Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Could Ezra Have Written the Torah?

[open Torah scroll]

The Torah scroll is the foundation of Judaism. It includes all of God’s commandments to the Jewish people as well as an account of all the miracles that give those commandments validity. It includes the doctrines of one, unseen God and His creation of the universe, which are the bedrock of Judaism. Later books in the Hebrew Bible merely reemphasize the message of the Torah while the Talmud is basically a rabbinical commentary expounding on the Torah. The Torah, with the commentary of Rashi, is the first book studied intensively by all students in Orthodox Jewish schools. The scroll is read publicly in the synagogue every Sabbath morning in a cycle of readings which is completed each year. The Torah scroll is the holiest item in the synagogue.

From time immemorial until well into the nineteenth century, virtually all Jews accepted without question that Moses wrote the Torah. Secularists have rejected this and therefore must find a different authorship for the Torah.

The most popular theory seems to be as follows:

The story of the Deluge was based on an actual Mesopotamian flood about 2,900 BCE. The Exodus story was presumably based on the actual escape of a small group of slaves from Egypt about 1,400 BCE. From there these stories became embellished by constant later retellings. Eventually, various diverse sacred documents arose. The most important ones were:
- A document written by a priest in the Kingdom of Judah about the 800 BCE. This includes most of Genesis, basically. It is known as “J”.
- A document written by a priest descended from Moses who lived in the Kingdom of Israel about 800 BCE. This includes part of Genesis and the Exodus story. This is known as “E”.
- A document written in the time of Hezekiah, about 700 BCE, after the exile of the Kingdom of Israel. This includes the later part of Exodus, all of Leviticus and much of Numbers. This is called “P”.
- A document written about 600 BCE during the time of Josiah. This includes Deuteronomy and is called “D”.
Finally Ezra came about 450 BCE, at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and presented to the people the Torah scroll which we have today, compiled from all the above sources. He claimed that this was the true, original scroll actually written by Moses and all Jews accepted that as fact until modern times. Having behind him the power of the Persian government, he was able to eliminate any opposition.

The question is, is this scenario plausible?

First of all, at the time the second temple was built, Jews were scattered throughout the Persian Empire. If they had no single Torah scroll, but rather various different traditions and texts passed down over the previous thousand years, it is hard to imagine Ezra succeeding in presenting a single, never before seen scroll. In recent times, this might be comparable to the story of Joseph Smith, who attempted to present Christians with a sort of “third testament” in the Book of Mormon. Some people did follow him, however most Christians were outraged by his claims. He survived only 15 years before being murdered by a mob. In contrast, we know of no trace of dissent in regards to the Torah and there is no reference anywhere to any earlier documents. In fact, Ezra is never depicted as publishing a new text; rather the Jews ask him to read an apparently well known Torah of Moses. Note how much difficulty the Greeks soon afterwards had when they attempted to impose religious innovations on the Jews.

Secondly, surely the Samaritans, the Jews' enemies, would never have accepted Ezra's scroll.

Thirdly, the contents of the Torah are bizarre if Ezra wrote it. Jerusalem and its Temple are unmentioned, while the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, no longer of any practical relevance, is written about at great length.

Considering the fact that the Samaritans accept the Torah and the Torah does not mention Jerusalem, this would seem to date the Torah from the time of Samuel at the latest, or only 400 years after the Exodus. And if that is the case, how could the Jewish people have been convinced that such incredible miracles happened only a few centuries earlier if they in fact had not?

Similar to evolution being an atheistic attempt to explain life’s development because “where else could it have come from”, the idea of Ezra writing the Torah based on earlier documents is equally hard to believe although secularists must accept it since they have no better choice.

In conclusion, there would seem to be no plausible, natural, human explanation for the Torah's origin.


nschuster said...

Dear Jewish Philosopher:

Excellent post. Allow me to add a couple of points.

#1. I can site a number of works written in different styles, using different terms, ect. "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" are very different in the tone, style ect. Yet we know that they where written by the same author, J.R.R. Tolkein. Asimov's Robot books are different than his Foundation series. So textual differecnes are ahrdly a proof of different authors.

#2. The Neviim are repleast with references to Toras Moshe or Sefer Toras Moshe. It is always one book not four or five, and it was accepted as the law of the Nation. The Neviim critisized the Bnei Yisroal for many things, but never for questioning the origin or the validity of the Torah, or creating a new law. It didn't happen. The Torah was always the Law of the Nation. Was all this written by Ezra to cover his tracks? Implausable.

Jewish Atheist said...

A more important and simpler question than whether Ezra was the Redactor is: does the entire Torah date from Moses's time or is at least a significant part of it from later?

Jonathan said...

Bringing Joseph Smith into the argument is a red herring. He lived 150 years ago and we have well documented historical records from that time. How can you compare that to 2500 years (or more) ago for which we have ZERO Jewish historical records except for Tanach itself?? (Which - of course - can't be used to prove itself except for someone who doesn't understand circular reasoning.)

Anyway, these are all common assertions that are brought by the anti-DH crowd. (BTW, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend "Commentary on the Torah" by Eisenstein in which he covers these and many other similar topics in great detail.) Nevertheless, honesty must acknowledge that there are counter arguments to all of these assertions. The big problem is that these counter arguments also rely on numerous academic disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, comparative history, etc; in any debate based on pure reason, the traditional approach comes up way short.

avrum68 said...

Jonathan...I'm far from an Orthodox Jew...but when I was studying the Documentary Hypothesis at McGill, it always surprised me how much "faith" one had to have to buy into the arguements. They seemed as radical an idea as revelation.

jewish philosopher said...

Jonathan, you can claim that there was a perfect, nationwide conspiracy to cover up the fact that Ezra's scroll was a new document and that many Jews initially disputed it, however I find that type of conspiracy theory to be implausable. It should be noted that the Bible constantly and in great detail discusses the sins of the Jewish people, so why not this as well?

Jonathan said...

Avrum68 - I agree that many of the DH arguments are very weak, especially lower criticism based on textual analysis. For example, I recently started to read some of "Who Wrote the Bible?" and gave up in frustration over his poorly argued claims. (I later found that R. Dovid Gottlieb on his web site addresses many of the same objections that I had.)

JP - perhaps it was not clear from my post, but I did not make a claim as to who wrote the Torah nor did I mean to insinuate that Ezra wrote a new document. Certainly it would be an unreasonable stretch to say that the events of the Torah did not have a basis in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people. But I am far from convinced that the Torah we have today is the same (aside from things like chasair/yosai & tikkuni sofrim) document that Moshe down 3200 years ago as the literal word of God.

badrabbi said...

Excellent blog this is; highly informative and logical. I only have a few comments:

1. We have a document, the Torah, that constitutes the cornerstone of a belief system for a group of people. People who 'believe' in the Torah claim that it was dictated by Hashem himself and Moses wrote down God’s utterances word for word. If the above is true, then the Torah is indeed a holy document. If this is not so, then necessarily the status of the Torah as a most holy document diminishes. Thus, establishing the authorship of the Torah is of utmost importance.
2. Since it is the orthodox Jewish people who closely follow the dictates of the Torah, it seems to me that establishing the authorship of the Torah should be most important to them. Afterall, the orthodox community would have most to lose if it came to be known that the Torah was not the word of God.
3. Ezra may or may not have been the author or redactor of the Torah. I think that speculating on the authorship of a document that was written at least 2 thousand years ago is just that – speculating! Frankly I would be surprised if we could establish provenance of such a document given the state of knowledge and technology as it is.
4. All this leaves us in the murky territory of ‘faith’. Orthadox Jews simply ‘believe’ – they simply ‘know’- that Moses wrote the Torah. I submit that the Orthodox Jew’s ‘faith’ on Torah’s authorship is no more valid than the secular scientist’s ‘speculation’ on its authorship. The fact is neither the ardent secularist nor the religious zealot can know with reasonable certainty who wrote this document.

So what do we do with this information? It seems to me that documents of uncertain origin must be treated with a measure of skepticism. We should follow the dictates of ideas that make sense to us and ignore those that do not. If, for example, it makes sense to refrain from murdering or stealing, then we follow such dictates. If on the hand it does not make moral sense to follow, say, institutions of slavery, then we ignore the dictates of the Torah.

jewish philosopher said...

Badrabbi, since the Torah was universally considered to have been written by Moses until recent times, I don’t know why we shouldn’t presume that to be true. In fact, the point of the post is, how could it not be true? If not Moses, then who is credibly the author?

And at what point does our knowledge of the past become hopelessly uncertain? One hundred years ago? One thousand? Why? Scientists today are daily making firm statements about events billions of years ago.

nschuster said...

In Melochim II, (the exact chapter and verse escape my memory. I don't have a Novi handy here in the teachers' lounge.) it says that at first people donating money to the Bais Hamikdosh would give it to the Kohen. King Yoshiyahu changed that practice. He placed boxes in the Azara for people to place their donations in. If such a trivial inovation is recorded by the Novi. I would expect something as big as the Redaction of the Torah to be recorded. So it is implausable for it to have happended during the time of the Neviim. Implausabel during Ezra's time. When did it happen?

zal said...

Very appropos to this topic (as well as others you have written) and just in time for Pesach, I have just added a new lecture to rabbiirons.org: "Hagadah and Jewish History". It is a totally free 75 minute MP3 audio file packaged with lecture notes in PDF format. Rabbi Irons discusses the historical basis of the Exodus, including Egyptian documents such as Ipuwer. It can be found in the Free Lectures section on the lower right of the page. Just be aware that it is a 55 Mb download.

badrabbi said...

Regarding Jewish Philosophers comments that knowledge becomes hopelessly uncertain with the passage of time, I am saying the following:

1. Of the fact that the purity of historical information degrades with passage of time, there is no doubt. If Jewish philosopher wishes to dispute that, I would like to hear his argument.
2. That information degrades over time is not the same as saying that information vanishes. Scientists and rational thinkers are able to glean information about the past on a routine basis. Physicists have been able to gather information even about the universe’s origins. Of course, such information would have been infinitely more rich and accurate, if we, say, had a bird’s eye view of the origin of universe as it was happening.
3. Authorship information about the Torah has degraded over time. There is no clear indication as to who wrote all the five books of the Torah. Even the most ardent Orthodox Jews who believe in the divine inspiration and Masonic authorship of the Torah are in disagreement as to who wrote the last paragraph of the last book of the Torah. In that paragraph, Moses’ death and events following his death are described. Clearly it would be implausible for Moses to have written about his own death in the past sentence. To do so in the past sentence would be most unusual indeed. Clearly even the Jewish sages can not agree on who wrote this last section.
4. Thus, to claim that we ‘just know’ or have ‘absolute faith’ in Moses’ authorship is to employ a device other than logic. The Torah may indeed have been written in whole or in part by Moses. But, to say that there is sufficient evidence for this latter statement is to be misinformed.

badrabbi said...

In the previous blog, I wrote that the authorship of the Torah is in doubt. I wrote that secular scientists ‘speculate’ as to its singular or multiple authorship. I also wrote that at this point, as far as I am concerned, this secular speculation mounts to not much more than educated musings. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews simply take Moses’ authorship as a matter of faith. This, too, in my opinion, is very problematic. How do we know that this document has been written by Moses?

Jewish Philosopher, in a previous blog, asserts that the fact that until recently people believed that this document was written by Moses is good enough evidence. Said another way, since our fathers and fathers’ fathers believed that the Torah was Mosonically derived, then it must be so. This, of course, is a ludicrous argument. Until recently, our fathers and fathers’ fathers thought that the sun revolved around the earth. Their mistaken belief does not constitute evidence that the earth is central in the universe. For example, I am sure that Jewish Philosopher knows that Muslims believe that the Quoran was given by God to Mohammad on a mountain and that Mormons believe that angel Moroni gave sacred documents to Joseph Smith. Mormons have claimed this about the origin of their holy text for over a hundred years, and Mormon posterity will claim this for hundreds of years to come. Muslims have claimed divine inspiration or authorship about their Quaran for hundreds of years, as Jews have done so for Moses’ authorship for thousands of years. Saying something repeatedly and for a long time does not in and of itself make it so!

I say yet again: If you have a document that you say is given by God, and you want me to live by this document, then it behooves you to show me that this document is the word of God. If I am scientifically endeavoring to find authorship of the Torah, in effect, I am doing your work for you!

jewish philosopher said...

Badrabbi, my question is: If in fact the Ten Plagues and the Sinai revelation did not take place, exactly how did the Jews come to believe that they did take place?

Did they all 2,300 years ago conspire together to lie about it and no one broke the conspiracy? That is implausible in my opinion.

So what exactly, in detail, did happen?

Saying "It must be fictious because I don't believe in miracles." doesn't convince me.

avrum68 said...


Isn't it possible that our people thought what happened happened, wrote it down, and passed it along. I often wonder if:

a) You had a small group of wandering desert folk, who distinguished themselves w/ an innovative character like Abraham or Moses.

b) Said character saw the limitations of polytheism - from a Geo-political standpoint, One God trumps many gods - and preached a more evolved, monotheistic deity (all it would take would be loads of charisma (think J. Smith), creativity and a biological disposition to Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder).

c) A group of people who still believed that earthquakes and volcanoes were sent by gods to warn, preach, etc. Hence Sinai was a natural event, volcano, that was interpreted by a charismatic leader suffering from biological delusions and/or hallucinations (I see at work ALL the time...and 90% of our clients believe they're talking to God). And let's remember, for all of Aish's insistence that Judaism is distinguished by a group revelation (as opposed to Buddhism, Christianity, etc), the actual relationship was done between one person and God. Perhaps one person with Bipolar illness and psychosis.

If the above conditions were met, within the context of the Biblical period, I'm quite confident a "book", yes THE BOOK, could have been written and passed along. No one thought it was conspiracy, as well, no one understood the natural, scientific explanation behind mental illness and natural phenomenon either.

I mean, is it possible?

jewish philosopher said...

Avrum, OK, that's a good question, but, in classic Jewish style, I've got a few questions on your question:

- Are there volcanoes in the Sinai? Actually the closest are in Arabia. Arabia is unmentioned in the Pentateuch; the revelation is always described as being at Mt. Sinai. And we don't know of any Arabian volcanic eruption c. 1313 BCE.

- What were the Ten Plagues?

- What was the Splitting of the Red Sea?

- What was the manna in the desert?

Even if each of these things could have some semi-plausible natural explanation, how plausible is it that they all happened at the same time and area? Might that not be miraculous in itself?

badrabbi said...

Jewish philosopher asks: “If in fact the Ten Plagues and the Sinai revelation did not take place, exactly how did the Jews come to believe that they did take place?”

This is an interesting question. How do people come to believe the things that they believe? Every society has stories, lengends and traditions. The question you are asking is where the Jews’ legends and tales begin? The answer is that I am not sure. I am also not sure where the legends of the Greek Gods together with the multitude stories associated with them came from. Most Hindus believe in a caste system of reincarnation. Where did this belief originate? Most Christians believe that Jesus was a miracle worker, that he walked on water, and that he fed thousands of people with fish and water which he miraculously produced out of thin air. There were evidently thousands of witnesses to this latter feat. How is that possible? If Jesus in fact didn’t do all this, then how did the Christians come to think that he did? I do not know, and I suggest that you do not know either!

But the question that you are asking, Jewish Philosopher, hides a pernicious fallacy. If I can paraphrase you question, you are asking: if X is not true, why then do the Jews believe in X?” Implied in your question is that whatever Jews believe must necessarily be true. This, of course, is not true, and begs the question that we started with. I ask again, what is your evidence that the Torah is the true word of God or that it has been written entirely by Moses.

BTW, I also noted that you completely ignored my other comments regarding the last paragraph of the last book of the Torah. Why?

avrum68 said...

"Are there volcanoes in the Sinai? Actually the closest are in Arabia. Arabia is unmentioned in the Pentateuch; the revelation is always described as being at Mt. Sinai. And we don't know of any Arabian volcanic eruption c. 1313 BCE."


"What were the Ten Plagues?
What was the Splitting of the Red Sea?"

Could it not be possible, today for example, for someone to write a book about Tsunami's, global warming, etc., etc., as indicators of God's wrath?

"how plausible is it that they all happened at the same time and area? Might that not be miraculous in itself?"

My issue...my "issue of issues"...is how does this relate to the minute of rabbinic law? Either flicking on a light on shabbos means something - cosmically - or it doesn't. And if it's plausible that much of what happened in the desert 4000 years ago was the result of geo-politics and lack of scientific knowledge (and hence all rabbinic law is commentary on delusions and hallucinations), why would anyone put themselves through a long summer shabbos (ALL my religious friends kvetch about 'em) or engage in obsessive compulsive behaviors with respect to food, sex, clothing? If it's simply a matter of: "it adds meaning to my life"...well, l personally find it to be a pain in the tuchus. Worse, and as Dawkins and Harris etc., point out, people suffer and die because of our beliefs. Again, if God exists...if there was a revelation...bring on the OCD-like thoughts and behaviors...even the suffering of others. But if it didn't occur, or a bunch of desert dwellers misinterpreted nautral events...jeez, it's too depressing to even contemplate.

jewish philosopher said...

The way other religions began is not very difficult to understand. Someone claimed that a god spoke to him. Gullible people believed him. Hence, a new religion was born. This has happened even in quite recent times with the Mormon Church for example. (Christians believe in Jesus’ miracle because four people claimed that they happened and they could of course have lied.)

Could Judaism have begun this way? Did Ezra say, “God spoke to me and told me that this scroll was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai in front of all of our ancestors.” There is no record that he did and if he did presumably many Jews would have responded “That isn’t true because we have no record of such an event.”

So how exactly did Judaism start?

I propose that it started exactly the way Jews have always claimed it started – with the Exodus and Mt. Sinai revelations. I don’t see another plausible option.

avrum68 said...

“God spoke to me and told me that this scroll was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai in front of all of our ancestors.”

I don't have a chumash in front of me, but if memory serves me correct, God only spoke to Moses. The 600,000 only heard what God said from Moses mouth. They may have seen lightening, heard thunder, felt wind, etc., but God only spoke to Moses (NOT a public revelation).

However I found an interesting article debunking the uniqueness of our public revelation:

Again, I ask you, even if 2% of the naysayers are correct, why should we follow laws that were, possibly, created by men (rabbis) based upon events that possibly didn't happen? From a rational perspective, it seem absurd.

jewish philosopher said...

So in other words, the ten plagues, the splitting of the red sea, the thundering Mt. Sinai and the manna in the wilderness all really happened, however Moses lied about the Torah's contents. Does that really bother you?

Regarding Husain ben Ali, the Feeding of the Multitudes and Prometheus, I assume that one guy made those stories up and then gullible people believed him. How and when exactly did one guy make up the first half of Exodus and how did he convince all Jews without exception to believe him?

Regarding Joshua 10, I'm not sure exactly what happened there. Perhaps just that area was miraculously illuminated while Joshua fought. I don't really know. The verses are a bit vague.

avrum68 said...

"How and when exactly did one guy make up the first half of Exodus and how did he convince all Jews without exception to believe him?"

We're currently living in an era whereby a couple of kids with video editing software are convincing millions that 9-11 was conceived and implemented by the US.

JP...I truly wish our rav's were more convincing that Dawkins and Harris. Really I do. However with access to greater info i.e. Internet, scientific unmasking of how things work and psychological insights into why we create meaning i.e. God (see I. Yalom's work on God and death anxiety), my belief in a Creator that is involved in my day to day life grows dimmer everyday.

As well, events like the Holocaust - whereby millions of frum Jews perished - defy any reason "to do" Judaism to avoid any sort of "here and now" punishment.

So again, with all these questions, and so little evidence (and let's be honest, the "evidence" is severely lacking), why not flick on a light switch on Shabbat if one needs light?

jewish philosopher said...

"psychological insights into why we create meaning i.e. God"

Interesting. I have to think about that one.

However could you perhaps imagine a few psychological insights about why we may deny meaning i.e. God? Could our desire for greater personal freedom sometimes override our intellectual honesty?

badrabbi said...

Intellecual honesty?

We have a religion, with elaborate rules and prohibitions, which rests on 'faith'. What is intellectually honest about faith?

If you wish to say, JP, that you are religious because you have faith in Hashem, and in the autheticity of the Torah, then OK. If you wish to say that your beliefs are somehow 'intellectual' or logical, then your beliefs are subject to logical scrutiny.

Which is it, JP: Are you religious because of your faith, or are you religious because you have logically arrived at your conclusion?

If you have arrived at your religion logically, please tell me: What evidence would convince you that you are wrong in your beliefs?

jewish philosopher said...

Logic, I'm into logic all the way.

I would be convinced that Judaism is bogus if I could find substantial evidence proving evolution. For example, if paleontologists could come up with at least a few examples of new limbs, let’s say in marine animals, developing through a gradual process of thousands of small random variations and natural selections. That would indicate to me the weakness of the Watchmaker Principle and the fallacy of Genesis chapter 1, which states that each kind is a special creation not evolved. Of course this evidence does not exist and I don’t think ever will.

avrum68 said...

"and I don’t think ever will."

I'm curious JP. If evidence was found...would it have an impact on your day to day practice?

jewish philosopher said...

Sure it would. But at this point, I don't think it's out there. I've done the research.

badrabbi said...

JP, very interesting. Am I understanding you correctly, in that you are saying: You would be convinced that 'judaism is bogus' if substantial evidence were offered that evolution is a correct theory?

badrabbi said...

JP are you sure that you would be convinced to abandon Judaism if evolution were sufficiently proven? Do you want to think about it - perhaps change your stance - before commiting to a statement as bold as that?

If indeed this is your stance - that a thorough demonstration of the theory of Evolution and debunking of Intelligent Design theory would convince you that Judaism is bogus - then I commend you for your intellectual honesty.

Please beware, though, that the job of people who would be doing the convincing for you would thus be considerably easier!

jewish philosopher said...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that the trilobite on my desk is my ancestor is very extraordinary.

As far as evidence goes, the simple fact that the trilobite lived before man and therefore "where else did we come from", isn't enough for me.

badrabbi said...

JP: I certainly agree that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. I could not agree more! But before I tackle your trilobites, let me first look at some extraordinary evidence of yours:
1. What evidence convinced you that the Sun stood still so that Joshua can fight his battle?
2. What evidence prompted you to believe that the sea of reeds was parted? Or that that Moses’ staff turned into a snake? Or for that matter, that the Egyptian priests’ staff turned into a snake?
3. What evidence are you presenting that God spoke to Moses’ ear so that an entire book was written for us to consider holy and to follow with awe?
4. Where is your evidence that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and lived inside of it for 3 days, only to be vomited out alive?
5. What is your evidence that a decendent of King David will one day come and resurrect all the dead in this world?
6. What prompts you to say that there are souls that commit ‘gilgool’, ie., get reincarnated here and there? What extraordinary evidence have you demanded for this claim?
7. Before we come to my evidence for evolution and for trilobites, have you required any ‘extraodrinary’ evidence that the world was entirely created in 6 days? What has convinced you that:
a. The earth somehow requires ‘firmaments’ so that ‘the upper waters’ don’t fall into the ‘lower waters’?
b. That grass and fruit bearing trees were created and bore fruit even before the sun was created?
c. That both the sun and the moon, as well as all the stars were made 3 days after the earth was created? What is your thought on this, JP, that the earth was just hanging out for 3 days before the sun was suddenly created? Have you demanded any evidence for this scenario?

These are but a trivial sampling of a mountain of extraordinary things to be found in the Torah. Yet all this seems satisfactory to you. Somehow, it is the theory of evolution that appears ‘extraordinary’ to you. Do you see a measure of intellectual dishonesty here, JP? But, I think you are correct that any claim, especially a theory as revolutionary as Evolution, requires evidence. In the coming comment, I will give you some general evidence and perhaps can show you where you can seek more evidence to your heart’s content….

avrum68 said...

badrabbi...ouch. I agree with your general sentiment. Though my faith, not unlike love, artistic endeavours, transference/countertransference, is based on experiential moments and and inner feelings of truth. The Torah for me is a metaphor...most of it anyway. And the Talmud is rabbis arguing/discussing what/how/why to live our lives. I have little doubt the Conservative movement (along with some M. Kaplan) provide the most plausible theology for modern, deist Jews.

Oddly enough, all, and I mean all, my religious/Orthodox friends practice a habitual Orthodox Judaism, yet hold true-blue Conservative theological beliefs.

jewish philosopher said...

Badrabbi, I sense a teeny bit of skepticism in your comment, but no problem. That’s what I’m here for! And intellectual honesty is my middle name.

About #1, #2, #4 and #5 once we accept that God exists, as per the Watchmaker Principle, then the concept of miracles is not really extraordinary any more.
About #3, I have a post about this.
About #6, once we have decided that we do have souls, which I think is obvious, why is reincarnation unbelievable?
About #7, I think that I interpret Genesis 1 differently than you do.
Regarding 7a, I think “firmament” is a poor translation of “rekiah” which simply means “something spread out”. My guess is that the Genesis 1:6 is referring to the expanse of outer space beyond which there exists some sort of fluid (the “upper waters”), which is as yet undiscovered by science.

Believe me Bad, don’t make the mistake of asking “Isn’t Orthodox Judaism merely a theory?” Not at all. It is a FACT, as is verified by 99% of the world’s Talmudic scholars.

avrum68 said...

99% of people struggling with 1st episode psychosis believe God talks to them. After taking an atypical anti-psychotic med i.e. olanzapine, these "symptoms" disappear.

My point is, stating Orthodox Judaism is a fact because 99% of it's followers say it is, is like stating that God exists because 99% of folks struggling with bipolar illness claim to have met him.

I know you can do better than that.

jewish philosopher said...

How is it different than evolution being a fact because 99% of biologists believe it is?

avrum68 said...

Because badrabbis is asking for "proof". My background isn't in science or evolutionary biology, but it would appear that their "facts" i.e. something that can be seen, heard, touched, measured...is well documented. Besides the Bible, what facts do we have that any of the things that badrabbi stated occured. I know, I know...the Bible. And yes, followers of the Bible. Anything else?

JP...I'm sorry to say, but the "facts" seem to support, at best, a n uncaring, removed God. One can't help but wonder why God would intervene in Egypt, but not during the Holocaust. It truly makes no sense. And perhaps that's the point i.e. God exists, but don't expect any divine cause/effect due to anything you do. Ok, no problem. However the Torah, and rabbinic commentary, promise all sorts of wonderful things if you follow mitzvot. As well, they discuss punishments if you don't. IMHO, the Job story, and all subsquent theodicy stories, are man made creations to buffer doubt. Because it would appear that rabbis throughout the ages couldn't jive their suffering with the Biblical promise of a loving, caring God.

jewish philosopher said...

About proof of Torah, how much proof do we have of any events from c. 1300 BCE? I think generally little if any. As I've mentioned elsewhere, there is no documentation of the Thera eruption even though we know it happened.

Regarding Egypt and the Holocaust, in Genesis 15:14 God promises Abraham regarding the Exodus. In Leviticus 26 God promises to punish the Jews if they forsake the Torah, as European Jewry did.

avrum68 said...

JP...I must say, you're comments/posts are the most nourishing Judaic experience I've had in, well, years. You provide me with an avenue to post doubts that I've held for years, and respond with patience, honesty and source material that I find compelling.

Todah. Merci. Thanks.

jewish philosopher said...

I'm happy you're enjoying it.

badrabbi said...

It is hard to reply to all of JP’s comments. I will pick the first one to reply to. Perhaps I can take up the other comments another time.
In my previous comment, I asked JP the following question: “What evidence convinced you that the Sun stood still so that Joshua can fight his battle?”

JP’s reply to this was “once we accept that God exists, as per the Watchmaker Principle, then the concept of miracles is not really extraordinary any more”

If I can reconstruct JP’s logic, he is in effect making the following logical steps:
1. By the ‘watchmaker principle’, God exists
2. Since God exists, then we must accept that God is capable of Miracles
3. Any implausible event is hereby labeled a miracle
4. Any implausible event is ordinary since God is capable of doing it!

Does this audience spot the fallacies in this argument? In effect, JP is saying that anything at all, no matter how unlikely, is perfectly ordinary since God can do it! Making the sun stop for half a day or so is nothing to God. Since we have agreed that God exists, well, then making the sun stop is perfectly plausible! Never mind that the sun is already at a stop relative to the rotation of the Earth and that it is in fact the earth that is moving! Never mind that if God wanted to do Joshua a favor and give him more light in order to fight he should have stopped the Earth and not the sun! No – if God exists, then even the impossible is perfectly ordinary! One wonders why JP is so incredulous regarding the trilobites, then. If God wants humans to evolve from trilobites, well then this is perfectly ordinary. Why is JP objecting to it?

Second, let me for a moment examine the so called ‘watchmaker principle’. As the argument goes, suppose you find a beautiful watch in the middle of a forest. Since the watch is so elaborate and keeps perfect time, then it is reasonable to assume that there must be a watchmaker who has made the said watch, right?

In another blog, I have questioned the ‘watchmaker principle’. But lets for the sake of argument accept this logic. If I accept that there must be a watchmaker who has made the watch that I have found, must I also be compelled to accept that the watchmaker can do other things as well? Can I, for example assume that the watchmaker is a 29 year old male capable of making airplanes as well? No. The fact is that the most I can say is that there may have been one or more watchmakers who have conspired to make this watch.

Thus, if I accept that there is a God or a force that has created this world as per the watchmaker principle, then what right do I have to assume that:
1. The watchmaker (i.e., GOD) is one?
2. The watchmaker is good? (He or she or they may in fact be grumpy and avaricious)
3. The watchmaker is omniscient and omnipotent? If one makes a nice watch, does it follow that he can make good toasters too?
4. The watchmaker wants you to subscribe to elaborate, often nonsensical, behavior codes? If I accept that there is a watchmaker who made the watch I found, must I also accept the watchmaker’s advice on, say, cooking?
The most one can hope to glean from the watchmaker principle is that there may be one or more watchmakers that have made the watch. That is it!

So, if I accept that there is a watchmaker who created this world, how does it follow that he did Joshua a favor and made the sun stand still? Why does one follow from the other? What sense does the statement: “once we accept that God exists, as per the Watchmaker Principle, then the concept of miracles is not really extraordinary any more” make?

badrabbi said...
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badrabbi said...

The God who indiscriminately kills men women and children, the latter being innocent of sin, because, as JP writes "In Leviticus 26 God promises to punish the Jews if they forsake the Torah, as European Jewry did" IS NOT MY GOD. Remember that in the Holocaust perfectly God fearing people, orthodox as any orthodox Jew today, also marched into gas chambers to their deaths.

To marginalize the holocaust into talk of punishments of sin is no better than the actions of holocaust deniers. I strongly suggest that JP refrain from writings like that.

avrum68 said...

"To marginalize the holocaust into talk of punishments of sin is no better than the actions of holocaust deniers. I strongly suggest that JP refrain from writings like that."

And I'd suggest that comments like yours should be deleted. Equating JP with holocaust denial is a conversation stopper. The fact is, the theological points JP raises visavis the Holocaust are quite interesting.

avrum68 said...

"Does this audience spot the fallacies in this argument? "

Yes. And I'm quite curious how JP will respond to your points. And I'd agree, it would seem that JP picks and chooses "faith" and "reason" to suit his own agenda. If he'd say so, I wouldn't have a problem with his arguements. But he doesn't...he claims he relies on facts and reason alone. Your post demonstrates the fallacy in his modus operandi.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, I would phrase it a little differently. I would say that once we have accepted the fact that an Intelligent Supreme Being has created us, it doesn't seem so unlikely that He would on rare occasions supernaturally assist those people who loyally serve Him. That is all that the Bible claims.

Regarding God killing children, Sifrei 24:146, quoted by Rashi on Deut. 24:16, states "minors may die for their father's sin, by Heavenly decree".

badrabbi said...

Avrum, I actually deleted a more severe version of the comment earlier. My point is that idle speculation about natural and unnatural trajedies is pernicious.
With the 2005 Tsunami, some people said that the Muslims sinned and God punished them. With the New Orleans disaster, Oral Roberts was quoted as saying that God was trying to punish an atheist comedian that lived in that city!

The fact of the matter is that God does not broadcast his intentions. How does JP know that the holocaust was God's punishment? Did God come down and exaplain himself to JP? If not, what makes him say that?

Idle speculation, such as Jews' straying from the Torah and being punished for it is insulting to the memories of those who have died. I would like to think that the holocause victims died blameless deaths. Their murderers, the Germans, are the sinners, NOT the victims.

avrum68 said...

"...I would like to think"

I know, and most people, including myself, approach Judaism this way. We think: "Feh, I don't REALLY believe the Torah, it's all a metaphor anyway, so I'll just pick and choose and read into the stories and customs to suit my lifestyle".

Along comes JP and states: "No, the torah stands for something. If you don't like the message, that's your problem.". I find JP's approach honest, refreshing, and tad frightening.

badrabbi said...

JP, as usual, I do not know where to begin with you!
First, regarding your comments that: Deut. 24:16, states "minors may die for their father's sin, by Heavenly decree":
I know you are quoting Roshi, but did you actually read Deuteronomy 24:16? You have yourself referenced it – it says the following:

16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

Does this passage sound to you to mean that “minors may die for their father’s sin”? It means exactly the opposite!

However, there are other places in the Torah where in fact children of sinners are punished for their father’s misdeeds. There are at least four instances in the Torah that I can think of off the top of my head:

1. Adam and Hava ate of the forbidden fruit, and all their children, down to eternal generations are punished for this sin.
2. The Torah states that those who perform good deeds are rewarded to ‘a thousand generations’, whereas those who sin are punished to ‘three or four generations’.
3. In the book of Joshua, a Jewish man confessed to stealing a garment from a conquered city, and despite his confession, both he, his wife, his children, as well as his animals were stoned to death!
4. The children of Mamzereem are considered Mamzers to 10 generations.

Thus, to summarize, JP is actually wrong in citing Deut. 24:16 in making the assertion that children of sinners are punished for their parents’ wrongdoing. JP is right, however, on the overall sentiment of the Torah in wanting to punish the offspring of sinners down to multiple generations.

The question I have, then, is does this jive with our notions of justice? Would the audience in this blog condone the notion that the children of wrongdoers should be punished for the sins of their parents? Would the readers be comfortable in a society that does such a thing?

badrabbi said...

Avrum, I do not think that the Torah is a metaphor. I think that the Torah is an important book, one which is of enormous historical value. I do not, however think that it is a work of God. Thus, I do not feel compelled to follow its cadances. As a Jew, I value the Torah as a historical work, one which the Jews can be proud of.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, regarding those other examples, I think death is not exactly a punishment for Adam's sin. Rather it is a means to cleanse our physical bodies, which have been sullied by Adam's sin, before the future resurrection.

Mamzerim are also not exactly being punished. Because of the terrible sin which created them, they are not allowed to intermarry with other Jews; they are spiritually defective. It's similar perhaps to someone who is born with a hereditary illness. And I personally, in 30 years of being a Jew, have never met an actual mamzer. It's a very rare situation in practice.

About the third and fourth generation, the commentaries explain that means "if they continue in their ancestor's sinful ways.".

According to Rashi, Achan's children were not stoned in Joshua 7, only his livestock.

The fact is however that Sifrei does state that minor children may die for their parent's sin. I have heard one rabbi explain that in the Next World those children will be richly compensated for the role they played in this world, and therefore it is not unjust.

badrabbi said...

How could our bodies be sullied by someone else's sin? If you were to commit idol worship, is MY body sullied? Must I pay for your sin? If Adam committed the trivial sin of eating from a forbidden fruit (which to my mind is like a child eating a cookie before dinner, i.e. a trivial transgression), why is that my fault? Why is a cleansing necessary for me?

Mamzereem are in fact being punished. Not only are they not allowed to marry other Jews, but they are also not permitted to come to a place of Jewish worship. If this is not a punishment, then, frankly I think you are deluding yourself. Nevertheless, even if you think that this is not punishment, you have to admit that the offspring are being mistreated for offenses committed by their ancestors, which is an outrage.

That you have not seen a Mamzeer is irrelevant. It is very clear that there are many offspring of intermarried couples and technically they are all Mamzereem. Frankly, I think that the Jewish community has chosen to essentially walk away from this despicable law and it is this reason that makes you not see Mamzereem. It would be similar to having laws of slavery on the books – just that people no longer keep slaves. Such a slavery law would still be wrong even if there were no slaves any longer. JP, you can not analyze the law of Mamzeerem with its generational punishment without admitting that the law is flawed.

Next, about your statement that “about the third and fourth generation, the commentaries explain that means ‘if they continue in their ancestor's sinful ways.’" This is an absurd statement! If people committed sinful acts, they would be punished at any generation, not simply to the 3rd or 4th! The latter statement is a typical statement uttered by the orthodox community. I ask you, as a favor to me, to expand on this last statement of yours: “They will be punished to 3rd and 4th generation if they continue in their ancestor’s sinful ways”. Can you please explain what this means to you? Does it mean that if, say, the 5th generation continues to be sinful it will not be punished?

Why ignore the plain meaning of something and render a tortured meaning to it?

Regarding your statement that “According to Rashi, Achan's children were not stoned in Joshua 7, only his livestock”, I ask you to please read the relevant part of the Book of Joshua and see for yourself whether Rashi’s statement is valid. How did Rashi know that the children were not stoned? The Book states that they were!

Regarding your last statement, that the innocent children that were killed at the hand of God would be ‘richly compensated in the world to come’, I ask you to please pause for one moment and read what you have written. If you do not see the monumental gap in logic of a statement such as this, please write me and I will gladly explain it to you!

jewish philosopher said...

About Adam’s sin, it was far from trivial and it caused overwhelming devastation for mankind. See Genesis 3.

Regarding mamzerim, your information is incorrect.

The Talmud Sanhredrin 27b reconciles the verse in Deut. 24:16 which states “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” And Exodus 34:7 “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.” The Talmud explains that Exodus is referring to a case of “those who continue in the ways of their fathers”. I understand this to mean that if a person commits a sin that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather also committed, he will be punished especially severely since he should have learned from their example how degrading the sin is, however he did not.

Joshua 7:25 states “And all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones.” Without making it clear who “them” are. Rashi says it was the livestock.

About Sifrei 24:146 which states "minors may die for their father's sin, by Heavenly decree", it may seem harsh to some people however God does not have to do things our way and always agree with our wishes.

badrabbi said...

Adam’s Sin: Remember what happened. God planted a garden and placed Adam in it. He also planted a tree and placed it right in the middle of the garden and told Adam not to eat from it. Hava and Adam, not really knowing right from wrong, found the tree pleasing to the eye and ate from it. This is indeed a sin. The question is, how big a sin was it? So Adam ate from a fruit that was forbidden to him – is that really a big deal? Why so?

JP you have children. You have told them not to eat cookies from a jar before dinner time. Would you punish them to eternity, damn them and their progeny at infinitum because they ate of a cookie that looked enticing to them? Would you not consider this an overreaction of a monumental proportion?

badrabbi said...

Regarding mamzereem, I appreciate your wikipedia link. Your link not withstanding, the definition of a mamzer is any or all of the following:
1. A product of an incestuous relationship
2. A product of a forbidden marriage
3. A product of an adulterous relationship

JP, please correct me if I am wrong on this. Take your pick on any or all of the definitions above. If you accept any of the above, then, you must admit that there are indeed more than a few mamzereem out there. If you are not seeing them, it is not because there are not out there!

Also, Your blanket statement that my ‘information is not correct’ did not specify what part of it was incorrect. Am I incorrect in saying that mamzereem are not allowed in a place of Jewish worship? Please, in your replies, be more specific on what portion of my comments you disagree with.

avrum68 said...

badrabbi...you keep committing the same error over and over again. Using your morality and ethics, a hodge podge of post-modern, anti-racist, capitalist, etc., etc., to judge God is the height of arrogance.

The fact that man, with all of our intelligence and advances, spend most of our time surfing porn and watching tv (no, I know not you, I'm addressing the other 99.9%)...speaks volumes about how much credence should be provided for our feeble understanding of why/how God operates.

badrabbi said...

Regarding the “Talmud reconciling Deut 24:16”. I am afraid I need a bit more explanation. Suppose my grandfather was a murderer (generation 1). Suppose my father followed his footsteps and was also a murderer (generation 2). Suppose I too became a murderer (generation 3). It is the case that I have now followed in the sinful footsteps of my forefathers, and I will be punished (or as you say, I would be punished especially harshly). Now, let’s say that my child, generation 4 also becomes a murderer. Further, my grandson also becomes a murderer (generation 5). Does this mean that God will not punish my grandchild because he is a murderer? If as you say it is “those who continue in the ways of their fathers” who will be punished to “3 or four generations”, does that mean that my grandchild would not be punished (since he is now beyond the 3-4 generations) even if he is a murderer?

Am I missing something?

badrabbi said...

Avrum: I am not certain what error am I being accused of comitting.

Yes, I do watch television and occasionally enjoy pornography. But what does this have to do with the content of my writing?

Of course I (and I suspect you too) evaluate morality based on logic and common sense. Is this an 'error'? If this is an error, can you explain why so?

Recall, for example, that the Torah tolarates, if not condones, slavery. Am I wrong in being uneasy about it?

badrabbi said...
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badrabbi said...

Regarding Joshua 7:25, Rashi’s comment notwithstanding, it may be helpful to look at 7:24. I leave it to the reader to decide what this means:

24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the mantle, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had; and they brought them up unto the valley of Achor.
25 And Joshua said: 'Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day.' And all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones.

jewish philosopher said...

Dear, Bad, about the mamzerim, someone is only a classified as a mamzer if it can be proven that he is the product of one of those forbidden unions. Within the Orthodox community, that is rare indeed. I am not certain there are any Orthodox Jews who are mamzerim at this time or in recent times.

And yes, a mamzer, if we could find one, may and even must attend synagogue services like any other Jew.

My guess is that you are held responsible for the depravity of ancestors only up to the great-grandfather because you could not have known personally earlier generations. Therefore your sin is not compounded by doing something which your great-great-great-grandfather did 150 years ago.

Adam's sin was gigantic because of Who commanded him. He presumed to do something which was forbidden to him by God Almighty.

About Achan, his children were made to witness his execution, however, since they were innocent, they were not harmed.

badrabbi said...

Regarding Mamzereem,
It is true, as you say, that a mamzer has to be proven as such and the orthodox community no longer (or rarely) attempts such pursuits. Equally so, the orthodox community has ceased looking for the ‘Amalekites’, which, as you know, by a positive Mitzvah, are required to be hunted down and killed. You are making my point that there are some very despicable laws that are on the ‘books’, which we have thankfully chosen to ignore. The law of Mamzer is one such law. That we have chosen to ignore it signifies our evolving morality. We have come to recognize that discriminating against the children of forbidden marriages is not moral. A bastard is a bastard not through any fault of his own. Discriminating against him would be wrong. That we have come to recognize this – while ignoring Torah’s dictates – is progress.

Unfortunately, though, the law of Mamzer is still in the Torah, and still serves as a reminder that the principles and morals of Torah are progressively becoming outdated and obsolete. In the garbage heaps of morality, one is also to find that the punishment for masturbation (Onanism) is death, that slavery is well accepted, and that genocide in the name of religion is a good thing. Thankfully, even an Orthodox Jew like yourself would these days admit that the above mentioned principles, while well supported in the Torah, have been largely abandoned.

jewish philosopher said...

I think you're misunderstanding a little bit. The Amalekites are a Middle Eastern tribe of some sort, unheard of anywhere except in the Old Testement, and apparently extinct for about the last 2,300 years. Maybe we got them all.

As far as Mamzerim go, about the only really practical way to create one is for a woman to marry with an Orthodox wedding, then leave her husband without an Orthodox divorce and cohabit with another Jewish man and have a baby. I've never met anyone with that particular situation.

badrabbi said...

You are quite correct that the Amalekites are an ancient tribe of some kind. However, we did not “get them all”. Exodus 17 mentions that when the Amalekites attacked the Jews, Joshua managed to weaken them. Then God ‘swore’ (God’s word, Exodus 17:16) that he will have a war with the Amalekites from “generation to generation”. Incidentally, God also promised to blot out the memories of the Amalekites forever, and promptly told Moses to write this stuff down, so He managed to in fact immortalize their name!

Be that as it may, it is clear from the passage that we in fact did not ‘get them all’. This is the reason that the Rambam chose to include the killing of every Amalekite as a mitzvah. Yes, one of the 613 Mitzvah’s apparently is to seek out the Amalekites and kill them! Gives a new meaning to the word ‘mitzvah’ doesn’t it?

Perhaps if you were right that we had already killed all the Amalekites we could inform our esteemed rabbis of this. Perhaps they would remove this Mitzvah from the list of things we Jews have to do. Then, we would only have 612 mitzvahs to worry about.

badrabbi said...

Regarding mamzereem, I think you are missing the point. My point is not to argue with you about how easy or hard it is to be a mamzer. What I am saying is this:
1. Mamzereem are doomed to have children who are also mamzers through no fault of their own
2. Therefore, offenses and moral crimes are carried out to several generations. This is contrary to our system of justice.
3. The law of Mamzer is despicable. That its application is rare is testimony to the fundamental fairness of Jewish people. Here, Jews act rightly, DESPITE the torah’s injustice!

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding Amalek, the commandment to kill Amalek is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, apparently because they no longer exist. Clearly, the mitzvah to destroy Amalek would become obsolete once it is fulfilled and perhaps it has been.

The law of mamzerus obviously deters people from immoral conduct - so well that in fact I know of no mamzerim in the present day Orthodox community, which is the way it should be.

badrabbi said...

If I understand you correctly, then, you are prepared to draw down the Mitzvah’s to 612, right? You say that we have managed to kill all the Amalekites, and that there are no more of them. OK. So now we have 612 Mitzvah’s, right? Please, JP; as is your wont, you never really answer a question. The above question requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Your argument regarding the law of Mamzereem, I hate to say, is infantile. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that since the incidence of Mamzers has declined as a result of the law, then the law must be just. Using this argument, we would, among other things, justify the Taliban’s tyranny on women by saying that the divorce rate during their rule was very low. We could say that slavery is a good law since it keeps crime rates low and the economy strong. Do you realize how absurd that sounds? To punish the offspring of the Mamzer to 10 generations in the hopes that it would reduce the rate of illegal marriages is not extreme to you?

I think I have beaten the Mamzer law to death. If you can not or would not understand its inherent injustice, then OK. Please note that this law was an illustration, one of many actually, to show that there are laws in the Torah that are at severe odds with our notions of justice. Personally, I think that it is your blanket attempt at defending the Torah that makes you not see the elementary logic that sins which hold generational punishment are unjust.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad: the answer is "NO"!!

One of the 613 mitzvot is "That a leper is unclean and defiles" (Lev. 13:2-46). Today this type of leprosy no longer exists. So what? The commandment is still written in the Torah and is number 565 according to Maimonides. We don't delete them as they become non-applicable.

The thing about mamzerim is that parents do have the ability to abuse their children and ruin their lives; they often do in fact. Why do kids deserve to be victims? That's a good question. One possiblity is reincarnation. The child may need to receive an atonement for something he did in a previous life.

badrabbi said...

JP, I truly appreciate your straight answer. Of course I do not agree with you, but I am so impressed by your straight answer that I will let you win this round of intellectual debate. By the way, I thoroughly enjoy your blog. Keep up to good work!

jewish philosopher said...

You have to be careful, Bad. You might need to change your name soon to "Goodrabbi".