Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Eternal People

[the Old Prague Synagogue]

I don’t believe that any culture or religion is as ancient or has been as stable as Judaism.

The name “Israel” is first found mentioned about 1210 BCE.

Israel Finkelstein, no friend of Orthodoxy, writes in his book “The Bible Unearthed” page 119 that from about 1150 BCE until 586 BCE, no pork was raised in the villages of the highlands of Palestine. (According to rabbinical tradition, the Israelite invasion of Palestine took place in 1273 BCE.) This is the earliest archeological evidence of Jewish observance.

Based upon the Mishnah, we know that a Jew living in Palestine 2,000 years ago could enter an Orthodox synagogue today and have virtually no difficulty joining in with the services. The phylacteries worn today and the Bible read from today are the same as some found in the Dead Sea caves.

Today the Orthodox Jewish population stands at about two million, and growing.

What’s truly incredible is that throughout this entire period, Jews have been constantly attacked and persecuted. The above-mentioned inscription from 1210 BCE tellingly reads “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not”. Jews have been hated since literally the first day of Jewish history and endless attempts have been made to annihilate the relatively small and helpless Jewish community. Why have these attempts always been unsuccessful? And, more surprisingly, why have the Jews bothered to be different?

In my humble opinion, the answer is quite simple.

There are an infinite possible number of false religions. There are 4,200 religions in the world today. Surely thousands more have existed in the past. More will exist in the future most probably. False religions come and go according to people’s preferences, whims and temperaments.

However, there can be only one true religion, and there will always be some honest people in the world who will embrace that religion in spite of all sacrifice. This is why Judaism is the eternal religion.


Alex said...

"However, there can be only one true religion"

Is Noachidism false?

" and there will always be some honest people in the world who will embrace that religion"

Are Noachides not honest?

Now, I know how you're going to answer these questions. All I'm asking is for you to reword your statement so that it's more accurate.

Jeff said...

On the face of it, this popular argument has appeal.

However, logically and historically it fails to satisfactorily answer the two questions you raised. It is really a question of "uniqueness" in which you pre-determine what is unique putting yourself at the center.

Zorastrians still exist and most likely predate Jews as we now define Judaism (rabbinic). And there are even fewer of them than Jews, if uniquesness is a proof of anything. And, of course, the Eastern religions of the Asians are far older than Judaism and haven't died out.

You argument also assumes that a "false" religious belief has less staying power than a "true" one. There is no evidence for that claim. (I don't know how you'd prove that, anyway, since you would have to know in advance that the religion was true and another false.) In fact, the adherents of a few of your so-called "false" religions believe in the truth of their religion as stubbornly, if not more so, than Jews do.

SO every religion or group sees themselves as unique in some way, which of course isn't evidence of the truth of their claims. I'm sure that at this very moment some Muslim or Christian blogger is writing about the unique wisdom and truths of his faith, "proving" their God given origins...

jewish philosopher said...

"Is Noachidism false"

It's just what Judaism teaches Gentiles. It's the same religion.

As far as I can tell, the Zoroastrian practices seem to be less stable and ancient than orthodox Jewish ones.

Also, traditional, orthodox Zoroastrians seems to be a dwindling population of tens of thousands in Mumbai.

The Zoroastrians today are simply the dying, tiny remnant of a once powerful empire

I don't think Zoroastrian history is comparable to Jewish history. Jews have for millennia been a small, persecuted community.

Jeff said...

I don't dispute your facts, or the distinctions you make.

However I dispute that they are meaningful in the context of either the true religion or the nature of its believers, which was the subject of your post.

One could just as easily (and spuriously) claim that the holocaust demonstrates that the Christians are right and that Jews are being punished (once again) for rejecting Jesus.

jewish philosopher said...

I think I'm making a reasonable guess to explain the Jewish people's longevity and stability.

Abe said...

jewish philosopher said...
"In my humble opinion, the answer is quite simple."

A simple opinion from a simple mind. All that fallacious hishtadlus and the result is: garbage in, garbage out.

"There are an infinite possible number of false religions.... However, there can be only one true religion ... This is why Judaism is the eternal religion."

Its evident that you're still in your fundamentalist journey into separation from reality, so its really not useful to engage you with the logical impeachments to your obsession.
Lets just say that Judaism can't be the eternal religion since it has way too many crackpots like you as its champions.

Now if you really want an eternal religion, you really need to convert to Hinduism:
" On 21 September 1995, the whole World witnesses the Hindu milk miracle in which Hindu deities, known as idols to the non-Hindus, were drinking milk offered to them. Never before in the history of mankind such a miracle occurred on such a global scale... The Milk Miracle was reported Worldwide, from: Edmonton, Canada, San Francisco, USA, Los Angeles, USA,..."
It sounda a lot more convincing than the miracles in the torah

jewish philosopher said...

Here's the miracle:

Here's the explanation:

Abe, I think you're busy enough worshipping your penis. Don't waste money on little statues.

Abe said...

Here's the miracle:

Here's the explaination:

And I would begin to believe in miracles if somehow the miraculous did occur. Like you finding a job for more than minumun wage. But then again, ayn somchin al haness.

jewish philosopher said...

Where in my blog do I ever mention the Red Sea story as proving anything? Guess why.

Abe said...

Maybe you didn't mention it because you've taken up a bit of kefira. You really shouldn't believe the same science that validates evolution.
Perhaps you've become a bit confused of god's intentions since he's he's so set on tormenting you for your lack of enthusiasm in actively pursuing the final solution for homosexuals. God can be a cruel scourge when you disobey him.
I'm not saying you should purchase some explosive fertilizer or begin to shadow your local LGBT organization. But to assuage god's wrath against you, you might begin to consider what pleases Him on Most High. What would Pinchas have done? At least, if you only had a spear !

jewish philosopher said...

"You really shouldn't believe the same science that validates evolution."

And which science is that my little peanut brain? The science that validates the Easter bunny?

george said...

I, for one, cannot accept your account of history. What I have learned from the PBS Nova program, "The Bible's Buried Secrets," and from the leading scholar, Bill Dever's book, "Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From," and from many other sources, strongly refute your historical assertions. According to the overwhelming evidence, there were no "Israelites" in Egypt, no Moses, no Exodus, no wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, and no conquering of Palestinian lands on or around 1200 BCE, since not one single shred of archeological evidence exists to substantiate any of these things. Rather, mountains of evidence point to a collapse of local economies and city-states throughout the eastern Mediterranean region during the time ~1200-1000 BCE. Many refugees from this region dispersed and began to percolate, relatively peacefully, into the relatively uninhabited regions of Palestine, bringing many cultural aspects of their former lands. But these refugees in Palestine all shared a common heritage of escape from poverty and oppression in their former, disparate homelands. Slowly a common folk tradition evolved among these peoples as they homogenized and mixed with aboriginal tribes. The overwhelming physical evidence shows further that multiple gods were worshipped, graven images included, well into the so-called Captivity Era. The available physical evidence shows that monotheism didn't really exist among these peoples until the so-called Babylonian captivity era drew to a close. Furthermore, if a "David" or "Solomon" ever existed, these men were most likely minor feudal lords, the overwhelming physical evidence suggests.

Furthermore, what were people worshiping before 1200 BCE anyway? Extensive evidence shows that people all over the world were vigorously worshiping all kinds of other things for countless millenia before this, including entheogens, the sun, ancestors, the earth, and a mix of all the above-- all things we might call "pagan" now. Therefore, by your own logic, paganism is the one true religion since it handily predates "Judaism," whatever it is, which, the best I can tell, is just a mish-mash of many cultural components from many different peoples from many different locales.

So I just can't accept your account, it's far too flawed. But I understand your need to venerate a long and storied tradition... it's a hard-wired urge nearly as old as mankind...

jewish philosopher said...

I don't worry too much about archeology, as I've explained in these posts.

george said...

If you don't "worry" about physical evidence, you should work on improving your own integrity by not citing or invoking physical evidence when you think it might bolster your case, and denouncing it when those facts disagree with your viewpoint. Here in this very post you invoked at least 3 references to physical evidence ("no pork was raised"; "phylactories worn today...same as some found in the Dead Sea caves"; "incription from 1210 BCE"). So what happens to your post if your readers applied the same standard of "not worrying" about physical evidence? This post would be reduced to almost nothing said at all.

You need to decide whether or not you want to examine physical evidence and make intellectually honest conclusions about it, or whether you are going to ignore it altogether. But you cannot do both at the same time, which is what you have just done.

Your cited purpose of this blog "is to promote Orthodox Judaism," but if this is what that is, I'm not impressed. I offer this critique respectfully, so that you and your readers might be able to "reason together" (Isaiah 1:18).

natschuster said...


The Aramrna letters say that the Canaanite Kings needed help repelling an invasion of the Apuri, which is very close to Hebrew. The egyttinas also had Apuri slaves. The Brooklyn papyrus indicates that the egyptians had slaves with Hebrew names. The El Arish stme describes how Pharoh chased bad slvaes through the water. The Ipuwar payprus descirbes plagues very similar to the plagues described in the Bible. Maimonedes says that walls of Jericho sank into the ground intact. This is exactly what Kathleen Kenyon found.

The Mernephta stonme does mention Israel. So Israel did exist early on.

As far s lot of gods beibng worshipped, the Bible constantly berates the Jews for experimenting with idolatry.

David's name carved on a rock was recently found in the Northern part of Israel. This indicates that he had a more extensive Kingdom. Archeaologists recently found massive stone walls dating from the time of Solomon that could have only been built by a wealthy powerful king.

What exactly is the evidence for the scenario suggested by the archaeologists you mentioned?

natschuster said...

And the Mycenae grave Stella show waht looks exactly like a child's drawing of the splitting of the Red Sea.

So, I think it isn't quite accurate to say that there is no evidence for the Biblical account.

Jeff said...

It is true that there is much speculation about the historic voracity of biblical stories, both for and against.

However, what is as clear as the sun in daytime, is that "Judaism". as we now know it-- both in name and in essence-- congealed some time during the second temple period. Prior to that it was something else, a precursor culture and faith of the Hebrews, and was quite different than what we know today.

Even JP openly admits that he follows the "talmud", not the bible.

jewish philosopher said...

The Torah is eternal but Judaism changes.

natschuster said...

The Rabbis "added" things to Jewish observnace to insure that the Torah would continue to be observed.

Jeff said...

They also "cancelled" things like the Sanhedrin, the death penalty, sacrifices.

You can play with semantics, but the shift from a sacrifice and priestly cult to a religion of study, prayer, and rabbis was a dramatic shift.

ksil said...

....and dropped things, as they became obsolete or immoral or impractical (animal sacrifice, charging interest, multiple wives, etc. etc.)

jewish philosopher said...

The Torah does not change, however Judaism does change.

The way it works is like this. The Torah is a collection of five books, the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. These five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were dictated to Moses by God at Mount Sinai and will never change. In addition to that, Moses was given by God an oral explanation of the Torah. This explanation is included in the Talmud. Usually, it contains details about how the Torah's commandments must be performed - for example how phylacteries are to be made. In some cases, the oral law contradicts and supersedes the written Torah. For example, the written Torah says "an eye for an eye" while the oral law explains that money needs to be paid by the damager. Similarly, the Torah imposes a death penalty for many crimes, while the oral law makes applying the death penalty so difficult that offenders were rarely executed.

In any case, the written Torah and its Talmudic explanation are eternal and unchangeable.

Judaism - the actual practice of Judaism - does change.

First of all, certain commandments may at times be impossible to fulfill. For example, everything connected with the Temple cannot be fulfilled at present because the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

In addition to that, certain Jewish practices have been instituted by the rabbis during the centuries since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. These practices are meant to reinforce and strengthen the observance of the Torah. For example, prayer is a Torah commandment. Praying three times a day is a rabbinical commandment. Not marrying a gentile is a Torah commandment. Not drinking wine handled by a gentile is a rabbinical commandment. In ancient times, the rabbis determined that certain new laws had to be enacted to safeguard the observance of the Torah. These are not part of Torah and they may someday be abolished, following the coming of the Messiah and reinstitution of the Sanhredrin. These rabbinical enactments are also recorded in the Talmud.

jewish philosopher said...

"If you don't "worry" about physical evidence"

I don't believe that the archaeological evidence we have now poses a serious challenge to Orthodox Judaism.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why, Jeff, you say that Judaism cancelled the sacrifices or sanhedrin. Quite obviously when there is no temple, no sacrifices can be made (just as it was in the first exile). Secondly, Judaism does believe, as per Ezekiel 40-47, that the third temple will be rebuilt, and the sacrificial system will continue.

The question is- is the theology of "modern" Judaism congruent with the teachings of Scripture? Does not Scripture teach that Israel is to be loyal to their One G-d, the G-d who removed them from Egypt, and they will be His people? Any differences are either inconsequential, superficial, or a product of necessity (ie. when there is no temple, there can be no sacrifices, but Judaism agrees with Scripture that a future temple will include sacrifices).

Heck, Judaism changed in Scripture itself, from the desert wanderings of the people into the Promised Land, then a Temple (first), then the Babylonian exile, and then the Second Temple. So to suggest that Judaism's "changing" defeats it overlooks the testimony of Scripture itself.

ksil said...

"following the coming of the Messiah "

if only the actual torah says this.

jewish philosopher said...

"if only the actual torah says this."

The Torah focuses almost entirely on two things: where did we come from; what we are supposed to do.

Think of it as a sort testament written by a father to his sons.

Tom said...

ksil, the Hebrew Scriptures has a not-insigificant amount of focus on the messianic age, and while it has less on the person of the messiah himself, there is a prince depicted who will lead the people in repentance, and a sprout from Jesse. But just because scripture's focus is not on the messiah does not mean that is says nothing on the subject.

Joe said...

Nearly every prophet ELABORATES on the redemption!

ksil said...

tom, i find it curious that we are supposed to do all these crazy ridiculous things called commandments so that we can get points in the next world, and that same book that tells us to do these moronic things does not tell us what is waiting for us when we expire! "scripture" hints to us..."a testament to a son" - i mean, have you read this scripture you speak of? its like you never read it! I have read it! and its fuill of nonsense!

there is nothing there when we die. its all made up. man made, so we can cope and deal with the world around us.

not sure why they made up those silly customs, i guess same reason any culture/religion/society does keep the fold thriving.

Jeff said...

" Quite obviously when there is no temple, no sacrifices can be made (just as it was in the first exile)."

For the hundreds of years before the first temple was built, sacrifices were brought. Later reforms specified that sacrifices could only be brought at the temple in Jerusalem, but nothing prevented Jews from resuming the state they were in prior to the temple, after its destruction, when sacrifices could be brought anywhere. (Particularly the Passover sacrifice). It was the rabbis who decided this should be so.

Its is the rabbis who decided that there cannot be a sanhedrin (partly because they could never agree on its makeup).

"the written Torah and its Talmudic explanation are eternal and unchangeable.

Judaism - the actual practice of Judaism - does change."

This is a meaningless truism. Plato is unchangeable, too.

jewish philosopher said...

"commandments so that we can get points in the next world"

No, we are supposed to do them because our Father asked us to.

"and its fuill of nonsense!"

Actually, full of divine wisdom which most of mankind has emulated.

"Later reforms specified that sacrifices could only be brought at the temple in Jerusalem,"

"but nothing prevented Jews from resuming the state they were in prior to the temple, after its destruction, when sacrifices could be brought anywhere. (Particularly the Passover sacrifice). It was the rabbis who decided this should be so."

Not the rabbis, the oral law.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I understand what you're saying, but we both see that these changes in Judaism are not post-Roman exile; they occurred just as often in the Tanach itself, so it's not really an embarrasment or defeat for Judaism. The practical observance of the law changes, for example, when there is a temple, and when there is not a temple- there's no issue there. The fact is- 'modern' Judaism is fully congruent with the teachings of Scripture in observance of the Law, obedience to the G-d who took the Hebrews out of Egypt, etc. The only thing that has changed is practical observance of the law- and then again, that was changing in the pages of the bible itself.

Tom said...

ksil, you claimed that the hebrew bible never speaks of a messiah (or messianic era). That is simply untrue. Isaiah 1:11, Ezekiel 46:12, Isaiah 2:6, Micah 4:3, Isaiah 11:6, Ezekiel 40-47 are a few examples of this future depicted. I really never raised the issue whether the commandments are 'moronic' or not- merely pointing out that, contrary to your assertion, Scripture does indeed discuss the future redemption.

natschuster said...

Why would the Rabbi's drop things lke the sacrifices or the death penalty to "modernize" the Torah? Their contemporaries, the Romans and Greeks practised sacrifice, the death penalty, and all kinds of ansty things.

Jeff said...

"Not the rabbis, the oral law."

Fine. But since this was a post exilic change this "oral law" clearly evolved later and could not Sanaitic in origin.

jewish philosopher said...

How's it clear? The oral law contains contingency rules for different circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you know that the deuteronomic reforms in the hebrew bible forbid sacrifice outside of the temple. This thus forbids any sacrifice outside of the temple once those reforms were created. Explain to me how sacrifices outside the temple are allowed according to Scriptures, post deuteronomic reforms which you mentioned. I'm not sure what your evidence is.

Tom said...

“Through much of Israel's early history, sacrifices were offered on family altars, at local shrines, or at the ubiquitous high places that were so soundly condemned by the Deuteronomistic tradition. As the developing law called for centralization of the cult, however, legitimate sacrifices could be offered only at the temple in Jerusalem (Deut 12, esp v 13-14)"

Mercer dictionary of the Bible By Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard

So the question is, Jeff- since we know that the deuteronomistic tradition expressly forbade bringing sacrifice outside the temple (and Deuteronomy long predeces the roman exile), what evidence is there that the Hebrew Bible allows Jews to revert to pre-Deuteronomic reforms in bringing sacrifices wherever they wanted, and that the rabbis went against biblical teaching? Biblical law seems rather clear on this matter.

Tom said...

"the shift from a sacrifice and priestly cult to a religion of study, prayer, and rabbis was a dramatic shift."

While popular practise among Israel may have emphasized the temple cult, this was certainly not what the biblical authors intended:

"Jeremiah rightly claims that G-d had not commanded sacrifices as the essential feature of covenantal obedience. The obedience G-d commanded required exclusive devotion to G-d and a just ordering of society...

"In the primary matters of obedience, exclusive devotion to G-d, and a just ordering of society, Judah has failed. In the place of the central demands of obedience, Jeremiah sees that Judah substitutes rituals, worship at the Temple, and offering sacrifices. For Jeremiah, that Judah makes worship rituals the primary expression of their obedience while ignoring the primary matters of obedience is evidence that they have not listened to or obeyed G-d."

Jeremiah 1-29 By John Martin Bracke

In other words, sacrifices were never meant to occupy a central place in Israel's worship- obedience was. So the only thing the rabbis 'changed' was popular practise, not biblical directives.

Tom said...

"G-d allowed the temple to be destroyed and did not expect sacrifices to be offered if there was no temple"

The New American Commentary - Isaiah 40-66 By Gary V. Smith

Tom said...

"Many of the commandments in the Torah involved the offering of sacrifices. This ritual could be performed only in the Jerusalem Temple, which was rebuilt soon after the return from the Exile." Mercer dictionary of the Bible By Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard.

Again, this long predates the Roman exile, and sacrifices could only be brought at the Temple.

Tom said...

As for whether atonement was possible outside the temple, or whether the post-roman exile rabbis simply made it up:

"It is not necessary to go to the temple for forgiveness, for Israel can repent from afar (I Kings 8:44-45, 46-51)." The social meanings of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible: a study of four writings By David Janzen

Jeff said...

"The oral law contains contingency rules for different circumstances."

Other than in the Talmudic statements themselves, there is no evidence for this statement, or specifically for abolition of sacrifices.

Tom-- regarding the centralization issue, that was in effect WHILE there was actually a temple in Jerusalem. When there was no temple, why would all of the Torah commandments for sacrifices become null and void? They werent before the temple was built.

While it is true that this transition occured during the biblical (prophets and writings) period, there is no hint of this from the Torah itself. Nor is there hint in the Torah of abolition of slavery, child marriages, death penalties, levirate marriages, the ban on interest on loans, and a host of other things.

Moses could not possibly known of such things, and it is illogical (and without evidence) to say that oral law originating from his time could have possibly addressed those issues.

In interesting observation is that the rabbis themselves conditioned the restoration of the temple and sanhedrin, on conditions that could not possibly be met. Its almost as if they really don't want it to happen, despite their prayers. My feeling is this is because they knew that this lifestyle and form of governance was no longer viable. Their world had changed forever.

I don't claim that present day Judaism is incompatible with the Torah. But it is clear to me as the light of day, that the rabbis, for ideological and pragmatic reasons, changed Judaism beyond anything the original Hebrews and purveyors of the Torah could have imagined.

jewish philosopher said...

So you're saying that King David, were he alive today, would be shocked and confused by my going to a synagogue and reading his Psalms this morning rather than going to my neighborhood priest and offering up a lamb on the backyard barbecue pit? For some unknown reason at some unknown date some unknown rabbis decided to change things? And all Jews everywhere happily accepted the falsification?

Jeff said...


He probably wouldn't know anything about 39 types of work on Shabbat, or seperating milk and meat dishes or waiting 1 or 3 or 6 hours between. He also probably wouldnt know about tefillin (although he might know of some amulet totafot the preists wore). He also wouldn't be able to read our siddurim or bible texts because the hebrew characters and pronunciation were different.

He also most likely would be unaware of many of the sexual prohibitions of Orthodox Jews nowadays, and although porn internet did not exist in his day, he had his own live porn show in his harem of women (and possibly boys as well).

And finally, although clearly he was familiar with the god yahweh, he might possibly not known of the whole torah text as we now know it.

It didnt need to be a conspiracy. Things changed over time, as they do now and as they have for the past 2000 years. We keep customs, even ones when we don't even know the exact origins (like kitniyot), even in an era of books and literacy. Imagine a time when most people are illiterate and there are no books.

People just understood that things are the way they are, and accepted their traditions as they developed. The Talmud then came along and recorded and codified the traditions that had developed over centuries. (I don't claim that they suddenly just made everything up). This is similar to how the shulchan aruch codified that which existed, without the need to claim that its knowledge was revealed at Sinai.

Tom said...

Jeff, whoever said the sacrifice laws became null and void? If the sacrifices are contigent on a temple, as scripture repeatedly and directly says, then without a temple, sacrifices are impossible. As such, the rabbis never decided to end sacrifices - in fact, Jews, as I wrote above, hope and pray for a 3rd temple as outlined in Ezekiel. Rather, they simply recognized that if sacrifices need to be carried out in the temple, as per the 'deuteronomic reforms,' then there is no basis whatsoever to simply disregard biblical law and start bringing sacrifices where ever they wanted to, in the absence of a temple. I don't think there is any evidence of that, Jeff.

Tom said...

But more to the point, I think we're missing a couple main points:

1/ Judaism, in contrast to an earlier post of yours, was never a "religion of sacrifice," at least not in the eyes of either the bible or the prophets. Sacrifice was a part of Judaism, but never intended to be the central focus. As Bracke wrote above, it was obedience which Judaism was a religion of, not sacrifices- so without a temple (at least temporarily), Judaism not only does not eliminate the temple altogether, but rather recognizes that what is missing may be the temple, and that lacking may be significant, but it in no way means we cannot, or should not, achieve repentance in other ways. The bible never says atonement or closeness to G-d is contingent on sacrifice- that is the tool of repentance (see Janzen). So while Israel lacks a temple, and there is a real lacking there, the temple was never supposed to be the central focus of Jewish worship.

2/ Again, the rabbis never 'replaced' anything. Judaism hopes and prays for the 3rd temple and the messianic era, so to suggest they made a change is just twisting their beliefs. They just realized that temple sacrifices are impossible without a temple, and Scripture is clear that sacrifices are to be brought in a temple (unlike the way it was before, when people could bring it in any high place they wanted).

Tom said...

3/ You wrote "But it is clear to me as the light of day, that the rabbis, for ideological and pragmatic reasons, changed Judaism beyond anything the original Hebrews and purveyors of the Torah could have imagined."

Jeff, there are a couple issues behind this. First, recognize what the rabbis 'changed.' They did not change ANY of the core theological doctrines of Judaism as outlined anywhere in Scripture. Consider that for a moment. What changed post-Roman exile was the practical application of the law. What that means is- how can the law be observed in this particular circumstance? Now, this also changed many times earlier, such as when the Jews entered Canaan and new rules governed them there, or with a first temple, or the first exile, or the second temple, etc.

Secondly, as I wrote above, the rabbis didn't 'change' anything if they believe a 3rd temple will return. But also, they did not introduce any new concepts that weren't already scriptural, and all they did was recognize a new reality, and helped the Jews observe the law under new circumstances.

In other words, if the rabbis 'changed' Judaism, one could just as easily say in every stage of Jewish history, Judaism changed. Judaism was originally a religion of desert wanderings, manna and the tabernacle. Then it became a religion of agriculture, with no centralized temple. Then there was a temple, then the babylonian exile, when no sacrifices were made. So if you're going to claim the rabbis 'changed' Judaism, it changed with regards to application of the law at every stage of Jewish history. But the core theological doctrines of Judaism did not change- just the practical observance of the law.

And even on this issue - of practical observance of the law, scripture gives the right of interpretation on matters of the law to Israel's teachers (Ex. 18:13-27, Lev. 10:11, Deut. 17:9, 33:10, Ezek. 44:23, 1Chron 26:32, 2Chron 19:11). These teachers are not 'changing' the law, but interpreting it in light of new situations. Even in the messianic era, when prophecy will exist - ie. seemingly rendering the teachers irrelevant- (Joel 3:1), questions on the law will be directed to teachers of the law (Ezek 44:23).

So what I think you are doing, jeff, is ignoring the fact that Judaism holds the same theological doctrines, believes the same things, worships the same G-d, as scripture tells us to. Rather, your focus is that practical observance of the law has changed since the rabbis. Not only did it change long before the rabbis, but whatever the rabbis instituted will only exist until the 3rd temple anyway. And furthermore, any of the 'changes' to the practical application of the law by the rabbis was their responsibility as Israel's recognized and accepted teachers of the law.

So while perhaps the original israelites may not, on the surface, see judaism as the same today, there is no doubt that what the rabbis did was fully congruent with the bible itself- after all, nothing the rabbis did wasn't already done long before them, as described in scripture itself.

Tom said...

As I wrote above re: sacrifices, you and I both see that scripture is clear that sacrifices are to be brought only in the temple. We can hypothesize when specific verses were written, but that's missing the entire issue- scripture is clear that sacrifices may only be brought at the temple in jerusalem. That means if there is no temple in jerusalem, no sacrifices may be brought. Again, the 'deuteronomistic reforms' centralized sacrifice and limited it to the temple- so there's no basis to say when there is no temple, none of these rules apply. I am familiar with no scriptural reference during or after the existence of the 1st temple that says if there's no temple, people can sacrifice anywhere they want. Again, this is not a rabbinic invention. This was the case in the babylonian exile- no sacrifices they would have made would have been legitimate (also see Bullard, Smith above).

So, Jeff, in the absence of scriptural references, and given the scholarly opinions I cited above, I don't think there's any evidence to claim that "post deuteronomistic" scripture ever accepted this- in fact, quite the opposite.

jewish philosopher said...

"People just understood that things are the way they are, and accepted their traditions as they developed."

OK, so Jews here and there kept making new stuff up. Starting from nothing we eventually, over thousands of years, got what we have now. Something like Hinduism let's say.

First of all, in that case, how did Judaism become so absolutely, universally unified, in spite of Jews being so widely dispersed? Two hundred ago a Jew from Vilna would have felt very much at home in a synagogue in Sana'a. Hinduism is, as one would expect an ancient and evolving religion to be, immensely diverse, and that's in spite of the geographic continuity of Hindu communities.

Secondly, how do you explain the structure of Jewish literary history?

Therefore your theory fails and the reality is that the Torah, both Pentateuch and Talmudic interpretation of it, were revealed by God to the Jews at Sinai. Changes have come about basically due to the physical circumstance that the destruction of the Temple required that animal sacrifice be replaced with communal prayer.

Jeff said...

"First of all, in that case, how did Judaism become so absolutely, universally unified, in spite of Jews being so widely dispersed?"

This is not true. Just go ask the Ethiopians, or the Karaites. And if today a Vizhnitz chasid walks into a northern Yemenite synagogue, he will have difficulty following the services. While the overall structure of the service is similar, the pronunciation, tunes, order and syntax will be quite different.

"Secondly, how do you explain the structure of Jewish literary history?"

I don't follow your claim there. It is "begging the question", because it assumes that the literature itself is reliable historically. So rabbis thought that their predecessors were greater and smarter. Does that make it true?

Its a theological question, not just an historical one. Has does any religious literature evolve? Its based on people's beliefs, not purely historical events. Muslim literature is based on certain assumptions and beliefs. Am I to accept those assumptions as true because of the literature?

Tom, when you say "scripture" I assume you refer to the entire Old Testament, so you are referring to a vast swath of time. I agree that the gap between early rabbinic Judaism and late "scriptural" Judaism is not such a big gulf. It was a continuum. But from a traditional perspective, Torah law closed at the time of Moshe with Deuteronomy. This is the big objection that orthodoxy has to Documentary Hypothesis.

jewish philosopher said...

As far back as we have any type of reliable information, the vast majority of people who have observed the Law of Moses have done so according to the Talmudic interpretation and other non-Talmudic groups are, to the best of my knowledge, extinct today. (I say this because I don't believe that the Karaites or Samaritans have or have had for sometime any full day school educational systems, therefore I don't think any younger actual practitioners are left.)

This is entirely different than the situation in India, where numerous denominations have always flourished.

This is again in spite of Jews being widely dispersed geographically for about the past 24 centuries.

The question from rabbinical literature is the following:

According to your model, why did the rabbis 2,300 years ago suddenly, unanimously agree that prophesy had ended and Scripture was closed? Why did the rabbis 1,800 years ago suddenly, unanimously agree that they could not dispute the rulings of earlier rabbis and the Mishneh was closed? Why did the rabbis 1,500 years ago suddenly, unanimously agree that they could not dispute the rulings of earlier rabbis and the Talmud was closed? Why did the rabbis 500 years ago suddenly, unanimously agree that they could not dispute the rulings of earlier rabbis and the era of the earlier Talmudic commentaries was closed? On all these occasions Jews were widely dispersed and no one could have enforced these decisions; they were voluntary. The only reasonable explanation is that the Jews were raised to a very great spiritual level when the Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai, from there they gradually declined in spirituality and Torah knowledge and they humbly and honestly recognized this. According to your model that Jews here and there kept making new stuff up and starting from nothing we eventually, over thousands of years, got what we have now, the process should have been continuous and ongoing. We should have prophets today having visions. Why on earth would religious leaders want to voluntarily diminish their authority? In Hinduism, for example, the guru is a god or even greater than a god.

Therefore your theory fails and the reality is that the Torah, both Pentateuch and Talmudic interpretation of it, were revealed by God to the Jews at Sinai. Changes have come about basically due to the physical circumstance that the destruction of the Temple required that animal sacrifice be replaced with communal prayer, which is a change which the original oral law permitted rabbis to make.

Jeff said...

I don't know how much esteem you have for Chabad, but they are well and thriving, and most believe that the rebbe was a prophet, if not messiah.

The fact that rabbinic Judaism "won out" over other sects is true and interesting, but doesn't negate the existence of the other groups I mentioned, and the historical/theological implications of their existence. For example, the Ethiopian Jews, until their "conversion" to rabbinic Judaism, had a Jewish tradition from thousands of years that included no talmud, and a torah written in a different language. What does that say about our origins?

Regarding the "spiritual decline" of the generations, one could postulate naturalistic or supernatural reasons. You prefer the supernatural as the only "reasonable" explanation. Once you accept the premise of divine revelation and prophecy, everything else follows. Yes, we're declining and getting weaker, and we can't challenge the giants of the past. That is what the rabbis believed. The fallacy in this, as I have stated, is that you are using the beliefs themselves to prove that the belief is true. In essence, you're asking, "why would the rabbis believe this unless it were true".

I, however, reject that premise, and prefer a naturalistic explanation, in which increasingly rational and scientific man rejects the supernatural (such as prophecy or miracles) in favor of the natural. Therefore, dreams, mental illness, delusions and visions could no longer be seen as "prophecy".

BTW, I would posit that Jewish scholars today, including rosh yeshivas, probably have greater knowledge of Judaism and torah than any rabbi from 2000 years ago.

Tom said...

"But from a traditional perspective, Torah law closed at the time of Moshe with Deuteronomy. This is the big objection that orthodoxy has to Documentary Hypothesis."

Jeff, I don't think that was our original discussion. Your original point was that the rabbis changed Judaism from a religion of sacrifices into a religion of prayer. As I showed above, not only is the characterization of Judaism as a religion of "sacrifice" inaccurate, for it makes sacrifice far too central compared to what the hebrew bible says. As well, many of these 'changes' occurred before and were occurring long before the roman exile. And the ability to arbitrate on matters of the law is a right given to the teachers of Israel, so they were within their biblical rights to do this.

So that's why, Jeff, I think this is a secondary discussion you are introducing now. Your first point was that the rabbis changed Judaism from something unprescribed in the hebrew bible- which I believe, once one looks past mostly superficialities, is not true.

So now, if the issue is with not, the rabbis making changes, but the hebrew bible itself, we're on a different issue.

As for what is 'sinaitic' in origin, it's difficult to have a meaningful discussion if we cannot first accept with certainty what is 'sinaitic' or not- what is a late invention, what word, what verse, etc. I may have my reservations about the DH claim (see also Dr. Kenneth Kitchen for work on this), but I can look past this because it is not an isolated issue- across the hebrew bible, from exodus to the prophets (ie early sources to late ones), we see that the law changes and constantly evolves. Are you referring simply to the '613 commandments' in the pentateuch, or the entire compendium of Jewish law? Jewish law, as the entire hebrew bible itself attests, is a changing practice, given individual circumstances. I have given sacrifice as one example of this- that one law governed the people while in the desert, and another law governed them in Canaan, etc. Clearly, then, the practical observance of the 'law' is always changing, but that's nothing new at all, regardless of when we hypothesize individual parts of the hebrew bible were written.

jewish philosopher said...

You fail to provide any plausible natural explanation for the things I've listed and to simply prefer to believe that there is one is nonsense.

If you were found with a murder weapon and witnesses placed you at the crime scene, how helpful would it be when your attorney tells the jury that he cannot explain the evidence of your guilty, however he prefers to believe that there is one?

jewish philosopher said...

Incidentally, although I'm not much of an expert on the subject, it would appear that the Karaites did indeed split into numerous small, distinct sects and did change radically over time, as would be expected of a bogus, man made religion.