Revelation Restored: Divine Writ and Critical Responses

By David Weiss Halivni | Go to book overview

Afterword:
Continuous Revelation

From the insistence on Halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, and its frequent use (in contrast to its alternative--finding biblical sources through exegesis), one would infer that the later one moves into rabbinic history, the more exclusive the Sinaitic revelation becomes--a onetime event that contained all necessary knowledge, making any subsequent revelations, "minor" or "major," superfluous. However, the concept of "continuous revelation"1 seems to be implied in the positions of those who maintain a "maximalistic" approach to revelation as well as those who justify changing religious laws. The maximalistic approach is embarrassed by the frequent disagreements (makhlokot) found in rabbinic law.2 If every law was given to Moses on Sinai, "including what an astute student will innovate," a disagreement could occur only through a break in tradition; what was known before was forgotten later--a supposition that does not sit well with a maximalistic attitude. What else might have been forgotten? And how do we know that the final decision complies with the original revelation? Moreover, if the law was already determined (once and for all at Sinai), those who disagreed with it, who held different opinions, were in fact living in sin, acting against God's command--an untenable position, since it would make most Sages sinners.

The only way out of this dilemma is to posit "continuous revelation" and to consider final decisions among rabbinic adversaries (such decisions are often reached) as authentic parts of revelation. In fact, the decision that the law follows the Hillelites, not the Shammaites, was revealed by a bat kol, a heavenly voice. Continuous revelation makes revelation complete, but not original--not the revelation of Sinai. Originally--the advocates of the maximalistic approach must contend--revelation had no opinion on matters that were later to arise and to become embroiled in disputes. (Of course, that makes Mosaic revelation incomplete.) Thus, in a dispute either opinion was acceptable in principle and the practical decision was postponed to a later period when, after argumentation, a final decision was reached. That decision then took on the force of revelation (restoring completeness to the latter), and whoever violated it violated revelation as well. "Before the decision to follow the Hillelites was made," says B.T. Erubin 6b (based on the

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Revelation Restored: Divine Writ and Critical Responses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword: Revelation Restored As Postcritical Theology xi
  • Foreword: A Christian Perspective xix
  • Acknowledgments xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- The Compilers' Editorial Policy 11
  • 2- Overcoming Maculation 47
  • 3- Revelation Restored: Theological Consequences 75
  • Afterword: Continuous Revelation 87
  • Notes 91
  • About the Book and Author 101
  • Index 103
  • Index of Textual References 106
  • Index of Names 111
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