Thursday, April 27, 2006

In Response to the Query of an OS Alumnus, Concerning the Kuzari

Rabbi,

This comes from talkreason.org which is basically an anti-creationism site with essays disproving intelligent design, G-d, bible codes, etc….

The author of this particular article is David Yust and he seems very knowledgeable in Tanach as well as Oral Law. This guy is no joke, he probably knows more about our history than most Rabbis we know. He does nothing to disprove the contents of the Torah, just the fact that we can accept it just because its been passed down so meticulously and how can you convince 3 million people at one time that they saw G-d when they didn’t.

He attempts to point out the logical flaws in the arguments of the Kuzari.

Background:

KP (Kuzari Principle) =

Possession of divine revelation is equivalent to possession of the original authentic tradition regarding the granting of this revelation.

KF (Kuzari Formalism) according to R. Gottlieb =

"Suppose someone told you today that five hundred years ago gold grew on trees throughout Romania. Gold grew on trees for twenty years and then was the blight that killed all gold trees. Would you believe it? I don't think... if such a thing had happened... you would already know about it." [8]

"So, for example, [here is a possible event] of the right type: a volcanic eruption in the middle of Manhattan in 1975. If that had happened... there would be signs in New York of the lava under the concrete." [9]

My questions are italicized and are preceded with excerpts from the article. I apologize if certain things are taken out of context, please let me know by phone or email and I will due my best to try to explain my question if it is not understandable. Thank you for your help.

· Is it ok to delve into proofs and disproofs of Judaism from outside, even heretical sources? I have read excerpts from the R. Sadia Gaon, Rambam and Chovat Halevavot (intro) which says its necessary and the Meiri and Kuzari itself which says it weakens emuna and is a lower level (Kuzari 2:26).

It all depends on the person. A person who is a really clear thinker and objective observer can read whatever he wants. Most people, however, are not clear thinkers nor objective observers, and therefore has best stay away from what will confuse them anyway.

What was the nature of Gottlieb's "discovery"? It may be adequately summed up with the quotation cited in the beginning of the article: "How can anyone... invent the tale of an entire people living a mere five centuries previously, who spoke the language of Ever, which was subsequently split into many languages in Babylon in the generation of Peled? Or that some nations owe their origins to Shem and Cham? Can anyone today fabricate lies about all the well-known nations, about their history and language, with a mere five centuries separating us from the events in question?" (1:49).[19] Gottlieb decided (for reasons to be examined below) to subject this particular thesis to generalization, [20] to make it into a law. By turning it into a predicate of the KF, Gottlieb generalized the initial phrase "something fictitious concerning all the known peoples, their histories and languages" in any "possible event E" which leaves behind a major piece of evidence, and the "five hundred years" into an indefinite, i.e. any period of time. In a word, he reinterpreted this thesis from the Kuzari as an attempt to prove the authenticity of Judaism.

However, what the wise Halevi had in mind was something altogether different.

In 1:49 and the adjoining paragraphs he proves to the Kuzari and to the reader "merely" that the Jews, along with tradition, possess the "true reckoning of years since the creation of the world." This important thesis, alas, does nothing to prove the initial theorem – that of the reliability of Jewish tradition. On the contrary, it is the theorem's byproduct. Indeed, here Halevi makes a particular or, in mathematical jargon, weaker assertion. It states: at the time of Moses' visit to Pharaoh, the world was still young and thus its entire history – up to the moment of this visit – was reliably known to the people; we received it from Moses "through internal channels." To put it more formally: at least some of the events (such as the confusion of languages and the descent of the various peoples from Noah's sons), removed from the said moment by a mere five hundred years, were common knowledge at the time, [21] even though today they are known to Jews alone. To be sure, this crucial view of the nature of human memory, though an elegant compliment to Judaism, is still no reason – even for Gottlieb – to confuse two fundamental logical phenomena: the necessary and the sufficient conditions.

Indeed, all Halevi asserts is that some historical events are so momentous that their impact will be retained in the collective memory of any people for a minimum of five hundred years. However, these same events, in Halevi's informed opinion, may (or even must) be forgotten by these same peoples after a longer period of time if the system used in transmitting the tradition is faulty. The proof (see Kuzari) is in the pudding: the Jews have retained the memory of the tower of Babel while other peoples have not! Or, in a similar vein: the Jews remember the course of human history from Adam to Moses, while other peoples do not!

· Are Jews the only ones to “know” the history of the world? Why?

The argument is flawed. We only know the history prior to Mattan Torah from the Torah itself. However, the rational assumption is that the Torah given to the generation that received it must have been in sync with the history that their own traditions recounted – otherwise, they would have rejected the document as false.

2. To put it differently, can we find an example of at least one narrative of a "momentous" implausible mass phenomenon, preferably bordering on the miraculous, which occurred say 3,000 years ago; a narrative that has reached us exclusively through the collective memory of a large group of people, an element of today's belief that has been proven true in the common sense of the word? Leaving Jewish history aside for the time being – what about all the rest?

We must frankly admit that, despite considerable efforts, we have not managed to come up with such an example. Nor does Gottlieb cite one. Assuming that there are none, or at least that Gottlieb et al. failed to find any, the natural question is: why did they invent the KF?

· Can we find any other historical proof so momentous that everyone knows about it?

· Why don’t the other nations of the world speak about G-d and pass down that information? Didn’t all the nations know that G-d gave the torah to the jews on Mt Sinai? Something so huge wouldn’t only be passed down by the Jews, would it?

I think so. After all, Jews, Christians and Moslems all know this to be the case. From Wikipedia:

Christian view of the Law

Traditional Christianity affirms that the laws or Torah of the Old Testament is the word of God, though some Christians deny that all of the laws of the Pentateuch apply directly to themselves as Christians. The New Testament indicates that Jesus Christ established a new covenant relationship between God and his people (Heb 8; Jer 31:31–34) and this new covenant speaks of the law or Torah being written upon the heart. Some have interpreted Mark's statement "thus he declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19) to mean that Jesus taught that the pentateuchal food laws were no longer applicable to his followers. However, there is a growing trend among Christians to return to following the Biblical guidelines for healthy living including the dietary regulations.

Islamic view of the Torah

Islam affirms that Moses was given a revelation, Torah, which Muslims call Tawrat, and believed to be the word of Allah. However, they also believe that this original revelation was modified over time by certain scribes and preachers. According to Islamic belief, the present Jewish scriptures are not the original divine revelations given to Moses. As a result, Muslims believe the Qur'an is the final revelation from Allah and a completion of the previous revelations.

3. Let us suppose that in the year 1100 a certain person told his five sons the following story: "I am the last of the Jewish Mohicans. Once we were many, but everyone else has died. Two hundred and twelve years ago, God spoke to my great-great-grandfather Moses and all his ilk and gave them the Torah. He fed us manna, commanded us to keep the Sabbath, to fast on the 10th of Tishre, etc." The children grasped their lesson; subsequently this group was joined by a hundred neighboring families and a thousand slaves; these gave rise to both the Jewish nation and its tradition.

Now, we do not claim for an instant that it actually happened this way. We would even venture to suggest that it all occurred in a different, less formal manner.[58] However, at the moment we are concerned with something else: given this course of events, all of the declared conditions of Jewish tradition have been met (incidentally, they may just as well have been omitted without harming the argument in any way):[59]

A. This tradition was possessed by all Jews through all generations (father in the first generation, five sons in the second, etc.).

B. From the outset, this tradition included claims of mass revelation and of its continuity without these serving as evidence of its authenticity.

That is pretty powerful stuff he’s got there? How can we counter that?

The simple fact is that no one else has made the claim that we make. Thus, clearly, it is very rare indeed to find such an assertion made. The reason is fairly obvious – it is an extraordinarily tall tale to disseminate and maintain. Someone – actually, lots of someones – would not have played ball and would have maintained the falsity of the tale. Moreover, along with the tale there would have come down unto us the story of the tale's genesis with the father and his five sons. In short, not so powerful.

However, even during later times, the era of writing and books, no formal argument could be derived from the formula "all fathers to all sons"; worse yet, this thesis is the least applicable to this present or preceding generation, in fact to the last ten generations.[62] Here, despite universal literacy, we can only talk about a negligible minority. In our generation the Sinai Revelation is believed by barely 20 percent of the Jewish people, at least 60 percent have only a vague idea of it, and the remaining 20 percent heard about this event only through the Christian interpretation. Under these circumstances, how can there be a valid mass tradition that is perpetuated by a fluctuating minority? One can not even claim that religious Jewish communities ostensibly remain impervious to erosion and staunchly preserve the tradition – for in that case, how can one account for the past and present existence of secular Jews? In addition – strictly for the sake of logical accuracy – we must ask what would happen if a group of secular Jews (oblivious to the entire tradition thing and thus non-inductive) wished to return to tradition, and to do it in its own way, as is often the case?

Unfortunately, the axiom regarding a permanent mass tradition does not apply to Jews. In other words, Jews cannot boast of fulfilling the condition that is absolutely indispensable for the operation of the KP-KF – the existence of a sizable group of bearers of tradition that remains stable through all generations. The existing groups of Jews were neither stable nor sizable. On the other hand, this axiom is quite applicable to many other nations – above all, to the great Asian nations (the Chinese, parts of the Indian population, the Japanese). In those places, the concept of mass tradition has not yet failed, [63] then again, we cannot vouch that – in spite of Gottlieb – it will not happen in the future. In any case, to date it is these nations that are the true heroes of the KP. Frankly, we do not find this funny.

In our opinion, this axiom does not apply to Christianity either. The emergence of this religion (or, if you will, this group of people) does not seem to have been a mass, all-embracing phenomenon. However, the Christians could boast another element of our scholastic argument: the undoubted continuity of their tradition and, what is equally important, its "reducibility to the original founder." In other words, the early Christians definitely lived in the time of Christ and could have testified – whether truthfully or nor is another matter – to his deeds. Indeed, the history of the Christian community follows an uninterrupted course; what is more, we are able to trace the practically unbroken development of Christian literature from the Gospels to our time. This factor makes it very tempting to construct a somewhat different version of the KA, one that logically "proves" the authenticity of the Christian doctrine. We are prevented from doing so by two factors: one, the methodology would still be scholastic and faulty, so that some logician would inevitably smash it to pieces; two, it is pity to invest in proving a false thesis which you don't even believe yourself. Still, woe be to Gottlieb if this task is taken up by a devout Christian, even without our prompting; the resulting construct will be – at least in its outward appearance – much more plausible.

· Christian validity more plausible than Jewish? What Christianity without Judaism?

His argument is specious – Christianity is not sustainable without its Jewish origin. It is therefore not possible to unilaterally stop the chain of reasoning with the founder of Christianity.

· His strongest point, in this article is the one about the minority of Jews which currently recall the revelation as well as the fact that throughout history many Jews did not follow tradition. He mentions elsewhere that at points in history, only a small percentage of Jews knew much about Judaism at all and were the ones who educated or possible “brainwashed” the masses. Is that true, was most of Jewish history filled with ignorance? Why?

This is absurd. No intelligentsia within the Jewish nation ever rejected Torah she'b'Ksav until the 19th century (when there arose an agenda-driven reason to deny revelation). Perhaps the masses can be brainwashed (although all-in-all, I doubt there are Jewish "masses" – we are a pretty stubborn and skeptical people), but who brainwashed the intelligentsia – especially as they would have had much to gain by discarding Judaism.

· If it is true that a small percentage of observant Jews kept the Torah, does that significantly weaken the argument of the validity of the transmission?

If it were true, yes, but it is not.

2 comments:

  1. Dear OS Alumnus:

    Rabbi Gottlieb's Kuzari argument is deeply flawed and incorrect. My advice to you is to ignore it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Though I am greatly pressed for time right now, if enough readers are interested (and if Rabbi Bechhofer graciously permits, in the interest of emes) I will demonstrate fatal flaws in Rabbi Gottlieb’s Kuzari proof. I believe I can do so in language understandable to the readers here.

    Anyone interested please speak up.

    ReplyDelete