I just found out that Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, a respected rabbi and academic, has passed away at the age of 85. I had the chance to take a number of classes with R. Breuer during my post high school studies in Israel. His classroom demeanor was always a big draw; I would say that 100-150 students attended each lecture. I was coached beforehand and told specifically not to ask questions or participate. The lone American fellow who dared speak up was called “Clinton” by R. Breuer (in honor of Bill, who was President back in 1999).
The uniqueness of R. Breuer can be distilled from his academic approach. Orthodox Judaism never developed or adopted an approach to deal with the difficulties raised by Bible critics, who claim that the Bible was written by at least four different people (Moses not among them) and then woven together into an elaborate narrative (the Pentateuch) by a redactor. R. Breuer didn’t settle for the usual “solutions”: that’s why faith is difficult, etc. Instead, he embraced the source critical approach and put forth a theory which illustrated that some of the principles of Bible criticism are still compatible with Orthodoxy.
The apex of his approach is the “theory of perspectives.” While your typical Bible critic will point to two obvious editorial strands in the first two chapters of Genesis, for example, R. Breuer did not see in the two strands the necessity to assert different authors. Rather, he saw both strands as divine, but approaching the narrative from different perspectives based on the infinite attributes of God. He first set out this approach in a 1960 article, “Faith and Scholarship in Biblical Exegesis” [in Hebrew], and developed it over the course of the next 40 years in various books and articles.
May his memory be blessed.