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“Search in it [Torah] and search in it, since everything is in it” (m.Avot 5:22. הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ). The Hebrew Bible is the cornerstone of Jewish thought, ritual, and identity, and provides the foundational language for all subsequent Jewish discourse. As such, it also provides the basis for conversation with Christianity, Islam, and secular Western humanism, which share biblical roots, as well as for other cultures and religions with divergent origins.
The term Torah in its narrowest sense refers to the Five Books of Moses. It its wider literary sense, the term can also stand for the entire Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. Even more broadly, “Torah” can include the Oral Torah, or can even refer more generally to Jewish tradition or practice.
The canonical text and stories are closely intertwined with their interpretation, already within the Hebrew Bible itself (so-called “inner-biblical exegesis”). From there, traces of early Jewish reception lead seamlessly to extra-biblical literature or the Greek and Aramaic translations of biblical books. The Bible inevitably evokes interpretation, which in Judaism leads to rabbinic and medieval scriptural interpretation and finally to modern exegesis. In doing so one draws intensively from the tradition of the "oral Torah", at the same time continuously expanding and sustaining it. The history of the Hebrew Bible and that of Jewish exegesis are therefore inseparable from the beginning. The critically-oriented exegesis of the Hebrew Bible is also part of its extended reception history. The scientific methods and interests of modern historical-critical exegesis and the claim to a holistic Jewish understanding of the Bible are by no means mutually exclusive, but can complement each other to form a modern Jewish biblical science. The cross-fertilization of religious and scientific tradition holds a great potential for knowledge in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the history of its Jewish exegesis.
holder of the Benno-Jacob-Professorship, Acting Chair
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