirat hamitzvot, probably makes his speaking to our students on campus on a topic which is Torah-related that much more hazardous.
The dilemmas faced by Orthodox Jews who engage in the discipline of biblical scholarship are well-known, as are the theological boundaries that Orthodox Judaism sets down in this area. This leads to the well-known phenomenon of Orthodox Jews in this field (myself included) specializing in "safe" areas, whether they be the Dead Sea Scrolls or medieval parshanut or biblical philology (cf. my remarks in Torah u-Madda Journal 3  20-25). Professor Kugel, however, has ventured beyond those constraints in his acceptance of the composite authorship for the Torah. He is indeed far more conservative in his approach and conclusions than almost all critical biblical scholars with whom I am familiar, since he believes in divine revelation in some sense (but not in Torah miSinai) and in the binding nature of mitzvot. He has actually been attacked by a number of biblical scholars for not being radical enough in his conclusions (cf. the review of the book by Richard E. Friedman in Biblical Archeology Review January/February 2008 who accuses Kugel of excessive "Orthodoxy"). He is not by any means a garden variety Orthopractic source critic (and he very explicitly dismisses the notion of Orthopraxy in the following citation from his website: "As you know, Judaism is notoriously long on deeds and short on doctrine; still, I can't imagine that any such "Orthopraxy" can be pursued in the long run by someone who doesn't have some basic belief in H' and in the connection between that belief and all the "deeds" of his or her Orthopraxy."). He is a "believer," but not quite in the same way that most of us are. As I said above, however, the question under discussion is not whether Kugel is right or wrong, pious or heretical, but rather whether someone who has publicly espoused the views that he has should speak at Yeshiva...