Reader: Dear Rabbi Ben
I have read with interest your articles in this and the last issue of the Jewish Times on the defense of the Kuzari argument. While the dialogue was informative, I believe you have not successfully defended the Kuzari argument for the following reasons;
1. You state that the Torah must be verified from another source that its own text. Where have you succeeded in doing this? You claim that Judaism and its Torah must be true because only the Torah was transmitted in an unbroken line from the millions who witnessed the events at Sinai to the present day. But how do you know this? There is no other source whatsoever for the belief that millions of witnesses were at Sinai other than the Torah itself! You have failed to escape the circular logic of the Kuzari argument because the core of your argument, that there were millions of witnesses at Sinai, is based only on the text of the Torah itself. There is no corroborating outside evidence that there were millions at Sinai. For all we know, there may have only been thousands there, or dozens, or no one at all.
Mesora: There is in fact external
corroboration: the very ‘testimony’ of Jews throughout time since Sinai. This
may not be the type of “tangible” evidence you might be seeking. However,
testimony is distinct form the written text. So we are not proving the story,
“from the story”…but from “people”…those individuals back then and those alive
today that continue to transmit it. The act of “unbroken transmission” is the
Reader: 2. You claim that the Torah was written down at the time the events occurred. How can you prove that? Do you know where the original Torah is being kept? How come no one else knows about it? The fact is there is no written document dating back to the time of the alleged Sinai events. Your belief that there was such a document is based on faith, not evidence. (By the way, if a document were found that could be reliably dated to have been written at the time of the Sinai events, and if what was written in this document was the same as what is in our current Torah, I would accept that as proof of the Torah’s, and Judaism’s veracity, and make the appropriate adjustments in my thinking and life style What, may I ask, would cause you to doubt the truth of your beliefs?).
Mesora: Knowledge of the whereabouts of the original Torah written by Moses is not required to know from ‘when’ the Torah was first written. Again, we have the verbal testimony transmitted through time until today acting as the proof. Had Moses not written the Torah when he did – at Sinai – the account of his doing so would never have been proliferated verbally, reaching us today. Had Moses lied, his story would have stopped dead in its tracks, and not a soul would have transmitted it. Certainly, no one would transmit to his own child that he stood at Sinai and saw miracles, if he had not. But no ancient document or “original Torah scroll” is required to state the reasoning that we have…proving its truth. And many millions of others “do” in fact know about Sinai. So I am unclear as to why you claim otherwise.
Regarding what would cause me to doubt my own beliefs…the answer
is “proof otherwise”. But as I am convinced that other histories actually
transpired, I am equally convinced of Sinai. No room exists for doubts. There
will never arise the “real” story of the Jews in 2448…because we already know
Reader: 3. You also argue that that the Torah description of Sinai is true because what happened there was easily understood. Really? It seems no more difficult to understand that thousands were fed by one loaf of bread and five fish, or that a man walked on water and rose from the dead, than to believe that a non-volcanic mountain suddenly burst into flame and smoke and a loud voice boomed out and was heard by millions. The Torah narrative, like the Gospel, contains miraculous events. How easily each series of events could be understood has no bearing on whether the events actually happened. If one accepts the possibility that the laws of nature can be suspended miraculously, then the usual criteria of determining what is true don’t matter. One miracle is just as likely to be true as another.
Mesora: Two errors: First, you confuse “ease of comprehension”, with “difficulty in performance”. We state that the miracle of a fiery mountain, intelligent voice emanating from therein, Moses’ face shining, and the shofar increasing in intensity are easily recognizable. We are not determining which miracles are more difficult. That is irrelevant. The proof of Sinai is based on events that any normal person readily identifies with clarity. All people recognize with no confusion what a mountain is, what fire is, a shofar blast, and light, shining, from Moses’ face. No one would confuse these elements and phenomena. Hence, we do not ascribe ignorance to those who witnessed Sinai.
Secondly, no comparison may be made between Jesus’ supposed
miracles, which were first recorded 100 years after the “fact”, and Sinai’s
miracles. Why didn’t those 5000 supposed men and women tell others of Jesus’
great wonders? Their absolute silence proves that nothing happened. The story
was fabricated. Those 5000 people never existed. But Sinai was transmitted from
the “point of origin”.
Reader: 4. You argue that the Torah account at Sinai must be true because it has universal acceptance and because millions of people have transmitted the account down through the ages, which would not have happened had there been no witnesses to begin with. Sorry, but this is of little help as well. First, the Torah account is not universally accepted as true. Aside from most Biblical historians and non-fundamentalist Jews and Christians, there are billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and other who don’t accept the literal truth of the Torah. Also, millions of Hindus and Buddhists have transmitted the accounts of the origins of their religions down through time. Do you assume that Hindu and Buddhist parents were less committed to telling their children what they believed to be the truth than were Jewish parents? If not, then the mass transmission argument can be used to prove the truth of all religions and thus, cannot prove the truth of any.
Mesora: You confuse transmission of “fact” with transmission of “belief”. I do not deny that millions of Christians and Muslims “believe” what they transmit. But simple transmission alone is not Judaism’s proof. Judaism bases itself on a transmission of an “event attended by millions”. The other religions do not. They base themselves on blind faith, or transmit stories which reason disproves: the original witnesses never transmitted a word; or there was no one else there when someone received their supposed “prophecies”. All the other religions fail to prove their supposed stories, precisely because they did not occur. We determine their fabrication from their very stories containing flaws. I am sure you now see this distinction. Millions of unfortunate religionists desirous of blind acceptance do not ask for reasonable proof, so they follow the leader blindly. Do not fall prey to the erroneous argument that “numbers of adherents validates their religion.”
Reader: 5.You try to draw an analogy between believing the Torah account of Sinai and believing in the existence of Caesar and the Holocaust. The analogy fails because, unlike the Torah account, there are hundreds, in the case of the Holocaust, millions, of written accounts of their respective historical occurrence from both friends and enemies of Caesar, Romans and non-Romans; and from both victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust. There are films of the death camps. The Torah account has no outside source to verify what it says. That is why no reputable historian doubts the existence of Caesar or the Holocaust, while the consensus of historians is that the Torah is not completely literally true and that certain narratives like the Sinai events may be rooted in legend and not actual historical occurrence.
Mesora: I am sure you d not accept what
you just said: Had the world only one account of Caesar, no artifacts or films,
written by the Romans and no one else, and this account was transmitted
throughout the world, and there was no other conflicting account, surely it
would be as accepted as it is today. Kindly disprove its veracity in my
Reader: 6. You question the motives of those who challenge the Torah’s veracity by saying that the challenges are based more on the unwillingness of the challengers to change their lives to conform with the Torah than in a genuine search for truth. I question the appropriateness of such comments; it usually reflects weakness of one’s arguments but since you raise the point, what about your own motives? It is gratifying to the ego to believe that one has the truth, which no one else has. How do you feel about being Jewish and also believing that only Judaism is true and all other religions are false? Does it make you feel superior? Have you honestly confronted that? What about the need of people to believe in certainty in an uncertain world? Does it help you sleep better knowing that everything that happens in the world is because God wants it that way and you have the inside track, through your Orthodox Judaism, on what God is thinking? You have as much personal motive to believe in what you do than the challengers to Torah veracity have in theirs, if not more so. Besides, a Christian can argue that the real reason why you don’t accept Jesus as your personal savior is because you don’t want to change your life to accommodate Him. It is irrational to question the genuineness of those who doubt a religion just because of their unwillingness to accept that religion’s beliefs. If that were the case, then those who doubt the truth of fundamentalist Islam are not genuine truth-seekers because it could be said that all they really want to do is avoid accepting the obligation to become martyrs.
Mesora: You write, “It is gratifying to the ego to believe that one has the truth, which no one else has.” Had ego gratification been a Torah educator’s objective, would he not lose such ego fulfillment by enabling others to share his pedestal through educating them up to his level? But you must know that Torah education is an obligation. One has no choice but to teach. If one truly cares for another human being, he desires the best for him. He educates him.
You write, “Does it make you feel superior?” The answer is, of course it does. King Solomon said, “And I saw that wisdom excels foolishness as light excels darkness.” (Eccl. 2:13) One must feel more fortunate when he possesses the good, while others do not. But this should promote a concern, followed by educating the ignorant, and not an egotistical withholding of the good to maintain a superiority.
You write, “Does it help you sleep better knowing that everything that happens in the world is because God wants it that way?” Here, you impute to me something I never said.
You write, “A Christian can argue that the real reason why you don’t accept Jesus as your personal savior is because you don’t want to change your life to accommodate him.” Had I no proof for Judaism, your argument might have a chance to prove itself. Then you might attribute my actions to personal motives.
Just as I am firm that 2+2=4 and would assume someone who denies
this, to possess another motive, as reason demands this truth…I similarly
assume that Sinai’s 100% proof is denied due to people’s emotions. I never hear
people contending Caesar’s truth, or that of Alexander. Only Sinai’s truth is
denied. I maintain this phenomenon is attributable to one element contained
only in Sinai: obligatory Torah adherence. Perhaps I am wrong about an
individual case, and I don’t feel I ever concluded one’s denial in exclusive
terms. But I am not wrong about the distinction between all other histories,
and that of Sinai: Sinai obligates man in myriads of restrictions – a powerful
motive to deny its truth. No other history imposes restrictions on man.
Therefore no other history is met with such denial.
Reader: 7. You say it is irrational to doubt the actual occurrence of the Exodus on the basis of a lack of outside evidence to support its happening because such evidence may yet be found. This argument is irrational. An event that allegedly affected millions of people as the plagues affected millions of Egyptians, and the humbling of a great world power by slaves would certainly have generated many records, if not among the Egyptians themselves, then among their rivals like the Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians. Yet there are no records at all. Besides, your argument reminds me of the Mormon excuse for the lack of evidence to prove their belief that ancient Israelites migrated to North America in biblical times and set up a great civilization: "Of course the evidence exists. We just haven’t found it yet!" How is your argument any different?
Mesora: The Mormon excuse is 100% bereft
of evidence, whereas Judaism has an unbroken chain of transmission. The same
proof of Sinai proves Egypt and the 10 Plagues. Thus, it is not irrational to
suggest that since we already know Egypt and Sinai occurred, that “evidence
might yet be discovered” to other parts of the proven story. But to base one’s
entire argument on undiscovered evidence “alone” - as do the Mormons - is
incredulous. Be clear: lack of evidence of Jews in other cultures cannot uproot
our singular, proven, unopposed Jewish history.
Reader: 8. Finally, you often make the argument from authority. "If someone as wise as Maimonides, with such a great intellect, wealth of knowledge, and uprightness of character, believes in the veracity of the Torah account of Sinai, who are you to challenge it?" The same could be said of Thomas Aquinas who matched Maimonides in intellect, wisdom, breadth and depth of knowledge and (as far as I know) uprightness of moral character. Does that mean that we cannot challenge the truth of Catholicism?
Mesora: You take great responsibility and overstep your capabilities by equating Aquinas to Maimonides. And yes, you may challenge the truth of anything. But that is not my point.
When I cite Maimonides and other brilliant thinkers who affirm the absolute truth to Sinai, I do not follow through as you said with the arrogant “Who are you to challenge it?” Rather, do so as a tactic. I will explain.
I intend to move the one with whom I talk away from feeling he is under interrogation. I desire to create a more objective feel to the discussion. In this manner, many times, the person will not feel threatened by entertaining Sinai’s reality, as I am not asking him, “Do YOU believe it?” Rather, I ask him or her to consider why ‘Maimonides’ might have accepted Sinai. Removing the “personal threat” as one may call it, the person does not feel the finger pointing at him, and his thinking is no longer stressed, worrying about changing his mind. He’s discussing Maimonides’ view - not his own. And when we move a person to think about why ‘another’ individual may entertain an idea, such objectivity allows the person to ponder the idea himself, unfiltered by his own feelings. We achieve a great good for a person when we can get them to consider ideas untainted by subjective motives. They may see reality clearly. This is the goal.
Reader: I’m sorry that I’ve gone on for so long, but discussion of religion in general, and Judaism and the Kuzari argument in particular, require, in my opinion, as thoroughgoing an analysis and dialogue as possible. I believe I have shown that you have not succeeded in rescuing the Kuzari argument from its iron, circular cage in that you have failed to show any outside corroboration of the Torah claim that there were millions of witnesses to Sinai. This doesn’t mean that the only alternative to Orthodoxy is atheism; that would be simplistic. It does require a willingness to accept challenges to one’s belief and a willingness to change one’s belief if reason and evidence so dictate. I have stated above my willingness to accept Orthodoxy if certain evidence is found to verify it. Are you willing to change your beliefs as well? Sincerely, Hal
Mesora: One must follow reason and as Ibn Ezra said in last weeks Parshas Yisro, “if we find a mitzvah which is unintelligible, we do not perform it.” However, this did not happen. All the laws make perfect sense. There was but one law, which confounded King Solomon. He understood all others. (Perhaps Moses knew what Solomon did not.)
Since you wrote your final paragraph before reading my response here in this weeks issue, I turn the question back to you: Do these explanations make sense to you, and…why do you think Maimonides accepted the “Proof of Sinai”?