The concept of torah from heaven (Heb., tora min hashamaim) plays a central role in Jewish theology. But what precisely does it mean to say that the Jewish torah (Hebrew, “teaching”) is from heaven? This expression refers back to the biblical accounts of Israel receiving God’s teaching at Mt. Sinai, accounts in which God is said to have spoken to Moses and Israel “from heaven.” (Ex. 20.19; Deut. 4.36). But torah from heaven is not restricted to God’s speech at Sinai, and includes subsequent Mosaic prophecy in the desert (at least), and perhaps a great deal more. Traditionally, this concept has been flexible enough to address the legitimacy of dispute and innovation (machloket le-shem shamayim, hiddush) within the framework of an ongoing tradition, even as the centrality of Moses and Sinai has remained indispensable.

This conference will seek to elucidate the traditional Jewish theology of torah from heaven in response to recent challenges. We are especially interested in papers that seek a better understanding of the views presented in the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash, according to which the torah is to be seen as entering the world through, or being given shape by, God’s speech to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai. We hope to address questions such as: What can the idea that the torah is from heaven teach us about the relationship between God’s instruction and the world of human experience? About the place of the prophet as a bearer of God’s word, bringing instruction to other human beings? About the normative character of a reality that not only “is” but also commands? About the significance of tradition and its relationship with other means of exploring God’s will such as human reasoning?

Among recent challenges is criticism of the classical view of torah from heaven from Jewish scholars and academics, who have proposed the adoption of a rival theology of torah from heaven: One in which God gave his teaching to Israel through the work of large numbers of anonymous scribes over many generations in what has been called an “unfolding” revelation. According to this theory, God gave the torah to Israel without having need of either Moses or of Sinai to do it. Papers submitted for presentation at the conference can consider such critiques and develop considered responses to them.

More generally, conference papers should address, but need not be limited to, questions such as: What is the meaning and relevance of the claim that God spoke and appeared to Israel at Sinai? That God had to descend upon the mountain to teach Israel, and that Moses had to climb up to be taught? How are God’s speech, appearance, covenant and law related to one another? What is to be learned from the unique characteristics of the Sinai events, such as God’s speaking of the Ten Precepts (i.e., the “Ten Commandments”), his apparent revelation of his form to Moses and to the elders upon the mountain, and the variety of Israel’s responses? What are the standpoints of the account in Exodus and Deuteronomy on these and related questions, and of the points of view in the Talmud and Midrash? How is Sinai related to other events of God’s appearance, speech and law-giving? What is unique about Moses’ prophecy? Do later developments in philosophy, theology and science—whether Jewish, Christian, or other—provide resources for recognizing a distinctive Hebrew Bible or classical rabbinic view of God’s nature or of human nature as presented in the classical Jewish sources describing the Israel and Moses at Sinai?

Please consult the draft working paper on “Torah From Heaven: Moses and Sinai in Exodus” by Yoram Hazony available online here: bibleandphilosophy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Hazony-Torah-From-Heaven-Paper-Nov-16-2016.pdf. This paper maps some of the central issues that this conference aims to address.

The conference invites papers and active participation by Jews, Christians, and individuals of other backgrounds.

Conference Directors:

Yoram Hazony  (The Herzl Institute)
Dru Johnson  (The King’s College)
Joshua Weinstein  (The Herzl Institute)


William J. Abraham (Southern Methodist University)
Joshua Amaru (Yeshivat Eretz Hazvi)
Shawn Zelig Aster  (Bar-Ilan University)
Richard Briggs (Durham University)
Jonathan Burnside  (University of Bristol)
Shalom Carmy  (Yeshiva University)
Jack Collins (Covenant Theological Seminary)
James Diamond  (University of Waterloo)
Lenn E. Goodman  (Vanderbilt University)
Yoram Hazony (The Herzl Institute)
Ben-Tzion Katz (Independent Scholar)
Steven Kepnes  (Colgate University)
Heather Ohaneson (Columbia University)
Mitchell Rocklin (Independent Scholar)
Norman Strickman (Touro College)
Gil Student (Independent Scholar)
Alex Sztuden (Independent Scholar)
Jeremiah Unterman (The Herzl Institute)
Shira Weiss (Yeshiva University)

Scholars wishing to present papers at the conference should submit abstracts of 500-1,000 words together with a current CV through our online paper proposal form at the following link:  herzlinstitute.org/en/herzl-institute-2017-conference-paper-proposal-submission/

Priority will be given to papers that engage directly with texts from the Hebrew Bible and/or classical rabbinic sources such as the Talmud and Midrash; and which bring these texts to bear on questions of concern for philosophical theology.

The submission deadline is December 31, 2016.

Please keep in mind that full-length draft papers will need to be circulated to participants a month prior to the conference date. Presentations will be 40 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A.

A limited travel fund will be available to assist scholars and students wishing to attend the conference. Conference papers will be considered for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology of papers on this subject. Submission of a paper will be considered submission to the conference volume as well.

Graduate students and recent PhDs should also consider applying to the Bible and Philosophy Young Scholars Workshop to be conducted by the Herzl Institute during the week prior to the conference. Workshop participants will be eligible to apply for student funding to offset costs of travel and accommodations. For more information about the workshop, follow this link: bibleandphilosophy.org/young-scholars-summer-workshop.

For a general overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Herzl Institute, follow this link: bibleandphilosophy.org

Please direct correspondence to gavriell@herzlinstitute.org