Misplaced Faith in The Kuzari Principle

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I promised an essay on matters of faith in Orthodox Judaism. This is the first of a mini-series (within a series) on faith.

To the ancient Greek philosophers and medieval theologians, God’s existence was taken for granted. There was no debate about whether there was a God. They had two primary areas of dispute: the nature of this God, and the proper way to demonstrate God’s existence. Thus, we have many interpretations of how God acts and what He wants from man. We also have many arguments demonstrating to Believers that there is a God.

English is a confusing language. For example, take the word “proof.” In mathematics, proof A can prove X and therefore X is irrefutable. More often, a proof does not demonstrate objective truth. Usually, a proof is an argument in favor of X and it can be sufficient, insufficient, accepted, rejected, argued against, and teamed up with other proofs for X.

This creates a problem when we moderns discuss the existence of God. Torah literate Jews are accustomed to seeing the word “proof” in the context of demonstrating God’s existence, and there is a tendency to assume  a”proof” is objectively determinative. But no God-proofs make an irrefutable point. They were not intended to function that way, and unsurprisingly, neither do they accomplish it.

We should stop using the word “proof” when we are making arguments in favor of the existence of God. I propose we use the word “argument” instead. The proofs for God in Torah literature are arguments in favor of believing in God. They are not proofs of irrefutable, objective truth. We believe they are true, but that does not make them mathematically proven.887537-110921-house-of-cards[1]

These days, the most popular “proof” for God’s existence and the Truth of Torah is a version of what is called the Kuzari Principle, derived from The Kuzari by Rav Yehuda HaLevi.  The principle assumes that it is necessarily impossible for a fictional narrative to be widely adopted as historical, divine truth. In the book, this argument is not being used to prove anything about God qua God. It is really about the veracity of the Torah and Judaism, not God.

I don’t believe Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi intended the modern argument that is made by Orthodox Jews in 2014. The Kuzari Principle is a throw-away line or two hidden in the text. It’s almost impossible to “find” the Kuzari Principle in The Kuzari! I imagine Rav Yehuda HaLevi would be surprised by the new versions of the Kuzari Principle presented in books like Living Up to the Truth. Further, this argument in The Kuzari is not being made to a true skeptic with modern sensibilities. It is being made to a fictional medieval Believer king whose skepticism is selectively determined by the author of the book. The laundry list of assumptions necessary for the Kuzari Principle to function is long and easily rebutted. One cannot argue that the Kuzari Principle proves the existence of God or the truth of our Torah is irrefutable. This is a certainty.

It’s easy to write about the Kuzari proof and its flaws and the flaws in its flaws. The Kuzari was attempting to make an argument from logic. He already believed in God. Everyone believed in God. The sole issue on the table was whether Judaism is correct, and the dialogue included the idea that if many people agree about something historical, it’s almost certainly true. It’s not a bad argument if you’re trying to persuade a Believer that Torah is true, but it’s a terrible argument if you’re trying to persuade an atheist or agnostic that the Torah is true. It doesn’t really work. If it does work, it’s willful blindness or involuntary confirmation bias. Neither are helpful, yet that is precisely what we do. We need to stop making the Kuzari Principle into what it is not.

We should use the Kuzari Principle for what it is, though. It’s part of a longer conversation about whether it is reasonable for Believers to accept the Torah’s claims. Beyond that, I think we are doing ourselves a disservice and setting people up for failure.

I’ve witnessed the havoc wrought by misappropriation of the Kuzari Principle. There are plenty of people who base their belief and observance on proofs and are convinced that these proofs are irrefutable. I take no issue with those people. But teaching these proofs as a kiruv tool is destructive. It’s simple enough to Google dozens of academic level rebuttals of the Kuzari Principle, and the teacher could seem like a gullible fool or a liar. Asking intelligent people to choose between their teachers and the evidence is a recipe for disaster. Eventually people figure it out, and if they have based their belief on a false proof, things fall apart.

It is important to note that the Kuzari Principle is dependent on the assumption that people are skeptics. If not, the Kuzari Principle would fall apart because it wouldn’t be anomalous or noteworthy for a fictional story to be accepted as truth by a large group of gullible people.

To me, this is the greatest lesson of the Kuzari Principle. We are expected to be skeptics. We are presumed to question things that we are told. That’s the axiom that gets the Kuzari Principle off the ground. So isn’t it ironic that we use a proof for God and Torah that builds skepticism into its logic but requires suspending disbelief and falls apart under the meager force of the tiniest shred of skepticism? Yes, it is. This was the irony I pointed out when a few dozen of my Facebook friends fell for another hoax.

It wasn’t about The Kuzari of Rabbi Judah HaLevi. It was about us. It was about our healthy skepticism and lack thereof. I apologize to those who thought I was mocking Rabbi Judah HaLevi or attempting to dismantle the faith of others.

There are no proofs that can irrefutably demonstrate that there is a God or that this God wrote the Torah. Yet, we believe. There are many arguments that can be made to persuade people to believe in God and the truth of the Torah.  I don’t think the future of Orthodox Judaism will depend on our ability to articulate logical arguments of philosophers and theologians from ancient and medieval history. It depends on other things. But, if we are going to teach arguments of Ancient Greeks and medieval rabbis, imams, and priests, we must be honest about their utility and include them in a much broader discussion about faith and God. That discussion must make space for skeptics and skepticism as well.

The next essay in this series will further discuss skepticism, faith, and God.

  • Milton

    This is quite a silly article. You title it “misplaced faith in the Kuzari principle.” You write the proof is “long and easily rebutted,.” “a terrible argument,” “destructive” etc. And yet when dealing with why the proof is so bad, you say well just google it! Well then what’s the point of this article?? You want to critique the Kuzari proof? Then critique it! This article has nothing else of substance- it just comes off as extremely condescending (all us smart people understand why the proof is so bad so I’m not going to even bother discussing it).

    • Pretty sure I explained my point in the article. Don’t misuse the argument. Don’t misuse the word proof. Don’t rely purely on logic as a basis for faith. Don’t be naive or gullible.
      Be skeptical. Be wary of people who claim they can prove religious beliefs. And use Google.

  • olesker

    I might be wrong, but what you are critiquing is not the Kuzari Principle as I was introduced to it.

    1) You are right, it’s an argument for marmud Har Sinai, not for the existence of God.
    2) A central element of the thought experiment is that all the Biblical narrative asserts that all Jews (without exception) were present and witnessed the event.
    3) This is in sharp contrast to the Christian claims of witnesses to the founder of their religion post resurection, which are limited to a small number of witnesses.
    4) It would be impossible to invent such a universal claim as that of the Jews at any time (even a few generations removed from the event), since the one being confronted with the claim for the first time is being told that his direct ancestor (along with those of everyone else he knows) witnessed the event.
    5) If the assertion were an invention the one who hears it would respond, “So how come this is the first time I’m hearing about it?”
    6) therefore it is a self validating assertion.

    The key point is not that “if many people agree about something historical, it’s almost certainly true”, but rather if someone invents the claim that *all members of a large group of ancestors* witnessed a momentous event some generations ago, then the fiction would be exposed.

    I may be missing something, but it doesn’t sound to me as if this demands a high level of skepticism.

    if
    many people agree about something historical, it’s almost certainly
    true – See more at:
    http://finkorswim.com/2014/12/09/misplaced-faith-in-the-kuzari-principle/#sthash.EsxeHtgY.dpuf
    if
    many people agree about something historical, it’s almost certainly
    true – See more at:
    http://finkorswim.com/2014/12/09/misplaced-faith-in-the-kuzari-principle/#sthash.EsxeHtgY.dpuf
    if
    many people agree about something historical, it’s almost certainly
    true – See more at:
    http://finkorswim.com/2014/12/09/misplaced-faith-in-the-kuzari-principle/#sthash.EsxeHtgY.dpuf

    • Ian Canfield

      Points 4-6, I would like to address.

      If I may assume about you, you are echoing Rabbi Kelemans sentiment about it. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. Regardless of who you are echoing, to save any casual readers the trouble of seeing what he says, understand he basically says what Olesker has just said. The assumption is that an oral tradition which surrounds a written book with elements of history and law in them (even intermixing the two) could not be forged since the transmission of it rests solely on an ubroken chain going back to Har Sinai. Approximately 2 million people saw it and told their children from their children and so and so forth, until you (or maybe your grandparents) that matan Torah happened. In other words, your parents were told by their parents who were told by their parents, etc, all the way back to the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu when the Torah was given, that their parents were there. Thus, it could not be fabricated. If you want to see what Keleman says, look up his shiur.

      If that is basicaly how you understood it, you’re stuck with a problem. Google the Polmo Indians and the Aztecs. They had the same parallel beliefs. If memory serves me correctly, the Aztecs saw a big flaming eagle fly out of the Colorado mountains and tell them to head south. Also, the Polmo Indians have the same claim. Except it’s not an Eagle telling them to go south. I actually forgot what they believed exactly. Also, you have the whole “Miracle of the Sun” thing. But, that’s also subject to criticism and lacks a few parallels.

      The point he is making is that the claim of the Kuzari is a relative point meant for a specific crowd of people. It’s not a substantial proof for anything. It’s only an idea aimed for a specific crowd of people who are skeptics. With all that said, you are still correct. It does not warrant skepticism. There was nothing to be skeptical of in the first place regarding the argument.

    • Ian Canfield

      Also, read Tanakh. There’s a lot of stories that tell of the Jewish people forgetting their history. Forgetting that there is a G-d. Forgetting to do Mitzvos. That’s why G-d sent us Neviim and Shoftim and a King. So that we wouldn’t forget about all of that stuff.

      • That’s true, thanks for pointing it out. The so-called Kuzari Proof seems pretty clearly against the description of history in Ezra-Nechemiah.

        • Holy Hyrax

          Where in Ezra and Nehemia does it mention them forgetting their history and God? Are you arguing some “blank slate” theory of the returning exiles?

          • The whole Torah had to be re-given (Nechemiah 8)! And we were (drifting into medrash for a moment) even given a choice of script and of language to receive the Torah in the second time around. You’re talking about a nation where the majority were intermarried, and none have even seen a Torah.

            • Holy Hyrax

              Is that Torah with an uppercase T or lowercase t? Point is, do you really believe these people were just a “blank slate” and had no knowledge of their history or God? Even going by higher criticism, most of what would be the Torah was already put together with other parts of it – P specifically – being edited last, which means the stories and laws were already part of the cultural norm. The point is, once again, that nothing in Nehemiah implies (how does intermarriage imply they didn’t know their history or YHWH?)that the people did not know their history (what were the priests doing before and during the exile? Priests in all cultures in the ANE taught the stories to the people. This is standard anthropology) or their God. That is why using this scene in Nehemiah does not disprove of the Kuzari at all since this incidence does not show a “blank slate” people. BTW, I too am against using the kuzari. I just think this story doesn’t help. What Nehemiah demonstrates is that these people probably never saw a Torah scroll. That is understandable. No printing press. No books. No libraries. Most practice was done by habit through oral teaching.

              • My point is that Zerubavel, Ezra, Nechemiah et al had to have convinced the returnees of many traditions. Including national events bit enough to serve as counter-examples of the Kuzati Proof.

                After all, the point doesn’t require a lack of knowledge of Torah or G-d altogether, just that Ezra had to teach them about the splitting of the Jordan (in Yehoshua’s day) or the sun standing still in Giv’on (to give two less-known examples).

                • Holy Hyrax

                  If I understand you correctly, than I believe my point stands. This incidence cannot be used to refute the Kuzari “proof” since that proof requires a blank slate scenario.

                  • Only a slate that contains nothing about the particular national great event one is making the claim about.

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      Exactly. And nothing like that can be taken from the text of Nehemiah.

                    • Huh? The people in Nechemia didn’t know about Shabbos, but they knew about every national miracle in nevi’im rishonim? The description is of a population in front of whom Ezra could have plunked down nearly anything and called it “revealed at Sinai”. He even had to tell them the idea that there was a covenent made there (although they could have heard something about the event, which is why I didn’t cite it.) It’s unclear that they knew about Qeri’as Yam Suf; it would seem that “vayosha H’ bayom hahu” (which was appended to Pesuqei deZimra) was not declaring what was already known.

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      R Micha, you think Shabbat was a post exile idea? You do realize that you are going outside of even normative scholarship (outside some minimalist) So now if you respond to me that there WAS a shabbat idea, than clearly they heard about it. (Also I am trying to find the verses where Nehemia or Ezra teaches them for the first time about Shabbat. You will have to help me with that.) You do realize the exile was only 70 years and that there existed first temple era writings and teachings.

                      As a side question, since these were a minority of the Jews, did the majority in Persia also not know of Shabbat?

                    • “[Y]ou think Shabbat was a post exile idea?” Of course not! As I said, we need to distinguish between questioning the “proof” and questioning the “proven”.

                      I am saying that a Kuzari Proof style argument couldn’t prove that Shabbos is old.

                      Because, contrary to what you’re saying… only a small cabal had a copy of most of what we take for granted. This is why the possibility of regiving the Torah in a new script, or the rejected option of doing so in a new language, were on the table. The masses didn’t know the Torah. The Kuzari Proof requires maintenance of a national history, and we didn’t.

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      I was with you till you got to the last sentence. Clearly, most did not have the text. The possibility for anything exists in relation to the physical Torah, hence editorial practices and changing of font….er, i mean script. But that has nothing to do with a national history that can maintain itself outside a printed Torah. Oral teachings exist through out the ANE. That is the job of priests. Even from a secular scholarship, national history is something that existed before the exile. Meaning, nothing in Ezra/Nehemiah cancels them from knowing it even though they were not practicing, or, not practicing to what was seen as the Torah requirement.

                      That is the only important part really; the question of whether there was knowledge of their national history. You can say they didn’t. But you can’t point to Ezra/Nehemiah as showing that. After all, there is a certain domino effect here that you would be basically saying none of the Jews left behind knew of it either and at some point Ezra (or some other priest) had to remind them separately in Persia.

                    • I am arguing that the Kuzari Proof is claiming that a restoration of a lost national identity is impossible if that identity includes the kinds of events people wouldn’t expect to lose, and yet the restoration of Judaism under the Great Assembly was just that. For that matter, so was the reign of Menasheh. In both eras, the number of people who retained fealty was small enough to qualify as the cabal the Kuzari Proof insists couldn’t pull it off. Whether the cabal is teaching the truth or not, the masses shouldn’t have accepted it — if the “proof” were sound.

                      To picture the religious devestation of Galus Bavel: Intermarriage among returnees was at 80%. Our elite went by pagan names that honored Marduk (the Canaanite Molekh) and Ishtar (Asheirah). They didn’t have the text of the Torah, they didn’t even remember that Hebrew was supposed to have finals (םןץףך), never mind which script they used. They didn’t remember how to make tefillin

                      And if you really don’t read Ezra as teaching them “Just one Shabbos, Just one Torah, Just one Hashem…” on the Temple Mount in the end of Nechmiah (eg 8:14,18 but really I mean the scene as a whole) , would you at least agree that Chazal teach us about this loss of Torah from all but a few (Succah 44a, nr bottom; Sanhedrin 21b-22a)? And that therefore the Kuzari Proof would undermine, not support, faith in Oral Torah?

                      (Which is why I think it’s a good thing the KP is specious.)

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      R’ Micha, I can’t comment about Chazal because I have no clue as to what they wrote about it and what they extrapolated out of it.

                      As I said, i do not believe the Kuzari proof is a good logical argument. Obviously anything is possible could have happened. The question is, did it.

                    • G*3

                      Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that the national revelation thing really proved that there was a national revelation. At the time of Ezra, the people had no tradition as to the content of that revelation. So even if the Kuzari can be used to prove that there was a national revelation, perhaps Ezra invented an almost-entirely new religion and passed it off as what was revealed at Har Sinia.

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      You are right G3. Anything is possible. In fact, I actually believe Ezra is responsible for much of what we have today. I don’t think it was anything with bad intentions, but luckily we as outsiders have other literature in the canon to compare Ezra’s message and see if it is an entirely NEW religion or following in the footsteps of what came before as best as possible and with the changing circumstances. Consider me a supplmentarian G3.

                      G3, all I was saying is pointing to Nehemiah will not help. It makes no claim that he people forget their history or had no recollection of laws that were obviously there before. It spits in the face of everything we know about anthropology and how societies pass laws and traditions. Nehemia is not the first book in the Canon, it’s near last.

    • Tuvia

      no one knows a thing about their great, great, great (keep going five or six more times) grandfather or grandmother.

      A priest comes along and tells you about the illustrious past of your tribe, you listen, say “wow, I didn’t realize this,” and, once on paper, and made sacred, hand it down.

      Some rolled their eyes, but who were these folks? Commoners. Coming and going. The story survives if the priests and experts and “historians” and “explainers” say it survives; if it works, if it feels right and fits. If it serves a larger purpose.

      Etiological tales are real too.

  • More than that…. The whole thesis of the first section of the Kuzari is the philosophical proof is unreliable, and that knowledge passed down through tradition is actually more reliable.

    1:13 The Rabbi: That which you describe is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.

    and

    1:63: … There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances.

    To take a single sentence out of that argument and turn it into a proof is simply ironic.

    • Milton

      Your point is valid, but so what? So Rabbi Yehudah Halevi never intended his proof to be used the way that it is. How does that at all affect whether or not the proof is a valid one? The reason so many of us claim it is a valid proof (I know, I know, it’s because we’re all gullible and can’t use google) is because the actual proof works. It’s irrelevant who was the first to articulate the proof, for all we care the Kuzari could never have said it. For an article dedicated to how bad the proof is it’s simply remarkable that the author, and commenters like yourself who agree with the author, don’t even bother to point out what is flawed with the proof.

      • Actually, I did:
        http://www.aishdas.org/asp/kuzari-proof-part-i

        “First, there are counterexamples, other cultures that had myths about their origins that they all believed. For example, the Theban origins myth.

        “Second, and this may explain how the counterexamples emerged, the assumption is made that the claim is made out of the blue, in a single stroke. It doesn’t account for gradual acceptance of a story. Say something starts out as a myth about a subset of the people, and it’s known to be a bed-time story. The next generation it’s ‘some say’. Over several generations, it can become ‘official history’ about everyone, with no one generation expressing the disbelief that is critical to this argument.”

        (Same idea, different phrasing at http://www.aishdas.org/mesukim/5764/yisro.pdf )

        More on this mistaken over-importance given to philosophical proof in general:
        http://www.aishdas.org/asp/kuzari-proof-part-ii
        “All proofs require first principles. A proof starts with givens, postulates, and derives a conclusion from them. Regardless of how sound the proof, the conclusion could never be more solid than those givens.
        “In other words, if I want someone to accept my rigorous proof of G-d’s existance, they must first accept all my givens, as well as the validity of each of my implications. Making a proof more rigorous will involve spelling out more givens and more deductive steps. Ironically, getting someone to accept the more rigorous proof requires that the person start out agreeing with more of your perspective, not less.”

        http://www.aishdas.org/asp/kuzari-proof-part-iii

        http://www.aishdas.org/asp/argument-by-design-ver-40
        Using the idea in The Kuzari Proof, part II, I note that R’ Aqiva’s argument that “Even as a house proclaims its builder,a garment its weaver or a door its carpenter, so does the world proclaim the Holy Blessed One Who created it.” is actually more epistemologically sound than trying for rigor. (Meanwhile, I introduce an information theoretic version of the Argument by Design, if you like such things.)

        Rabbi Prof. Shalom Carmy posted something similar to Avodah:
        “People who throw around big words on these subjects always seem to take for granted things that I don’t.
        “The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising
        these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.
        “Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.”

        • Milton

          Well of course I wasn’t suggesting you have never addressed them- I have never read anything you have written before, so I would have no way of knowing that. I was simply addressing this specific article, and your comment on the article, which addresses the problems with the Kuzari’s proof without actually addressing a single problem. If I have the time I would be interested in reading the articles you posted and if I felt the need to comment I would just comment on that site. As far as the few quotes you inserted, it is really only the “First” that I would care to look at closely. Your “second” as well as so many of the other critiques out there (yes, I actually have googled it many times) misses the main point of the proof, the way I see it (again, I really don’t care, in this context, what the Kuzari’s proof actually was), which is that sure you can come up with various hypothesis how such a myth came to be accepted as truth, but until you explain why such a myth has never been repeated in history, the proof still stands.

        • Milton

          Your links don’t work by the way.

          • They do from the two domains I checked.

            • Milton

              Hmm…not sure why my office would censor a site called aishdas…guess I’ll try when I get home.

              • If you email me at micha@aishdas.org, I can email you back the relevant posts.

                • Milton

                  Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that offer. I enjoy being able to comment anonymously and I don’t have the patience to create a new email without reference to my actual name. I will try to take a look from my home computer when I get a chance.

      • Google it.

        • Milton

          I did. Numerous times. And I’ve read articles “debunking” the proof before google existed. But of course we can’t have a debate on any of it because you didn’t offer a single argument against the proof.

      • G*3

        > The reason so many of us claim it is a valid proof (I know, I know, it’s because we’re all gullible and can’t use google) is because the actual proof works.

        You said you’ve read articles debunking the proof, and you don’t come across as naive. I’m genuinely curious. Given what we know about myth formation, examples from other cultures, the historical naivete of the ancient world, descriptions of the torah being re-discovered in navi, and the possibility that the original group from whom the “multiple lines of transmission” descend may have been only a handful of people, what reasons do you have for holding that ” the actual proof works?”

        • Milton

          You listed 5 objections to the “proof”. 1, 2, 3, and 5 are all legitimate points but fundamentally misses the main idea behind the proof the way I see it (again, I’m not really concerned with the way the Kuzari himself wrote the proof). Yes, you can come up with various theories in how the Torah came into being, but the fundamental question- and the proof- is that why has history NEVER repeated itself? If it’s possible for a religion to be fabricated through any of the methods you mentioned then it necessarily would’ve been done more than once. Your objection #4 (that the Torah was re-discovered), on the other hand is a valid question that speaks directly to the proof (if the Torah was rediscovered, as you say, then of course Judaism is no different than any other religion). That being said, if you look at Ezra the Torah was not rediscovered in its entirety. Sure there was a shocking level of ignorance, but reading the text it’s clear that the Torah was not in fact rediscovered.

          • G*3

            > why has history NEVER repeated itself?

            It has – there are examples of mass revelation from other cultures.

            > If it’s possible for a religion to be fabricated through any of the methods you mentioned then it necessarily would’ve been done more than once.

            Religions ARE fabricated through those methods (and a few others). The Kuzari is specifically about mass revelation, so I assume you mean something like, ” If it’s possible for a religion to substantiate itself through a story of mass revelation, through any of the methods you mentioned, then it necessarily would’ve been done more than once.”

            1. There have been other religions with claims of mass revelation,
            2. Why would it “necessarily” have happened more than once?

            • Milton

              “It has – there are examples of mass revelation from other cultures.” This is a common response to the proof. The problem is that all the examples I’ve seen don’t even come close to Har Sinai. They usually involve hundreds of various versions, with some of those present denying that it even happened. Not so Har Sinai. If there are other mass revelations I have not heard of, feel free to let me know and I’ll check it out.

              ” Why would it “necessarily” have happened more than once?”

              Over the course of history there have been millions of religions invented. The fact that only one was able to take the mass revelation claim means it’s impossible for it to have been fabricated.

              • G*3

                The examples of mass revelation I’ve seen are much more recent than matan torah. It is possible that there were other versions of matan torah, but only the official one survived. Something we’ll never know.Also, how many details have to differ for it to be a different version? After all, everybody tends to tell a story in their own way, forget bits here, add in bits there. In fact, the fact that there is only one version of the matan torah story is an argument that it’s NOT true, but is instead a carefully-memorized piece of mythology.

                > The fact that only one was able to take the mass revelation claim means it’s impossible for it to have been fabricated.

                No it doesn’t. You’re talking about it as if someone deliberately invented religions. That’s not usually true (L. Ron Hubbard aside). No one is fabricating religions and looking to come up with good back-stories. Religions develop slowly, over time. Why more religions haven’t used mass revelation is an interesting question, but that only a few (or one) used it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have a false mass-revelation story. Maybe people just like the idea of a Great Leader, so most religions use an archetypal Great Leader in their origin stories.

                • “It is possible that there were other versions of matan torah, but only the official one survived. Something we’ll never know.”

                  Speak for yourself. I know that our version of Matan Torah is true. “Know” in the sense of the classical definition: I have a justified, true belief.

                  The fact that I don’t think that philosophical proof is a particularly strong justification doesn’t mean that I lack justification for my belief altogether.

                  In other words: Questioning the “proof” and questioning what it is brought to prove are very different things.

                  • G*3

                    I am speaking for myself. I have no idea whether or not matan torah happened, but I haven’t yet seen any reason to think that it did.

              • Already on this thread you were pointed to Thebes, and the Aztecs. It’s not just the Aztecs, national revelation was an “in” thing among Native Americans. Look up the Pomo story of Marumda’s revelation to them, the Lakota’s tale of the White Buffalo Calf Woman (and still have her pipe!), or the Sioux claim of Gitche Manitou revealing a law on a mountaintop in what is now Pipestone, MN.

                Catholics (among other churches) understand Matt 27:45-54 through the lens of Luke 24:81 as describing national miracles.

              • Tuvia

                Jews were tribes, a people, a nation, different tribes. We were somewhat unique. Maybe a way to bring the various tribes together (I think Kugel makes that point, I think.) A story that tells us “we are one tribe, really.”

                All surviving religions do it differently — each one seems different to me. Jesus was seen by some, that story of resurrection in the NT sounds like everyone knew what was happening.

                Mohammed, fewer people.

                Mormons, fewer.

                All different – – it may be important for the story to be different. If the story is the same, it may feel like “how are we different?” Maybe need to be different from the get go to get people’s attention.

                There are a lot of cop shows on tv, but they are all different in some way….

                • There is an easier way to introduce such legends than the single-step assumed by the “Kuzari Proof” and by your response to it.

                  In generation one, someone invents a nice story. Everyone knows it’s a nice story. A generation or two later, the story is repeated as a known legend. “Some say our ancestors….” Another couple of generations later, the legend is considered normative history, and anyone who questions it is a skeptic, perhaps even a heretic.

                  I am NOT saying that’s what actually happened in our case. Just the fact that since it could in principle happen that way, the existence of the story is not itself proof of anything.

                  Which is why I think it’s more relevant that the practices based on the story work.

      • Again “So Rabbi Yehudah Halevi never intended his proof to be used the way that it is.”

        Rihal didn’t intend to give a proof at all. He was against the idea of religion based on proof. Even if I thought the Kuzari Proof were sound, I would follow Rav Yochanan, “Emptiness! And had you not seen, you would not have believed?! You denigrate the words of the Sages!”

        Really believing in Yahadus means having a first-hand experience of what it is to be Jewish, and not needing proofs, except as a curiosity.

        • Milton

          Eh, you’re using the Gemara in a different context. The talmid lacked emuanas chacamim and was criticized for it. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that means we shouldn’t prove Mattan Torah. I can see a Mashgicah using this as a throw-away line in a shmuz, but you can’t really think this it a legitimate argument against trying to prove these things.

  • My primary problem with the Kuzari Proof isn’t what it’s trying to prove, of course, it’s not even with the quality of the proof. It’s that relying on proof is neither spiritually safe — as R Yehudah haLevi himself writes, for every proof someone will find a counterproof — nor is it the right way to approach religion. To focus on the latter:

    As I quoted from R/Prof Sholom Carmy, the point is to know G-d “Personally”. Moshe Rabbeinu at the peak of prophecy, speaks to the Creator “‘Panim’ el panim” (“‘Face’ to face”). We are trying to know G-d, not know about Him.

    See also Sanhedrin 100a:
    הא שמיע לך כי הא דיתיב רבי יוחנן וקא דריש עתיד הקב”ה להביא אבנים טובות ומרגליות שהן שלשים על שלשים אמות וחוקק בהם עשר ברום עשרים ומעמידן בשערי ירושלים שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) ושמתי כדכוד שמשותיך ושעריך לאבני אקדח וגו’ לגלג עליו אותו תלמיד אמר השתא כביעתא דצילצלא לא משכחינן כולי האי משכחינן לימים הפליגה ספינתו בים חזינהו למלאכי השרת דקא מנסרי אבנים טובות ומרגליות אמר להו הני למאן אמרי עתיד הקב”ה להעמידן בשערי ירושלים כי הדר אשכחיה לר’ יוחנן דיתיב וקא דריש א”ל רבי דרוש ולך נאה לדרוש כשם שאמרת כך ראיתי אמר לו ריקה אם לא ראית לא האמנת מלגלג על דברי חכמים אתה יהב ביה עיניה ועשאו גל של עצמות


    It implies to you what Rabbi Yochanan was sitting and teaching: HQBH, will bring jewels and precious stones, each 50 amos across, and 30 amos high, and engrave them 10 x 20 amos, and set them up as the gates of Jerusalem. As is written… One student scoffed at him saying, ‘We do not find a jewel even as large as a dove’s egg, yet such huge ones allegedly exist?!’ Some time later he took a sea journey and saw the angels cutting precious stones and pearls. He said unto them: ‘What are these for?’ They replied: ‘The Holy Onewill set them up as the gates of Jerusalem.’ When he returned he found R’ Yochanan sitting and expounding the Torah. He said to him: ‘Rebbe, expound! It is indeed appropriate for you to expound, for exactly what you said, I saw!’ R’ Yochanan said to him, “Emptiness! And had you not seen, you would not have believed?! You denigrate the words of the Sages!’ He set his eyes upon him, and he turned into a pile of bones.

    The fellow who only believes prophecy because it was proven scientifically is no better in R’ Yochanan’s eyes than when he didn’t believe. I do not know how that shtims (dovetails) with the Rambam’s philosophy (and in any case Scholasticism in general has been discredited), but we’re talking R’ Yehudah haLevi’s perspective right now anyway.

    • yossef

      When has Scholasticism been discredited?

      • When philosophy moved on from developing the Greeks to the disputes between the Realists and the Idealists, and then Kant’s “Copernican Revolution”….

  • Solomon Duskis

    To quote the Ibn Ezra: v’ha mevin yavin.

  • RAM500

    A “plausible demonstration” may not be a mathematical proof, but it’s nothing to blow off, either.

  • Tuvia

    I did not read anywhere here (it may be somewhere here) that all of the groups that have national revelation are tribal.

    Tribes do things together.

    Jews are not Christians in this sense – we are a people, a tribe (or collection of tribes) and a nation.

    I believe one prophet, without the national revelation in there, feels strange (as a collective mythology) to a tribal people.

    Aztecs were a people. Same deal sort of.

    We may (likely) get the myths we need. The ones that stick are the ones that bind us in the way appropriate for the group. The Jews needed something done together — or someone in charge thought it just felt really right. Because it explained why we existed as a people. It explained a backstory fashioned for the purpose of explaining an unknown past, and ridding us of anxiety about why we were a tribe.

    The Jewish people (the tribes) preceded the story — that is at least a very plausible thing.

    Once you had the tribe (or tribes) you had a question. How? Why?

    Would a long ago Sinai “feel right” to a tribe?

    It might, if it explained why we were all together to begin with. “You were there, your great great great whatever was there. That’s WHY we are together today. It has carried through. If you were ever wondering.”

    Says the typical Jew back then: “oh. That sounds about right. And it kind of makes sense to me as a part of a tribe that the reason we are this big family is because we had that kind backstory. I get it. I get it. And that’s why we’re a tribe today. I get it.”

    And then: boom. We have a winner. And it is mythology. Not a proof, just an answer to the ancient anxiety of “why are we all here today being Jews and doing Jewish things?”

    And we see that other tribes also do things together. Like have collective spiritual memories and experiences. Because that’s what feels right to tribal, collective peoples.

    and kiruv professionals will twist this stuff til the end of time!

    • Just about the last line… Kiruv should teach that the primary purpose of religion is to allow you to frame life’s questions in more productive ways.

      Unfortunately, that’s not what “sells”. People want to hear that someone has all of life’s answers in an easily comprehensible package, all tied up neatly with a bow. Not that life’s questions exist to be lived through and grappled with, that meaning inheres in honestly facing the questions.

      • Tuvia

        G-d help us.

        I know you are a true believer. As a true skeptic, I will always cling to the idea that in the ancient past there were peope like me. I know there were Jews like me.

        I always though Judaism was invulnerable and bulletproof – because unlike other religions, Jews did not think the Torah was literally true, did not expect a messiah, did not ask you to worry about your afterlife, save being a good person.

        Turns out that was just reform. Now, I find myself arguing daily with folks who are enraptured by Judaism. Baal teshuvas of all kinds.

        I have no idea why Judaism wants to write out the skeptics. We are the only ones who keep Judaism balanced and honest and real. we are the release valve on fanatacism.

        Instead, I am left telling folks who ask me about my foray into orthodoxy: don’t go. don’t go near kiruv. don’t go through that looking glass. You will never see Jews the same way again, and you will feel that Judaism is a cult. That it can’t handle Jews — it can’t contain all kinds of Jews. It’s not invincible, it’s fragile and likely headed for some kind of broken.

        I wish I was alive for year 6000. So we could see that no resurrection, no messiah. And we can start the conversation over again, and skeptics would be on the dais next to gedolim.

        There may be a G-d, but Judaism has become narrow and uninviting to skeptics.

  • Betzalel

    I see the Kuzari argument as the foundation of Judaism. Without it, there is no reason to do any of the mitzvos. Because of this, kiruv organizations must teach it. I became shomer mitzvos because of it. Without it, Judaism is just a bunch of superstitious rituals. I wrote the following here: http://chidusheibetzalel.blogspot.com/

    • Just because some means of validating Judaism struck you as compelling doesn’t mean there is no other reason to do any of the mitzvos, that it’s valid, or even what the author the “proof” is attributed to meant. Actually, Rabbi Yehudah haLevi was arguing against religion based on philosophical proof in favor of religion based on personal experience and tradition. Turning that very statement into a philosophical proof and insisting one needs philosophical proof, in fact this very proof, is incredibly ironic.

      • Betzalel

        Can you give another reason to do mitzvos besides the fact that they came from Hashem at Har Sinai? I would be surprised if you could.
        The Kuzari argument is not in essence a philosophical proof. But it can be phrased in the language of modern mathematics and modern philosophy.

        • I have other reasons to believe they came from Hashem at Har Sinai than the (erroneous) belief that miracle stories about an entire large community cannot be made up and sold to their descendents.

          In contrast to the Kuzari, the Rambam proved from Aristotilian
          first principles that there must be a Creator, that a Creator would
          perforce share His Will with humanity, and that the Torah is indeed that
          revelation. He had reason to do mitzvos that had nothing to do with the Kuzari Proof.

          Personally, I keep Shabbos because I was taught Shabbos as a kid and observed it enough times to have experienced a contact with the Divine. This (and similar experiences learning Torah and in general a life of struggling with keeping mitzvos) leads me to believe that halakhah was actually set up by G-d, which gives me reason to trust the Torah as a source — both Oral and Written. (Oral first, since I’m starting with halakhah as it reached me.) Including the Torah’s own claims about its origins, and about Creation and Redemption. And derashos of the text of the Torah, which so much of halakhah depends upon, and therefore in turn the Supernal Wisdom inherent in the text itself.

          For that matter, I think that the vast majority of people, even those who think they’re relying on proof, actually are doing something far closer to what I describe. It’s experience that leads us to decide which argument and which first principles are most compelling. As the Kuzari actually says (1:13), “The Chaver: You are describing religion based on speculation
          and logic, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask
          the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one
          action or principle, since some positions can be established by
          arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and much less
          capable of being proved.”

          Or:
          The mind is a wonderful organ for proving things the heart already believes.

          • Betzalel

            I have never seen the Rambam give a proof from Aristotelian first principles or logic that the Torah is from heaven.
            I’m not disrespecting your personal reasons for believing in Torah, but your personal reasons are similar to that of a Christian or a Muslim who believes that their religion is true. The Kuzari book gives an argument that distinguishes Judaism from these other religions. If I didn’t have the Kuzari proof, I would still believe in God, as logic dictates that God exists. But I would no longer be shomer mitzvos. What would be the point?

            • Read the comments that beat you here. The Kuzari Proof doesn’t work. And do you think that Xians and Moslems don’t have proofs for their faith, which they find more compelling than your argument from an impossibility to create certain historical claims? (And for that matter, there are enough counter-examples and known ways to generate such claims.)

              The Kuzari itself says that proofs in general don’t work. I would add that even if there were an airtight proof, it wouldn’t be any stronger than the givens it is built upon (see below) and no one would ever know for sure it’s airtight. In terms of motivating power, even the logically perfect proof wouldn’t be particularly religiously compelling.

              Is there someone in your life you would die to save? Prove you love them. If you can’t prove it, what would be the point of dying for it?

              Prove that two lines in flat space never meet.

              Or that (also in flat space) two circles can never intersect more than twice.

              The number of things we believe by reasons other than proof is greater than the number of things we can prove. (And, for that matter, I am still convinced that for most things we believe and can prove, the belief came first.) And the things we can prove are arguments built upon first principles (postulates, givens, whatever you want to call them) — which you believe for reasons other than proof. Euclid’s 5th postulate, my example about parallel lines, is simply a given, and doesn’t actually hold in real space, if General Relativity is remotely correct. A given that we believe before we even start with proofs. The thing about circles can be proven, but most people will believe it because they can picture how circles can instersect, so that the belief precedes the proof.

              Most people coming to observance as adults find more reason to keep Shabbos watching a family interact around a Shabbos table than from all the theory.

              • Betzalel

                OK, then show me a counter-example to the Kuzari principle.

                • As I said, “Read the comments that beat you here. ”
                  I wrote one at
                  http://finkorswim.com/2014/12/09/misplaced-faith-in-the-kuzari-principle/#comment-1733952703
                  which in turn has links to posts on my blog.

                  In addition to the
                  usual standby, Thebes, there are the examples at
                  http://finkorswim.com/2014/12/09/misplaced-faith-in-the-kuzari-principle/#comment-1734064474

                  • Betzalel

                    I know nothing of Thebes or the Aztec stories. You’ll have to be more specific.
                    In any case, you were saying that kiruv is best done when you show people shabbos or the power of halacha. This is true. However, it was not enough to convince me to become shomer mitzvos. I knew that one could be easily fooled by emotional and spiritual experiences into believing lots of things that aren’t true. This is why I needed to step back and objectively analyze my experiences. The Kuzari argument helped me do this. I don’t see how anyone can understand Judaism logically without the Kuzari argument.
                    Also, personally I didn’t really find shabbos so appealing before I was shomer mitzvos. I wasn’t used to the food that I was served, so I didn’t eat that much. I’m a picky eater. Going to shul was boring. Sitting at the same table with children at people’s houses was not what I was used to (outside the frum world, this isn’t done so much with guests) and unpleasant. Everything about the life-style was against what I considered to be pleasant and enjoyable. I liked the people who were religious though and found them to be nice and intelligent.
                    But I only became shomer mitzvos because my brain told me I had no other logical choice.

                    • Tuvia

                      Betzalel:

                      We know that if you tell a kid about his great, great, great grandfather — there is almost zero likelihood he or his parents could contradict the tale.

                      You could foist a story on a group – especially if that story explains why they have all these rituals together; if that group was a People; a Tribe.

                      The question “why are we a tribe, and what is the ethos of the tribe?” begs an answer.

                      Christians are not tribes; nor are Muslims.

                      I guess Aztecs are a people. I bet: you find a tribe or people – you find stories of them doing things of a spiritual nature TOGETHER.

                      It’s just a guess.

                      But it’s the same way we understand that people who lived in jungles sensed many G-ds (jungles have all kinds of noises, creatures, plants, birds and make one feel lots of forces at work; lots of G-ds.) And people who lived in deserts always sense ONE G-d. (Deserts are barren, quiet, and suggest the “oneness” of things.)

                      Jews got the encounter with G-d that felt right and explained things the best. So do other groups that call themselves TRIBES, or PEOPLES, or NATIONS.

                      That is my guess.

                      We are at a point where men and women who live entirely haredi lives BUT also study Bible in the academic world say (after much study of primary sources) that they see a document written over hundreds of years and reflecting many hands.

                      These are not anti-semites, but velvet kippah wearing scholars with tzistzis and kids in charedi yeshivas.

                      The idea that people “way back when” were presented one Torah which they had a firm grasp on and triggered memories of great, great, great, great, great grandpa back at Har Sinai?

                      It seems more impossible with thought, not less.

                      Do you have ANY idea about ANYTHING your great, great, great, great grandfather was up to?

                    • Betzalel

                      You are talking about the Documentary Hypothesis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis. Even as a layman, it appears to me that different parts of the Torah have different writing styles. My guess is that the reason Hashem wrote it that way is as follows: When the Torah was given to klal Yisroel, it was given to them by Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe Rabbeinu claimed that he got it all from Hashem. If the Torah were all in the same writing style, then people might have claimed that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote the whole thing all by himself. But since it is composed of different writing styles, it would be unlikely that he wrote the whole thing. He had to have help. Who could have helped him? Hashem of course.

                    • Tuvia

                      I am no expert on the DH.

                      But, I do observe (scientifically?) that anyone of any world view or outlook who bothers to study primary sources for years in an academic setting comes away saying the Torah is many years, many hands.

                      There is a good article on the thetorah.com by a religious woman – Dr. Tamar Ross.

                      She says that the critique of revealed Torah is much greater than observing “different writing styles.”

                      Things that take very close reading to see — things the layreader, even the highly refined religious reader, would not see.

                      You should read it (it is long, but at least in parts, should be interesting to someone trying to figure out the Torah’s origins.)

                      http://thetorah.com/the-challenge-of-biblical-criticism/

                      Basically, if you think it is simply a matter of different writing styles – Dr. Ross is saying “if only it were only that.”

                      We have to look more deeply for truth. Not because we are religious — but because we are Jews. And Jews look hard for truth. That’s my feeling.

                      I responded to your comments because you seemed very certain about Kuzari. How unique it was. And here’s my amateur take on that: all religions are unique.

                      Mohammed story is NOT the same as Jesus, which is NOT the same as Joseph Smith.

                      Why are all religions unique, including the various ones that incorporate national revelations?

                      Because if they were not, no one would bother following them. Why repeat a religion that already exists?

                      My gut tells me that Jews didn’t know (even two thousand years ago) what they had on their hands. There were Jews then, who like Jews now, thought and said that the Torah was not really from G-d.

                      In fact, there is apparently a mishna that says to Jews back in the day: you can’t say that the Torah is not from heaven. It doesn’t say you can’t think it. But it is against the rules to verbalize that.

              • Tuvia

                If you want to turn religion into a kind of “beauty contest,” you may find more Jews leaving, no?

                My father says the most he ever felt G-d was at the funeral of a gentile guy that took place in a beautiful, old, Catholic church (a very beautiful and famous one.) He enjoyed shul in other ways, but he said that experience at the funeral is what made him think about G-d in a more serious way. My stepbrother (intermarried happily) really likes church (they don’t go much, but still.)

                • Well, actually I’m arguing that’s what people in reality do. Then all that reason and proof stuff come in to buttress their decision.

                  The mind is a wonderful organ
                  for justifying decisions
                  the heart already made.

                  Why do you hear one argument and start looking for holes in it, or another and accept it as compelling? Or, as the Kuzari really says (1:13), “That which you describe is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.”

                  (I already quoted this, twice — two months ago and last week, in the context of showing the contrast between what the Kuzari really says and this whole “Kuzari Proof” thing.)

                  The chaver continues to argue to the king of the Khazars that tradition is a stronger basis than philosophical argument. I live after Kant and Existentialism, so I took it in a different direction.

                  But in any case, I am not prescribing, but describing. People indeed do pick religious positions on the basis of whether they work for them or not. Even the overwhelming majority of people, if not all, who think they are following pure reason. At best, emotional satisfaction with a good proof — the beauty of the proof — is incorporated into the set of experiences. This was one of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s most fundamental insights. That actual action-driving decisions are more about middos and negi’os (subconscious ulterior motives) than the mind. As Rav Elya Lopian put it, “Mussar is the art of moving something one ammah, from the brain down to the heart.”

            • Tuvia

              just thought of this one (i think i am ripping off kugel again.) In the US we teach kids about our “Founding Fathers.” In my neighborhood, it is all immigrants. These men of yore are not the founding fathers of these neighborhood folks.

              Yet their kids will refer to them as “our Founding Fathers.” So people can adopt ideas that fit their feelings very quickly.

              Also, what if the idea that the nation had NOT all been at Sinai was considered apikorsos by the rabbis?

              We see in our time that what was a normative belief — the sages of the Talmud knew the science of their time — has become apikorsos, replaced by the sages knew science, and we just don’t understand what they really meant, or nature changed.

              What if the rabbis told the people: the belief that we were not all there is heresy. We are the leaders, we know better than you about our past.

              Betzalel, you honestly think the rabbis had no sway on this topic?

              Finally, why this myth? I think it is clear: the Jews were a people. They had a unique way of living together and of thinking about themselves. This myth works.

              The US has a similar myth: we are all equal here, we all have a vote, we can all own land and run for office, we are free.

              And we share this idealized version of “our” Founding Fathers. Because they are the founding fathers for a set of ideas we cherish (embodied in the Bill of Rights.) So we are proud to align ourselves with them, as the “spiritual” descendants of men some of us first learned about last year in grammer school, after arriving from Panama with our spanish speaking Panamanian parents.

              • Betzalel

                I can’t see the rabbis being able to convince the whole Jewish people that they were there at Har Sinai. Look at the most authoritarian society on earth today, North Korea, and see what the leadership there is able to convince the people of. They believe Kim il Sung (plus his son and grandson) is some kind of god (even though he is dead), can do all sorts of amazing things, but that’s it. None of them have any type of national revelation story. If the national revelation storyline were such a great way of unifying a nation, then why hasn’t North Korea adopted this methodology? They’re the world experts in being able to manipulate and brainwash their population! Watch stuff on youtube about them, particularly documentaries by Vice.

                • Tuvia

                  I think it would depend on a lot of factors. R Micha Berger says that Native Americans were all about national revelation style events — which makes sense as this is another example of a tribe. Tribes seem to have creation myths in which they do things together. Christians and Muslims are not tribes.

                  North Koreans are not a tribe either. More to the point, North Korea is a secular, civil society with communism as its system.

                  Communism is atheistic. National revelation simply would not make sense under any circumstances there. They don’t believe in the supernatural.

                  This began because you felt national revelation had to be true (it seemed, almost mathematically.)

                  Jews were and are a mix of tribe and a religion. It is unique. All religions are unique – even ones with one prophet – their stories are never the same. But the ones that survive resonate with the people.

                  Why did Mormonism survive, with six members about a hundred and eighty plus years ago? Many other religions began at the same time during the Great Awakening? Because: it resonated with its message that the Western US was a promised land. It “worked.” And it still took one hundred years for it to from a ridiculous laughing stock to being a serious religion with two major universities, ten million members.

                  Tribes do spiritual things together. We know this. Time and again we find tribe = spiritual collective myths. For a tribe, other kinds of creation myths don’t feel right.

                  I would say it’s not about the story being true or false — it’s that there are more ways of looking at it that suggest it is far from certain that anything happened at Mt. Sinai.

                  When you wrote that you do mitzvot because it had to happen — I just think you are not allowing for the many ways in which it certainly did not need to happen.

                  Laypeople do listen to their rabbis — in that time they rav had ruach ha kodesh. I believe many ascribe special spiritual powers today to rebbes.

                  Read about Jesus crucifixion — the resurrection of the dead, how everyone saw it. If it did not happen — where are the counter stories? The counter histories?

                  With this logic, you might as well consider Christianity both logical and persuasive. It happened when people were probably even more cynical than when the Jews were developing (a more ancient time with much less writing and literacy.)

                  By the year 6000, this will be settled. Either there will be resurrection of the dead in Israel of the righteous of all generations or not. That is the next supernatural event.

                  Tell me, do you think Jews will stop being religious if nothing happens?

                  Some will, many won’t. What does that tell you?

                  Some Jews may have left when they did not think Har Sinai applied to them or was real, many may have stayed. The kernel of a religion remained and blossomed.

                  The question is does Kuzari mean it happened? The answer is clearly: no Kuzari does not mean anything really happened.

                  • You’re putting a lot of importance in a couple of aggadic statements that liken history up to the messiah to the 6 workdays of the week or divides up that era into three 2,000 yr segments. There are also halachic statements prohibiting computing when the messiah comes. And unlike halakhah, aggadah is written in written and metaphor, and may not mean what it seems to. Nor is it as binding.

                    (As for the resurrection, it’s a modern belief that the messianic era and the post-resurrection era are the same thing. In Rav Yehudah haNasi’s theory of history paralleling a week, the messianic era is “Shabbos”, and the resurrection is the start of the next “week”, in the year 7,000.)

                    Speaking less in terms of what is or could be true and focusing on psychology… Even if the above argument weren’t valid, people would still grasp on it or something like it. Just as the early Christians invented the whole notion of a Second Coming rather than let their failed expectations require full abandonment of their faith.

                    But in our case this behavior wouldn’t require abandoning intellectual honesty, because we don’t really have a single set of firm expectations.

                    • Tuvia

                      i hear so much about the year 6000 — I am not disagreeing with you, but i suspect as we close in on six thousand we will see increased references to this idea you are sharing.

                      It’s frustrating. As a person who believes we will not see the fruition of the messianic ideal world — I want it over with so religionists can stop bouncing around with all of this spiritual energy – OR – I want to give up my own skepticism and dance in the streets with a chassidic rebbe — all the while him telling me “I told you so!” and me shouting back, “you’re right, you’re right.”

                      It would be the happiest day of my life.

                      The second happiest would be passing the deadline and me telling my infuriating spiritual know it all baal teshuva friends to “drop the shtick and stop telling us how holy you are.”

                      It would be a sad day too, but it would shut up some of these obnoxious types.

                      Meanwhile, thetorah.com continues to develop — and will perhaps one day give even pious folks a reason to pause for thought (I would welcome OJ folks back to what I consider real Jewish thinking — thinking, maybe hoping, but not this (to my mind) unthinking believing which characterizes all of the BTs I know.)

                    • Although you have to admit that people get much more passionate about ideas we cannot objectively prove to others, no matter how completely we may be convinced we proved it to ourselves, than ideas subject to open-and-shut proofs. Maybe your dream world would produce the One True Religion, but no one impassioned enough about it to be inspired to improve themselves and the world?

                      As for “the obnoxious types”, they possibly irritate me more than you. Every person who claims to follow the same Torah I do but sets a bad example, from people who think that Judaism is a path to happiness, to belittling it by claiming it provides simple answers to life’s unanswerable questions, to criminals and perverts who make it look like the Torah cares more about esrogim than the safety of our children creates a mis-impression about what I myself believe that I must overcome when speaking to others.

                      Anyway, I addressed my problems with thetorah.org and the like back when this post was newer. My own reasons for believing in Torah miSinai is because of the first-hand experience of Shabbos, which in turn relies on the halachic process actually being the Will of G-d. And therefore my whole belief in Torah miSinai rests upon their existing non-peshat (non-literal) layers to the Torah that were part of the original intent and that show themselves as problems in the peshat reading so that people who knew how could find them and derive laws from them. It leaves me no reason to wonder about more literary causes for textual anomalies.

                      Zev Farber actually reaches the same conclusion. In the middle of his arguing that one can believe in a Torah min haShamayim produced by Document Theory without any change to the practice of halakhah or one’s motivation for it, he writes (emphasis added):

                      I believe that people over the years, through some sort of divine encounter, have been given insight into God’s plan for Israel / the Jews and that these things were put into writing by the various prophets who experienced them and their disciples. Over time these revelations are synthesized and reframed. In the beginning this was how the Torah and the other books of Tanach were compiled. Over time the process moved on to the creation of other works, including the core works of Oral Torah like the Mishna and the Talmud.

                      In my view, Judaism is essentially a wave that eternally sends the messages of God. However, in order to understand how to apply these messages we must understand how any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel. When we understand this, we can “subtract” the societal elements to see the ideas in their relative purity and reapply them to our times. Waves, however, require continuity. For this reason, it is vital to understand how the Torah functioned in every generation since Moshe in order to do this right. This requires serious study and thought.

                      He ends up with rhetoric quite close to the Conservative Movement’s “Tradition and Change”. And for good reason; it’s the version of halakhah most consistent with believing that Chazal used derashah as a tool for reinterpreting the Torah and placing their own messages in it. If derashos are part of the original message (whether revealed at Sinai or left to be found later), then there is no reason to wonder why the same story or similar stories or laws would be presented different ways.

                      All this comprises the first steps in the process that give me the Shabbos I have today.

                    • Tuvia

                      ok – I still think there is likely (I have not studied it in depth) more to the DH than we as laypeople are aware of or appreciate. On torah.com they drop hints sometimes — they don’t explain, they just state that (in this way or that way) the case has gotten stronger and stronger.

                      i guess i wonder if religious thinkers ever fully respond to the DH, or just respond to pop treatments of it.

                      i feel like i look forward to understanding why is is that haredi academics are coming out in favor of the DH. I don’t know of one academic haredi expert who thinks there is evidence of any kind for one document, one revelation.

                      I think we should call the Torah what it is: the central text of our proud religion – and all of these (I believe inane and divisive) arguments about who wrote the Torah would evaporate. I don’t believe a thousand years ago these questions were asked, but I also don’t believe a thousand years ago there were pat answers for them.

                      Now, we ask the question – – and we feel (at least in OJ) we MUST provide a solid and incontrovertible answer – and it is a kind of travesty.

                      It may be necessary in the eyes of religious leaders to have one, pat answer – but it also kind of guts the religion of essential honesty about a distant past.

                      in short, for the sake of grownups everywhere — a new kind of answer would be appreciated. And i think it would resemble the non-answer to the non-question of where the Torah came from that was not-asked a thousand years ago.

                    • DH is a religious position for them, and a true believer shouldn’t be taken as objective. (Myself included.)

                      A comparison: The Ptolmeic universe was quite simple and elegant as they taught it to beginners. Then they realized the planets don’t just make simple paths across the sky, so they had to add epicycles — the planets, sun and moon are not directly on the spinning sphere, but they are on a sphere which is attached to it, and that secondary sphere also spins. And then the epicycles had epicycles. Meanwhile, they got much closer to describing the data, but at the expense that the whole reason for believing the theory went out the window.

                      DH has posited so many patchwork verses by now, it’s well into the same phase.

                      And thus support has indeed weakened, not gained steam. As a quick e.g. Wikipedia’s “Documentary Hypothesis” page ends its history of the theory with “4.1 Weakening of Support” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis#Weakening_of_support >

                    • Tuvia

                      even if support for DH has weakened – there is still a lot of support for alternate ideas about how the Torah came in to existence.

                      I would like to have them taught to Orthodox Jews.

                      Mainly, I am uncomfortable with how our religion is transmitted. It’s controlling information and perspectives in a tight, confining way. It makes the religion look bad, to me. Outside authorities cannot speak in the community. I think this is telling.

                      I am surprised as a secular Jew how religious Jews choose to think. I do feel they are committing to a way of knowing that is heavily one sided. I think it brings a lot of comfort – I just don’t think it is very “Jewish.”

                      I know a decent number of BTs. They are frequently very committed. I am often surprised on the occassions I’ve spoken with ffb hasids (here in Brooklyn) how different they are from BTs. There is virtually none of the sanctimonious. They don’t buy their own superiority, judging by their casual comments in conversation with me.

                      BTs on the other hand are quite certain of the importance of being Jewish, and thinking in the way OJews are supposed to think.

                      Anyway, I don’t understand religion. I do understand that in life people avoid confusion — so they may avoid reading or thinking in a way that could interfere with their religious commitments, but I don’t really understand it when people are not up front about this.

                      I don’t understand rabbis who say the Torah could not be a composite document. Or ones who have not studied it academically (for years) like Zev Farber — but are certain they are in a position to rebut the DH (or some variation.)

                      All of these problems and more rob OJ of legitimacy. They also to me are not Jewish responses to issues. They feel to me like Jews have adopted gentile responses to religious problems. A kind of “faith” response that is not emblematic of the best of Jewish thinking — which, to me, is characterized by utter fearlessness, and nothing like the religious thinking of other religions.

                      OJ is an army of believers, not an army of Jews. Jews discuss all kinds of things, believers cannot afford to do that. Jews don’t shut up, believers are not inclined to challenge.

                      Something is actually amiss — and it is why so many are so disappointed with bad actors in OJ. There are many bad actors (I guess, based on media reports) in OJ, many pathologies, many adaptations that are unhealthy (everyone poor and on welfare, for example.)

                      The reason there is so much bad adaptations is because the system is inherently unhealthy, not because the practice of yiddishkeit is so beautiful. Kids who join the IDF feeling lesser is a symptom of a world where there is no freedom to be creative – to be Jewish.

                      I don’t understand why OJews don’t see that they are building a bad system. and it all starts with the idea that, to live in this community, you must do and not say. OJ is on autopilot, and no one cares that it creates trouble for everyone who stays inside. I just don’t really understand why Jews are so taken with a Judaism that may feel good, but is terrible to those among them who don’t think identically. Doesn’t anyone sense there is something cruel about the frum way of life, as well as beautiful?

                    • Your position only works from where you stand. An believing Orthodox Jew is as sure of Torah miSinai as Neil Degrasse Tyson is of evolution. If he were to teach evolution, would you call it “controlling information and perspectives in a tight, confining way”?

                      Perhaps (I’m not a psychologist, nor do I know you) you are annoyed with people finding certainty where you tried and couldn’t, and therefore are unrealistically and unfairly asking them to act as though they too were unsure. For if we did, it would lesson the irritant.

                      You are also more sure the Torah is a composite than most of this generation of Bible Critics are. And with that, something is amiss.

                      What is amiss within O is simple. We teach our children halakhah — literally: the art of walking — but do not give them anything beyond a 6 year old grasp of a derekh — where they’re supposed to go. To switch metaphors: we show them how to use a hammer, saw and screwdriver, never discuss what a cabinet is, what it was we gave them those tools to make.

                    • Tuvia

                      i don’t know if i agree that academic bible study at this time is waivering on the idea of composite construction. From what I read on thetorah.com, there are a number of haredi types who say that the evidence grows for composite construction.

                      (I don’t claim to understand all of their arguments; I get the sense they don’t make the real arguments on that site. I’m not going to enroll in school to hear more, though.)

                      Put that aside, though.

                      Tyson says evolution fits the evidence — and it is an open world there. I would actually not wish to be educated to accept evolution as the only possible reality. I was taught evolution, but it was not nearly as distressing as hearing how our sages were correct about science and therefore, nature changed. That is not logic, that is something else. I guess apologetics.

                      I am certain you can see important distinctions between how topics are broached in the academic/secular world, and how they are broached in the all encompassing world of Torah truths.

                      In the end, I just will never believe that educating the community is accomplished without an open airing of a multitude of positions and voices and facts and narratives.

                      I don’t believe that most frum Jews don’t actually value reason — I just think they have made a decision to turn away from reason, because it gets in the way of the religious commitment.

                      I don’t really think O Jews are bad folks – and I do admire traditional living. I don’t admire how O Jews have responded to the haskala. I think they saw it, realized it appealed to reason, recognized it as a threat to the commitment to Torah, and turned away from it. And this is both predictable and lamentable.

                      I also think that O Jews have turned away from open dialogue with others (including other kinds of Jews.)

                      I would never fear a conversation with Tyson about evolution. He will not condemn me to lose my place in the world to come if I don’t think evolution is real. There is not very much at stake regarding my soul or the meaning of life. Evolution fits the evidence so far as we can tell. Take it or leave it.

                      If Tyson got all exorcised and started screaming that evolution simply HAD to be true, I would find that suspicious. I would think there are psychological factors at play.

                      I have almost never heard about the psychology of religious commitment from ravs. Everything “psychological” is replaced with the word “spiritual.”

                      My friends who have committed to being seriously orthodox have lost their ability to speak to me in a genuine way.

                      I think committed Jews for Jesus and my BT friends have far more in common now.

                      If someone were committed to the tenets of Nazism (I know, Godwin) wouldn’t you appeal to reason to try to yank them out of it? Wouldn’t you think there was a significant psychological component at work? Wouldn’t it scare you?

                      Religious living is interesting and all; religious thinking is alienating to those who don’t share that view.

                      I have atheist friends and family; I am not an atheist. We all can talk openly about it.

                      Why are talks like these with BTs so hard? Why is free expression so hard? Why are committed Jews so mean to everyone who is different? Why don’t they ever see themselves as “the other,” and acknowledge that no one knows the past. We cannot. We’re not able to know.

                      I admit we cannot know if evolution is how it all really happened. Now you admit we can’t know if G-d gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Then we can go eat a kosher lunch together, because that’s a Jewish thing to do regardless.

                    • Tuvia

                      also, it is not right to say that those who don’t believe are sort of “lesser.”

                      this is the default religious position.

                      I would not say to tyson that say, because I don’t believe in evolution and he does he is “lesser” than me in any way whatsoever.

                      he may be in some ways greater than me for not needing a creator to explain it all. I don’t know.

                      but religious folks name call those who don’t share their views. even if i ever become observant again, i will never, ever, believe there is anything whatsoever lesser about a non-believer. We must do much better, or G-d save us.

                      it is pathetic to find flaws in the virtue or character of those who happen not to share your world view. that we see this view in O Judaism is terrible.

                    • Tuvia

                      you’re probably done with this thread, but i had one more thougth to share…

                      if the category of heresy or kefira goes back a long, long way — then doesn’t that mean the masorah simply cannot contain anything that the rabbis would deem interfering with belief in Judaism?

                      So, for instance, let’s say way, way back there were some grumblings that the Sinai event was fabricated for one reason or another. Some group of radicals asked around – no one had a memory from their grandfather that this was an event that happened to them in their family history.

                      If this finding was considered “heresy,” wouldn’t it not find its way in to the masorah?

                      The masorah can contain stories that make the Jews look bad (which it does) because these stories come to teach us about pride, or heresy, or some other sin.

                      But the masorah would not contain stories (tales, witness accounts, books, ideas, philosophy) that would contradict Judaism in general. Because, this type of information would be deemed “heresy” and would therefore not be kosher to include in the masorah.

                      The masorah becomes self-fulfilling in this way.

                      Rabbis like to trot out the masorah as proof that we have a relationship to Sinai. But per the rules of Judaism, anything that would suggest we don’t have a relationship to Sinai is automatically excluded from the masorah.

                      Heresy category existing in religion = an invalid process for transmitting and accreting a tradition. The tradition prima facie is tainted and loses integrity.

                    • Someone who grumbled something inconsistent with the mesorah on a fundamental level would either be a heretic, or if a large enough number of people, they would become a sect. And then the sect would survive or not as a distinct community. If there ideas worked in providing meaning for its adherents, it would thrive. But those “grumblings” wouldn’t enter /our/ tradition to begin with.

                      I am not 100% sure what you’re saying. I think you want to turn the mesorah’s consistency — on fundamental points, machloqes is rampant the second we switch to details — as a factor against it. If that is your intent, I’m not clear on your reasoning. How would a body of tradition that doesn’t even have a consistent story about basic ideas in its worldview be /more/ authoritative? Or to put it another way, why does tolerance for ideas that don’t fit the whole picture prove stronger than being so sure of that picture those ideas never make it in?

                    • Tuvia

                      let me try again.

                      I remember at Aish they made a pretty big point that the chain of transmission of Torah was flawless in reality. That we had an unbroken chain going back to Sinai for written and oral Torah.

                      My first reaction was that something about it didn’t feel right.

                      I realized it is two things, actually, that truly invalidate the argument (although having spent a good deal of time listening to kiruv types, I’m sure they will never mention any of this stuff.)

                      First, the “evidence” – the Torah, both written and oral – were not in the custody of a disinterested third party. Think of it like a criminal case. There, they make a big deal out of who is guarding the evidence. If, say the victim is hanging on to it, or the defendant – the evidence is wisely considered invalid and this can cause a mistrial. Why? Evidence must be preserved and its integrity protected – no one can safekeep it who has a vested interest in the case.

                      Rabbis are far from a disinterested third party. Rabbis are the wrong people to handle transmission of Torah over time. If they wanted us to actually believe it came from Sinai, invest in a system where a third, disinterested party guards the evidence. Otherwise, there is no integrity to the process (which may be exactly as they wanted it.)

                      Second problem: because of the category of heresy, no dissenting voices or stories or accounts could be part of the masorah.

                      Let’s say no Torah transmission occured at Sinai. Let’s say the academic view of the Torah is on target. Why is none of this in the masorah? Because it cannot be. The rules of the religion don’t permit dissent to be recorded on these matters.

                      I deal with a lot of BT types who tell me we have a chain going back to Sinai. When I try to tell them the above they don’t care – somehow the chain is strong and the argument that the chain is fatally compromised, is weak. But this is clearly just their psychological commitment to religion at work, it has nothing to do with their probity in judging this process. They can’t see the system is inherently corrupt (and they just call what I say kefira – which is sort of doubly frustrating.)

                      Finally, to return to the idea that the DH is all washed up in academic circles. Regardless of the line in wikipedia, the more I explore this idea, the more the opposite seems true: actual bible critic academics (not dilettantes or religious types but the actual PhD types who do this for a living) seem quite committed to the idea that the Torah is a product of many hands and centuries. Joel Baden at Yale wrote a book a couple of years ago: The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the DH.

                      What I do find? These academics (some of whom are Jewish, some observantly so) watch as religious folks twist the story and state things like “The DH is dead.” The academics are frustrated by this; the religious folks keep saying it anyway, like they speak for the real state of affairs in academic circles (they don’t.) And no haredi kid can sort it out for himself by studying with the academics at places like Yale. Why? It’s all heresy.

                      Religous figures feel very confident and good about the masorah – but the reality is they shouldn’t feel that way, once some elementary problems like the above are explained to them.

                      What I like to say to my friends (it is the only thing that really gets their attention) is, “even the goyim understand what’s wrong with this picture of the transmission of Torah!”

                      Because they enjoy believing, and don’t want to think about the above, it doesn’t last, though.

                    • I am reminded of the punchline to a story about a debate between a True Believer and an Atheist. Can’t recall much else about the story, but the punchline was when the believer replied, “The God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.”

                      I do not expect people to keep Shabbos because of some proof of the incontrovertibility of the Torah. I think that Aish and the stereotypical kiruv worker have a very naive view of the current state of theology, epistemology and psychology. if you recall, I got into this conversation by saying that even though I agree with what the so-called “Kuzari Argument” sets out to prove, I think the argument itself is specious; for reasons that would include the entire swath of what you’re discussing here.

                      I suggested that the whole thing is reversed. Even in people who think they’re being cerebral and relying on proofs. They’re only accepting the arguments about the accuracy of the mesorah because it presented them with a lifestyle that satisfies man’s search for meaning.

                      I therefore disagree with what you call evidence.

                      For what it’s worth, I still don’t see your point. Yes the mesorah’s keepers would prune out ideas that are inconsistent with its presmises. But if those thoughts were compelling enough to have a following, they would break away and have their own tradition, with its own keepers. However, whether or not I see your point, it is a critique of a whole approach to religious belief that I don’t buy into either.

                    • Tuvia

                      this guy says the academic view holds more water than the traditional types are willing to admit. What do you think of him?

                      https://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/interview-with-prof-jacob-wright-of-emory-university/

                    • I fail to see your point. We know what the normative academic view is, and we already discussed where they and I part ways. Pointing to one person among that crowd doesn’t add to anything said already.

                      Besides, belief in Document Hypothesis in particular is on the decline in Biblical Critical circles. Although the other currently “in” theories are no closer to Orthdodoxy. He isn’t even arguing for current trends in the field. You could equally ask what the majority of academics think of his position.

                    • Tuvia

                      i think it’s important – critical – to let guys like this J Wright, who seem to care about Judaism – speak and be heard in the orthodox community.

                      It is crazy making to say that this crowd is not legitimate basically because religious people won’t give their views a serious look.

                      I notice that one of the complaints there is that religious folks don’t actually fight what the academics are saying – they cry “Cazzutto” and “doc hypothesis is done” and call it a day.

                      Religious folks are not taking things seriously in this realm. They point and laugh at the academic view – but really, they duck and hide.

                      I assume religious people are serious people before anything else. The indoctrinating of religious people into comfortable orthodox positions is an over the top attempt to keep Judaism untainted by outside information. It is kind of unseemly. It reminds me of the old Soviet style education: everything in the outside world is bad but you can’t go see for yourself.

                      Orthodox people are treating their own and their own brains like children.

                      I just find it all terribly hard to watch. I hope more balance is achieved at some point. Judaism is definitely strong enough to incorporate unorthodox views into it. The way it is handled now is really quite disturbing for a secular Jew like me. It’s like everyone sees someone in the room, but the rabbis look over and keep saying “what? I don’t see him.” It’s like it is better to be crazy and call yourself sane, than acknowledge someone else exists, someone whose big sin is not agreeing with you. It just seems too crazy a response by OJ to what are now actual haredi and observant Jews in academia who are saying: “the MORE you look, the MORE it looks like the traditional position is not supportable. Let’s talk after shabbos.”

                      Do you agree there is something crazy making about how traditionalists view the academic view? Like Baghdad Bob saying to the news cameras “all is well, Saddam is in control and reports of our fall are unfounded,” as American tanks roll in right behind him?

                    • And I think the notion that the text points to multiple authorship or later editing or any other critical theory is inconsistent with Orthodoxy. Halakhah is based on derashah. If you believe derashah is just as much part of Original Intent as peshat, the data on which all these theories are based is simply non-existent.

                      As I said, the first-hand experience of finding meaning through shabbos, kashrus, taharas hamishpachah is stronger evidence to the believer. We aren’t taking their position seriously because we find something else far more worth taking seriously.

                      But now we’re just repeating ourselves.

                    • Tuvia

                      Ok. But this guy J Wright and others like Zev Farber and probably a dozen others — they all keep the mitzvoth same as you. They have the first hand experience.

                      The only difference is they did the actual work of truly immersing themselves in the source material.

                      That’s the understanding that is (purposely) being sidelined in the orthodox world: orthodox Jew are the new frontier of scholars who have come to conclude (and can show you too – given several years of study) that the Torah is a composite work.

                      I think the OJ community owes it to their search for emes to take them up on that challenge. Go to university, learn what their brethren (all who send their kids to yeshiva and keep mitzvoth) are saying and, most importantly, why.

                      Give it several years yourself. It would give any position you reach more credibility.

                      That’s how anyone would see it. You can’t damn their perspective until you truly have learned what they have learned. Not with real credibility.

                    • So you found some people who believe contradictory things — that textual anomalies reflect original Author’s intent for the sake of derashah and that they are evidence of a complex process of authorship.

                      I have news for you, we all believe contradictory things on some subject or another.

                      In any case, the efficacy of halakhah does remove the reason for believing in Document Hypothesis, and the fact that some people decided otherwise doesn’t make the result any more internally consistent.

                    • Tuvia

                      reading the Wright interview – textual anomalies are a small part of the puzzle. Great comments to that interview too.

                      He would agree with you on the efficacy of halachah. He would part ways with you on how the Torah came to be.

                      A few years working with those academics, you might continue to see it as hogwash, you might change your mind entirely.

                      Likely, you would remain an OJ regardless, as they do.

                    • I actually read up a bit on Friedman’s version. But why is it so important to you to immerse more people in a culture that teaches an inconsistent position about the origin of the Torah as a way of being convinced of one position, while at the same time questioning the other position because it’s only believed by people immersed in a different culture? Don’t you see the irony?

                    • Tuvia

                      seal of G-d is emmes?

                    • And emes has to be internally consistent. So, why bother investing all that effort on something that isn’t?

                      Yet again, look at what this belief did to Zev Farber’s notion of ideal observance: n my view, Judaism is essentially a wave that eternally sends the messages of God. However, in order to understand how to apply these messages we must understand how any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel. When we understand this, we can “subtract” the societal elements to see the ideas in their relative purity and reapply them to our times. Waves, however, require continuity. For this reason, it is vital to understand how the Torah functioned in every generation since Moshe in order to do this right. This requires serious study and thought.

                      This is incredibly capital-C Conservative, a movement whose motto is “Tradition and Change”. And this is non-coincidental; it’s the closest to halakhah one can get if one wants internal consistency with criticism. The CJ movement found it, and many of those who think they can remain Orthodox while denying one of its foundations will end up there as well.

                      We don’t explore this option because it denies much of Orthodoxy. Thus, we’re convinced by our lifestyle it’s a blind alley. Why this odd statement that people aren’t seeking Truth if they don’t explore someone else’s notion of what the Truth is? Do you demand it for opinions of which you yourself aren’t convinced?

                      I also find it odd that you can appeal to “they did the actual work of truly immersing themselves in the source material and studying it outside the beis medrash”, but someone who is convinced of the traditional position because of similar immersion in its study and its culture is being portrayed as close-minded.

                      This is really more about what you personally think is true than about how to pursue Truth.

                    • Tuvia

                      I’m not advocating anyone become convinced of anything. If anything, it seems to me that Jews who live traditional lives have always had to reconcile doubt and hope in the tradition.

                      Today we have rabbis who claim to have defeated the DH and its proponents, but who refuse to do the work to understand what they are condemning. It’s weird.

                      It’s like a show trial — everyone knows the trial is “off” — the defense never gets to make its own case in its own words or cross examine anyone or question the evidence — but the verdict is handed down and the officials say justice was done.

                      You can’t claim to have the truth and yet fear things that would compromise that claim. It makes the claim seem pretty weak.

                      In reality, the idea of claiming you have the truth is weak in the modern world — maybe that is what needs reexamining.

                      The mesorah may or may not be the truth – but it is truly Jewish.

                      Might be a fairer way to present the Jewish ideal.

                    • Well, like the original topic, the Kuzari Principle, many stupid things are said by people who think that simple answers exist. I disowned them in the original context, and don’t see any point in repeating that here.

                      But they are so far from the sum total of the state of Orthodox Jewish Thought today (think R’ JB Soloveitchik or Rav Yitzchaq Hutner, or journals like Tradition or Hakira), that neither your diagnosis nor prescription are appropriate.

                      It’s not that Orthodoxy lacks critical thinkers, it’s that you seem to be focused on the non-critical thinkers who know how to appeal to the hoi polloi.

  • Nachum Beer

    Ignoring the problems for a minute to focus on the logical structure of the argument. Just to clarify (and express for myself) that even if the Kuzari argument is strong, applying it to the question of God’s existence would be weak. The argument is an inductive one which relies on probability. Thus, if there’s inductive evidence against God’s existence that is independent of the Kuzari argument, this would weaken the odds of the Kuzari argument being right, potentially making the argument weak.

    The interesting thing, from a logical standpoint, is if the Kuzari argument holds, God exists. But I might not be able to say that God exists; only that if God exists, the Jewish version of God is true.

    From what I’ve heard, I suppose that Gottlieb would hold the Kuzari argument to be so strong as to have nearly the logical power of a deductive argument (problems notwithstanding–I haven’t read the book to see how he deals with them). Thus, unless one has at least as concrete evidence against the proposition of God’s existence, it would also be a strong argument for God’s existence.

    I’d appreciate a critique of my analysis. Thanks