Bill Ballenberg

The first words of Genesis, b’reshit bara’, usually translated as “In the beginning, [God] created,” glow on a computer screen at a Jewish publishing house in New York. Modern scholars and translators, influenced by new, secular fields of study—including philology, literary criticism and the social sciences—challenged the authority of traditional rabbinic interpretations by taking a more scientific approach to the Bible.

More recently, post-modern understandings have modified academic Torah scholarship. It is now widely accepted that every group of people—rich and poor, men and women, first-world and third-world—interprets the Bible differently. There is no one single “correct” reading, though some readings are more attuned to the ideas of ancient Israel than others. So in some ways, the post-modern approach to Torah closely resembles the approach of the ancient Jewish tradition of Midrash, which took an open-ended approach to reading the Bible: The Torah is a jewel with 70 facets, it was claimed, and everything can be found in it.