In an article in the Jerusalem Post this week, entitled What Jews Believe, Andrew Silow Caroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, posed a question to four rabbi frends that was directed to Republican presidential candidates by an audience member holding up a Bible at their debate: "Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically this book that I'm holding in my hand. Do you believe this book?"
Among Caroll's rabbinic respondents was Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Read his reply.
"I don't like the way the question is worded. It is, as Lenny Bruce might have said, a "goyish" question. First, whether traditional or modern, Jews assign different degrees of sanctity to the Pentateuch than we do the entire Hebrew Bible (gee, I'd love to hear that in a debate: "Rev. Huckabee, do you believe in the TaNaCH?"). The Prophets and the Writings contain sacred literature, but tradition does not claim Sinaitic origin for them. Second, Jews don't "believe" in the Torah, we try to live by it as it is interpreted and applied. The whole point of Halacha is to spell out what it means - for example, to honor one's parents, or to observe the Sabbath, or what constitutes "murder" as in "Thou shalt not murder" (note to those who can't read "The Bible" in the original language: It's "murder," not "kill").
Third, since the Tanach is an anthology of collected writings of human beings over a period of a thousand years, we should not expect and will not find consistency, and we often find contradictions, which sort of makes it hard "to believe" in every word. And last, there are parts of scripture from which I happily dissent, such as stories that imagine God commanding the Israelites to commit genocide (see Deuteronomy 20:17) or parents to stone a rebellious child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). A better question would be "What rights and respect should a president ensure for those Americans who do not believe in this book?"