Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: The Challenge of Modernity

Date: Monday, December 05, 2016

Time: 07:30pm

College Avenue Student Center, 126 College Avenue, New Brunswick

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Benjamin Sommer, The Jewish Theological Seminary

SommerphotowebOne of the most important, but least understood, doctrines of Judaism is the idea of the Torah she-be-al Peh, or the Oral Torah. Professor Sommer will discuss what the Talmudic rabbis mean when they talk of the Oral Torah and how it is related to the Written Torah. He will note how this ancient categorization is affected by the work of several modern Jewish thinkers, and also how it helps us understand why modern Jewish and Catholic theology are less threatened by biblical criticism than Protestant theology is. In examining these issues, we will read texts from the Bible and rabbinic literature, with a few brief detours into the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Benjamin D. Sommer is Professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Previously he was the Director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University, where he taught from 1994 through 2008. He has been a visiting faculty member at the Hebrew University, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the University of Chicago, and Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University. He has been a Fellow of the Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization at the New York University Law School, the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies, the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Dr. Sommer's most recent book, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition (Yale University Press, 2015), was selected as a recommended book in religion by Publishers Weekly, which described it as a "groundbreaking work . . . Clearly written and broad in application . . . an important read for Jewish laypeople, clergy, and scholars . . . [and] also likely to appeal to non-Jews who want to make modern biblical scholarship relevant for believers." The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz described it as "a synthesis of intellectual acuity, clarity, deep knowledge of classical Jewish texts throughout the generations along with contemporary Christian theology and ancient Near Eastern literature...Sommer is a traditionalist and yet an iconoclast - he shatters idols and prejudices in order to nurture Jewish tradition and its applicability today." A finalist for both the Jordan Schnitzer Prize awarded by the Association for Jewish Studies in the field of Jewish thought and philosophy and for the National Jewish Book Award, the book traces an approach to revelation found among modern Jewish thinkers such as Abraham Joshua Heschel back to biblical texts themselves. Dr. Sommer's earlier book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2009), received a best book award from the American Academy of Religion and the Jordan Schnitzer Award from the Association for Jewish Studies. His first book, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66 (Stanford University Press, 1998), was awarded the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize by the American Academy of Jewish Research. He is currently working on the Jewish Publication Society's Psalms commentary.


Supported by the Sagner Family Foundation