Letters May 2006


No Proof


Micha: Rabbi Ben-Chaim, you wrote:  “It is an important lesson that multiple arguments defending a single position as Mr. Harris presents, imply the failure of each individual argument. For if someone possessed ‘solid evidence’ as Craig Harris claims, he would not need to resort to more than one ‘solid’ proof.”

Looking through the Rishonim it would seem that they disagree with you, for instance, in Chovot HaLevavot Rabbeinu Bachya often brings multiple arguments. For instance in Shaar HaYichud Chapter 7 he brings 7 proofs to God’s oneness. Or for instance Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed (book 2, chapter 19) brings multiple proofs for the universe being created. Or Rav Saadia Gaon who in Emunot VeDeot brings proofs from both reason and verses on almost every point

It would seem that there are 2 purposes in bringing multiple proofs: first a proof can be used to draw out a different dimension of an idea by showing it from every direction. Second in the area of philosophy as opposed to mathematics proofs are not 100% true (for instance you can’t know 100% that there weren’t Martians giving the torah at Sinai or even that I’m not a Martian who is writing to you), proofs “merely” demonstrate that an idea is likely and should be accepted; more proofs adds to the likelihood of the idea and are therefore useful.

Of course no matter how many proofs you bring if they are all stupid then the number makes no difference.


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I don’t agree with your statement that 100% proofs belong only to math. I do agree Micha...there are cases when one proof sufficiently demonstrates an absolute truth. And then, there are times when many proofs are given to contribute additional facets of knowledge. But we also see the Talmud asking “Mai v-Ode?”,  ”Why does the Rabbi offer another proof? [Isn’t one sufficient?]” The Talmud too agreed that once a sufficient argument exists, additional arguments cast suspicion on the cogency of the first argument. For if the first argument was absolute, a second argument cannot “again” prove what has already been proved. 

We easily resolve this disparity between multiple proofs adding more facets, or displaying weakness in each argument be reviewing the substance of each argument. Once we see an initial argument proving a truth beyond doubt, we will witness arguments like the Talmud, “Why a second argument, the first was sufficient!?” In such a case, we are interested in understanding the second argument, for we now know that this author seeks to defending a truth, already proved by argument #1, and we enjoy learning more truths. Therefore, we do wish to hear another aspect of this truth. 

But when a position is defended by an argument lacking any demonstrative proof, additional arguments cannot remove the fallacy of the first one. Further arguments might offer truth unto themselves, but we have already suspected the author of faulty reasoning, having submitted argument #1, in his mind a valid proof, but in reality, it was flawed. Although any number of faulty arguments to defend his view cannot absolutely “prove” wrong his position, however, after a number of faulty arguments, the author’s credibility has been lost.  

In Craig Harris’ case, he too unveiled his lack of intelligence, so each additional argument he lodges is counterproductive. He failed to offer any proof that Jesus was resurrected, also admitting that he is delusional, having claimed contact with dead “spirits”, as if spirits are true phenomena. In the end, Craig Harris falls into the category Maimonides criticizes: “They have not only not left off worshiping things in existence; they even worship imaginary things.”  (“Guide for the Perplexed”; book III, chap. xlvi)




No Acceptance


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Micha (above) pointed out to me, a seeming contradiction in Maimonides’ words:

“Any Jewish heretic (apikores) is no longer Jewish in any measure, and is never received in his repentance, forever. And the heretics are those who go astray after their heart’s thoughts in their foolish words that they state, until they violate the Torah’s Fundamentals, despicably in spite, with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning. It is forbidden to speak with them and to respond upon them with any response at all.” (Maimonides’ Laws of Idolatry, 2:5)


Maimonides clearly teaches that such individuals who “violate the Torah’s Fundamentals, despicably in spite, with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning” are never accepted in their repentance. However, in his Laws of Repentance 3:14, Maimonides states ALL people are received in the repentance, including this above category of “apikores” (3:6). To be clear, Maimonides defines an “apikores” as one of three types: 1) a person who denies prophecy, claiming God’s knowledge has not reached man; 2) one who denies Moses’ prophecy; and 3) one who claims God is ignorant of man. (Laws of Repentance, 3:8)

So which is it: is the apikores accepted in his repentance, or not? Maimonides appears to say both. However, we know this cannot be so. The Kessef Mishna (Laws of Repentance 3:14, last words) resolves the contradiction. He states that those who Maimonides mentions in Laws of Idolatry 2:5 are in fact, literally never accepted, exactly as Maimonides writes. The reason being, the sin of this apikores differs from others, for he “violates the Torah’s Fundamentals, despicably in spite, with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning.”

How does this apikores differ from others? What is his greater sin, which demands his repentance never be accepted? One possibility occurs to me. This apikores is akin to one who says, “I will sin, and later I will repent”. Regarding this latter individual, Maimonides states his repentance – his “teshuvah” – is prevented. Perhaps this is so, since when he sinned, he denied the gravity of sin, feeling he can easily repent later. He viewed sin as a light thing. Our apikores too denies the evil performed. In both cases, the individual has little appreciation for the damage self-inflicted through sin, and therefore, even when attempting to repent, he cannot, as he is blind to his true sin, having previously denied it. I offer this is a possibility and invite your own thoughts.




No Apology


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: “John” emailed Mesora this week, regarding last week’s critique of Craig Harris’ “proofs” of Jesus resurrection. John’s letter was quite long, and he made some very valid points on the style and method of response, for which I thank him. But I disagree on one of his criticisms, that I should not have referred to Craig Harris as “delusional and psychotic” as that was a ‘personal’ attack, according to John, and should be avoided.

I quote Craig Harris: “Finally, the ongoing encounters with Jesus today. Millions of us throughout history have had a conversion experience. We know Jesus is alive because we have felt, known and experienced him.”

This was the subject of one of John’s critique, to which I share my response: “John, while I appreciate your critique of facts, your criticism of my use of “delusional and psychotic” is invalid. These were not personal attacks, but declaring fact. These words accurately describe the person, to teach others wherein lie his flaws. I again use this term in this week’s JewishTimes. Even more so, when we wish to protect others from falling prey to false, idolatrous religions, we should be even harsher in our response. As a Rabbi once taught, “any political correctness smacks of some tolerance”, which is intolerable when denouncing Christianity. “Hakay es shinav”, “blunt his teeth” is how the Rabbis teach we respond to the wicked son.”