Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Limits of Rationalism

A number of people have written to ask me about the limits of rationalism:

"I am bothered by a certain aspect to the approach that we are taking as rationalists... We analyze our religion rationally only within the acceptable area. For example, we will never entertain the idea that our religion is fabricated and that it is all for naught because that would violate a tenet of our religion. However, in an analysis of history or science there are no walls that are taboo to cross. Why should our analysis of our religion be limited by boundaries if we seek truth? As rationalists, if we were G-d forbid presented with evidence that our religion got it all wrong would we not be forced to accept it? I guess I am struggling with the fact that unwavering belief in anything is not truly rational."

It's difficult to deal with such a topic within the confines of a blog post. I will touch on related aspects of it on other occasions. But I want to make a start, and hopefully thereby be able to clear several emails from my inbox in one fell swoop!

In my view, although some of the Rishonim applied the rationalist approach to Judaism without limitations, we cannot do so. This is for both practical and theoretical reasons.

Practically speaking, there is considerable conflict between 21st century academic scholarship and 21st century Orthodox Jewish ideology. I'm not talking about matters such as evolution, which are not at all theologically problematic; rather, I am talking about the much more difficult challenges from Biblical scholarship, philosophy of religion, archeology and so on. Now, some people consider those challenges to be without merit, or to be outweighed by historical or other arguments in favor of Orthodox Jewish ideology. But others see there as being serious problems here. They either choose to live with the difficulty, or have to significantly modify their understanding of Judaism to suit it, in a way that might be satisfactory for them, but is unsuitable and/or unacceptable for wider Orthodox society.

I don't see this as reason to entirely discard the rationalist approach. Besides, it's just not possible to do so; you can't make people shut their minds off, and Judaism does not expect people to do so. The rationalist approach is well-grounded in tradition and is of great value in how we relate to Torah and mitzvos. Nevertheless, I think it should be accepted from the outset that there can be limits to this approach.

On a theoretical level, I think that there is an irreducible conflict between the very nature of emunah and rationalism. Perhaps there can be a rational basis for faith (depending on how one defines those fundamentals). But if rationalism means that beliefs are always subject to re-evaluation based upon the open-minded evaluation of new evidence and arguments, then I don't see how this is compatible with emunah, which requires absolute commitment to God and does not even permit one to seriously consider alternatives (although, as Rabbi Norman Lamm argues in Faith & Doubt, a certain degree of doubt may be acceptable; emunah being loyalty-to rather than belief-that). Frankly, I think that many Jews today have been dangerously misled by Discovery-style presentations and books into thinking that Judaism unequivocally requires emunah to be based only on logical, scientific considerations; and they have been likewise misled into thinking that religion only has legitimacy and value if based on such methodology. Sure, the rationalist Rishonim thought that, but we're not living in 13th century Spain anymore, and it was rather an aberration in that regard.

All this is in reference to ideologies and approaches, not to people. There are, inevitably, people who attempt to apply a rationalist approach all the way. Some of them believe that the results support the tenets of emunah. Others believe that they do not - which itself does not necessarily mean anything about whether and how they continue to live their lives as Orthodox Jews. More on that topic on another occasion.

(See too this post: Drawing the Line: Is Rationalism Futile?)

69 comments:

  1. It seems to me we need less "rationalism" and more reason.

    Many in the scientific community act as though we have not fulfilled our epistomological duty without having a great deal of material evidence to support a claim, even though in their day to day reasoning they can be much more down to earth.

    Many in the philosophical community challenge our ability to "know" anything, raising the bar even higher (effectively abandoning it). While I believe that there is room to explore such questions, and believe it does have some relevance, in day to day life their reasoning is much more down to earth.

    The Discovery Seminar didn't invent using argumentation to support Jewish beliefs. The Spanish Rationalists didn't either. The Torah and the Nevi'im did, although perhaps not systematically.

    The problem is I think we need to recognize, as I think really most have, that we have not been blessed with a "silver bullet" deductive proof of our faith. That doesn't mean that we don't have inductive reasons for accepting it (and the induction problem isn't sufficient reason to abandon induction). The Rambam very clearly wanted to try to establish as much of Judaism via philosophy as possible. I think most of us would tend to expect that many/most metaphysical ideas can only be known via Revelation.

    Well, I've carried on enough I suppose...

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  2. Mostly RationalistJuly 10, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    I'd like to compliment both R' Slifkin and R' Yirmiahu on their fine posts.
    I'd like to share an interesting quote that I came across recently. I can find fault in it, but I still like it. I hope your readers will like it, too:

    From GK Chesterton:

    If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

    (Chesterton concludes that only the ability to hold truths that appear to be contradictory keeps us sane):

    Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them . . . Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also . . . It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

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  3. Logic is one source of wisdom. The correct use of intuition and emotion is another.

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  4. Although I have not seen this addressed here, this directly touches upon what is called "The New TANACH Studies" which came out of the Yaacov Herzog-Yeshivat Har Etzion-"Megadim" group starting in the 1980's. Among the leading figures in this are Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, Rav Yaakov Medan, Rav Elhanan Samet and possibly Rav Mordechai Breuer, among numerous others.
    These studies strongly support the use of archaeology and modern historical and scientific work to understand the Torah/Tanach, including the historical context in which it was received by Am Israel (this is in the spirit of Rav Slifkin's pointing out that the mention of the sea monsters in Bereshit is made in order to demystify them, something that was important at the time of Matan Torah...this is a good example). They also avoid the approach of thinking of the Biblical heroes like the Avot, Moshe Rabbenu, David HaMelech and others as simply being Malachim who are far beyond the comprehension of modern man, but as flesh-and-blood people with emotions and attitudes similar to modern people, but who still had the power of prophecy.
    The important thing to remember is that as controversial as this approach may be to "hard-liners" (Haredim and others, many of whom are within the National Religious camp) is that all these studies are done with yirat Shamayim and yirat haKodesh.
    The problem comes when devotees of this approach (as I have become) reply to conservative critics who oppose the use of archaelogy and historical studies, begin to accuse them of not being 'open-minded' enough, just like in the argument about evolution. Yet, we can possibly be accused of hypocrisy since we DO NOT question the reality of prophecy and "matan Torah b'Sinai" and the truth of the Torah. Thus, the question again boils down to "where do you draw the line"? Is it "rational" to accept "Torah miSinai" or do we need to suspend our rationality at that point?

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  5. Maybe this approach is better:

    http://azure.org.il/article.php?id=560

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  6. I heard a speech by Prof. Moshe Sokol a few years ago, where he argued that according to many academics, there is no field of Jewish philosophy. The reason is because philosophy allows one to deduce facts with human reason, while religion assumes certain things such as the Torah being from G-D, which cannot be argued. If I remember correctly his point was that there can be Jewish philosophy but only in a limited sense, in other words after certain facts have been accepted.

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  7. I must admit, this post makes no sense to me.

    You aren't giving real rational explanations for the limit of Rationalism.

    You are looking after the fact. Do "we" agree with this conclusions? If Yes, then it fits within Rationalism, if No, then it is outside of it.

    To me, there are real and true limits on rationalism. But modern academia, archaeology, and biblical criticism are not them.

    As the famous science biology teacher once said... "If there is a conflict between the cat and the textbook, the cat is right."


    For me, the problem is not the limit of rationalism, it is the limit of using the "opinions of experts" as your basis for rationalism. Opinions of experts change in some areas, and don't really change in the other areas. Looking at the history of thought, gives you some good indications if a specific ideas is likely to change or not. However, there is always a current "expert opinion". The true rationalist, in my mind, would know when you hold judgement, and when to know if some new knowledge must be incorporated in with the old.

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  8. " Is it "rational" to accept "Torah miSinai" or do we need to suspend our rationality at that point?"

    It is my view, that archeology has proven certain things to be wrong with Talmudic Mesorah. Just like we accept that the Talmud has mistaken medical advice, it also has mistaken historical advice. (also known as a not reading agadatahs for their literal merit)

    Now that I know, that the Torah and tanach do not give us a timeline which we can deduce and base a clear history from it, the question is what does the Torah and Tanach actually tell us? What is stated in the text, and what is assumed based on our external timeline? One must then compare the archaeological facts (not assumptions) with the text, and see if a new timeline can be understood. I believe it can, and reading Torah and Tanach in this light has made the story of the text's creation fairly straight forward to me.


    The long of the short of it is, "What does Torah M'Sinai" mean?

    Because one thing is clear. the Chumash and Talmud do NOT support the idea that the Torah was given in entirety on mount sinai. It was given on Sinai, in the tent of meeting, and in the plains of Moav. It was further given to the prophets, from which we derive many halachot. In other words, any serious study of the topic, will show you that "Torah M'sinai" is a literary or legal claim, not a historical one.

    You don't even have to study the Rishonim to see this. It's all stated very clearly in the Talmud.

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  9. I just want to add, in case there is any confusion...

    Eseret Dibrot at Har Sinai ,exodus from Egypt, and conquest of Israel, are historical claims. But when those events occurred, what date, which century, how many years apart even, can not be derived from the text, (for various reasons). However, modern biblical archaeology likes to use the medieval timeline of the bible to try to collaborate evidence, which again, scientifically is making the whole enterprise backwards.

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  10. Rabbi Marc Angel has a book titled
    Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism. He outlines the differences in the approach of the Rambam, who was a religious rationalist, and Spinoza, whose rationalism led him to reject Torah. It gives a good outline of what the limits are in order to maintain one's faith while still adhering to rationalist principles.

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  11. As a struggling Jew this post just confirms my deepest fears that there is no such thing as a truly rationalist Judaism. If we were to examine the very foundations of our faith such as the divine origins of the Torah they won't stand up to the test, so in order to remain rationalist we stipulate from the outset that we are not willing to go there. 

    Why on earth should we apply reason and logic to evaluating if evolution is compatable with Torah, but not apply at least the same level of reason and logic to making sure the Torah is true. 

    The evidence in favor of the documentary hypothesis is extremely compelling, and supported by the archeological record. 

    If I was able to ignore the facts and pretend that Matan Torah and Yetziat Mitzrayim as described in the Totah actually happened, then I wouldn't need a book like the challenge of creation. I could just delude myself about that also. 

    As you wrote so well, it's not possible to ask people to shut their minds off. But isn't that exactly what you suggest we do with regards to the origins of the Torah?

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  12. It's not always possible to tell people to shut their minds off. But some people are willing, and themselves consider it appropriate, to make an akeidah of the intellect for the fundamentals of faith.

    Besides, you make it sound as though if a person is convinced that yetziyas Mitzrayim and Matan Torah did not happen as described in the Torah, then there's no reason to be an Orthodox Jew. But that's not the case.

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  13. That's certainly a big sacrifice to make.

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on why a person would remain an Orthodox Jew if Yetziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah never happened, other than if they are more comfortable with the lifestyle of OJ than the alternative.

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  14. That will be the topic of a future post. But, by the way, there's a huge difference between saying that "yetziyat mitzrayim didn't happen as described in the pashut peshat of the Torah" and "Matan Torah never happened."

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    Replies
    1. Hi R' Slifkin! I'm just coming across your excellent blog recently...did you ever write the future post you talk about in this comment? If so, what's it called? Thank you!

      Delete
  15. "It's not always possible to tell people to shut their minds off. But some people are willing, and themselves consider it appropriate, to make an akeidah of the intellect for the fundamentals of faith."

    Why then the separation of Rationalist and non-rationalist?
    If at the end of the day, (in your view) they are both doing the same thing, only at different places?

    Why is the akeida ok for one fudmental of faith, (correctness of all of torah) but not ok for another fundemental of faith (correctnes of all of talmud)?

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  16. To be sure there are different ways how we can define Matan Torah.

    But if the Torah is a collection of many different works that was put together long after the time when Matan Torah supposedly took place, discussing mythological events that probably never happened, then there is no good reason to assume that it is divine in origin.

    Unless there is something I'm missing?

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  17. "That will be the topic of a future post. But, by the way, there's a huge difference between saying that "yetziyat mitzrayim didn't happen as described in the pashut peshat of the Torah" and "Matan Torah never happened.""

    Even your defender R. Jeremy Wieder seems to preclude such an option, as I recall:



    "Rabbi Weider rules out the possibility of allegorically interpreting Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, correctly noting that it is among the most fundamental of the fundamentals. Regarding allegorically interpreting Yitziyas Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, he expresses some reservations about saying it is forbidden categorically but argues that it is “safek heresy” since whatever would cause one to interpret Yitziyas Mitzrayim allegorically would logically compel one to do so with Matan Torah. This is what I would call “avak kefirah,” the dust of heresy. An idea may not in and of itself infringe upon a fundamental principle but if one follows such logic to its conclusion it would infringe upon a fundamental principle."
    http://machzikeihadas.blogspot.com/2009/04/critique-of-rabbi-jeremy-weiders-when.html

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  18. There's a huge difference between saying that "yetziyat mitzrayim didn't happen as described in the pashut peshat of the Torah" and saying "yetziyat mitzrayim never happened."

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  19. In case my last comment wasn't clear - I fully agree with Rav Wieder.

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  20. "That will be the topic of a future post" - I would like to see your post on this topic as soon as possible (why be an orthodox jew if certain things didn't happen as described in the Torah). Although I don't like the tenor of Meir's postings which are very negative toward Orthodox judaism, he does make a good point - Why do we apply rationalism to some areas and not others? Is there a brightline rule of thumb? Also, you say that there is a difference between saying that matan torah didn't happen as described and matan torah didn't happen period - what does that mean to you?

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  21. Also, you say that there is a difference between saying that matan torah didn't happen as described and matan torah didn't happen period

    Sorry, I was referring to yetziyas mitzrayim.

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  22. [Sorry about the length of the the following comments, but I've been thinking about this subject for years so I've got a lot to say.]

    The way I look at belief is as follows:

    As philosophers like to point out, there is no real way to prove anything other than one's own existence and experiences. So you can never absolutely prove pretty much anything, including religion. So the only way to convince someone to believe something is to use arguments based on psychology. In other words, you can say: "according to your own self-accepted criteria for belief, you would accept the following as true."

    So let's turn to psychology. What are the psychological criteria that make us believe things? I think they can be divided into five categories:

    (1) A priori assumptions that seem "hard-wired" into the human psyche: e.g., basic rules of logic
    (2) Rationalist reasons for belief: I believe something because, taking all the information I have into account, that seems the most logical.
    (3) Assumptions given to us by the society or culture in which we live: e.g., Western vs. Eastern systems of values and reasoning, basic assumptions about the way the world works, etc.
    (4) Experiential beliefs: e.g., I see a red ball so I believe it's actually red. Many, especially in Eastern modes of thought, extend this to say that if I have an experience that makes me feel that something is true, then I accept it as true.
    (5) Motivational reasons for belief: I believe something because it's more comfortable for me to believe it than otherwise, or because otherwise I'd have to suffer physical or emotional pain, or because I just want to believe it. This sort of thing is usually subconscious, but one can also consciously decide to believe something.

    Actually, these categories are mostly interconnected. For example, rationalism is usually based on a priori assumptions and culturally accepted methods of reasoning. Cultural assumptions are often accepted for motivational reasons (e.g., otherwise you'd be ostracized by your community, which is decidedly uncomfortable), or for rationalist reasons (e.g., from experience we've learned that trusting our cultural assumptions is a good bet, so why not do so here too?). Experiential reasons for belief can also be related to motivational reasons (if I didn't trust my experiences then I'd go insane) or rationalist reasons (I've learned to trust my experiences in the past, so I should do so now too).

    So now for the main question: Can these reasons for belief be used to argue in favor of religion, specifically Judaism? Well, we can immediately knock out a priori assumptions, since we don't seem to a priori believe in religion. The rationalist reason is debatable, as has been said (although it can certainly be used to supplement other lines of reasoning).

    [To be continued ...]

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  23. [continued from previous post]

    So now for the main question: Can these reasons for belief be used to argue in favor of religion, specifically Judaism? Well, we can immediately knock out a priori assumptions, since we don't seem to a priori believe in religion. The rationalist reason is debatable, as has been said (although it can certainly be used to supplement other lines of reasoning).

    What about the other three criteria for belief?

    Cultural assumptions

    The argument here would be as follows: Assuming you grew up with Judaism as a culturally-imbibed assumption, and assuming that you don't have very strong arguments (rational or motivational) to the contrary, then you should believe in Judaism according to your own criteria for belief - just as you'd believe other assumptions given to you by your culture.

    I'm aware that this can be debated, since we don't always blindly accept assumptions given to us by our culture, but at the very least it can be combined with other lines of reasoning as a strong argument in favor of belief.

    Experiential belief

    The argument here would be almost identical to the previous one: Assuming you have had an experience that makes Judaism feel "true" to you, and assuming that you don't have very strong arguments (rational or motivational) to the contrary, then you should believe in Judaism according to your own criteria for belief - just as you'd believe other things you "feel" to be true.

    This line of reasoning has been argued in various places on the web (see for example - start from the earliest post), so I'm not going to discuss it in depth.

    [to be continued ...]

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  24. i dont understand how you answered the question exactly?

    if we apply the natural rational approach to judaism and then find inconsistency and falshood then notwithstanding what your dad or school taught you the honest intellectual will( and should) leave that perspective...

    which some want to say is precisely the reason for mass revelation (i know some on this blog dont believe that so obviously disregard this part) which is unique to judaism as opposed to all other religions...

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  25. [continued from previous comment]

    Motivational reasons for belief

    Personally, I think this is the most powerful reason for belief. The arguments in this direction were first made popular by the great French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th century, and are therefore referred to as Pascal's Wager. Basically, it goes as follows (slightly modified):

    If religion is correct:
    ○ Atheists and other non-believers may or may not get relatively minor pleasure in this world, but they will get infinite agony in the next.
    ○ Believers may or may not get relatively minor suffering in this world, but they will get infinite bliss in the next.
    If atheism is correct:
    ○ Non-believers may or may not get relatively minor pleasure in this world; there is nothing after death.
    ○ Believers may or may not get relatively minor suffering in this world; there is nothing after death.
    Based on your assessment of how logical religion is vs. atheism, how much are you willing to bet?

    To pick between mutually exclusive religions (each of which predicts infinite agony for believers of the others), choose the one that seems most plausible.

    [That last line is my modification, and it's the reason why Christians rejected Pascal's argument - they realized that there's no reason why Christianity would seem logically more plausible than any other religion! But Judaism doesn't have this problem, since, at least when compared with Christianity, Judaism is in fact much more plausible.]

    Infinities are a little hard to deal with, so I like to think of it like this: Imagine that you have two cups in front of you. You must drink one of them. The first cup is known to be one of the most delicious drinks on Earth. This is probably your only chance to try it. However, there is a small chance that it contains a terrible poison that will cause you unspeakable torture and agony every second of every day for the next 100 years. The second cup may not taste so good. In fact, it may cause you some discomfort or even some relatively brief but intense pain. On the other hand, there's a small chance that it contains a magical potion that will grant you great wealth, perfect happiness, and immortality. Close your eyes and vividly imagine the scenario. Weigh the options very carefully. How much are you willing to bet?

    According to Pascal’s Wager, even if there’s a very small chance that religion is correct, we should still go with it just because the alternatives are not worth the risk.

    However, this only helps us choose religion over atheism. It does not tell us which religion to pick (assuming that we’re dealing with mutually exclusive religions, each predicting agony and suffering on followers of all other religions). For this one would need to resort to rationalist arguments or to the other types of criteria for belief. Let's start with rationalism:

    First of all, most world religions are out (including all the Eastern religions, from what I understand), since they don't predict doom for members of other religions. What about the little religions, those based on a guy standing up on a soapbox in Times Square and predicting doom on all who don't believe he's god? Those are also out, since they're certainly less plausible than other religions. They're even less plausible than super-anti-rationalist Orthodox Judaism, since that at least has some arguments in its favor (attend your local Discovery seminar for a list).

    So we're basically left with the Big Three western religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I think it's safe to say that Judaism is by far the most rational of the three. So, since it does indeed predict infinite bliss for believers and infinite agony for non-believers, Pascal's Wager should tell us to pick Judaism as our system of belief.

    [to be continued ...]

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  26. [continued from previous comment]

    But now let's take Pascal's Wager even further. Which sect of Judaism should we believe in? Let's use the Wager to analyze the choices:

    The orthodox groups condemn everybody less orthodox than them (or at least anybody intentionally choosing to be less orthodox than them, even after considering other options) to pain and suffering, and promise great reward for their followers. The non-orthodox groups, on the other hand, do not condemn the orthodox groups, although they may consider them to be backwards, crazy, or worse. Applying Pascal’s Wager, we should side with the orthodox groups, since the risks involved in siding with the non-orthodox groups are just too large.

    What about choosing between the different orthodox groups? At first it would seem that using Pascal’s Wager we should end up having to choose the most extreme form of Ultra-Ultra-Orthodoxy.

    But there's a twist here. Even the most extreme Ultra-Orthodox groups agree that one can and must use the accepted system of psak. (And although I don’t know of anyone who rejects this system, doing so may arguably label one as a poresh min hatzibur, which the Rambam (see Hilchos Teshuva 3:11) says is itself ein lo cheilek l'olam habah!) Part of this system is that one is allowed and even obligated (under certain conditions) to follow the opinions of one’s rebbi and/or rav. Furthermore, one is sometimes even allowed to follow one’s own opinion after sufficient study and research. So, yes, using Pascal’s Wager here would require that one must have a qualified rebbi (i.e., someone recognized by accepted halachic standards to be a talmid chacham and a bar samcha), and/or one must thoroughly research the subject according to accepted guidelines. But if one’s rebbi and/or research tells them to act or believe in a certain manner, then according to everybody one has the right to do so.

    [I have a lot more to say about Pascal's Wager, including responses to several possible objections to it, but I think this comment is way too long as it is, so I'll hold off on that for now.]
    ______________________

    To summarize:

    We can't prove anything from pure logic, so we need to resort to psychological reasons for belief. In other words, we can say, "according to your own accepted criteria for belief, you should believe the following as well."

    Rationalist arguments would be the most convincing to most people (at least in the Western world), but it's debatable how far they can go. But in any case they can be used to bolster other non-rationalist reasons to believe.

    We normally do believe assumptions given to us by our culture and society, unless we have good motivational or rational reason to doubt them. We also normally trust our own experiences and (many would say) we also trust what we "feel" to be true. So, although perhaps debatable, these may indeed be strong arguments in favor of belief.

    The most powerful criteria for belief in religion, in my mind, is the motivational criteria. This essentially takes the form of Pascal's Wager, which, with minor modifications, should actually tell us to choose Orthodox Judaism over every other religion, despite any rational arguments to the contrary.

    Taken all together, I think these three reasons (cultural assumptions, personal experiences, and Pascal's Wager), together with Discovery-style rationalist proofs, are an extremely powerful argument in favor of belief.

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  27. Okay. I don't want this comment thread to devolve into an endless debate between believers and non-believers as to whether or not it is rational to accept the tenets of Judaism. So any more comments like that, in either direction, will not be posted.

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  28. The Abarbanel, hardly one to shy away from opinions differing from Chazal, insists that you can't allegorize as you please.

    אברבנאל בראשית פרק ב

    שאם נתיר לעשות צורה בחלק הזה ממעשה בראשית ולהוציא הכתובים מפשוטם ולהמשך אחר המושכל מי המונע שנעשה ג"כ צורה במלאכת ששת הימים ונאמר ג"כ שאינם כפי פשוטם כי זה וזה מעשה בראשית הן ונתבטלה ג"כ אמונת חדוש העולם שנלמוד מפשטי הכתובים.

    Contrary to what someone once posited on Dennis Prager's program:

    אברבנאל בראשית פרק כב

    ואנשים מבני עמנו כתבו על זה שכיון הרב בו לענין עקדת יצחק שכיון שנזכר שם שמיעת דברי מלאך הכל היה המעשה הזה מתחלתו ועד סופו במראה הנבואה ושלא עבר דבר ממנו בהקיץ. נעויתי משמוע נבהלתי מראות אנשים מבני ישראל וכתבו על ספר האפיקורוסו' הזה

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  29. Abarbanel was a complex figure; in some ways very radical, in other ways very conservative. For a lengthy discussion of different views regarding allegorization, see The Challenge Of Creation. But in any case, many modern readers approach the whole topic very differently from medievals; Rambam's idea about all angel-stories being visions, and his allegorical interpretations of various things, seem very strange to modern ears. There's a good article by Joshua Golding on non-literal readings of Scripture.

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  30. To all right-wingers who are saying to R. Slifkin that it's unacceptable to use allegory or broaden the theological tent in any way, etc. - why don't you engage people like Meir instead? Or are you just ready to tell Meir that if he's not going to believe that there were five million Jews in Egypt, or that the story of Noah is entirely historical, he might as well not believe anything at all, as he's not a kosher Jew anyway?

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  31. I always wonder at how much real research of primary sources and published results have people studied when they say "the evidence for doc theory, no matan torah archeology etc) is compelling"?

    People often say such things after reading a couple secondary books (or taking an undergrad course) loaded with interpretations of actual factual findings made by those who interpret based on their own intuitions on what the findings should mean.

    And even those findings which seem to be agaisnt the mesora at first glance should be analyzed from the primary finding to see if there is a consistent, non-preposterous theory of how this finding can fit the mesora, and if there is, then it is not evidene agianst anything.

    In terms of archeology we have situations like that of Jericho where it was "discovered" that it was destroyed too early for the Israelites to have done it, only to be "undiscovered" many years later by digging around a bit more.

    It is completely rationalist to come up with rational, consistent theories of how findings can be fit into the mesora as long as these theories are self-consistent and do not make claims that are demonstrably false.

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  32. 'Regarding allegorically interpreting Yitziyas Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, he expresses some reservations about saying it is forbidden categorically but argues that it is “safek heresy” since whatever would cause one to interpret Yitziyas Mitzrayim allegorically would logically compel one to do so with Matan Torah.'

    I don't see that such logic necessarily follows at all. And Rambam did not include belief in Yitziat Mitzrayim in his list of 13 ikkarim.

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  33. iarwain, is not it more logical to just believe in G-d and being a good person and to take the best out of all religions? Why sweat the pujas, the Haj, the Comunion or Kashrus? Why isn't the Bahai faith the most rational? The Pascal Wager never worked for me. It's the epitome of she lo leshem Shamaim! OMG, keeping halacha 'just in case' G-d cares! What kind of religion is this?

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  34. At what point do you reach the proper limits of faith and reason? That's the 64,000 shekel question. Several thousand years of religion and we don't yet have a good, clear answer.

    I'm put in mind of one of Mohammed's followers whose camel wandered off. He prayed, but the camel didn't come back, so he went to the Commander of the Faithful and said "You told me to trust in God, but my camel still left!"

    Mohammed replied "Trust in God, but first tie up your camel."

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  35. "People often say such things after reading a couple secondary books (or taking an undergrad course) loaded with interpretations of actual factual findings made by those who interpret based on their own intuitions on what the findings should mean... In terms of archeology we have situations like that of Jericho where it was "discovered" that it was destroyed too early for the Israelites to have done it, only to be "undiscovered" many years later by digging around a bit more. "

    I'm very far from an expert in this topic but last I know the story is exactly the opposite. An archeologist by the name of John Garstang was sponsored by the evangelicals to go excavate Jericho and "prove" the bible true; of course, he promptly came to the very same already determined unbiased opinion for which he was hired. Later, Kathleen Kenyon determined that the Egyptians were busy expelling the Hyksos when the walls were destroyed (~1500bc) and that the Jericho was desolate when the exodus would have occurred (13th century bc). Would you mind updating me with your primary sources?

    "And even those findings which seem to be agaisnt the mesora at first glance should be analyzed from the primary finding to see if there is a consistent, non-preposterous theory of how this finding can fit the mesora, and if there is, then it is not evidene agianst anything."

    In general, this is, perhaps, the most serious flaw in Orthodox Jewish apologetics. Allow me to illustrate. I met a man the other day who claimed that there was a huge talking toad in his bathroom. When I saw no such toad, he explained that the toad shrinks remarkably when a person is in the bathroom. I pointed out that I heard no talking, and he explained that the sound was too high pitched for the human ear. I left a video camera in the bathroom, but he explained that video cameras count as people because, after all, they can see as well. I brought a dog into the bathroom, and the dog did not seem to react to the high pitched talking. My friend explained that the toad speaks very soothingly, especially to dogs.

    Sorry for the silly story, but the point is this. You can come up with a "consistent" theory, finding new ways to explain away the evidence each time a new issue comes up. And each time the teretz might seem somewhat reasonable; after all, video cameras sort of do see like people and why can't talking toads speak soothingly? But if you think that just because your teretz is consistent and not preposterous that you've dealt with the evidence or made your claim in the least sensible, you're very wrong.

    In seeking truth, gemarah has taught us to value logical consistency and do away with plausibility but that doesn't work in the real world. "Cheesurei mechserah v'hachi katani" and "hachah bimai askeenun" are never answered with "give me a break."

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  36. Yirmiahu said: "The Discovery Seminar didn't invent using argumentation to support Jewish beliefs. The Spanish Rationalists didn't either. The Torah and the Nevi'im did, although perhaps not systematically."

    Using Argumentation? You mean as opposed to "Allo akbar! Lop yer head off!"?

    You started talking about "material evidence" and then you say "argumentation". Maybe you mean the Tanach uses "material evidence". If you did - please quote support (because I can't think of any).

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  37. There is the possibility of accepting findings of bible criticism and maintaining one's faith by expanding one's theological understanding of revelation. Just as HASHEM used a natural process to create human beings so too may he have used a natural process by which the biblical text was redacted more gradually than might have been understood in the past.

    Heschel,Louis Jacobs, and Tamar Ross can be illuminating in this regard.

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  38. "Sorry for the silly story, but the point is this. You can come up with a "consistent" theory,"

    I'm sorry, but your story is not consistent. How exactly does the man know about the frog if it hides from humans? (among other things)

    Lastly, you are conflating a story that is changed as evidence appears, and a story that has long been in existence. Which is not to be conflated with a story that has extraneous details changed as facts are pointed out.

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  39. I must admit, that this conversation reminds me of an old chelm joke.

    "What's purple, hangs on the wall, and whistles?"

    "A herring"

    "But herring isn't purple"
    "Nu? This one was painted purple"
    "But herring doesn't hang on the wall"
    "Nu? this one was hung on the wall"
    "But herring doesn't whistle"
    "Nu? So I lied a little"

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  40. "You started talking about "material evidence" and then you say "argumentation". Maybe you mean the Tanach uses "material evidence". If you did - please quote support (because I can't think of any)."

    Parsha Bchukotai.

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  41. I see a couple of people misunderstood my earlier comments so I'd like the chance to clarify. 

    I didn't mean to sound negative towards Orthodox Judaism. 

    I come from a more Chassidic/Mystical/Chareidi background and after being confronted with the contradictions to my worldview from evolution, biblical criticism, and the archeological record am trying to adapt a more rationalist approach. 

    There are plenty of blogs on the Internet of people who have left Orthodox Judaism over these issues. I'm certainly not trying to bring that conversation here. 

    My question is directed to those who have encountered modern biblical scholarship and archeology and have still managed to retain a belief in the divinity of the Torah. 

    I would be very interested to hear how you did so. To those that take a non literal approach to the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah as described in the Torah, based on what do you do this? Also, I've always understood that the revelation at Har Sinai was the strongest reason for believing in the divinity of the Torah. If you take a non literal approach to those events, then on what to you base your belief that the Torah is the word of God?

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  42. "My question is directed to those who have encountered modern biblical scholarship and archeology and have still managed to retain a belief in the divinity of the Torah."

    I'm really into archeology. But the frustrating thing about it is it is one of the least exact sciences. There is no solid way to test your conclusions and so much of the information depends on where you dig and what's been published.

    Egyptologists still can't decide on one chronology.

    Many of the places that would tell us the most about early Judaism won't allow the necessary research to take place (Syria, Iraq, etc.).

    At one point, archeologists had 20,000 cuneiform tablets translated and published, but another 80,000 weren't, and that number keeps growing with new discoveries. For all we know, Sara Imeinu's personal diary is one of those 80,000. :)

    IMHO, I think other sciences are a lot more threatening to belief in the divinity of Torah.

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  43. "I would be very interested to hear how you did so. To those that take a non literal approach to the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah as described in the Torah, based on what do you do this? Also, I've always understood that the revelation at Har Sinai was the strongest reason for believing in the divinity of the Torah. If you take a non literal approach to those events, then on what to you base your belief that the Torah is the word of God?"

    I don't believe the Torah/Nach is literal in three categories of information. A. Numbers, B. Statements that contradict Tanach. C. Statements that contradict reality. I therefore do not take the Torah literally when describing the events in the desert which are full of meaningful numbers.

    I don't take numbers literally, because they all have literary meanings behind them. Depending on what circles you travel in, this can be said in different ways. Prior to modern ideas of history, and science, numbers related to events have had significance. They tell you not just quantity but quality as well. Numbers like 4, 7, 10, 40, 600, 12, etc have literary meanings and significance. They point out parallels and they make subjective statements about the event. This is a widely misunderstood topic these days, or just not well explained, or not explained easily.

    2. I don't take statements that contradict other parts of tanach literally because the Gemorah doesn't.

    3. I don't take statements that contradict reality literally, because there is no need to.

    When it comes to Matan Torah and Yiziat miztrayim, I read the text of the Chumash VERY carefully. There are two things that I have noted. 1. Matan Torah happens multiple times, in multiple ways. There is no single description of the event in it's entirety. This means to me that Gd spoke to the entire nation, but we don't know how, and we don't know when. We don't know what exactly was said, or what was heard. But we do know where, sort of. 2. Yiztiat mizrayim in my view happened, and honest archaeological research will tell us how it happened, when it happened, and to how many people it happened to. But it didn't happen to 2 million people as a literal reading might imply, and it didn't result in 40 years of wandering. (might have been more, might have been less, there is no way to know without evidence)

    Lastly, I believe that the Torah is divine, because there is no record of anybody saying otherwise. There is no anti-divine Torah Karitesque sect of Judaism, and no Moshe didn't write the Torah Samaritanesque group of Semites. Only after the Torah was read literally and used as a basis of knowledge outside of halacha and the Jewish people did it's authenticity become questioned. At some point in time, the story behind the Chumash and what it was, and what it meant changed drastically, compared to how it describes itself and how some parts of the Talmud describe it. (i.e. the Gemorah which says that Joshua wrote about the Ir miklat goes directly against Rambam's Ikkarim)

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  44. Meir-
    I would recommend looking at Rav Yoel Bin-Nun's website. Most of the things he has there are in Hebrew, andn if you can read that he has a section of articles called something like "TANACH and History". Although it does not go into detail, he does have an article about reconciling archaelogy and the TANACH" , a very interesting article on the meaning of the world "Ivri" (a "Hebrew") and other interesting things. He is one of the main pioneers in this approach.
    It is at:

    www.ybn.co.il

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  45. Y ben David, thanks for that link. I had never heard of that rabbi before, but I like the articles I've read just now. Especially the pesach one.

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  46. "You started talking about "material evidence" and then you say "argumentation". Maybe you mean the Tanach uses "material evidence". If you did - please quote support (because I can't think of any)."

    I started discussing "material evidence" in describing the type of evidence which materialists demand, often implicitly and artificially excluding other types of evidence we normally use to arrive at conclusions. I in no way implied that this is the type of evidence necessary for a valid argument, to the contrary.

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  47. "In my view, although some of the Rishonim applied the rationalist approach to Judaism without limitations, we cannot do so."

    They can say it and we can't :)

    (Though perhaps it's more than a witticism. If R. Elyashiv meant that one must examine the context and the results of a particular belief, then both cases have a similarity. If both approaches at a latter times lead to(arguably) a negative overall results in terms of Torah, then one must use a different approach in different times).

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  48. On one hand, we could insist that we could only trust in a certain messorah if that messorah were rational. If that were the case, there wouldn't be a difference between rationality and messorah. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a messorah either!

    I accept my family...ancestors & contemporaries.... without being too worried about if they are "right" about everything. If I did, I wouldn't have much of a family either!

    However....what I THINK...that's another matter. If I can recognize them, I try not to pass on harmful attitudes from the past to the future. That may mean confronting certain things in the present.

    I neither think this is a character trait unique to the rational age nor an approach that could be too controversial. Haven't most of us done this throughout history?

    OK, so we have some machlokesim throughout history because of this. But it is worthwhile.

    Why is this not observant Judaism?

    Gary Goldwater

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  49. "I'm sorry, but your story is not consistent. How exactly does the man know about the frog if it hides from humans? (among other things)"

    Isn't it obvious? The toad appeared to my friend's great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great .... great grandfather. Actually, back then he appeared to lots of people, whole towns sometimes, only now that we've adopted a scientific methodology it appears that he no longer does. Which brings us to our second issue:

    "Lastly (sic), you are conflating a story that is changed as evidence appears, and a story that has long been in existence. Which is not to be conflated with a story that has extraneous details changed as facts are pointed out. "

    It's so sad, you can't even tell when your story "long in existence" changes. Every time you run into an issue: Where is God? Hiding. Where is the Rakiya? God had to present his ideas in the context of people's mistaken beliefs/the Torah is not a science book. Why did God plagiarize from Hammurabi? That was the operational legal system. Why are different terminologies/names of God grouped in the Torah? God speaks with different voices. Why are names of places/people/facts from post-torah time mentioned in the torah? Prophecy. Where's the geological evidence for the global flood? It was local. Why do languages predate their supposed origination with the Tower of Babel? Must have been other languages. Why is the world more than six thousand years old? You know, physics, much faster time back then. This could go on forever. One question would be okay, but when you keep piling these up you become implausible.

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  50. "Kathleen Kenyon determined "
    This has been catagorically disproven. Her findings were based on the absence of a specific kind of pottery, and many years after her study, they found the pottery in another section of the city. For details see Rabbi Gottlieb's sources/shiur on archeology.

    "In general, this is, perhaps, the most serious flaw in Orthodox Jewish apologetics"

    It is not, if you read my comments you will note that I said the thoery has to be non-absurd and the more rational it is, the better it is (based on the assumptions of Tanach).

    For example, if someone were to claim that they did not find the cloths of the Jews in the sinai, this would not matter as the Torah says that thier clothes did not wear out. Based on the asusmption that the Torah is accurate, the "finding" can be explained logically.

    Your toy example is not at all the same thing. I am talking about explaining a piece of evidence that we all can see and look at. It then comes down to "feelings" as to what "sounds" rational and more plausable than not. This "feeling" will vastly differ based on the assumptions one has. If one were to claim to be unbiased (not likely) even then, the most "reasonable" explanation of the facts is not a clear-cut definition, and relies on ones feeling of "reasonable" or "likely". Many times our rational intuitions are simply wrong.

    An example of this is the "evidence" that there were two Jeramiah's because it talks about events that happened after Jermiah had died. This evidence is easily explained if one believes that there is a thing called prophecy which can fortell future events. With that assumption, there is no reason at all to think there were two Jeramiah's or Isiah's, etc.

    There are many more examples of this but it comes down to the idea that we have a free choice in what to believe. If we believe our tradition of the truth of the Torah given by Hashem, then we will explain findings accordingly, and if there is a finding that the best explanation according to our beliefs is absurd, then we live with the kasha until more evidence can be found. One scratch on a ferrari doesn't mean you should chuck the car off a cliff...

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  51. "IMHO, I think other sciences are a lot more threatening to belief in the divinity of Torah."

    That is a fasinating statement. What other sciences would even deal with the event of the giving of the Torah other than archeology?

    If you refer to statements in the Torah not being in concruance with science, that is hardly a large threat considering the multitude of interpretations in the mesora about such things.

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  52. Meir, I am one of those people who doesn't treat any part of the torah as myth or allegory. The only area where I feel compelled to depart from a simple reading of the text is in Genesis 1-11 where there is ample scientific evidence for the great antiquity of the earth (and universe) and a complete absence of evidence for a global flood. Where there is no such contradictory physical evidence, I see no reason to veer from the evident implication of the text. The alleged literary evidence adduced by DH proponents doesn't impress me. Where they see the work of different traditions and the attempted harmonization by some editor, I see one tradition and one author who is prepared to use different writing styles for different topics or situations.

    The fact that there is an almost complete lack of written material in Egypt of the presence of large numbers of Israelites and their ultimate exodus from the land is more an indication of the propagandistic nature such writings than evidence of absence. The fact that no artifacts have been excavated in the Sinai peninsula attributable to the wandering Israelites is more a testimony to the paucity of such archaeological investigations than to another sign of absence. Nor is there a reason to believe that the theophany on mt. Sinai would have left traces that would have been uncovered in the nearly 3.5 millenia since that event.

    I also take the numbers recorded in the torah seriously. It's not as if the numbers can be fitted into some kind of literary scheme. For example the 1st census in the desert was 603,550 adult males. That is a very specific number that doesn't lend itself to some kind of symbolic interpretation. Moreover, the census was taken by counting half-shekels given by each member. That added up to 100 talents (300,000 shekel) and 1,775 shekel. The 100 talents were used to fabricate the silver bases of the tabernacle, one talent per base.

    The above brief exposition of my attitude towards the torah doesn't make me a non-rationalist; it only highlights the limits I have placed on my rationalism. That rationalism is sufficiently widespread that I have no problem with finding errors in history, mathematics, and nature in the talmud or Rishonim, or in interpreting the torah text in an independent fashion. Here, too, I place limits on the practical implications of my independence in terms of action. I believe that it is important to carry on the traditions of our people than to defy them and risk chaos and dissolution.

    For such limited rationalism isn't merely a sop to accustomed beliefs. No one normal goes through life without faith in others. We learn through experience where such faith is warranted and where it isn't. My faith in the divine authorship of authorization of the torah has not been shaken despite an independent (if not iconoclastic) frame of mind, a strong secular education and advanced scientific training.

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  53. "At one point, archeologists had 20,000 cuneiform tablets translated and published, but another 80,000 weren't, and that number keeps growing with new discoveries. For all we know, Sara Imeinu's personal diary is one of those 80,000. :) "

    The number of documents from ancient Mesopotamia is absolutely staggering. Ancient armies would routinely burn cities and massacre all the inhabitants, papyrus and parchment go up in smoke but clay gets preserved forever! Akkadian is a Semitic language, with similar phonemes and a lot of cognate vocabulary with Hebrew, so Assyriology would seem to be a natural field for Jews to enter.

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  54. "I also take the numbers recorded in the torah seriously. It's not as if the numbers can be fitted into some kind of literary scheme. For example the 1st census in the desert was 603,550 adult males. That is a very specific number that doesn't lend itself to some kind of symbolic interpretation. Moreover, the census was taken by counting half-shekels given by each member. That added up to 100 talents (300,000 shekel) and 1,775 shekel. The 100 talents were used to fabricate the silver bases of the tabernacle, one talent per base."

    Actually, they can and have been. And they most certainly were going back 800 years ago. The Ba'al Haturim says that 603,550 is the gematria of "bene yisra'el kol rosh" (every head of bnei Yisorel, don't ask me how he gets that number, it might be from the first letter of each word, I'm not sure, I'm not a big gematria fan.). Meaning, all though it says we are only counting the "soldiers" (males between the ages of 20-60) we are actually counting all of benei yisorel. Or in the words of Chabad, Every Jew is a soldier of Hashem.

    There are some great dvrei torah you can read about how each person was the foundation of the mishkan. Some nice articles about the missing digit 8 in all of the census countings, and the problems with the number of First born males as compared to the leviim. ( http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.60/35naso.htm )

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  55. I found two other interesting gematria type analysis, one from the torah, and one proof that this was common form of literature in that time:

    From a page talking about the importance of the number 70:
    NOTE: 1820 (as 26 x 70) is a number that radiates its special frequency in many hidden and overt ways. One very simple example presents itself in the three reports of census. The censuses taken in Exodus 38:26 and Numbers 1:46 (essentially reporting the same event) count the identical number of 603,550 arm-bearing men of twenty years and upwards. However, Numbers 26:51 counts a total of only 601,730 men. Clearly, 38 years after the first census, (immediately prior to entering the promised land), the number of men had shrunk by 1820. We may surmise and learn here that bnei Yisrael were transformed. What they lost in form of 1820 men, they gained in the 1820 occurances of Hashem's name in Torah. The number 1820 then represents the transformation of a people who only knew slavery to a people who knew Torah.


    9
    Cf. EncJud 7. § § 369-70. The use of letters to signify numbers was known to other
    Semitic peoples. An inscription of Sargon II (722-705) states that this king extended the
    wall of his capital city to 16,283 cubits, which corresponds to Sargon's personal gematria

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  56. Hoffmeier's "Israel in Egypt" shows quite a lot of evidence for Yetziat Mitzrayim. Plus, according to traditional sources, we wouldn't expect to find normal evidence during the Sinai journey because their clothes didn't disintegrate and they ate mann rather than cook and stuff.

    "...so Assyriology would seem to be a natural field for Jews to enter."

    Ah, if I could live my life over again...!

    Unfortunately, most high school students aren't aware of fascinating fields like this.

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  57. Ameteur, gematriot are mere exercises in numerology. Anyone can come up with ad hoc connections based on converting letters into numbers (a popular Helenistic ploy, i.e., gematria is said to come from the Greek equation, 'gamma'='tria'). Some are just cuter than others. In this case the only way to make your cited gematria form 603,550 (actually, it makes 603,551) is to take the letters of 'bnei yisroel' (Hebrew letters, of course) as signifying thousands, i.e. 603 thousand rather than 603. 'Kol rosh' then adds to 551. Thus we have a rather forced and inexact fit to 603,550. Nor is the numerical difference between the original census of the adult male Israelites at the beginning and end of their stay in the desert of much significanse.

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  58. Avi, while apologetics are rarely convincing, neither are the complex schemes whereby various DH proponents use to justify their particular way of deconstructing the torah. While there are a few anachronisms in the torah such as the place name, Dan, in the battle of Avram with the 4 kings, your other examples can be rationally explained. For instance, the origin of languages related in the tower of Babel story need not refer to origin of all languages - just those spoken by Semitic peoples, i.e., the descendants of Noah's sons. In other words, the descendants of Adam who survived the flood spoke one language (other peoples spoke other languages). Yet, by Moshe's time there were many languages spoken in the lands mentioned in Genesis. The biblical account is then meant to rationalize such a development.

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  59. "This has been catagorically disproven. Her findings were based on the absence of a specific kind of pottery, and many years after her study, they found the pottery in another section of the city. For details see Rabbi Gottlieb's sources/shiur on archeology."

    When I get the time, I will, but your direction to Rabbi Gottlieb seems to be exactly the type of biased second hand source you were dismissing earlier.

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  60. "For instance, the origin of languages related in the tower of Babel story need not refer to origin of all languages - just those spoken by Semitic peoples, i.e., the descendants of Noah's sons."

    The Torah clearly says everyone spoke one language before this incident. I understand your reinterpretation. And, along with that your reinterpretation of the flood as a non-global event. Both of these are against a plain reading of the text. Your feeling that you have somehow dealt with the issue only reinforces my point.

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  61. Forget what I said earlier, Gottlieb seems to cite a review article in BAR by a young earth creationist named Bryant Wood. So you have yourself a biased tertiary source quoting a biased secondary source. Do you actually take your own advice and read the primary literature? I highly doubt it. It seems his ideas are not currently accepted in the academic community and are contradicted by radiocarbon dating. But that's what you get when you use a comedian as a scientific source.

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  62. Y. Aharon, you can get gematria to say whatever you want with the right choice of passages, the right spin and the Law of Large Numbers. With a little work I'm sure you can find thousands of bits which say "No matter how you slice it it's baloney".

    On another note, there are problem with saying "Absolutely all of it is literal except this one piece over here." First, you have to justify why that one section isn't. Second you have to justify why every other section is. Third, you set yourself up for the same difficulties as the complete literalist; the moment anything is shown to be wrong your ontology takes severe structural damage.

    Not saying you are right or wrong. It's certainly a philosophical danger.

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  63. I just now remembered a good English-language source for some examples of the "New TANACH studies". It is run by Rav Menachem Liebtag who is or ahs been affiliated with the Herzog College/Yeshivat Har Etzion. It is found at:

    www.tanach.org

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  64. "Ameteur, gematriot are mere exercises in numerology."

    Maybe to you, but not to ancient Middle Eastern cultures, and not to the Talmud or midrashim. And certainly not to basic human psychology which is always looking for patterns and magical numbers.

    Perhaps he spelled "rosh" without an alpeh. Again, gematria isn't my thing, but to say that numbers don't have significance, when clearly they do, is just being dishonest.

    Another example, is that the Torah says that Moshe was 80 years old when he visited Pharoah. The plagues are then cited as lasting a year. The Jews are then said to wander the desert for 40 years. Moshe is then cited as dieing at age 120. But he would actually be 121 or they were in the desert for 39 years. The number 40 however, is very significant, and is used to describe all the reigns of the leaders of Israel until the Saul. (Every judge rules for 40 years, and Solomon is said to build the temple 12*40 years after yiztiat mitzrayim.)

    These sorts of numbers regularly repeat themselves. Now, its possible to say that Gd just made these events happen on regular intervals, but then why in the rest of history, does Gd not use regular intervals of numbers for kings and kingdoms to exist. This is likely one of the reasons why the Talmud says the second temple lasted for 420 years, instead of the 586 years it actually stood.



    "The Torah clearly says everyone spoke one language before this incident. I understand your reinterpretation."

    Everyone... where? The 70 languages and 70 nations that are constantly refereed to as "the entire world" all existed in the middle east, and mediteranean. There is no recognition of nations living south of Sudan, or east of India, or north of Turkey.

    The whole world, means different things to different people in different time periods. (today, it might include other galaxies, in the future it might include other universes)


    "With a little work I'm sure you can find thousands of bits which say "No matter how you slice it it's baloney"."

    This is true.. but that isn't how these things work in the literature. Numbers have specific meanings. It's like a motif in an opera. Sure, any piece of music could be associated with any character or concept, but specific ones are chosen, and then kept for the duration of the piece. This clues the audience into nuance that is not overtly stated in the text, and not meant to be stated overtly. (The nation as a whole is given the number 600, the tribal divisions are 12 (even though there are 14 divisions of the nation in actuality.. the 10 children of Yaakov, Ephraim, Menesha, Leviim and Cohanim), cycles are given the number 7, leadership or transformations are given the number 40 etc etc..

    All the numbers in tanach follow motifs, or deviate from them in a specific way which leads to another motif. Gematria, is just one of the easiest ways to follow and relate to these motifs through a mnemonic device.

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  65. " It seems his ideas are not currently accepted in the academic community and are contradicted by radiocarbon dating."

    That is true.. however for a number of years, his ideas where not rejected by the academic community, because the radio carbon dating equipment from the british musuem wasn't calibrated correctly. Depending on when Gotleib read or quoted the article, he might have been correct.

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  66. I have to agree with Tali regarding archeology. As a teenager I spent a summer on the archeology dig that Harvard runs in Ashkalon and the number one impression I came away with was that interpretation of finds requires a great deal of creativity and imagination. Due to this the field is very inexact and extremely political. As interesting as I find archeology, due to my personal experiences on that dig I take everything with a huge grain of salt.

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  67. >>> Hoffmeier's "Israel in Egypt" shows quite a lot of evidence for Yetziat Mitzrayim

    it shows nothing of the kind ... all it does is show that the author(s) of the Joseph story and the sojourn in Egypt was(were) knowledgeable in Egyptian culture and its milieu.

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  68. Carbon dating is very difficult to calibrate correctly and it changes as we learn more and more the historic levels of cosmic ray flux, levels of chemicals in the atmosphere over time, carbon concentrations in some materials, etc.

    Since some of these changes are unknown, researchers use calibration curves based on tree-rings to adjust the dates. These curves are not smooth and have their own ranges of error. The curves are statistically derived and therefore there is always a chance of an outlier sample (i.e. one sample may be far from the curve and be older/younger than it says - especailly if there is a local source of error). Therefore it does not hinder ones beliefs if one or two carbon datings are "off" especially since there are disagreements within Judaism as to the true clander date. Not only that, but published "dates" from decades ago are not going to be accurate compared to todays calibration, and therefore the primary sources C14 BP date would need to be re-calibrated to ge tteh new calender date. See http://digitalcommons.library.arizona.edu/objectviewer?o=http://radiocarbon.library.arizona.edu/Volume46/Number3/azu_radiocarbon_v46_n3_1029_1058_v.pdf for a discription of the current curve (they use a newer one now but they did not change the curve from 0-10,000 which is all we care about).

    I did not know the source Rabbi Gottlieb was quoting, I assumed it was from a primary source as many of his quotations are. Either way, it is not up to dispute whether or not they found the pottery... it was there or it wasn't. See the full article here http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/did-the-israelites-conquer-jericho-a-new-look-at-the-archaeological-evidence.aspx#Article

    It seems to me a pretty rational description of the facts on the gorund, regardless if it makes other archeologists feel unconfertable.

    Also, the difference in dates between the "accepted" date and the bilical date is within 200 years, while the calander debate in judasim is 165, in which case there isn't really a problem either way...

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