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A Moral Argument Against Absolute Authority of the Torah

  • Dan BarasEmail author


In this article, I will argue against the Orthodox Jewish view that the Torah should be treated as an absolute authority. I begin with an explanation of what it means to treat something as an absolute authority. I then review examples of norms in the Torah that seem clearly immoral. Next, I explore reasons that people may have for accepting a person, text, or tradition as an absolute authority in general. I argue that none of these reasons can justify absolute authority if the authority prescribes norms that we strongly judge to be immoral. I then respond to three objections to my argument. I end with a note explaining why, contrary to a popular trend, the narrative of the binding of Isaac is not a good place to start this discussion.


Jewish philosophy Religious authority Absolute authority Morality and religion 



A Hebrew predecessor of this article was written during a fellowship at the Human Rights and Judaism program at the Israel Democracy Institute. I am grateful to Yitzhak Ben David, Zecharya Blau, Hanoch Dagan, David Enoch, Yehuda Gellman, Sibylle Lustenberger, Aaron Segal, Edna Shabtay, Daniel Statman, Asher Stern, Michoel Stern, and my colleagues at the Human Rights and Judaism fellowship for very helpful comments on previous drafts. I also thank Ephraim Herrera and Salomon Chekroun for a lengthy correspondence that helped me see places in the paper that needed clarifying. Obviously, the author alone is responsible for the views expressed here.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the HumanitiesThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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