Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teaching Emunah - Then and Now



Over at Cross-Currents, my friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken has a brief essay entitled "Teaching Emunah to our Children" which stresses the importance of making emunah into something entirely rational and logical, following the approach of Rambam and along the lines of the "proofs of Torah" used in the Discovery Seminar. In the comments, someone brought up the topic of the "Four Animal Proof." I responded that this alleged proof is deeply problematic, and I noted that we are better off teaching about the extraordinary nature of Jewish history and the value of a Torah lifestyle rather than marketing such “proofs.”

Looking back at Dr. Marc Shapiro's fascinating post on Rav Kook, I noticed something that I had missed before (due it being overshadowed by the other fascinating revelations in that post). Rav Kook specifically addresses this idea of scientifically/logically "proving" the truths of Judaism:

Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor begins (ch. 2) by arguing that it is the “obligation of the true sages of the generation” to follow in the path of the medieval greats who were always concerned about those suffering religious confusion. While the contemporary spiritual leaders must respond to the concerns of modern Jews, R. Kook points out that since the issues confronting people today are so different than those of the medieval period, the works of the rishonim are of only limited value in confronting the current problems.
In ch. 3 R. Kook states that the medieval approach of trying to “prove” religion will not work in our day, and that in place of this, religious leaders should stress justice and righteousness, i.e., the humane values of Judaism.[6]


Dr. Shapiro's footnote has an especially interesting reference to Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg:

[6] R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg would later argue against trying to “prove” Judaism in the medieval fashion. In the post-Hume and post-Kantian world I thought that this was pretty much agreed upon by everyone. How wrong I was can be attested to all who attended my lecture on Maimonides at the 2008 New York Limmud conference and recall the dispute that took place afterwards. An individual who is involved in kiruv adamantly insisted that the major doctrines of Judaism can be proven to the same degree of certainty as a mathematical proof, and that these truths can thus be proven to non-Jews (who if they don’t accept the proofs are being intellectually dishonest). In this conception, there is no longer room for “belief” or “faith”; since the religion has been “proven” we can only speak of “knowledge”. The notion that Judaism could not be proven in this fashion was, I think, regarded by him as akin to heresy. I have had a lot of contact with “kiruv professionals” and had never come across such an approach. Yes, I know that people speak about the Kuzari proof for the giving of the Torah. However, I always understood this to be more in the way of a strong argument rather that an absolute proof, with the upshot of the latter being that one who denies the proof is regarded as intellectually dishonest or as a slave to his passions. I also know R. Elchanan Wasserman’s strong argument in favor of the viewpoint expressed by my interlocutor (see Kovetz Ma’amarim ve-Iggerot, pp. 1ff.), but before then had never actually found anyone who advocated this position, lock, stock and barrel. So the question to my learned readers is, is there a kiruv “school” today which does outreach based on the “Judaism can be proven” perspective?


Meanwhile, at Cross-Currents, it seems that people are misunderstanding what my book "The Camel, The Hare and the Hyrax" says. Here is a comment that I just submitted:

Rabbi Menken, you appear to have misunderstood my book. The Discovery crowd claims that we don’t know the identities of the animals in the Torah’s list, but I claim the exact opposite. What I proved was that we can be very, very confident about the identities of the animals in the Torah’s list – via Chazal, mesorah and from the consensus of everyone who has studied the zoology of the Torah, including Rabbonim as well as academics and zoologists. The problem that these animals don’t chew their cud is usually solved by saying that “maale gerah” doesn’t need to mean “chew the cud” – but once you redefine it, there are many more such animals. (This does not present a problem with the Torah, which makes no claim that these are the only such animals in the entire world.) There are certainly many gaps in the fossil record, but nobody with expertise in this area would claim that this is relevant to discussing the identities of these animals, for reasons that I explained in my book.

Regarding the statement in the Gemara in Chullin that this topic is a rejoinder to one who says that Torah is not from Heaven – there are at least three different explanations of what the Gemara means. The one used by Discovery was first proposed by Naftali Hertz Wessely.

If Discovery feels that the proof is solid and that my book has no merit, why can’t they publish a detailed explanation of the proof and rejoinder to my book? The answer is obvious. Incidentally, I should mention that a number of people in various Aish branches, as well as people from Arachim, accepted my conclusions and stopped using this “proof” for that reason.


I certainly think that Rav Kook's approach of teaching about the humane values of Judaism, in addition to teaching about the extraordinary nature of Jewish history and the value of a Torah lifestyle, makes for a better foundation.


(Note: Lately I had had to reject a number of comments that were off-topic, submitted by suspected trolls, or otherwise not abiding by the comment guidelines. Please familiarize yourself with these guidelines.)

52 comments:

  1. First, I'd like to suggest that neither yours nor Menken's approach is likely to be very successful. Sure, teaching about history and lifestyle is a little safer than teaching "proofs," but only because it's more subjective and cannot be quite as easily disproven. Instead of trying to convince people with shallow arguments, work on making Orthodoxy something people actually want to be a part of. I have no internal knowledge of Lubavitch, but they seem to be good at this.

    (It's truly amazing that Aish can successfully use proofs which, in reality, are actually disproofs. Perhaps they operate in such an ignorant environment that they can make practically any claim. It's also interesting to watch what happens when they learn of their error. Is there a moment of doubt in their minds? Invariably not. The very people who want others to change their beliefs based on logic and proof care not a whit about logic and proof when the table is turned.)

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  2. "I certainly think that Rav Kook's approach of teaching about the humane values of Judaism, in addition to teaching about the extraordinary nature of Jewish history and the value of a Torah lifestyle, makes for a better foundation."

    I agree.

    R. Yaakov Horowitz has pointed out that we can also learn from the successful approach of R. Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz in these matters. In Jonathan Rosenblum's biography, it's described how R. Mendelowitz studied and taught a wide-range of texts which are not commonly studied today, one of them being Doros HaRishonim. The latter may not be a panacea for every contemporary issue, but it is a text-based and analytical means of giving a strong foundation of mesorah during certain periods of history.

    (Linked below is a PDF of the table of contents; the seven-volume set is apparently also available on hebrewbooks.org, according to Marbitz Media, by searching for "Doros Harishonim" in Hebrew ):

    http://www.marbitz.com/dh-toc.pdf

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  3. The approach that I believe, R' Natan uses in his book, "The Camel, the Hare, and the Hyrax" is that the torah deals with animals and birds that the people receiving the torah knew (or would discover from their Canaanite neighbors). Lists of kosher and non-kosher animals (and non-kosher birds) in the torah are, therefore, not exhaustive. The reasonableness of this assertion can be garnered from the fact that most everyone eats turkey. Turkey is a new-world species for which there could not have been an ancient mesorah. We eat turkey simply because it could not have been on the torah's list of forbidden birds, being totally unknown in biblical times - as well as having the signs of a kosher bird listed in the talmud (but not in the torah).

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  4. I assume you are talking about the fact that it would be extremely difficult to prove Judaism through proofs from the existing works of the Rabbonim and the Torah. If I understand correctly, the point of many of your books is to show how science can be reconciled with Torah, and vice versa.

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  5. Selaim Mechaseh LaShfanim. Looks like your picture has it upside down.

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  6. Machseh, not mechaseh. And when the hyrax is hiding under the rock, you can't get such a good picture!

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  7. We eat turkey simply because it could not have been on the torah's list of forbidden birds, being totally unknown in biblical times

    Y. Aharon, I completely disagree. By that argument, turkey vultures, secretary birds and cassowaries would be kosher!

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  8. Natan, you only cited part of my comment. That comment ends with " - as well as having the signs of a kosher bird listed in the talmud (but not in the torah)."

    A more accurate rendition of that comment would have shown that I certainly do not maintain that all birds not included in the 24 or so listed in torah are ipso-facto kosher. The sages have wisely included signs for a kosher bird, and only those with the relevant signs may be eaten. I was merely addressing the issue of whether the torah's lists of kosher and non-kosher species is exhaustive. It is not, since most species would have been unknown to the generations in the desert. What, then, would be the point in inventing a name for something totally unknown?

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  9. Ah, now I understand what you mean (your original comment wasn't so clear). I agree!

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  10. @Y. Aharon:
    While I think you have a good point, the Torah's definition of species is based on characteristics rather than genetics. So, for example, bats are in the same classification as birds because they fly, even though genetically bats are in the same group as mammals. So while the Torah could not describe every species that exists genetically, it could (theoretically) describe every species that exists functionally.

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  11. Probably the best way to teach emunah is to introduce people to spiritual experiences, such as Shabbath induces.

    It seems to be that there is a lot to learn from Habad kiruv techniques, though their abandonment of normative Jewish theology should be roundly condemned.

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  12. What people don't seem to understand is that if you admit the possibility of an empirical or logical proof of Torah, you automatically admit the possibility of empirical or logical disproof, chas v'shalom.

    Either that or you are intellectially dishonest.

    As I was driving home tonight I realized that this may be a possible source for the hostility some in the Torah world have for science.

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  13. Althought there may not be absolute proofs for G-d's existence and the veracity of the Torah, there are pretty good arguments for them, and I think it is useful for kids/teenagers/young adults to read and think about these arguments at some point in their lives.

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  14. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I am pleased that you mentioned the Seridei Aish in the context of this post where you express agreement with the following comment:

    "R. Kook states that the medieval approach of trying to “prove” religion will not work in our day, and that in place of this, religious leaders should stress justice and righteousness, i.e., the humane values of Judaism.[6] "

    When I read this the first time in Dr. (rabbi?) Shapiro's original post, and again when I see you repeat this, I immediately think of the Seridei Aish's controversial correspondences which were actually published initially by Dr. Shapiro from what I understand. How can we stress "justice, righteousness, humane values," of Judaism in light of what seemed to me like very biting and perhaps accurate criticisms by the Seridei Aish when he bemoaned the fact that Jewish Talmudic law has serious disparities toward gentiles or that the Jewish treatment/view of gentiles was seemingly less than fair. He almost seemed to express a sort of "payback" aspect to antisemitism because of what he apparently felt were unfair laws.

    But 1. Why did he express this sentiment if we truly cannot change these laws and he himself had no interest or made no attempt in changing them himself - since/if they are integral to halakhic Judaism?

    2. How do we stress righteousness and justice in light of this? (Ok, I repeated that question from earlier in the post).

    I hope that you are aware of these writings I am referring to and that you will elaborate on these points which I find very difficult. I imagine many other Jews do as well.

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  15. Apropos to the subject, your readers may be interested in this short essay by Rabbi Broyde, in which he talks about searching for the truth vs proselytizing for the truth:
    http://www.yucommentator.com/2.2843/truth-seeking-as-the-mission-1.298938

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  16. Student V,

    One approach to your dilemma is to accept that our own moral intuitions are not always correct, while the Torah's are. I would add, however, that some of these halachoth which you find troublesome may be changed by a Sanhedrin, may one speedily arise. Do recall that we have until recently been in Exile for many centuries, under the heels of gentile persecution-what is moral now towards gentiles (what shall one do-all legal systems require generalizations) may not be moral in the future.

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  17. Student V - Jewish Talmudic law also has serious disparities towards women and how they are treated. Not much "justice, righteousness, humane values" there when it comes to women either.

    Although most of the Talmudic disparities towards women is not carried out in modern day life on a practical level, plenty of it is. One need not be a feminist to recognize it, or to wonder about how it fits into a humane, righteous and just model.

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  18. Mav:
    "So, for example, bats are in the same classification as birds because they fly, "
    while possible, and a very good teretz, this is not necessarily so.

    kt,
    josh

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  19. Michapeset-

    There is a need for decisors of halacha to take into account changed realities regarding women. Some things can be changed and those that can not may well be changed by a Sanhedrin. Rav Moshe Tzuriel, a great poseq once told me that he believes that when a Sanhedrin arises it will make changes in this regard.

    Remember that the natural state of affairs for the Jewish nation is to live as a nation in Eress Yisrael with a Sanhedrin. The fact that this has not been the case for a very long time is one explanation for things needing to be changed.

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  20. I don't think Student V is saying that the Torah is inhumane (and could therefore be answered by saying these laws can be changed). Rather, I think the question is that these are part of the "Torah Lifestyle" today, so how can we teach that such a lifestyle is "humane" and "extraordinary" when parts of it definitely aren't? Regardless of wether the laws were or will be humane, at present they are not and it would be deceptive and fallacious to present them, or the system they are part of, as such.

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  21. The Sanhedrin is a chimera. Sanhedrin simply means consensus. When there will be a Sanhedrin we will make Orthodox Judaism into Conservative Judaism, right? Or the Taliban. Depends on what we like. It's just a way of deferring action for never.

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  22. >>>>> Althought there may not be absolute proofs for G-d's existence and the veracity of the Torah, there are pretty good arguments for them,

    Yehuda,
    Much smarter people than me, and likely you as well, have debated this issue forever and there is no clear cut winner, so, you are wrong. There are NO good arguments for God’s existence. There are only arguments that make people of faith feel more comfortable with their faith.

    And as for the veracity of the Torah…. I’m not sure what you mean by “veracity”, but if you’re talking about truthfulness of the historicity of narrative, or the science of the Torah, the evidence (albeit circumstantial) is heavily weighted against this statement.

    >>>>> and I think it is useful for kids/teenagers/young adults to read and think about these arguments at some point in their lives.

    Absolutely not, the whole approach of convincing people intellectually is fraught with danger and is extremely flawed and i’m convinced will ultimately fail miserably.

    As a commenter earlier noted, Chabad’s approach (of teaching Ahavat Hashem, Yisroel and the Torah) is much more effective. I grew up in Lubavitch and have since left as I don’t/can’t espouse many of their ridiculous hashkofot, but their effect on me remains strong. and my beliefs are strongly tempered by my reasoning.

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  23. Maverick -

    If you assume that God is the author of the Torah, and
    If you assume that God is just, and God is moral, and
    If you assume that there are parts of the Torah that are not just and moral,
    Then...?

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  24. The Chassidim agree with you. They have long argued that convincing people with logic proofs is no good. This is the Chabad approach -- they never use Aish-style arguments. As for Breslov, they stress the benefits of emuna -- in particular, how life becomes almost like gan eden when one truly lives with a deep emuna that Hashem makes everything happen and does everything for the best, and fills one's life with personal prayer.

    While I agree with them (and your suggestions too), it does seem that Aish has been successful in getting a lot of people to become ba'alei tshuvah. There is the danger, though, that they will be disillusioned or feel betrayed and even go off the derekh if they later become exposed to arguments against these logical proofs (which they will, if they peruse the Orthodox and post-Orthodox blogosphere).

    I wonder if anyone has tried to construct a coherent argument about the existence of G-d and the truth of Judaism based on Jewish history alone. The line of the pesach service (in each generation someone arises to try to eliminate us) is a wonderful example of a prediction that actually proved true over millenia.

    Another argument for Orthodox Judaism that I think has been convincing to a lot of people is the apparent fact that it is the only thing that appears capable of preventing assimilation (at least in the diaspora) and the shrinkage of the Jewish people. According to statistics, most of the great-grandchildren of the non-Orthodox will be non-Jews. The argument goes, if you want the Jewish people to continue to exist and not shrink, Orthodox Judaism is the only thing that can get you there (besides moving to Israel). But this is more of a practical argument than an argument for the truth of our faith.

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  25. Mav, it doesn't really matter that the torah's listings may not correspond to distinct biological species as understood by modern science. If the bird or flying creature (not an insect) looks different, behaves differently, and doesn't produce fertile offspring from other such creatures, then it should have its own name. In fact, there are far more distinct birds that do not have the characteristics of a kosher bird than the 24 or so non-kosher birds listed in the torah. Then one can conclude either that the torah only forbids those 24 regardless of a lack of kosher signs - a position that is highly non-traditional, or that the torah only lists those birds known to the desert generations. I chose the latter alternative.

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  26. "Much smarter people than me, and likely you as well, have debated this issue forever and there is no clear cut winner, so, you are wrong. There are NO good arguments for God’s existence. There are only arguments that make people of faith feel more comfortable with their faith."

    I think the "much smarter people ..." argument really carries more water when we are talking about specialized bodies of knowledge that the uneducated are lacking in their ability to make meaningful distinctions--i.e. science, fine areas of halachah (to be apropos).

    These arguments for and against belief in Torah are not specialized in their nature at all, and require a minimum amount of preparation to appreciate them. One simply requires the ability to think, and a desire to think as objectively as (they ) possibly can. One is free to arrive at whatever conclusion they feel is most convincing. I happen to believe that the arguments are stronger than the counterarguments, although it appears self-evident to me that the arguments are not proofs in the mathematical sense.

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  27. >>>> These arguments for and against belief in Torah

    Sholom
    You employ the plural word “arguments”. Aside from the claim that there is an unbroken Mesorah going back to Sinai (which is a claim and not an argument) and its related Kuzari principle, could you kindly enlighten me as to what other arguments FOR the Torah you are referring to.

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  28. "What people don't seem to understand is that if you admit the possibility of an empirical or logical proof of Torah, you automatically admit the possibility of empirical or logical disproof, chas v'shalom.

    Either that or you are intellectially dishonest. "

    No. Intellectually dishonest is making the laughable claim that nothing in the Torah is empirical for the benefit of not having to deal with the myriad empirical problems, chas V'shalom.

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  29. "You employ the plural word “arguments”."

    Improbable survival of the Jewish people, amidst persecution and exile, including returning from exile to Israel. "Predicted" in Leviticus 26:32-33, Deuteronomy 28:37, Numbers 23:9, Deuteronomy 30:3-5.

    That suffices for argument(s).

    The argument from design features in the mesora--see midrash temurah, and the chovos halevavos. This argument, while not specific to Judaism, points to the existence of a creator, which is certainly consonant with Judaism.

    As stated above, these standard arguments are not proofs in the mathematical sense, as one can raise doubts (which are not synonymous with refutations BTW).

    Our job is to determine whether or not the doubts regarding the above are stronger than the arguments in favor. People must go there own way on these issues, as one is hard pressed to arrive at estimates of which side is stronger with definite mathematical precision. You state, however, that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, based on appeal to authority ("smarter people than me, and likely you"), an argument, which while attractive, is also not without its faults.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

    "kindly enlighten me"

    Ah ... the sweet taste of Internet condescension, masked as politeness!

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  30. Sholom.
    I take it your argument(s) that proves the “truth” of the Torah is that the Torah made predictions that came true.

    Lets see …
    (1) The prediction of exile as given in Lev. 26:32-33 could easily have been written after the exile(s) actually occurred, either after the North was exiled by Assyria or the South by Babylon. So that’s not a much of an argument.

    And as for prediction of the return to Israel. If you are referring to the return from Persia, again, the text could have been added to Devarim after the return. And if you are referring to the return in our time, the prediction is also not relevant as that prediction clearly talks about a return post-T’shuva by the Jews. Certainly not what happened.

    Furthermore, if you are invoking these texts as proof, the fact is that a meticulous reading of the details of these passages of both Tokhekhas in Lev. & Deut. show that many elements that were predicted that actually did not happen. Specifically, during the Persian exile (following the Persian defeat of the Babylonians), contrary to the predictions in the Torah, the Jewish community began to thrive and prosper in Persia. And that’s probably the reason they didn’t follow Ezra and Nechemia back to Israel. So, No much of "predictive" argument there.

    (2) Numbers 23:9 … (using Artscroll’s translation) … Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.

    I don't get this. Please tell me when this happened in history.

    (3) And Deut 28:37
    You will be a source of astonishment, a parable, and a conversation piece among the peoples where Hashem will lead you.

    Again., I see no special meaning to this verse except as a reference to the humiliation the exiled people will suffer. Text that can be applied to any exiled people.

    "Our job is to determine whether or not the doubts regarding the above are stronger than the arguments in favor. People must go there own way on these issues, "

    I agree.
    and I assume you must not a view of the whole picture because the arguments are much stronger against than for and that's why I repeat that the future of Judaism lies with the appeal to its many positive aspects and not by insisting that people must have faith and then provide a few arguments to support that faith,
    its simply not enough.

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  31. Elemir,
    An observation: I’ve twice stated that I do not believe these arguments to be irrefutable proof. Could you explain the basis for this statement of yours: “I take it your argument(s) that proves the “truth” of the Torah …”?

    To address some of your points:

    You make the claim that predictions surrounding a Jewish exile, and subsequent return, cannot be taken as proof of Torah. Because I have not admitted to having absolute proof, I will address this claim in the context of your above assertion that there are no good arguments for God’s existence. You point out that prophecies can be retroactively inserted into the Torah, after the fact, which you apply to the exiles preceding our current exile, including Persia. Regarding the Persian exile, you assert that some of the predictions did not come true, based on a claim that the Persian Jewish community was not impoverished, but was in fact wealthy. While I am not sure how this serves as an utter refutation of anything, I’d like to point out that the above two arguments you provide are incompatible with each other. The first claim is that a set of scribes retroactively inserted prophecies into the bible to gel with historical events that already occurred. You then make the claim that the said prophecies did not gel with historical events, at least in the case of the Persians. These positions are mutually contradictory.

    I suppose you can claim that the Jewish “scribes” who returned from Persia retroactively inserted erroneous, half-correct, but historically inaccurate, prophecies into their Scripture, but such an argument strikes me as far-fetched.

    The truth is, in my opinion, that one needn’t take these verses as speaking with regards to one and only one exile. The tochachot clearly depict exile as a punishment, contingent on certain behaviors exhibited by the Jewish people, which can occur at multiple points throughout history. As such, I see no reason to limit this condition to one era in history.

    However we do find in these verses, discussion of (1) exile (2) utter destruction of the land of Israel, with the implication that the land will remain relatively desolate and barren throughout periods of exile (3) Jews being thoroughly scattered as a condition of the exile (“scattering” implies to me to mean not by their choosing, and indeed much of the scattering of Jews has been done at the hands of their enemies via the initial expulsions from Israel, but followed by repeat expulsions from the lands in which they dwelt), (4) promises that the Jews will not be wiped out entirely, (5) return to the land of Israel, which has occurred on three major occasions.

    Though #4 can always be questioned--maybe tomorrow the Jews will be wiped out utterly!--we have reached a point in history where the survival of the Jews, in my opinion, makes the Torah’s claims of the future durability of the Jews as a nation, remarkably, and increasingly prescient. Not only have they survived, but they have thrived, and have remained a prominent and exceptional people, in spite of small numbers.

    Regarding #5, you state that complete repentance has not occurred. You assume that complete teshuvah of all Jews everywhere must occur before any sort of return to Israel is to be regarded as significant with respect to what is written in the Torah. I am not convinced that such a unilateral reading of the text is required, but your objection is noted.

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  32. I had to partition my response, apologies.

    Elemir,
    An observation: I’ve twice stated that I do not believe these arguments to be irrefutable proof. Could you explain the basis for this statement of yours: “I take it your argument(s) that proves the “truth” of the Torah …”?

    To address some of your points:

    You make the claim that predictions surrounding a Jewish exile, and subsequent return, cannot be taken as proof of Torah. Because I have not admitted to having absolute proof, I will address this claim in the context of your above assertion that there are no good arguments for God’s existence. You point out that prophecies can be retroactively inserted into the Torah, after the fact, which you apply to the exiles preceding our current exile, including Persia. Regarding the Persian exile, you assert that some of the predictions did not come true, based on a claim that the Persian Jewish community was not impoverished, but was in fact wealthy. While I am not sure how this serves as an utter refutation of anything, I’d like to point out that the above two arguments you provide are incompatible with each other. The first claim is that a set of scribes retroactively inserted prophecies into the bible to gel with historical events that already occurred. You then make the claim that the said prophecies did not gel with historical events, at least in the case of the Persians. These positions are mutually contradictory.

    I suppose you can claim that the Jewish “scribes” who returned from Persia retroactively inserted erroneous, half-correct, but historically inaccurate, prophecies into their Scripture, but such an argument strikes me as far-fetched.

    The truth is, in my opinion, that one needn’t take these verses as speaking with regards to one and only one exile. The tochachot clearly depict exile as a punishment, contingent on certain behaviors exhibited by the Jewish people, which can occur at multiple points throughout history. As such, I see no reason to limit this condition to one era in history.

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  33. However we do find in these verses, discussion of (1) exile (2) utter destruction of the land of Israel, with the implication that the land will remain relatively desolate and barren throughout periods of exile (3) Jews being thoroughly scattered as a condition of the exile (“scattering” implies to me to mean not by their choosing, and indeed much of the scattering of Jews has been done at the hands of their enemies via the initial expulsions from Israel, but followed by repeat expulsions from the lands in which they dwelt), (4) promises that the Jews will not be wiped out entirely, (5) return to the land of Israel, which has occurred on three major occasions.

    Though #4 can always be questioned--maybe tomorrow the Jews will be wiped out utterly!--we have reached a point in history where the survival of the Jews, in my opinion, makes the Torah’s claims of the future durability of the Jews as a nation, remarkably, and increasingly prescient. Not only have they survived, but they have thrived, and have remained a prominent and exceptional people, in spite of small numbers.

    Regarding #5, you state that complete repentance has not occurred. You assume that complete teshuvah of all Jews everywhere must occur before any sort of return to Israel is to be regarded as significant with respect to what is written in the Torah. I am not convinced that such a unilateral reading of the text is required, but your objection is noted.

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  34. Note that superficial comparisons can be made with other ethnic groups (e.g. gypsies) with regards to some, but not all, of the above statements (to my knowledge). I regard most such comparisons that I’ve seen as no more than superficial, however. Additionally, to place these ethnic groups on equal footing with Jews as competing candidates for religious truth, I would require (a) religous texts from these groups making similar unlikely predictions with respect to these groups, and (b) a revelation narrative of equal or greater stature as that of the Jewish claim (Kuzari). Otherwise the Jews are the best candidates as carriers of religious truth, in my opinion.

    One can posit that atheism remains a viable alternative. One can certainly argue this, but the problem is that in the realm of action you either live your life like a person who believes in God or you don’t. There is no middle ground when it comes to action. Either tomorrow you will put on tefillin or you won’t. I regard the, however, the remarkable history of the Jews, relative strength (though not absolute proof) offered by the Kuzari argument, as well as the argument from design to be sufficient basis to feel that it is reasonable to assume that there is a God, and that the Jews are the most likely carriers of religious truth.

    There is also the pragmatic problem, which can be viewed as a modified version of the Pascal’s wager. One can choose to live as an atheist. One can regard all of the mitzvot in the Torah as nonsense, and disregard them. If they are wrong, they will likely end up being punished in an afterlife, a fate which is assumed to outweigh in significance whatever transitory pleasures a person can encounter in this world. My advice to an atheist would be: make sure your belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being, as well as the belief that the Torah is complete fiction, greatly approaches certainty, as the “benefits” of living like an atheist may not be worth it. I admit that there may be some Jews who find living a Jewish life utterly repugnant, so the wager might not “feel” compelling to them. I am fortunate to not be in that category. Non-Jews have it easier, as they are obligated to follow the Noahide laws, which for the majority of them should not be that difficult.

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  35. Note that comparisons can be made with other ethnic groups (e.g. gypsies) with regards to some of the above statements. I regard such comparisons as no more than superficial, however. Additionally, to place other ethnic groups/religious groups on equal footing with Jews as competing candidates for religious truth, I would require (a) religious texts making similar unlikely predictions with respect to these groups, and (b) a revelation narrative of equal or greater stature as that of the Jewish claim (Kuzari).

    One can posit that atheism remains a viable alternative. One can certainly argue this, but the problem is that in the realm of action you either live your life like a person who believes in God or you don’t. There is no middle ground when it comes to action. Either tomorrow you will put on tefillin or you won’t. I regard the, however, the remarkable history of the Jews, relative strength (though not absolute proof) offered by the Kuzari argument, as well as the argument from design to be sufficient basis to feel that it is reasonable to assume that there is a God, and that the Jews are the most likely carriers of religious truth.

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  36. There is also the pragmatic problem, which can be viewed as a modified version of the Pascal’s wager. One can choose to live as an atheist. One can regard all of the mitzvot in the Torah as nonsense, and disregard them. If they are wrong, they will likely end up being punished in an afterlife, a fate which is assumed to outweigh in significance whatever transitory pleasures a person can encounter in this world. My advice to an atheist would be: make sure your belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being, as well as the belief that the Torah is complete fiction, greatly approaches certainty, as the “benefits” of living like an atheist may not be worth it. I admit that there may be some Jews who find living a Jewish life utterly repugnant, so the wager might not “feel” compelling to them. I am fortunate to not be in that category. Non-Jews have it easier, as they are obligated to follow the Noahide laws, which for the majority of them should not be that difficult.

    Another implication that you make: The description of the Jews dwelling alone, or not being reckoned as one of the nations, never came true.

    I’m not sure what you are looking for, as the verse can have at least two basic meanings: that Jews would be set apart from other nations, regarded as the perpetual “other” by the nations, or that Jews would succeed at a certain self-segregation, based on their adherence to their religion. Both have occurred, although the feature common to the above two interpretations appears to be the absence of utter assimilation with the nations, an unlikely, though not unheard of, occurrence in the history of the world.

    Jews have been bounced around from nation to nation throughout most of their history, being repeatedly expelled from European, and Muslim lands. The term wandering Jew is well-known, and yet Jews have preserved their distinct religion in spite of being scattered throughout the world, and subjected to repeated persecutions.

    Even assimilation has not been a fail-safe means of being absorbed into the surrounding nations. The Holocaust was orchestrated by a country that had a large population of assimilated Jews, who, by rights, should have regarded them as one of the Germans. Even the modern state of Israel, in my opinion, is subject to a myriad of unfair accusations, and is generally subjected to standards of behavior not nearly as frequently expected from other nations of the world. Although there has been plenty of assimilation amongst Jews, as a whole the Jewish people have been remarkable for preserving their distinct religion, and distinct value system, in spite of their’s being an unpopular religion, with few converts, and small numbers.

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  37. There is also the pragmatic problem, which can be viewed as a modified version of the Pascal’s wager. One can choose to live as an atheist. One can regard all of the mitzvot in the Torah as nonsense, and disregard them. If they are wrong, they will likely end up being punished in an afterlife, a fate which is assumed to outweigh in significance whatever transitory pleasures a person can encounter in this world. My advice to an atheist would be: make sure your belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being, as well as the belief that the Torah is complete fiction, greatly approaches certainty, as the “benefits” of living like an atheist may not be worth it. I admit that there may be some Jews who find living a Jewish life utterly repugnant, so the wager might not “feel” compelling to them. I am fortunate to not be in that category. Non-Jews have it easier, as they are obligated to follow the Noahide laws, which for the majority of them should not be that difficult.

    Another implication that you make: The description of the Jews dwelling alone, or not being reckoned as one of the nations, never came true.

    I’m not sure what you are looking for, as the verse can have at least two basic meanings: that Jews would be set apart from other nations, regarded as the perpetual “other” by the nations, or that Jews would succeed at a certain self-segregation, based on their adherence to their religion. Both have occurred, although the feature common to the above two interpretations appears to be the absence of utter assimilation with the nations, an unlikely, though not unheard of, occurrence in the history of the world.

    Jews have been bounced around from nation to nation throughout most of their history, being repeatedly expelled from European, and Muslim lands. The term wandering Jew is well-known, and yet Jews have preserved their distinct religion in spite of being scattered throughout the world, and subjected to repeated persecutions.

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  38. Regarding your claim here:
    “I repeat that the future of Judaism lies with the appeal to its many positive aspects and not by insisting that people must have faith and then provide a few arguments to support that faith,
    its simply not enough.”

    Please cite for me these “many positive aspects.” I would in particular be interested in seeing which of the examples you cite cannot be replicated by a non-Jewish society, without the myriad set of obligations Judaism imposes.

    Additionally, provide me with some examples of societies of trully orthoprax Jews--i.e. Jews that do not believe in Judaism, but none the less practice it faithfully, that have survived for millenia, as we have found with religious Jews. Your solution to the problem of Jewish continuity doesn’t appear to be bolstered by robust historical examples, but correct me if I am wrong.

    (Apologies, I won't post such long posts in the future).

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  39. Related to the discussion between Elemir and Sholom, even though I am not sure which is correct, I wanted to offer up the following nitpick -

    Even though it may have occurred under secular auspices (in fact, the first aliyah was religious, and there was a certain zionistic revival among the traditional Jews, but it was much smaller in scale) - I find the spurning of galut and the emergent attitude which embraced the land of Israel on a national scale a form of teshuvah.

    Maybe it's not teshuva in the complete sense, and certainly the ethical improvement is essential, but according to the Rambam, society, peace, and freedom from the yoke of the nations, is established first and only at that point can the national infrastructure be used to then spiritually improve ourselves nationally and individually by creating an ethical society.
    I believe this is a very important point.

    Nonetheless, I think you are both making strong arguments and an easy answer seems quite elusive.

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  40. Sholom, I appreciate the time and effort that went into your many postings, and i don’t know if I have the time to respond to all it, but I will try it in pieces, at least.

    Before, I say anything, I want you to know that to a very large extent i agree with you in that the survival of the Jews and Judaism is remarkable, and this fact plays a major role, among many other reasons, in why I am shomer Torah u’mitvot.

    That being said, let me get to the matters at hand.

    You said: >>>> While I am not sure how this serves as an utter refutation of anything, I’d like to point out that the above two arguments you provide are incompatible with each other. The first claim is that a set of scribes retroactively inserted prophecies into the bible to gel with historical events that already occurred. You then make the claim that the said prophecies did not gel with historical events, at least in the case of the Persians. These positions are mutually contradictory.

    Yes they are contradictory, but this “contradiction” is the key to something quite important and revealing. One must realize that the contradiction only results because the specific “forecast” made in the Torah (i.e. that the Jews will be subjugated and live in extreme misery in exile) appears only in Dev., and is not found in Vayikrah.

    To explain further, this “contradiction” forms just one element in presenting a case for the idea (theory) that the two passages were inserted by different people living in different times. The Tokhekheh in Devari-im was written by someone who lived towards the end of the Beit rishon period and the author was cognizant (or maybe even experienced) the then recent Assyrian exile of the North, and all the events that followed that exile, while the passages in Vayikra were written by a returning exilee (maybe Ezra) and presents his view of the then recent history.

    To see how this functions, it is important to compare the contents of the two Tokhekhot.

    Basically, both make general statements about all the evils that will befall Israel should they abandon Hashem’s laws. All kinds of plagues, pestilence, drought, horrible famine, and finally exile.

    Now, the important thing is to note the differences or delineate the more specific predictions that are made in the text following the general punishments.

    • Vayikra says that the temple(s) will be destroyed (verse 26:31). Dev. does NOT. (Note: this is consistent with the premise that the Dev. Tokh. was written when the temple was still extant and Vay. was written after its destruction.)
    • Vayikra makes a big deal about the exile being a direct punishment for the land not having been fallow each 7 years (Shmittah: verses 26:34 & 26:43). And, it’s a big deal because firstly, it’s mentioned not once, but twice and secondly, it’s the ONLY mitzvah singled out for mentioning. While on the other hand Dev. makes no mention of Shmittah (fallow land). And, notably, this is consistent with Dev. omitting fallow land related Shmittah among its list of mitzvot. Dev.’s definition of Shmittah, as you well know, has to do with debt cancellation.
    • Vayikra then talks about vidui and tshuva and God’s remembering His covenant, This would be consistent with somebody who has experienced or has knowledge of the Jews returning to the Land. While Dev. has none of this. (I know that it appears later in the sefer)

    So based on the above, my point is that to use the prophecies of the Torah as an argument for its “truth” is very much a two-edged sword.

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  41. Elemir: What are you talking about? Do I understand you to say that parts of the Torah were written after the Jews got into Israel? You can't be serious.

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  42. >>>>>> Elemir: What are you talking about? Do I understand you to say that parts of the Torah were written after the Jews got into Israel? You can't be serious.

    Despite the Rambam’s principle 8 that we must believe that every word in the Torah was written by Moishe (upon God’s dictation), it's likely NOT true.

    Sefer Neh. 8 tells us that Ezra presented a Sefer Torah to the people that had parts they didn’t recognize. (Particularly mitzva of succhot)

    Apocryphal 4th Book of Ezra (don’t know how credible the book was to rabbinic Judaism) tells us that the Torah was forgotten and recovered by Ezra. He could easily have added many sections.

    The Ibn Ezra clearly held (see beginning of Devarim) that parts of Khumash were added later.

    So ya, I’m serious.

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  43. With regards to the post about the 2 versions of the Tokhekheh, I forgot a very important and telling difference.

    The Tokh. In Dev. says that the exile will be a return to Egypt (and Egypt appears in other places in the text. While in Vayikra, Egypt plays no role, and again this is consistent with what Tanakh tells us, that many refugees fled to Egypt, both post the Assyrian exile and during the centuries that followed.

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  44. Elemir: Can I ask why you refer to Devarim as "Devari-im" ? What is that exactly?

    Also, isn't the critics' claim that Josiah 'found' Devarim in the attic? So if that was only the 4th book of the Torah, howcome we have no recounting of "finding" Devarim in a pit somewhere or whatever? I'm surprised by what you say because I thought the claim of the Bible critics was that Josiah "found" the 5th and last book of the Torah.

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  45. I can't compete with kofrim and "Bible critics" who have lost their way. Even to think to critique the word of God is kefirah. Yes, it was all given to Moshe on Sinai, even the Book of Devarim, even the part about his death before it happened.

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  46. >>>> Elemir: Can I ask why you refer to Devarim as "Devari-im" ? What is that exactly?

    It’s called a typo. (or maybe it’s a Freudian slip, in which case I have to think about).

    >>>> Also, isn't the critics' claim that Josiah 'found' Devarim in the attic?

    I think it’s also a medrash that this book was sefer Devarim.

    Although I don't read much on the DH and its related material, I believe it’s very much unresolved issue as to which book Devarim is, chronologically, in the opinion of these scholars.

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  47. Elemir:

    Oh, I have seen devari-im written on other blogs too, so I guess people made the same typo. I thought it was some kind of code language that I didn't get.

    I see what you are saying. However, in my comment I actually made a mistake because the second time that I mentioned 'finding Devarim in a pit,' I meant to say Vayikra. (You may have understood what I meant though). So what I am surprised by is that you seem to say there were two separate additions to the Torah - a 4th book and then a 5th book. Regardless of whether the scholars agree on what was the 5th one chronologically, I'm just surprised to see this view. I'm curious are there scholars who claim that?

    I never heard of the "apocryphal 4th book of Ezra" but somewhere in Avos DeRabi Nathan the issue with Ezra and the alterations of the Torah are mentioned (ie words with the dots over them). It is quoted by the Gra and by some rishonim and no one raises a fuss. It later caused a controversy though when brought up to Rav Moshe Feinstein who basically said that this statement in Avos d'RN is a forgery (my explanation of him saying that is IOW he disagrees with it as an acceptable premise in light of our adherence to 13 principles).

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  48. >>>> I'm curious are there scholars who claim that?

    If you mean DH scholars, i'm not sure the baal hablog cares that we get into a DH discussion here. if you want to dialogue, kindly email me and i'll be more than pleased to respond (time willing)

    elemirda@yahoo.ca

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  49. Hi Elemir,
    Thank you for your thoughts, as they’ve required me to consider this issue from somewhat different angles than before. Although what’s written below strikes me as reasonable, I haven’t framed some of these ideas in this fashion in the past, so I still regard some of these conclusions as tentative. Turns out I lied in my promise to be brief.

    You assert that the Torah cannot be (definitely) proven to be a prophetic document, because at the outset doubt can exist as to whether or not it represents the work of a single author, versus multiple authors over a large span of time.

    You note that the two Tochachot (in Lev. and Devarim) contain discrepant accounts that could be read as applying to two distinct periods in Jewish history. Devarim describes untold suffering and poverty, which could possibly be attributable to the Babylonian exile, whereas Lev. does not contain so many dire predictions, but it alludes to the destruction places of worship, possibly reflecting the destruction of the first Temple, but relative affluence of the Persian Jewish community. You note that these divergent Torah readings can be interpreted as describing two distinct periods in Jewish history. If our a-priori assumption is that the Torah is not prophetic, we can speculate about the existence of multiple authors.

    I agree that we are free to accept the above as a hypothesis, although I think there is room to debate the strength of this hypothesis, including what our default assumption about the text of the Torah, and its authorship (single vs. multiple), should be. Before proceeding to conclude that the above Tochachot refer to two specific authors, there would need to be a conclusive argument that the above verses could only apply to the individual exiles in question (Persian, Babylonian, pre/post destruction), which I don’t think can be done. Such specifics as names of gentile dictators, or dates, aren’t provided--the predictions aren’t that specific, so there is no reason to limit a given prediction to only one point in history. We would also, of course, have to assume that there is no divine authorship. The latter assumption, on an a priori basis, namely that the Torah is not divine, is reasonable for a person approaching the Torah for the first time, as there’s no reason to assume, at first blush, that any random text is prophetic.

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  50. I don’t believe, however, that the assumption of multiple authorship is reasonable a priori. A single author, in this respect, strikes me as the more valid assumption, a-priori, and the burden of proof lies on the shoulders of those that advocate multiple authors to demonstrate that the alternative is in fact true. I think this is the approach that anyone would use when examining an unmarked piece of narrative text. If I came across a novel, with the front pages torn off, I wouldn’t assume multiple authors, unless there was overwhelming support for this (the most obvious evidence being attribution to multiple authors within the text/table of contents).

    It turns out, however, that if a single author writes a book that predicts various unlikely events, and those events come true, we can then begin to speculate that this author had prior knowledge, which leads to speculations about prophecy. All the more so if the text itself claims to be prophetic.

    Of course alternative hypotheses could still exist: (a) the events in question were not so unlikely, so there’s nothing especially remarkable about the predictions (b) the (presumably non-prophetic) author got “lucky” in his predictions or (c) there are multiple authors, who-after the fact-retrofitted “prophecies” into the Torah text, even if these retrofitted prophecies lacked such specificity as to clearly ear-mark them as referring to a particular exile, and no other.

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  51. I disagree with (a), as I’ve stated in a prior post. I think Jewish history is too extraordinary to claim it as anything less than remarkable. A person is at liberty to assume (b)--people do win the lottery! I don’t regard this as the preferred assumption--unlikely predictions are still unlikely--and there are pragmatic problems that arise (the modified Pascal’s wager, as above). A person can assume (c) (multiple authorship), but it is not an assumption that I make a priori. I don’t view it as valid to assert this as an a-priori assumption, if the primary reason in so doing is simply to avoid single authorship, with the realization that single authorship could lead us in the direction of prophecy, depending on how Jewish history unfolds. According to the above reasoning, speculations about prophecy are not even made a priori--they can proceed, however, after the fact, from the assumption of single authorship.

    I am aware that extensive discussion regarding this topic inevitably calls up the whole field of modern Biblical criticism, and the documentary hypothesis, which has been popular for over a century now. I know a million books have been written on the subject, but I am not aware of this hypothesis as being anything more than a hypothesis, in spite of the feelings of academics. Although, generally speaking I do not advocate dismissing secular studies, in the arena of biblical scholarship, I do think a Jew is justified at being skeptical regarding the assertions of secular or gentile scholars. The gentile world has an extremely long history of reinterpreting the Tanach to suit their own aims, and it seems a bit naive to assume that folks like Welldhausen were motivated solely by a desire for truth.

    Obviously evidence of multiple authorship does not always present itself so readily, as in the case of direct attribution (e.g. in the table of contents) to multiple authors, so one can attempt to resort to all sorts of indirect means of inferring that there are multiple authors. Stylistic variations in the text seem to be a popular method for proceeding with this analysis, but this strikes me as an inherently weak basis to determine multiple authorship, as a single individual can employ stylistic differences in a single text to accomplish a given purpose. To cite an example from modern literature, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury contains segments that radically differ from each other in terms of style, and narrative voice, given the multiple perspectives that the book encompasses. It seems that much of biblical criticism is based on analysis of this sort, which lends a certain lack of precision to the claims of these critics, in spite of after the fact attempts at searching for internal consistency across the text to fit with their assumptions.

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  52. Sholom

    I apologize that my reply will be substantially less in content than yours, as I simply do not have the time (or maybe even the patience) to write as extensively as is needed to respond properly. I have not even gotten around to responding to many of your previous posts.

    To your latest post, I want to make 2 points.

    1) Even were I to concur that the Torah does indeed contain prophetic passages, this still does not prove divine authorship. After all are not also the books of Tenakh like Isa., Jer., etc. considered to contain prophetic messages and yet nobody claims that they were authored by God.

    2) As for multiple authorship of the Torah, let me first ask you the following question. If someone were to present you with 2 books, and claim that they were authored by the same person, and that the contents are a true and accurate reflection of that individual’s practices and beliefs, and you read the books. In one the author repeatedly insists that he believes in God and in the other he states that he is an atheist. In one book he says that he was born in say, Montreal, and in the other he says that he was born in New York. In one he says that he played golf every Sunday and in the other he says he went to church every Sunday, and you find at least a dozen more of these contradictions.
    So the question is: would you then say that the hypothesis that the 2 authors are NOT the same is not much of an hypothesis based on the above? Is not such “evidence” meaningful at all?

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