Originally Reviewed by Ben Rothke in Jewish Press (August 23, 2018)
The notion of applying academic Bible scholarship to Tanach is enough to give many people palpitations. Some may even think that its but one step away from embracing the documentary hypothesis of other forms of heresy.
In Keys to the Palace: Exploring the Religious Value of Reading Tanakh, Rabbi Hayyim Angel shows that there is no incongruity between being loyal to tradition, and using modern scholarship to strengthen that bond.
This amazing book is a collection of mostly previous essays that gives readers a fantastic introduction to Angel’s world of though. Much of his approach is grounded in the Yeshivat Har Etzion approach to Tanach study. Many of the sources quoted are from there, including Rabbis Elhanan Samet, Yakov Medan, Amnon Bazak and others.
A superb essay which illustrates Angel’s approach is the story of Yakov and Esav, and Yakov’s seeming deception to obtain the valuable blessings from this father. Scholars have long struggled to reconcile the notion of emes with what seems to be blatant deceit on the part of Yakov.
From the text itself, Yakov lies to his blind, dying father, to which Esav responds with screaming and crying. Angel notes that it is difficult to conclude that there was nothing negative in the deception. Based on the medrash, Rashi’s classical approach to break up the verse works, but does not reflect the plain sense of the text.
Using work from Cyrus Herzl Gordon, a scholar of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages and Gary Rendsburg, professor of biblical studies, Hebrew language, and ancient Judaism at Rutgers University, Angel writes that in the ancient Near East, deception of this variety would have been praiseworthy and admired, not scorned or condemned. Deception was a legitimate means for less powerful people to obtain what was rightfully theirs from more powerful people. Based on this view, the Torah fully supports the deception by Rivka and Yakov.
With his embrace of history, archeology, linguistics, combined with fealty to halacha and tradition, this book presents an original and refreshing approach to Torah and Tanach study.