Book Review: Conflict & Resolution by Moshe Isaacson
Tanach As A Unified Whole
By Moshe Isaacson
I owe much of my love for learning Tanach to Rabbi Schwartz and his prodigious and comprehensive online lectures. His current offering highlights Rabbi Schwartz’s comprehensive and methodical approach to explicating Nach. This monograph, originally composed as a Master’s thesis during Rabbi Schwartz’s time at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University some 36 years ago, has ably stood the test of time and will be both enjoyable and beneficial to any serious student of Tanach. Over the course of 41 chapters Rabbi Schwartz identifies and addresses a slew of seeming contradictions between various biblical commandments on the one hand, and the actions of individuals as recorded in the Navi which seem to violate those commandments on the other.
To a certain extent, as Rabbi Schwartz himself notes, this work is a continuation of the important work by the Portuguese scholar and diplomat Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, known as The Conciliator. Whereas Ben Israel’s work sought to address ostensible contradictions between either various parts of the Chumash or between the Chumash and other parts of Tanach (for example if, according to Daniel 2:22 Hashem knows what is hidden, what is the need for the commandment to put blood on the doorpost so that G-d will see and pass over (Exodus 12:13)?) Rabbi Schwartz’s starting point is the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel, and how those narratives do not in fact come into conflict with the Chumash.
Rabbi Schwartz’s systematic approach begins by grouping the response to each potential violation by the Rabbinic resolution, meaning how Chazal relate to each incident. A given violation can either be denied, explained away, be an example of hora’at sha’ah (temporary measure), acknowledged, excused or ignored. Each chapter contains a biblical commandment juxtaposed to an apparent violation sourced in Judges through Samuel, Rabbi Schwartz then fleshes out the violation and cites the rabbinic resolutions culled from across the corpus of Chazal. Finally, Rabbi Schwartz adds an explanation of the solution, and in the footnotes he outlines how later traditional medieval commentaries address each potential violation. Though this is a scholarly work it is thoroughly traditional with no recourse to textual emendations or extra-canonical sources.
The vast majority of violations identified have a rabbinic resolution, often with more than one way to explain the situation. Where no rabbinic solution is offered, the author suggests his own answer. By way of example, Rabbi Schwartz sees Gideon’s refusal to accept an offer of kingship as a possible violation of the commandment for the Jewish people to set a king over themselves (Deut. 17:14-15). He is able to explain away the issue by suggesting (in line with medieval commentaries) that the Israelites were not genuine in their desire to set Gideon as king and thus Gideon was justified in denying their request. Even potential violations of commandments do not escape Rabbi Schwartz’s attention, such as David’s readiness to kill Naval in spite of the latter not being guilty of a capital offense.
In his conclusion Rabbi Schwartz offers an alternative system of categorization as well as pointing out macro-trends such as the Targum’s use of Chronicle’s parallel versions of incidents to explain away violations. The reader is left to marvel at both the virtuosity of the author as well as the sheer beauty of the cohesiveness of Tanach when seen through the eyes of our Sages.
Moshe Isaacson is an independent scholar, teacher, entrepreneur and lifelong learner. He hopes his podcast series, “Tanach in Depth,” will inspire others to explore Tanach.
Originally published in The Jewish Press, February 4th, 2022