Monday, May 21, 2007

Going After Rabbi Gottlieb

I was challenged to go after Rabbi Gottlieb's defense of the Kuzari argument, so I did. Read on...


http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Kuzari_Principle_Intro.htm

This is Rabbi Gottlieb's version of the Kuzari argument. He gives two reasons why the gradual myth formation is not convincing. The first one is that the critics don't give any specific means by which the myth evolved and therefore there is no way to judge the plausibility.

But this is a poor argument. There are details in the traditional view that are literally miraculous and hence impossible to explain. Even an implausible myth generation is still more plausible than the impossible since it requires no magic to accomplish.

But even with that said, I think I can produce a very reasonable means by which the myth came to be. Moses was a real person who made a real speech in front of a real group of Israelites on a real mountain after he had helped them escape from slavery in Egypt. This is an entirely plausible event. I would say that he even ordered some laws from the mountain. I would even say that Moses spent some time alone on the mountain while he composed some text that he believed was spoken to him from God.

Is it so difficult to imagine this event becoming aggrandized over time? All the key players are already there. What's a few miracles and fireworks to work into the story over the course of centuries?

Rabbi Gottlieb provides his strawman scenario where all the ancient Israelites experienced was an earthquake, but there's no reason at all to be so minimalistic.


Rabbi Gottlieb's second reason is that there are no other examples of 'fictitious national unforgettables' meaning an event that would have been of vital importance to a nation but would not be true.

But this too is a strawman because 'myth' does not mean that the event is made up from nothing. As above, the Sinai story isn't strictly fiction, but a melding of truth and embellishment. And there are numerous examples of myths like that happening.

One excellent one is the great Kurukshetra War of ancient India. It was a great war, as recorded in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, that lasted only 18 days and brought the entire sub-continent to war. It involved almost every kingdom, save one, and had the combined total of almost four million soldiers counting both sides. An event of this magnitude would be impossible for the Indians to forget, but is it strictly true?

In the course of the war, fighters use numerous magical weapons, talk to various gods, and in the end there are only seven survivors. (But do note that I'm not depending on the battle survivors to validate the story, but for the rest of the Indian population which had to have known of this war and lived through the effects of depopulation.)

So was there an a Kurukshetra War? Probably. As Rabbi Gottlieb says, it's very difficult to make something like a national epic up and have people believe it. But are the details all correct? Did four million people really go to war? Were there really only seven survivors? Did they really use magic and talk to gods? I think those are just embellishments on a true story.

34 comments:

zach said...

The Kurukshetra War is obviously completely made up. Supposedly it took place around 3100 BCE. That's 1000 years before the Mabul according to Seder Olam. So how could there be any survivors to pass along the tradition of the event? Would Noah or his sons make up a false tradition about something that happened 1000 years previous? Certainly not Shem, who was devoted to teaching Torah in his Yeshiva even before it was given on Sinai. Certain not Yapheth, who valued truth and beauty. OK, maybe Ham, because we know that he was a low-life. Or perhaps Og, who after clinging to the side of the Tevah was so rattled from his experience that he went around spouting narishkeit until he finally found some gullible folks that believed him. Logic would suggest that Avraham could have passed on this "tradition" since 1) Og had many an encounter with Avraham and 2) the gifts that Avraham gave Bnei Keturah were the kochos hatumah which they took to the East and which eventually became the Hindu religions...

alex said...

"Rabbi Gottlieb's second reason is that there are no other examples of 'fictitious national unforgettables' meaning an event that would have been of vital importance to a nation but would not be true."

Perhaps you wanted to comment on what you felt was the "vital importance" of remembering this Kurukshetra War? Maybe it was important, but vital?

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

That was my word, not Rabbi Gottlieb's. But this war is a vital part in understanding formative Indian mythos/history.

Resh Lakish said...

You're worse than XGH: nothing for months, and then all of a sudden, floods of posts, ka'afikim ba'Negev. How unpredictable. Good reading, anyway.

Baal Habos said...

Orthoprax, the problem I see with the Kuzari Argument is that it is used as a proof. Sooner or later, someone will come up with an angle to the prinicipal that indeed has no parallel in history. This still would not prove anything. Lo Raaah Aino Raiye. So in that sense your rebuttal, while valid, needs to be more generalized.

The way I see it, Kuzari is used by believers to permit them the luxury of belief. Secular individuals who are swayed by Kuzari, are simply not thinking.

Orthoprax said...

Baal,

That's true. A unique claim really has no logical bearing on its truthfulness, but I was writing this quickly and just wanted a one-two punch combo to knock down Rabbi Gottlieb without getting too entangled in details.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Without going into too much detail on a day when I have limited time:

Maybe you'll be surprised to hear this, but I don't think what you're saying is that far off the mark. The point of the "Kuzari Argument" is that events of the magnitude described in the Torah must have some historical basis.

I would say that the account is sufficient reason for us to conclude the following with certainty: The Exodus and Lawgiving occurred in such a way that the Israelites who experienced them were convinced they had witnessed Divine intervention in their history.

For the details of what they actually saw and heard, however, we rely upon text and tradition. And of course, in theory, these details could have been embellished - the only reason I don't believe that they were is because I trust the tradition that preserved them.

Incidentally, I disagree with your trivializing of the uniqueness of the story. Two key facts warrant some explanation:

1 - No nation or religion has ever been claimed to have been founded via a mass revelation to an entire population, despite the fact that, unlike the Jews, most nations in antiquity were quite devoted to their gods and pretty creative with their mythologies.


2 - Judaism was light years ahead of any of the ANE religion in terms of content. It represents an ideological revolution. The common people wouldn't have dreamt this up - they didn't particularly like it.

Some remarkable event or experience must be responsible for the emergence of such a unique religion paired with such unique historical claims.

Could it be that the claims and the associated religion are actually true? I think so.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"And of course, in theory, these details could have been embellished - the only reason I don't believe that they were is because I trust the tradition that preserved them."

That is your prerogative, but I don't see how you can trust it so thoroughly when you know that there are plenty of other instances where it failed.

"No nation or religion has ever been claimed to have been founded via a mass revelation to an entire population, despite the fact that, unlike the Jews, most nations in antiquity were quite devoted to their gods and pretty creative with their mythologies."

Why does this require explanation? As stated above, a unique instance or claim is evidence only of its uniqueness.

"Judaism was light years ahead of any of the ANE religion in terms of content. It represents an ideological revolution. The common people wouldn't have dreamt this up - they didn't particularly like it."

No doubt and no argument. I think Moshe had great foresight and was very wise. But one could also say the same about the Buddha. Or Zoroaster. Or Confucious. (Though, personally, I prefer Moshe.)

"Some remarkable event or experience must be responsible for the emergence of such a unique religion paired with such unique historical claims."

I could have all have been Moshe. Great personalities can change history. And the fireworks were worked in later.

alex said...

"That was my word, not Rabbi Gottlieb's. But this war is a vital part in understanding formative Indian mythos/history."

We must be consistent with the definition of "vital." The "vital"ness, to R' Gottlieb, would be not about understanding history, but about how the people would go about living their lives.
The story of the National Revelation of Judaism is clearly vital to the way the Jews would live their lives. We don't know how vital this Indian war was as far as how the survivors lived their lives. It could've been one of many wars.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

Like I said, Rabbi Gottlieb didn't use the word and it isn't relevant to the argument or counterargument. It was my word, not his.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

That is your prerogative, but I don't see how you can trust it so thoroughly when you know that there are plenty of other instances where it failed.

I'm not sure in what instances you believe the mesora has "failed".

Why does this require explanation? As stated above, a unique instance or claim is evidence only of its uniqueness.

Not really. When every other instance of a certain class (ex., historical or religious claims) possesses a specific group of characteristics, and one instance of that class possesses diametrically opposite characteristics, an explanation is necessary for the singularity.

Just saying "it was Moshe" doesn't account for why the claims and content of the Torah are so vastly different from everything that preceded and followed them. It seems like a weak cop-out that leaves more questions unanswered than it actually addresses.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"I'm not sure in what instances you believe the mesora has "failed"."

GH had a funny little version of it in cartoon form not too long ago.

But it's also well known that lots of stuff were added and many details lost or fudged over.

"Not really. When every other instance of a certain class (ex., historical or religious claims) possesses a specific group of characteristics, and one instance of that class possesses diametrically opposite characteristics, an explanation is necessary for the singularity."

I really don't see it as much of a singularity. You're trusting a version of history that's far from suspect free. It is pretty obvious that Tanach is written with a religious bias and that is where you're getting your information from.

"Just saying "it was Moshe" doesn't account for why the claims and content of the Torah are so vastly different from everything that preceded and followed them. It seems like a weak cop-out that leaves more questions unanswered than it actually addresses."

Well, as I see it, it didn't appear all of a sudden as it looks today, but had an evolutionary history. So the content had some time to become 'vastly different.'

But, be that as it may, I do believe Moshe had some unique introductions, but I don't believe he broke radically from the past any more than, say, the Buddha broke from his.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't deny that Judaism evolved in certain respects. That's ultimately immaterial because the fact remains that not one other religion "evolved" in the direction that Judaism did.

Find one other religious tradition that included - even after centuries of ostensible development - aniconic monotheism, a scientific conception of the universe in which miracles are the exception rather than the rule, a system of halacha that is the diametric opposite of a primitive set of rituals or taboos, the elimination of magic as a form of worship, a mythology that excludes human demigods and ancestor worship, etc., etc.

These are the elements that make the Jewish claims so compelling. In fact, the singular nature of the Jewish religion is pretty much the only explanation for why it was so unpopular with the masses who ran to Baal and Ashtoreth instead.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Find one other religious tradition that included - even after centuries of ostensible development - aniconic monotheism, a scientific conception of the universe in which miracles are the exception rather than the rule, a system of halacha that is the diametric opposite of a primitive set of rituals or taboos, the elimination of magic as a form of worship, a mythology that excludes human demigods and ancestor worship, etc., etc."

Again, I don't deny that Judaism hit upon some great and unique ideas. But your conclusion, that those ideas could only have come as a gift from the divine is a huge step.

Of course, though, you also seem to be missing many of the not-so-great ideas that exist in Judaism too.

Slavery, genocide, animal sacrifices (not exactly a huge step there from paganism), capital punishment for ritual offenses, magical thinking, mekubalim, sexism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, etc.

Where did they come from?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Slavery

The Torah doesn't legislate slavery. It humanizes it far beyond anything that ever existed anywhere in the world before or since. And historians are in agreement that abolishing slavery prior to the industrial revolution would have caused economies to collapse worldwide and would have prevented the progress of human civilization. It was not feasible at that point in history.

genocide

This is a canard. All the people had to do was reject idolatry and accept the basic Noachide code of decency. Killing Amaleq or the 7 Nations had nothing to do with their ethnicity; it was about the impact their culture would have on the Jews. And this concern was clearly warranted as we can see in retrospect.

animal sacrifices (not exactly a huge step there from paganism)

If you study the differences between the Jewish conception of sacrifices as presented in the Bible and the pagan concepts they were designed to uproot, you will see that they are like night and day.

The sacrifices in Judaism are purely symbolic gestures of dependency on and recognition of Hashem; they have nothing to do with bribing gods, feeding gods or magically channelling their power. The sacrifices of the Torah are not superstitious and are not substitutes for righteous living as sacrifices are in pagan cults.

Your comparison of the two frameworks suggests that you have not read enough on this subject. Yechezkel Kaufmann would be a good place to start.

capital punishment for ritual offenses

This is an arbitrary value judgment on your part. I assume from your specification of "ritual offenses" that you would not condemn a society for imposing capital punishment in a murder case. Why not? Because you assume that spilling blood is terribly heinous and a threat to society. Well, belief in pure materialism (i.e., idolatry or lack of Shabbat observance), magic, etc., is a threat to the intellectual progress of society and is therefore taken very seriously by the Torah. Those are the values at the heart of Judaism and that is why serious consequences are attached to violating them.

magical thinking

Huh? The Torah is anything but.

mekubalim

A later innovation and irrelevant.

sexism

Assigning different social roles to genders is not sexist.

xenophobia

What? Judaism tells us to care for the stranger, not to hate the Egyptian, etc. It welcomes converts and requires nothing more than the observance of 7 commandments for a gentile to merit eternal life. Where is the xenophobia?

anti-intellectualism

Not in my Judaism.

BTW, I never said that the uniqueness of Judaism proves its divine origin. What I said is that it lends credibility to the claim of divine origin because conventional explanations seem insufficient to account for it.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

You can twist things however you please, but by virtually all standards, I would not like living in a society strictly ruled by classical Torah values.

"The Torah doesn't legislate slavery. It humanizes it far beyond anything that ever existed anywhere in the world before or since."

How do you figure? It's makes nice and all to Israelite slaves, but non-Israelites are treated similarly to black slaves of the American South.

"historians are in agreement that abolishing slavery prior to the industrial revolution...not feasible at that point in history."

Be that as it may, but how does that justify such sentiments as is found by Ex. 21:20? One can beat a slave to death, as long as he lives for a day afterwards, and there is no punishment. After all, the slave is merely property.

I can imagine at least a couple of ways to make slavery more ethical. But that little diddy isn't one of them.

*Genocide*

"All the people had to do was reject idolatry and accept the basic Noachide code of decency."

Convert or die, you mean? Some canard.

"Your comparison of the two frameworks suggests that you have not read enough on this subject. Yechezkel Kaufmann would be a good place to start."

I think you're looking at it from the reworked view 2000 years after it has been discontinued. I think it took until the time of the Prophets before sacrifices were taken down a notch.


*capital punishment*

"This is an arbitrary value judgment on your part. I assume from your specification of "ritual offenses" that you would not condemn a society for imposing capital punishment in a murder case. Why not? Because you assume that spilling blood is terribly heinous and a threat to society.Well, belief in pure materialism (i.e., idolatry or lack of Shabbat observance), magic, etc., is a threat to the intellectual progress of society and is therefore taken very seriously by the Torah."

Yeah, no. Murder is an ethical issue, rituals are personal. Look it from a different perspective, eh? How would you feel about Muslims killing some guy for drinking wine? Or, as they tend to actually do from time to time, killing someone for apostacy.

Is that ok in your book?

Indeed, in the Torah, there is no such thing as the first amendement. Those are rights that I hold with the highest regard.

"A later innovation and irrelevant."

Magical thinking and mekubalim kinda went together and I was using them in terms of a later development. But you had already given that Judaism had evolved over centuries into a great ideology. So this was part of Judaism's evolution.

"Assigning different social roles to genders is not sexist."

That's debateable, but I'm inclined to agree with you. Nevertheless, I was also referring to later developments here.

"What? Judaism tells us to care for the stranger, not to hate the Egyptian, etc. It welcomes converts and requires nothing more than the observance of 7 commandments for a gentile to merit eternal life. Where is the xenophobia?"

Judaism isn't exactly the wellspring of pluralim. Many voices in Judaism have zero regard for those who refuse to convert (or become Noahides) and philosophers like Yehuda Halevi suppose that non-Jews are intrinsically spiritually inferior.

*anti-intellectualism*

"Not in my Judaism."

Have you failed to notice that anti-intellectualism is rampant in all forms of Orthodoxy? The more devout the more they're likely to be so.


"BTW, I never said that the uniqueness of Judaism proves its divine origin. What I said is that it lends credibility to the claim of divine origin because conventional explanations seem insufficient to account for it"

Ok. I think conventional explanations do ok.

Baal Habos said...

RJM,

>Find one other religious tradition that included - even after centuries of ostensible development - aniconic monotheism, a scientific conception of the universe in which miracles are the exception rather than the rule, a system of halacha that is the diametric opposite of a primitive set of rituals or taboos, the elimination of magic as a form of worship, a mythology that excludes human demigods and ancestor worship, etc., etc.


Maybe I'm misunderstanding you here, but doesn't Islam fall under this umbrella as well? And if you are referring to antiquity, then some of these elements to not seem to apply to Judaism (e.g a world where miracles was not the norm).

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

How do you figure? It's makes nice and all to Israelite slaves, but non-Israelites are treated similarly to black slaves of the American South...Be that as it may, but how does that justify such sentiments as is found by Ex. 21:20? One can beat a slave to death, as long as he lives for a day afterwards, and there is no punishment. After all, the slave is merely property.

This is a blend of superficial analysis and outright error.

Read this article:
http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.63/18mishpatim.htm

It puts the topic in proper perspective.

Convert or die, you mean? Some canard.

Convert or die would be the rule if we required conversion to Judaism. Here, it is simply basic decency and removal of primitive idol worship. What do you have against such basic standards?

I think you're looking at it from the reworked view 2000 years after it has been discontinued. I think it took until the time of the Prophets before sacrifices were taken down a notch.

Not at all. Compare the Torah's legislation and depiction of sacrifices to a parallel ritual code from the ANE or even from "enlightened" Greece. The systems share nothing in common but the name. The Torah's description has no superstition, magic or gross anthropomorphism involved in it. Sacrifices are limited in scope and importance in the Torah because they are clearly not the primary expression of religious life in Judaism, even from the beginning.

Yeah, no. Murder is an ethical issue, rituals are personal. Look it from a different perspective, eh? How would you feel about Muslims killing some guy for drinking wine? Or, as they tend to actually do from time to time, killing someone for apostacy.

You proceed with the implicit assumption that ethical norms are more sacrosanct than ritual ones, and that ritual practices are, and should be, personal. Where do you derive this from, if not from the Western Cultural values you take for granted? Surely the vast majority of cultures on Earth have not and do not currently share your bias.

A society demonstrates its most fundamental priorities and values through its legislation, and particularly through its application of capital punishment.

Western society has decided that theoretical truth and falsehood are personal matters, and that the only aspects of life that can be addressed by government regulation are social ones.

Judaism strongly disagrees with this view and maintains that a person's beliefs and ideas are of the utmost significance in his/her life, and exert substantial influence over the community in which he/she lives. Therefore, idolatry, Sabbath observance, magical practices, etc., all of which are seen as expressions of distorted and harmful philosophical thinking, are treated with the utmost seriousness in the Torah.

Open discussion and debate are valued in Judaism. Intellectualism is certainly prized, and human beings of all nations and races are considered equally capable of having a relationship with God and a portion in the World to Come.

However, the notion of pluralism for its own sake - as a substitute for establishing objective truth or at least striving to do so - is not a classical Jewish value. Judaism teaches that there are certain ideas and principles that must serve as the axiomatic foundation for any rational society, Jewish or non-Jewish.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

BHB,

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you here, but doesn't Islam fall under this umbrella as well?

Islam and the Quran in particular borrow heavily from Tanach, oftentimes literally word for word. Judaism had no predecessor from which it could have drawn or adapted its fundamentally radical ideas.

And if you are referring to antiquity, then some of these elements to not seem to apply to Judaism (e.g a world where miracles was not the norm).

We've been here before...The Tanach doesn't depict a world in which miracles are the norm. Avraham experienced very little miraculous in his life. Yitschaq experienced nothing miraculous. Yaaqov may have had one or two unusual dreams and some fortuitous providential assistance, but no open miracles that I recall.

Miracles are consistently presented as deviations from the norm, not the norm itself.

The most beautiful and poignant expression of this is the fact that Judaism is the only religion in which the creation of the world, and not a miraculous occurence in history, is the focal theme of the holiest day in the religious calendar, Shabbat.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"Read this article:
http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.63/18mishpatim.htm
It puts the topic in proper perspective."

I think that article is simply apologetics creating an entirely novel perspective based on the commentary and re-understanding of the passage thousands of years after it was penned.

The text is not complicated. It only requires such fancy obfuscation because it is morally problematic.

"Convert or die would be the rule if we required conversion to Judaism. Here, it is simply basic decency and removal of primitive idol worship. What do you have against such basic standards?"

No, not at all. Convert away from idols or die. Is that better? Do you honestly think it's moral to kill someone if they refuse to stop believing in idolatry?

"Sacrifices are limited in scope and importance in the Torah because they are clearly not the primary expression of religious life in Judaism, even from the beginning."

If you say so. Seems to me like a lot of pages are wasted on the minutiae of a ritual that isn't that important. What ritual takes up more space than sacrifices in the Torah?

"You proceed with the implicit assumption that ethical norms are more sacrosanct than ritual ones, and that ritual practices are, and should be, personal. Where do you derive this from, if not from the Western Cultural values you take for granted?"

It's based on the principles of religious tolerance wherein, for one point, your religion of choice may not always be the one of the majority.

Or did you not notice how Jews, a couple of times in history, got it a bit rough for not following the customs of the nations they lived amongst?

You speak a lot of fancy words, but an old-time Israelite killing an apostate through authority of the Torah is just as morally offensive as a modern-day Muslim doing the same in the name of Allah.

I ask you, Rabbi Maroof, if suppose today a beit din existed and was prepared to condemn a man to stoning for riding a car on Shabbos - would you do nothing to stop it? Indeed, would you think it just?

"Open discussion and debate are valued in Judaism. Intellectualism is certainly prized, and human beings of all nations and races are considered equally capable of having a relationship with God and a portion in the World to Come."

I say that you're offering a limited perspective of Judaism. It's more of a mixed bag.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The article (although I read it in Hebrew, so I am not sure how the English translation reads) doesn't strike me as apologetic in the least. That is a subjective biased judgment from a person who's already made up their mind about what the Torah "really" means.

No, not at all. Convert away from idols or die. Is that better? Do you honestly think it's moral to kill someone if they refuse to stop believing in idolatry?

First of all, it is the action, not the belief, that is actually punished. It is no less moral to establish consequences for implementing false ideologies than it is to establish consequences for the commission of murder. They are both profoundly harmful for human existence - one on the physical plane, the other on the intellectual plane.

You are presupposing that the material level of existence is more significant and therefore more worthy of government protection. But this is just your personal sentiment and you have not even attempted to prove it. The fact is that primitive idolatry stood in the way of human cultural progress and intellectual growth for millenia. It was responsible for much destruction.

It's based on the principles of religious tolerance wherein, for one point, your religion of choice may not always be the one of the majority.

Religious tolerance is a nice social practice but doesn't make for a consistent philosophy. You don't really tolerate the Eucharist intellectually, do you? And if you thought that the practice of the Eucharist threatened to uproot your religious convictions, infiltrate or distort them somehow, you wouldn't want to put a stop to it? This was the position the Jews were in.

You speak a lot of fancy words, but an old-time Israelite killing an apostate through authority of the Torah is just as morally offensive as a modern-day Muslim doing the same in the name of Allah.

If Muslims faced the extermination of their monotheism due to apostasy, and they enforced their beliefs via rule of law rather than terrorism and unbridled aggression that is a reflection of pagan Arab Culture rather than Islam per se, I don't see what basis anyone could have for considering it immoral. That would be anachronistic projection of Western liberalism onto a different culture which, to its credit, at least takes theological and moral truth claims seriously rather than relegating them to the world of sentiment.

I ask you, Rabbi Maroof, if suppose today a beit din existed and was prepared to condemn a man to stoning for riding a car on Shabbos - would you do nothing to stop it? Indeed, would you think it just?

If the law of the society dictated that Shabbat violation was a capital offense because it demonstrates the rejection of God as creator (a fundamental of Jewish thought and practice), and an individual who was duly warned by two kosher witnesses disregarded their pleas and purposely defied the law, it would be absolutely moral for the Bet Din to execute him.

That is how legal systems work; in fact, halacha is particularly humane, since you would have to be almost completely insane to violate Shabbat in front of two witnesses who had warned you not to.

Criminals in our country are not given the benefit of this warning nor is their execution contingent upon 2 unrelated witnesses directly perceiving the crime.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

"The article (although I read it in Hebrew, so I am not sure how the English translation reads) doesn't strike me as apologetic in the least. That is a subjective biased judgment from a person who's already made up their mind about what the Torah "really" means."

No, the guy uses Talmudic concepts and the commentaries of people living thousands of years after it was written to tell us what the text 'really' meant. But there's nothing there, in fact, that disputes what I said earlier. That a man could beat his slave to death without penalty. He could beat him every night within an inch of his life and that's given the ok. And if he were to succumb to his injuries a day or two later, well, that just happens sometimes.

"First of all, it is the action, not the belief, that is actually punished."

Same difference. You're gonna kill someone for doing voodoo?

"It is no less moral to establish consequences for implementing false ideologies than it is to establish consequences for the commission of murder. They are both profoundly harmful for human existence - one on the physical plane, the other on the intellectual plane."

Do you note notice how you're talking like an Inquisitor?

"You are presupposing that the material level of existence is more significant and therefore more worthy of government protection. But this is just your personal sentiment and you have not even attempted to prove it."

Actually I haven't spoken of worth at all. But being as I believe in free speech, freedom of religion, and hell, basically a free society in general - the totalitarian theocracy you are proposing just plain scares me. It's taken awhile, but humanity has progressed from that awfully suppressive and inhumane form of governance.

That you believe it would be some sort of ideal society just shows how out of whack your priorities are.

"The fact is that primitive idolatry stood in the way of human cultural progress and intellectual growth for millenia. It was responsible for much destruction."

And therefore genocide is the answer? I'm none too fond of communism either, what do you suggest we do?

"Religious tolerance is a nice social practice but doesn't make for a consistent philosophy. You don't really tolerate the Eucharist intellectually, do you?"

You can be just as consistent without declaring murder to be the will of God.

"If Muslims faced the extermination of their monotheism due to apostasy, and they enforced their beliefs via rule of law rather than terrorism and unbridled aggression that is a reflection of pagan Arab Culture rather than Islam per se, I don't see what basis anyone could have for considering it immoral."

Wow. There is no way that you really think that's true. Would it matter to you if the Muslim had converted to Judaism? That's just as worthy of death, y'know.

"If the law of the society dictated that Shabbat violation was a capital offense because it demonstrates the rejection of God as creator (a fundamental of Jewish thought and practice), and an individual who was duly warned by two kosher witnesses disregarded their pleas and purposely defied the law, it would be absolutely moral for the Bet Din to execute him."

Wow. I'm glad you're not in charge. Practically the mirror image of Antiochus.

"That is how legal systems work; in fact, halacha is particularly humane, since you would have to be almost completely insane to violate Shabbat in front of two witnesses who had warned you not to."

Or a political activist rebelling against the oppressive regime.

Or maybe you're someone who doesn't believe in the State's religion and you're just practicing your own. Jews were killed for being 'insane' and studying Torah when the law made that a capital offense.

If they had had a fair trial and warnings (which they often did) would that make it moral?

Satyaman said...

<<<<<< It is no less moral to establish consequences for implementing false ideologies>>>

Who determines what is a *false ideology* -Rabbis, who base there own ideology on a religion that (with all due respect) has a great deal of evidence against its veracity and very little evidence in support of its truth claims. Also democracy and many of the rights that you and I take for granted in western society would be considered a *false ideology* by torah standards

>>> It is no less moral to establish consequences for implementing false ideologies than it is to establish consequences for the commission of murder.) >>

This is far fetched. As stated earlier, democracy and other freedoms of the west that would be a *false ideology* be torah standards could hardly be equated to murder.

>>>>They are both profoundly harmful for human existence - one on the physical plane, the other on the intellectual plane.>>>>

As stated above individual rights such as freedom of religion, equality before the law (compare western notions of “equality before the law” with Torah’s heinous and discriminatory laws regarding goyim) and democracy would be considered *profoundly harmful* and inimical to Torah dictates. Furthermore, from many other points of view (views that are not rooted in primitive pagenism), Judaism’s chauvinism, elitism and self defined moral absolutism would be considered * profoundly harmful for human existence,* spiritually and physically

Satyaman said...

>>>You are presupposing that the material level of existence is more significant and therefore more worthy of government protection.>>

You are presupposing that only Torah can protect the spiritual well being of a society. Many would disagree. Although I do not want to engage in a discussion of the merits of many Eastern forms of spirituality, many of which would be technically defined as avodah zorah, I believe, after much reflection and study, that it those systems could be just as effective as Judaism, in terms of safeguarding a communities spiritual well being.


>>>>The fact is that primitive idolatry stood in the way of human cultural progress and intellectual growth for millenia. It was responsible for much destruction.>>>


It is true that the “primitive idolatry” of the ancient near east was detrimental to human progress, but it would be misleading to depict such “primitive idolatry” as the worldwide norm. It would also be misleading to suggest that all ancient spiritual systems outside the monotheistic traditions are primitive or harmful; many, such as Buddhism (which has little dogma and is in fact anti-dogma) are just as profound and lofty as Judaism; many would argue more so. Also, ancient India, China, Rome, and Greece had highly sophisticated cultures - - philosophically, technologically, politically, and to some extent morally(in this regard please do not misrepresent ancient world morality with gross oversimplifications and straw men) - - despite their idolatrous practices. Idolatrous Rome and its western heirs could have advanced to what we now term “modern society” within a few centuries if not for the middle ages, where the progress of Western civilization virtually stopped. What caused the dark ages, a period that * stood in the way of human cultural progress and intellectual growth for millenia.?* Why - - the Church. And why did the Church stand in the way of progress? Because progressive ideas, which were heretical, represented a theological threat to the Church’s cherished religious beliefs. Do you really believe that a Jewish theocracy would be different from the Church? Slifkin affair, etc.

Satyaman said...

>>>>Religious tolerance is a nice social practice but doesn't make for a consistent philosophy. You don't really tolerate the Eucharist intellectually, do you?>>>

I don’t agree with it, but I tolerate it.

>>>And if you thought that the practice of the Eucharist threatened to uproot your religious convictions, infiltrate or distort them somehow, you wouldn't want to put a stop to it? This was the position the Jews were in. >>>

Judaism’s threatens to uproot Christian religious convictions. In fact from the Christian point of view-Jews undermine the moral order of Christianity by visibly and arrogantly (from their view) asserting their cherished religious convictions that directly contradicts supposed Christian religious truths. This can undermine the masses confidence in the truth of xtianity. Ditto for Islam. I always wondered why frum Jews would get so incensed at Christian persecution of Jews when torah law would treat the heretic in the exact same way. I guess this is okay because, unlike the Christians, we have the one true religion.

In all honesty, don’t you think it more moral to have freedom of conscience, in light of the fact that objective assessment of any religious tradition is full of holes? In another words, if you are going to impose your way on everyone, which means snuffing out freedom of conscience, don’t you think you should have very persuasive evidence that your view is true. You don’t have to prove this 100%, just more probably then not - -a much lesser standard then beyond a reasonable doubt. NO religion can pass this test – especially those religions that are based on some sort of revealed truth. In fact, religious tolerance is implicitly based on the assumption that no one can prove his or her religion. (Lets not throw stones when we live in a glass house) As such, we should acknowledge the moral superiority that the Western pluralistic framework affords.



>>>>If Muslims faced the extermination of their monotheism due to apostasy, and they enforced their beliefs via rule of law rather than terrorism and unbridled aggression that is a reflection of pagan Arab Culture rather than Islam per se, I don't see what basis anyone could have for considering it immoral.>>
NOT TRUE-Muslim extremism is not *a reflection of pagan Arab Culture.* It is a reflection of the inherent intolerance that emanates from any religion that asserts a monopoly on the truth. Such intolerance would have the full sanction of our religion.

>>> extermination of their monotheism due to apostasy>>
Apostasy does not exterminate any religion. A different view of life, cruelty, hypocrisy, and in the modern age a lack of evidence are what destroy any one’s monotheism. If a tradition conforms common sense and if its truth claims are supported by evidence then it has nothing to fear.

Satyaman said...

>>>>Criminals in our country are not given the benefit of this warning nor is their execution contingent upon 2 unrelated witnesses directly perceiving the crime.>>>

This I misleading. You know that the kings had a separate system of justice that was sanctioned by Torah and that did not have the rigorous procedure safeguards you allude to. They executed many. This is just an issue of jurisdiction. The kings had jurisdiction and the religious courts di not. Also Rabbinical often invoked horat sha ah as authority to execute and punish without the evidentiary safeguards that Torah requires.

Anonymous said...

"Western society has decided that theoretical truth and falsehood are personal matters, and that the only aspects of life that can be addressed by government regulation are social ones.

Judaism strongly disagrees with this view ...."

RJM--

Well put. I think this encapsulates the underlying disagreement between you and OP. In the end, however, I have to come down on his side of this debate. Even as an observant Jew, I can't possibly justify killing someone over ritual observance, regardless of the priority placed on it by the Torah-- perhaps I'm too western (as my rabbi has told me), but, like OP, I shudder at the notion of a society run by people convinced they have a monopoly on truth. Obviously, this is a problem for an observant Jew, since it means that, notwithstanding my Orthodoxy, I think the Torah is just plain wrong about a number of things.

alex said...

(((But this is a poor argument. "There are details in the traditional view that are literally miraculous and hence impossible to explain. Even an

implausible myth generation is still more plausible than the impossible since it requires no magic to accomplish.")))

It appears that you assuming that any natural explanation is preferable to the occurrence of a non-natural event. That sounds reasonable...

However, Rabbi Gottlieb already addressed this here: http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Credibility_Of_Testimony.htm Besides, a wise

man once said, "Now, maybe some people find the chance assertion to be reasonable, but I don't. There are way too many awesome things

happening in our universe to chock it all up to luck." It seems that this wise man is comfortable with "magic" when it comes to some "awesome

things (Creation, of some sort)," but not with other "awesome things (Revelation, of some sort)."

(((So was there an a Kurukshetra War? Probably. As Rabbi Gottlieb says, it's very difficult to make something like a national epic up and have

people believe it. But are the details all correct? Did four million people really go to war? Were there really only seven survivors? Did they really

use magic and talk to gods? I think those are just embellishments on a true story. )))

You are right, we have to distinguish between the really publicly experienced event [according to the story] and the details that [according to

the story] were only experienced by a few. Rabbi Gottlieb's argument only applies to the former, so the latter could certainly be the result of

normal myth-formation for all his argument shows. [Of course, absence of this argument is not an argument that the details of our story are absent.]

So if you wanted to admit that the entire ancestry of the Jewish people witnessed the revelation at Sinai, and want to except details like exactly

where Moses, Joshua and the elders stood, etc., then I think you and Rabbi Gottlieb would have no disagreement. But if you think that the real

core could be very different and the main event an embellishment, then you'd have to prove your case from real events in history. Now the war in

India you admit should be regarded as historical. You just think that its scope and some of the details were invented. We can agree about the

scope- and details-aspect. If you think that there is large-scale invention concerning the scope and size of the war, I will reply that a war is fought

between armies comprising only a small percentage of the population. The Kurukshetra case is a war fought in one location allegedly involving

armies from many nations. Thus the story does not describe an experience of all the individuals in the population - not even near that. So again

the Kuzari argument does not apply [ i.e. the Indian war is not a counter-example].

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"It seems that this wise man is comfortable with "magic" when it comes to some "awesome things (Creation, of some sort)," but not with other "awesome things (Revelation, of some sort)."

There's a big difference between the question of the origin of the universe and the question of whether an unconfirmed event occurred or not within the universe. We know that the universe came into being and so we seek explanation, even if it verges on the unbelievable because there are no other options.

But we have many more reasonable explanations available for the claim of revelation.

"You are right, we have to distinguish between the really publicly experienced event [according to the story] and the details that [according to the story] were only experienced by a few. Rabbi Gottlieb's argument only applies to the former, so the latter could certainly be the result of normal myth-formation for all his argument shows."

Ok, so a war of a combined 4 million over only 18 days with only seven survivors was something that the entire subcontinent 'knew' about.

I find those 'publically experienced events' to be highly unlikely.

"So if you wanted to admit that the entire ancestry of the Jewish people witnessed the revelation at Sinai, and want to except details like exactly where Moses, Joshua and the elders stood, etc., then I think you and Rabbi Gottlieb would have no disagreement. But if you think that the real core could be very different and the main event an embellishment, then you'd have to prove your case from real events in history."

How can I prove that? All I am showing is that the recorded story is far from a perfect source. Much could have changed over time.

"If you think that there is large-scale invention concerning the scope and size of the war, I will reply that a war is fought between armies comprising only a small percentage of the population. The Kurukshetra case is a war fought in one location allegedly involving armies from many nations. Thus the story does not describe an experience of all the individuals in the population - not even near that."

The whole subcontinent would be well aware of the effects of that kind of depopulation and scaled conflict if it happenned. It is a fair counter example.

Anonymous said...

One sigificant difference between TMS and tthe Kurushekra war is that all the witnesses to the war died or wandered off. This answers the question that a person hearing it for the first time would ask, ""If it really happened, why didn;t someone write it down, or why didnt my grandfather tell me?" Because all the witnesses dies or wandered off. If TMS is not true, someone approached the entirte jewish nation and said "You have to keep shabbos, suppport the Kohanim with Truma, be really good people, etc. beacuse G-d spoke to your grandfather." Why would anyone believe if it wasn't true.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"One sigificant difference between TMS and tthe Kurushekra war is that all the witnesses to the war died or wandered off."

As that same point was raised above, the witnesses were not necessarily witness to the battle itself - but they surely must have been witness to the massive depopulation and the experience of all those men leaving for war and never returning.

In any case, you are obviously coming into this whole Kuzari debate way way late. Myths don't form overnight and therefore they don't require some guy getting up one day and showing folks a whole Torah with no known history. There's an evolution of stories and practices.

People don't ask "How come my grandfather never heard of this?" because myths grow over time with later generations adding details to earlier versions of the story.

Anonymous said...

the significnat point of the Kurushkera war is that witnesse to the miracles died. Or course there where numerous wars, conquests and massive depopulations. that is part of history. All the witnesses to the miracles died.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

No, the point of the massive depopulation is significant in itself since it would have affected the entire subcontinent. There is no corroboration for this event, nor is there any reasonable way by which it could have happened. Thus in all likelihood, the event as such was _not_ part of history.

Rabban Gamliel said...

"Maybe you'll be surprised to hear this, but I don't think what you're saying is that far off the mark. The point of the "Kuzari Argument" is that events of the magnitude described in the Torah must have some historical basis."

The Kuzari argument has been exagerated as to its scope by people who haven't read it. But you are right. It argues for an event of contact and then on that basis we argue further along your lines if more frum than Orthoprax.