Thursday, April 27, 2006

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


This comes from 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.


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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

From an Ohr Somayach alumnus. You can reach him at:

From an Ohr Somayach alumnus. You can reach him at:


By Michoel Gutmacher

The reason I am writing this essay is because I am in pain.

Perhaps, if more people share the same pain, they can overcome the challenge and do something about it.

It is hurting me to see so many parents speaking about their children saying : my child is not happy being religious , he hates being in Yeshiva. It is hurting me hearing Yeshivah Bachurim saying : I hope we will be late for Shiur.

It is hurting me to see children taking drugs or drinking so that they could feel some high-spiritual feelings that they can’t find by doing the Mitzvos.

It is hurting me to hear boys saying : I go to Shul , or I’m Frum because my parents want to, because that’s how it is, because if I don’t learn they are going to be sad.

It is hurting me to see the kids speaking Lashon Hara against Jews and about non Jews as if it was permitted. It is hurting me seeing teenagers saying Brachos like robots and finishing prayer in 30 minutes and then rushing out to eat a long breakfast.

It is hurting me seeing faces that don’t reflect Simcha after a day in Yeshiva.

It is hurting me seeing that we do Mitzvos without trying to understand them deeply.

Rabbi Avraham Twersky says that our communities don’t want to see or hear .

They don’t do anything about it. The reason is that the power of denial is extremely great and the Yetzer Hara wants us to keep those subjects Taboo.

We don’t like to hear those things , we are ashamed of our own children

( Chas VeShalom ).

It is hard to change; it is not comfortable to realize we have a problem , that we do things wrong.

Who am I to say such things anyway ?

Well, I am just a simple Jew like anybody and I am just trying to internalize and make something about what our Sages are telling us:

From “Penimi on the Torah” Parashas Nasso :

Harav Aharon Kotler, ZT’L, explains that a wise man understands that when he performs a Mitzwah, he is not giving Hashem anything ; rather he is taking for himself a great spiritual benefit.

If the study of Torah is nothing more than an intellectual pursuit, it will not have the same effect on the individual as when he focuses on the sweetness of Torah. Torah transforms the one who studies it if lomaid – student senses its sweetness and spiritual flavor. One who studies Torah like the Nazir who deprives himself of wine, who thinks that by learning Torah he is relinquishing fun and other frivolities, might develop intellectually, but he will remain spiritually deprived and stagnant. At the first sign of a challenge, he will quickly abdicate his commitment to Torah study.

Horav Avroham Schorr, SHLIT”A , posits that this is the reason that a distinct minority of today’s youth are at risk for becoming totally alienated from a Torah way of life.

The wonderful education that they have received focused on scholastic achievement, on covering more round, on a more profound level of understanding, but not on the Love one should manifest for the Torah and the Joy inherent in learning Hashem’s Torah. The excitement, the sweetness, the passion and love are simply not there, because their teachers were not able to transmit these feelings. We are too busy creating Lomdim- scholars and not focusing on Ahavas Torah- Love for Torah that should be the crowning point of their learning. Torah learned with Love creates a bond between the Lomaid and the Torah.

When the founders of a Cheder for young children in Bnei Brak were ready to open their school, they approached the Brisker Rav,Zt”L, for his blessing. They showed the Rav their superior curriculum, indicating the amount of that was devoted to each subject. The Rav listened and replied, “ if I did not know for certain that you are fine upstanding Bnei Torah , I would have eject you from my home. You sound like Maskilim-heretics whose only concern is the mastery of the subject matter.

What about inculcating our children with Ahavas Torah, Middos Tovos – character refinement and raising their level of Yraas Shomayim- fear of heaven ? The problem today is that many children do not sense the Mesikus – sweetness of Torah”.

I was reprimanded many times for saying that there is a problem with our system of education, of course, who am I ?! “How many pages of Gemara do you know in order to say such things” a rabbi asked me .

It is true, I am a nothing, and I know only very little, but let the ones who reprimand me listen at least to our Gedolim who admit that there is a problem.

I am not saying anything new.

The only difficulty is that our Yeshivot didn’t really change yet.

Where are the classes about loving Hashem, where are the classes about Yiras Hashem, where are the classes teaching us how to connect to Hashem through the Mitzvos. About what the Mitzvos really mean, and how we can feel something while doing it ?!.

Where are the classes about Dveykus and Prayer?

Where are the classes about how one can work on his Middos practically ?

How much time do we spend on Mussar : 15 mn.?! 30 mn maximum ?!

When this is why we were created for?! : The Vilna Gaon writes :The prime purpose of man's life is to constantly strive to break his bad traits, and to improve. Otherwise what is life for? All sin stems from unimproved character traits.

(commentary on Mishlei 4:13 and Even Shleymah 1:1,2) .

The Ramchal says in his Messilas Yesharim : He should set aside definite times and hours for this weighing(of middos) so that it is not a fortuitous mater, but one which is conducted with the greatest regularity.( 3rd perek ).

Don’t we all learn the Messilas yesharim in Yeshivah ? who then applies those words ?!

The Chovot Halevavot in his Hakdamah already had said : How much more in our generation ! Most of the people do not take seriously the duties of the limbs, certainly not the duties of the heart.

Those among the people who are drawn to Torah study aim only to be considered scholars by the common people and to be thought of as great men. They veer off the path of the Torah to study that which brings no excellence of character, does not correct personal faults, and ignorance of which brings no punishment, while neglecting the study of the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the Torah , which should not be ignored or forsaken.

Without knowledge of these fundamentals* and foundations* and without practicing them , one simply cannot fulfill the commandments .

*: to serve Him in one’s inner life; to be in Awe of Him and Love Him; to long to fulfill the commandments which we are bound have trust in Him, to banish hatred and jealousy from one’s heart, to abstain from materialistic excesses which distract us from the service of G-d.

Now, I am not trying to complain about our system or trying to attack any Rabbis;

It is just a cry of awareness. The one that keeps us blind and prevents us not to change is the Yetzer Hara and he has brought all of us in the routine of Jewish life.

Just like in the second Temple, most of us do all the commandments, and we all keep Shabbes, but where is the heart, where is the love in our prayer, we are numb.

We can see from the words of the Baal Shem Tov how the Yetzer Hara is responsible for it :

The words of his mouth are evil and deceit; he has ceased to be wise , to do good”(Tehillim 36:4) That is, “Because of The words of his mouth” i.e., of the Yetzer Hara, “ he has ceased to be wise, to do good”. This means:

Te yetzer Hara will surely not entice you not to study Torah at all. He knows that you would not listen to that. For if you do not study at all, people will not esteem you and you will not be called a scholar.

The Yetzer Hara thus entices you not to study whatever would bring you to fear of Heaven, such as the works of Mussar or the Shulchan Aruch, from which you would know the law properly. He entices you to study constantly nothing but the Talmud with all the commentaries.

This, then, is the meaning of ”he ceases”, i.e., the Yetzer Hara seeks to make man cease “to be wise , to do good”. He prevents man from occupying himself also with that kind of study that will have a good effect upon him, i.e., fear of Heaven.(Tzaavat Harivash 117).

So now that we are more aware of the problem I ask you the question: what are you going to do about it ?!

Maybe our kids should know that there is a problem so that all together we will be able to work on it.

This way , they won’t feel like they alone have a problem, they will understand that this is the fight of the Yetzer Hara and that we need to fight against him.

Let us all together ask the Yeshivos to make more Shiurim on the duties of the heart.

On what is most important:

So many times have I asked Yeshivah Bachurim to tell me if they knew the 6 constant Mitzvos, they don’t know. And those Mitzvos are supposed to be applied every second!

The character traits are the essential preparations for keeping or transgressing the 613 commandments. It turns out that one must be more careful about improper character traits than about keeping mitzvot.” (Rav Chayim Vital zt”l -- Shaarei Kedusha 1:2)

Orchos Tzaddikim in the Hakdamah : no deed is of much value without pure awe ... and if you do not have good traits, you do not have Torah and Mitzvos, for all of Torah hinges upon the perfection of one's traits. One's Olam Haba depends essentially on this.

The Meam Loez says : Even if one is a Torah scholar, but lacks awe of G-d ,

his scholarship will be of no value in the eyes of G-D (Ekev10:12).

I would like to end up with the advice of Rabbi S.R. Hirsh ztz”l.

The optimum situation is that children should feel they have no closer friend or confidant than their parents. They should be able to speak openly to their parents of everything in their heart.

If they are close to you , then when they are adults, you won’t need to fear sending them out into the world or on their own . They will always carry your picture in their hearts, and it will be an anchor for them when they are confronted with trials.

They will to prove themselves worthy of their loving parents, and this itself will give them the power not to forsake their parents’ path.

It is therefore so important that you ask your child where the problem is, ask them which Shiurim they would like to have to make the Yeshiva better , what type of Rebbe they need, what will give more life to their learning...

They need to fee that THEY THEMSELF are not the problem but that the problem is external and that together we can work on it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Sefer!

One of the Ohr Somayach alumni who was a ben bayis by us has published my "collected [English] writings." They are available for free download or purchase at:

(reuven's Storefront -

An excerpt from the site:

" Bigdeh Shesh (Hardcover)

(From the back cover) "Think, Ask, Internalize!" This title of one of the many gems within this volume sums up the writings of Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. Whether it’s Chassidus vs. Misnagdus, Talmud Yerushalmi, Eruvin, Medical Ethics, History, Biographies, or any number of Hashkafic topics, the Bigdeh Shesh never ceases to bring up something new, something interesting, and most importantly, something to think about! "

Please note that neither he nor I make any money off the book - only does.