A Moral Argument Against Absolute Authority of the Torah

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-329
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
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.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Absolute authority
  • Jewish philosophy
  • Morality and religion
  • Religious authority


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