New York City – Perhaps the most famous living controversial Apikores in the world is professor James Kugel, formerly of Harvard University, and now teaching at an Israeli University. Dr. Kugel is the author of a book that proclaims that the Torah is not of Divine origin, and attempts to demonstrate that later authors purposefully invented and supplemented the entire Torah. Thus for example, in the world of Kugel, the incident with Dinah and Schem came much later and was later interpolated in the Torah. In Kugel’s world the story of Yoseph and Mitzrayim was entirely a work of fiction and Wellhausen’s anti-semitic theories as to biblical origins are presented as fact.
On Thursday December 11th, Kugel delivered a lecture to a packed audience at Yeshiva University Stern College for Women. the full transcript of the event can be read here here.
What is most shocking is that the event was organized by a supposedly religious organization new student organization – TEIQU: A Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions and Understanding. A founder of this organization stated, “It goes without saying that we are honored to invite Dr. Kugel onto our campus and study midrash with him.” That person went on to state, “Dr. Kugel is a world renowned scholar and authority on Bible. Many students, particularly those who have studied his works in classes at SCW and YC, are excited for the privilege of studying with Dr. Kugel.”
The lecture was also sponsored by the Torah Activities Council and Yeshiva Student Union.
Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Cohen who is a professor of Bible at SCW and Associate Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School, “James Kugel is a world-renowned scholar who has made enormous contributions to our understanding of Tanakh and its interpretation by Hazal, and it is therefore a unique and valuable opportunity to have him come and speak at Yeshiva University.”
When asked about the controversial aspects of Kugel’s work, Dr. Cohen asserted: “It is true that Professor Kugel’s views on biblical authorship are not those of traditional Orthodoxy and that, no doubt, is the source of the controversy. However, in my opinion, Yeshiva University’s educational ideals demand that we not limit ourselves to learning only from those who share our precise hashkafa.”
The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva 3:8 writes that whomsoever denies the Divine origin of even one verse or one word is considered a Kofer. The Shulchan Aruch further codifies this law in Yore Deah 158:2. The Talmud (Avoda Zara 17a) states that one must stay very far away from all heretics, heresy and idolatry.
Imagine for one moment if Maimonides, or the author of the Shulchan Aruch or the Vilna Gaon were alive today. Any intellectually honest Yeshiva University administrator, student, or graduate would admit that each and every one of them would not have agreed to this decision by Yeshiva University. But then again, they probably would not have been the one’s making the decisions there in the first place.
Interesting to note when the scandal of Madoff first broke the president of YU sent a letter about the scandal that was shocking in what it did not mention. There was no mention of HaKadosh Boruch Hu. The letter read like a letter that could have come from any non-Jewish university. Perhaps it should be said that YU should have had the genuine respect for Divine authorship of the Torah that is called for in the Talmud, the Rambam, and the Shulchan Aruch.