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Etz Hayim
OU/RCA Statement Regarding Publication of Conservative Movement’s New Torah Commentary
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Mar 19, 2004 -- With pained hearts, we take note of the Conservative movement’s new Torah commentary, Etz Hayim, published by the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

While praiseworthy in its desire to make the profundity of Biblical truth more accessible to the lay reader, we believe that this publication clearly demonstrates the wisdom of our ancient rabbinic sages who proclaimed a day of sadness and fasting to mark the first attempt to translate the Torah into a foreign tongue. Readability, the rabbis cautioned us, must never take priority over reverence for the real word of God. Increasing the accessibility of the Bible is a desirable goal only if it is not bartered for a text that compromises its divine source or sacrifices its sanctity.

Indeed, in recent years there have been several efforts which have succeeded in preserving and transmitting the spirit and essence of the divine, while utilizing the beauty of the English language in its contemporary idiom.

Regrettably, this most recent effort to popularize the primary source of our faith fails to demonstrate the sense of awe and intellectual modesty appropriate to a work revered for millennia as the direct spoken word of God. Judaism has survived as the first and oldest of all monotheistic faiths because of its adherence to the belief that the Torah was not merely “divinely inspired,” as one might say even of the works of Shakespeare, but dictated directly “by the mouth of God, through the hand of Moses.”

Only because of this premise were generations of Jews inspired to live lives of piety and spirituality, and who were, when called upon, prepared to sacrifice their lives to preserve its truths and its values. As a document bearing an unedited message to us from the Creator of the universe, the Bible well deserved Patrick Henry’s praise that “there is a book that is worth all the other books that were ever printed.”

Etz Hayim prefers human reasoning over heavenly edict, ingenuity over inspiration, and critical questioning over acceptance of a divine intelligence superior to ours. In its reliance on archeological assumptions of our day, it is quick to renounce the historical validity of events that comprise major underpinnings of our faith, while oblivious to the frequent changes of “scientific conclusions” as well as differing opinions, among prominent archeologists.

A Torah whose words, by the admission of its own editors, are not totally “Torat Emet – a Torah of truth,” can not claim the title Etz Hayim. That designation, as King Solomon so clearly pointed out in the book of Proverbs from which the phrase is taken, belongs “to those who firmly cling to it” without questioning its historicity, its eternal relevance or its unalterable Godly source.

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