This modern Bible commentator aimed to show that the teachings of the Oral Torah are contained in the Pentateuch.
Malbim is an acronym for Meir Laib Ben Yehiel Michal, a Russian Rabbi and biblical exegete (1809-79).
The Malbim occupied a number of Rabbinic positions including the Rabbinate of Bucharest, which post he was compelled to relinquish because he fell out with the lay leaders of the community owing to his strict views concerning the dietary laws and other observances, which were not to the taste of people with standards that fell far short of his own.
Malbim's commentary to the whole of the Bible became one of the most popular commentaries for Orthodox Jews because its aim is to show, chiefly by philological investigation, that the teachings of the Oral Torah, as found in the Talmud, are contained in the Written Torah, the Pentateuch.
Very few modern biblical scholars are at all enamored of Malbim's methodology but acknowledge the many insights into the meaning of the biblical texts found in his commentary.
Malbim was well acquainted with the scientific and philosophical theories of his day which, he claims, are in no way in opposition to the Bible if the latter is correctly understood and interpreted.
For instance, in his comment on the command to love the neighbor, he points out that this cannot mean that a man is obliged literally to love others as he loves himself, but that the command means that others should be treated in the way one wishes to be treated oneself. Moreover, he maintains, the command does not only apply to other Jews but to all human beings.
In his comment on the first Psalm, Malbim discusses, in a more or less modern fashion, the nature of happiness and how happiness in life is to be attained.
Malbim studied the Kabbalah with an expert teacher and often makes use of Kabbalistic ideas in his interpretation of the Bible, especially in his comments to the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis. Malbim's commentary is completely in the traditional mode. He has no use for the theories of biblical criticism, though he does seem to accept the modern view that Psalm 137 was not composed by King David but by someone who lived through the events with which it deals, during the Babylonian exile.
Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
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