Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Greatest Miracle

Recently I was speaking with a friend of mine, a dedicated educator who works hard at trying to inspire teenagers from the yeshivah world who want some validation that Judaism is worth being passionate about. He's been using pseudo-scientific "proofs" to try to convince them that Torah is divine. But as you may know, I'm not very enthusiastic about those "proofs."

So I had another suggestion for him: Why not tell them about the single greatest uncontested miracle of human history - the return of the Jewish People to their ancestral homeland? An ancient nation, exiled and dispersed and massacred with the most horrific persecution in history, fulfills its ancient prophecies and returns to its homeland, to create an amazingly vibrant country and triumph against overwhelming odds. What better validation is that?

"Yeah," he agreed. "But that sounds like Zionism, and so the yeshivah won't let me teach it."

Happy birthday Israel, and thank you to everyone who helped create this inspirational miracle!

43 comments:

  1. ... because it might lead to mixed dancing.

    Not only is it a miracle in and of itself, but if you're looking for proofs of G-d, then what we have already experienced verifies the words of the Nevi'im, and when we say after the Haftarah, "המדבר ומקיים", is it not in theory, not a wish, but rather something we can point to in real life. The words of our Siddur are not lies, the words of our Torah are not lies, and the words of our Prophets are not lies.

    אשרינו שזכינו

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  2. You can additionally point out to him that there are no other examples of a nation being removed from their homeland, and after a long period of time, returning and restoring their homeland. It is also interesting to note that each time that our nation was redeemed, it largely failed to appreciate and understand the special nature of their being saved. Examples of this include the desire to return to Egypt and the failure of our nation to return to Israel when the second temple was rebuilt. His yeshiva is another example of this phenomena.

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    1. I agree with you on the latter point - and it cuts across secular and religious Judaism. But this is the nature of a national religion - which Judaism ultimately is. The sicarii and the fanatics will always be amongst us - and we should acknowledge those risks.

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  3. > Why not tell them about the single greatest uncontested miracle of human history - the return of the Jewish People to their ancestral homeland?

    Uncontested miracle?

    I agree that it can be inspiring, but as a proof it's no better than the psuedo-scientific claims you dislike. Israel was a self-fulfilling prophecy, born during the age of nationalism in a political climate unique to that era.

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    1. That's a very sterile interpretation. Israel is not say inter-war Poland or Yugoslavia. I think that you have to acknowledge that the creation of the state was an almost unbelievable culmination of incredible will and tragic circumstances on an almost Biblical scale - nearly the end of Judaism as we knew it on the eve of the war. I do believe that without the Shoah, there would not have been a state - certainly not in the form we see today. Not just that, the resurrection of (modern) Ivrit as a spoken common language amongst many Jews, the confluence and empowerment of secular and religious and national Judaism and the return of Jews to the area as a significant and powerful national-religious entity is incredible. Post-indeoendence, Israel plays a major role in the scientific and economic spheres and has become the centre of world Jewry (IMO). It is hard to conceive of such an occurrence ever again. Yes - the script is 'rational' but my goodness the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

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    2. I agree, treating it as proof is foolish. The only proofs are in math, but it doesn't diminish something unique if you step back, and look at the whole picture from start to finish. The fact that people fought for it with physical guns, and it came doing an age of nationalism doesn't diminish anything from that wonder that you get when, again, you step back and look at it all. I guess if you are a materialist, nothing will pursued you. It requires some sensitivity.

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    3. G*3,
      To have something like the establishment of the State right after the period of the Holocaust is something miraculous, not just inspiring. Also, look at Israel's success in so many areas today.

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    4. Why not just use our return to Israel as a proof that parts of the books of Nevi'im were actually written post-1948?
      (I wouldn't be surprised if 2500 years from now, biblical critics make that claim.)

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    5. Uncontested miracle?

      I agree that it can be inspiring, but as a proof it's no better than the psuedo-scientific claims you dislike.


      Objectively, uncontested miracle is overstating it, but it was certainly astonishing in a manner which is hard to deconstruct, whereas the various other scientific/numerological "proofs" are rubbish when looked at in detail.

      Moreover, looking at it from the point-of-view the already believing Kiruv person, the establishment of the State should be an obvious and uncontested miracle. He already accepts the idea that prophecies of Tanach are actually prophecies.

      But somehow, with enough sophistication, the sky is no longer blue. Probably the same sophistication that could lead the academy to believe in Marxism for so long...

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    6. Another commenter here, going by the moniker "elemir", once also said here that the founding of the State of Israel was a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one. I countered by saying that 1) we almost ended up having our State in Uganda, and 2) there was no assurance that Israel wouldn't lose one of its wars.

      I don't know if the story is apocryphal of not, but I read that Mao Tse Tung once asked Yassir Arafat: "I don't understand. There are 400 million Arabs, and 4 million Jews.[That was the Jewish population of Israel at the time of the story.] What are you guys waiting for?"

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    7. And which of those nationalist movements actually brought a people *back* to its land? The Poles never left Poland; the Czechs never left Bohemia. And not all nations even got theirs- the Kurds, the Druze. Some had to wait until the fall of Communism.

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    8. FYI, by "uncontested" I meant that nobody disputes the historical facts.

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    9. > To have something like the establishment of the State right after the period of the Holocaust is something miraculous

      No, it's not. In fact, as Meir Moses writes above, the state of Israel very likely would not exist as it is now had the Holocaust not happened.

      > I countered by saying that 1) we almost ended up having our State in Uganda,

      Not really. It was never seriously considered.

      > and 2) there was no assurance that Israel wouldn't lose one of its wars.

      There still isn't. So?

      > And which of those nationalist movements actually brought a people *back* to its land?

      So Zionism differs in one (major) detail. Unique != miraculous. Noteworthy, interesting, even inspiring, but not miraculous.

      > FYI, by "uncontested" I meant that nobody disputes the historical facts.

      Fair enough, but that's not what you said.

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    10. @G*3: We still celebrate Chanukah, even though 200 years after the event it commemorates, the Temple was destroyed and עם ישראל went into galus again, and didn't have independent rule over Israel anymore.
      It's true that we have no prophet amongst us to tell us, "This is it--this is THE fulfillment of קיבוץ גלויות". But Israel's victories in modern times, outnumbered and in many cases also outgunned, against an existential threat from the Arab nations surrounding it, are worthy of giving thanks in any case.

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  4. See http://www.divineinformation.com/torah-and-science-2/

    I disagree with this approach. Why would Hashem create a book filled with information that we humans can figure out by ourselves via the scientific method? The Torah is a book of Law, not a book of science. Furthermore, the only proof that one needs that the Torah is Divine is the mesora.

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    1. > Furthermore, the only proof that one needs that the Torah is Divine is the mesora.

      Appeals to the mesorah end in the kiruv Kuzari argument, which is unconvincing at best.

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    2. Furthermore, the only proof that one needs that the Torah is Divine is the mesora.

      That's not a proof, no matter what is written in the Kuzari. I'm not saying proof should be required, but if you're going down that path, proof requires logic. There's no logic to "my father told me so!"

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    3. But "My father told me so!" is NOT an accurate summary, or even an accurate sound-bite, of the Kuzari principle.

      You don't have to like it; but please don't mischaracterize it.

      Andy

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  5. I get your point, but what makes the founding of the state more "miraculous" than the holocaust? Truth is, neither of them are miraculous. They are part of the processes of history. True, if they are unexpectedly good we might call them a "miracle" or if they are unexpectedly bad we might call them "punishment from God", but ultimately they happen because of human free choice which has nothing to do with God, in fact, it is the very area that is ours to create and determine (The other being nature which is determined by the rules that govern it).

    What is the obsession with proving that there is a God or that Torah is obligatory? Can anyone prove that common law is obligatory? If you want to be a law abiding person, you keep it. If you want to be מקבל עול מלכות שמים you have to be מקיים תורה ומצוות.

    Good things or bad things happening to people or nations in the course of history has nothing to do with serving God. What is important to focus on and learn is how יראי שמיים served God in every situation.

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    1. > Can anyone prove that common law is obligatory?

      Yes, the men with guns who will show up if you violate it (and get caught).

      The lack of such enforcement for halacha is one of the reasons "proofs" are needed. If no one is forcing you to comply, then you need another reason, such as believing in the truth of Judaism. Without that belief, who would want to be makavel ol malchus shomayim? Why would you bother?

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  6. if you want to inspire people never use propaganda or proofs. they cause people to lose their inspiration. the truth is unknowable. that should be judaism. then judaism can really claim to be the one true religion. the religion that says " our religion says 'who knows?'" is the true one.

    imagine trying to inspire a Jew before Rambam. You couldn't even tell him the Torah was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai -- there were no essential/necessary beliefs. Took I believe three hundred years for essential beliefs to even gain acceptance -- they were considered "unJewish" by the Jews of that time.

    The only real Jew knows that deep down there is nothing that is known. the others are moral cowards. Afraid of what they secretly know. Laugh at them. Hard.

    Tuv

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    1. machiavelli - the princeApril 24, 2015 at 6:50 PM

      You can inspire people with any propaganda you want. Just sniff out what you can get away with for the person you're talking to and play it smart. Then make sure it doesn't get on the web where it will likely get shot down. Or maybe not shot *down* but only shot *at*.

      When dealing with a lot of people maybe it's worth it to be hooted by some as long as you succeed with a good number of others.

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  7. There are Jews for Jesus who have a ton of hashgacha pratis stories. so inspirational. it must be true! Money, success, a beautiful wife -- all simultaneous with their accepting JC as "The Man."

    There are Jews for Jesus who say, boy, the holocaust is G-d telling Jews to accept Jesus. So sobering a tragedy -- they weep that Jews don't take the obvious, clear message.....the truth is so obvious.

    There are the miracle cures from people who beg Jesus for mercy. Wow. Profound. We should all go to Jesus.

    It all adds up. Tell the kid that. SO inspiring. No one can use science or skepticism to explain this stuff!! Proofs from the Bible are big and obvious too. So clear.

    That's religion. You like the way this garbage proofs garbage tastes?

    Just better make sure that kid never goes to college....make sure.

    Tuv

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  8. Why focus on pointless ideological debates? Meanwhile, who is helping the kids? The educator is filling his students heads with pseudo-science and refuses to speak about שיבת ציון. So everyone should brainstorm and come up with something inspiring that is none of the above.

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  9. "I'm not very enthusiastic about those "proofs." - Next to the return to our homeland, what is your second favorite proof? Oh wait, are you highlighting the return to our homeland *regardless* of the prophecies about the return?

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  10. It is a miracle in our times. Why don't we say "she'hechiyanu" over a cup of wine at a seudat mitzvah?

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  11. This was the proof Bart Simpson (quoting Sammy Davis, Jr.) used for the historical truth of Judaism.

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  12. The famous newsman/broadcaster Lowell Thomas, on reporting about the 29 November 1947 UN partition resolution calling for the creation of a Jewish state said "Tonight, millions of people around the world (i.e. non-Jews) are opening their Bibles and looking at the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy". We see here that many, many NON-JEWS see and comprehend the miracle of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel.
    What does that say about religious Jews who don't?
    During the disputes in the early years of the state about whether to say Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut many religious Jews said "Ben-Gurion doesn't say Hallel, why should I?". Does this mean that since Ben-Gurion was spiritually obtuse, religious Jews should also be?
    There are many views about how to really define and achieve Jewish spirituality. Some say to perform mitzvot wth extra kavannah, some say to say the tefillot with extra introspection and enthusiasm. To me, the way that speaks to me the most is to see the hand of G-d in the world, particularly through science and seeing the beautiful way the world is constructed (i.e. "G-d is in the details of our world) and in the history of the Jewish people and our returning to Eretz Israel just as the prophets predicted.

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    1. "During the disputes in the early years of the state about whether to say Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut many religious Jews said 'Ben-Gurion doesn't say Hallel, why should I?'. Does this mean that since Ben-Gurion was spiritually obtuse, religious Jews should also be?"

      No. But the vast majority of the founders of the State intended the State, in part, to be a vehicle for destroying observance of the Torah. (Ben-Gurion didn't fight against Torah observance because he thought it would disappear on its own).

      This celebration cannot be separated from an element of glorification of these people. Wouldn't some ambivalence about it be in order, regardless of whether or not you say Hallel?

      Andy

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    2. my friend is a born again christian and is convinced my conclusion to be Jewish but not accept JC is plain wrong and can show me.

      She's obviously (for you) right about the Old Testament - and wrong about the New?

      Why do you folks insist on playing "Xtians got it right, except..."

      Tuv

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  13. R' Slifkin~

    I find it odd, once again, that you make statements that seem to belong to the very mindset you have established yourself as firmly opposed to. This is no more a miracle than all the other phenomenological events that are claimed as miracles by the far right, who really have no concept of what a miracle is -- such as childbirth or finding someone to marry. The claim is hardly ever made that the successful activity and completion of bone remodeling or of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system is a miracle because, frankly, the far right hasn't really got the slightest clue that either of these things occur. And this shouldn't be seen as a claim to authority on the basis of using long words or medical jargon -- a simple foray into Wikipedia can bring most anyone out of the depths of the pit of ignorance -- but my point is just that before we go about remarking on the incidence of miracles, which ought to be defined as something along the lines of a "violation of nature," or at least an "apparent violation of nature," one ought to be quite intimately familiar with nature. Otherwise, words lose their meanings, as they have in your post here. And sure, one may claim that getting to the train just as the doors were about to close or getting to the restaurant just as they were about to seat the last table for the evening may often be referred to as "a miracle" in the colloquial sense, I expect from you, R' Slifkin, some more discretion when making canonical posts to your blog that may reflect your position on topics such as these, which weave quite well into the controversial topics you often discuss.

    There is no miracle here, and there certainly is not "not only a miracle, but also more..." Kira. As G*3 states above, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jews have clung to their books of tradition and have been trying to return to Israel since their departure, and so there's really no mystery that, eventually, they would succeed. And if they would not have succeeded, it would either be claimed (by them) that it has just not yet occurred (like the second coming of Jesus) or, in the instance of the extinction of the Jews, no one would be around to talk about it, just like there's no one walking around talking about the ill-fated prophecies of the Etruscans.

    And the fact that Jews strive for this and at the same time don't really appreciate what they have, well, that's just human nature. I'd submit that no husband truly appreciates his wife, and similarly, no wife truly appreciates her husband, 3 minutes before losing the other as much as they do 3 minutes after losing one another. People don't appreciate the ice cream they are licking nearly as much as they miss it when it topples off the cone and lands on the sidewalk. That's the way of the world, and it has nothing to do with prophecy, either.

    But, sure, for kiruv purposes, this is great! Just like all of the other claims that can be made to people willing to accept everything you say without fact checking anything, or without basically any concern for observations in and of the universe. The direct object of kiruv (i.e., the target individual, either actually or proverbially) is very easy to inspire because sheer existence becomes inspiration, each breath they take becoming spiritual motivation for the next breath they are going to take).

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    1. " Jews have clung to their books of tradition and have been trying to return to Israel since their departure, and so there's really no mystery that, eventually, they would succeed."

      I cannot agree. If you read the history books about the twentieth century, you see that it really took an extraordinary confluence of circumstances for the State of Israel to come into existence.

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    2. Not the least of which was that Jews wanted to live in Israel. Had there been no persistence, it would not have happened.

      Contrast this with the miracles surrounding the Exodus. The Jews were able to leave Egypt even though the Egyptians would not have wanted it otherwise, and there was no attempt to split the sea by natural methods that could have snowballed into what eventually happened.

      My car broke down yesterday and yet I was able to drive to work today. The Honda dealership runs on a skeleton crew on the weekends, and it took what might be described as an extraordinary confluence of circumstances for me to have my car ready for today. Was this a miracle, too? Post hoc (i.e. retroactive) attribution of circumstances to miraculous intervention is simple, as is finding correlations between variables after they have already been measured.

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    3. I'm sorry, but based on what I have read in (non-Jewish) history books, I just can't see any parallel between your car being fixed (though I am very happy for you!) and the State of Israel coming into existence.

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  14. >>Why would Hashem create a book filled with information that we humans can figure out by ourselves via the scientific method?<<

    Maybe to prove to future generation that this book is Divine because at that time this information was not available to science.

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  15. The creation of the State was definitely a miracle but it was a miracle that was like the Chanukah miracle. Of all the things that Hashem could have chosen to make a miracle and suspend the natural laws, why did he choose the Ner Tamid? As I understand it, relighting it was not an absolute show-stopper. The rebuilding and restarting the service could have proceeded without the light. It was, therefore, totally unnecessary for Hashem to make a miracle for such a trivial thing. But that was just the point: "If I (Hashem) can make a miracle for such trivial things, do you think that your victory was just because of your cunning and strength? Do you think that your arrows and spears hit their mark so often merely because of your own skill? Similarly, do you think that the State exists now merely because some secular Jews prevailed against your enemies because of their own skill, strength, and pluck? I have been by your side throughout your history; you just have to know how to look to see Me there." Also, I think there is an aspect of sinas chinum about it. Some of us religious folk are frustrated and humiliated that "those" secular, non-frum Jews actually "hitched up their britches" and "got'er done" while we were seemingly happy to wait forever and let Hashem make us a State -- Zap!!! Israel!!! Remember the story about the guy who complained to Hashem as soon as he got to Alom Habah. He said, "I was a good man, kept Shabbos and the mitzvahs but I never had much of a parnasa. I so much wanted to give tzedakah. Why didn't you make me win the lottery?" Hashem answered, "Why didn't you ever buy a ticket?" The secular Jews bought a ticket while the religious Jews just sat around complaining and crying. In both cases, Hashem helped them according to their wishes, didn't He? But because the secular Jews understand that before the Red Sea parted, someone had to first jump in, they jumped in and Hashem took His place beside them. And since they are the one's who continue to take the action, Hashem continues to help them keep their country. Some frum Jews disrespect and look unkindly upon secular Jews but it seems to me that Hashem loves all His children, even if they make decisions that He may not like, which just makes Him a good father. He will make miracles for all His children. He has. If we want some of them to come our way, we need to take the first step. It is interesting to note that some secular Jews won't believe it was a miracle because they don't believe in such things and some frum Jews won't believe it was a miracle because they don't believe that Hashem will make a miracle for a secular Jew. It that not Sinas Chinum?

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  16. I have to say I disagree with the content (but not the emotion) Rabbi Slifkin's post. I am an ardent Zionist. But proof? Nope, the success of Zionism doesn't prove miracles anymore than the story of Purim proves miracles. All those divrei Torah about how Purim doesn't appear miraculous or G-dly apply equally to the story of Israel. Miracles are in the eye of the beholder.

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  17. In order to decide if a "miracle" happened, a little history lesson is in order.
    After the Holocaust, the British thought that the Jewish people were broken and they would be able to impose a solution on Palestine, against the wishes of the Jews, that would involve having Palestine become an Arab state with a Jewish minority that would have some sort of limited autonomy (how would that have worked out? ....Take a look at other multi-ethnic states in the Middle East today...Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran. How are their minority groups doing?). However, the Jews were not broken and the underground groups...the ETZEL and LEHI with the occasional contribution of the HAGANAH and PALMACH made life unbearable for the British. They had 100,000 troops and police in the country but they could not impose order.
    The problem was the Britain was bankrupt after the war and they were dependent on American loans to stay afloat, and the pro-Zionist lobby in the US, consisting of both Jews and non-Jews were opposed to this British plan. The British needed to get the US off their back so the decided to turn the whole thing over to the UN, assuming that the UN would deadlock, particularly hoping that Stalin, an antisemetic mass-murderer, who controlled something like eight votes in the General Assembly in the UN would do the work for them and block any pro-Zionist UN proposal. To the astonishment of everyone, Stalin said he SUPPORTED the creation of a Jewish state. With this and a lot of hard work convincing numerous other antisemitic countries, the UN passed the Partition resolution on 29 November 1947. However, the British didn't give up hope.....they were recruiting policemen for the British Palestine Police which showed they believed that at the last minute the Jews would come crawling to them begging them to stay because the British worked hard to get an international embargo on arms to the Jews. As the 15 May date for the British withdrawal came near, American State Dept. people were telling Ben-Gurion 'don't proclaim the state now, wait a little while for a more propitious moment". Ben-Gurion said that it was now or never and he went ahead anyway. A few weeks later, Stalin imposed the blockade on Berlin which lead to the famous airlift and this marked the official beginning of the cold war and out-and-out hostility between the US and USSR. Had BG delayed, it is likely that Stalin would have changed his mind simply out of spite for the US and the chance would have been lost.
    Regarding the arms embargo, who was it that came through and let Israel buy weapons? Again, it was that antisemitic mass-murderer Stalin who allowed Czechoslovakia to sell arms to Israel.

    When we look at how narrow the room for maneuver was, can we call this a "miracle". Sure looks like one to me? What other country had to go through such birth pangs?

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  18. Adam from ManchesterApril 27, 2015 at 10:23 PM

    Everyone's getting hung up about the word 'miracle'.

    Rav Natan's point surely, is how to inspire young Jewish men and women about Judaism and the Jewish people. How can the renaissance of the Jewish homeland by any religious, national or cultural measure be ignored? How can it not fail to inspire the young? It inspires me every single day of my life and I don't even live there any more (sadly). Israel is, as Rav Natan says, an incontrovertible fact (acknowledged even by her enemies) whereas many of the other 'proofs' to which he refers are debateable at best and downright dishonest at worst.

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  19. "tell them about the single greatest ... miracle of human history - the return of the Jewish People to their ancestral homeland?"
    When we tell them about this, should we include or exclude the prophecies that discuss them?

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  20. Can't the argument be framed inductively rather than deductively? So rather than looking for a break in natural causes in Jewish history with Divine intervention it just requires that Jewish history be improbable - which it is...
    Or as Rabbi Sacks puts it in the 'great partnership' it requires that for the prophets "there was nothing to justify that certainty then...." Pg 275
    He discuses it pg 210 to 211 'radical then radical now' and here http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-behar-bechukotai-the-eternal-people/
    See Swinburne 2002 and robin collins presentation of fine tuning argument for type of inference being made. Or see R Dovid Gottlieb 'Living up to the truth' or R Reuven Agushewitz 'Faith and heresy' in begging of book.
    I would also add that, whilst everything R Slifkin said in the original post is correct, I would add that with everything else mentioned - Jewish impact on the world is another important, improbable and predicted fact. In fact the whole structure of the Hebrew Bible points to such a expectation - that is it's being world (rather just Yisrael) orientated. See Sacks Dignity of Dif (chapter 'exorcizing..) and Elliot Freidman Commentary on the Torah (introduction to genesis)

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  21. I can see the appeal of the argument that the creation of the State of Israel after about 2000 years is remarkable. You can combine that with certain passages in the Torah to make a stronger argument. But hundreds of years ago Spinoza all but predicted the potential rise of the State of Israel and it had nothing to do with miracles, but solely based on human nature. I wrote several posts on proofs from 'prophecy', jewish 'survival', the rise of Israel etc:Such proofs help believers, but will not convince knowledgble critically thinking skeptics.

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  22. How do you know Spinoza wasn't partially piggybacking off the Torah's predictions?

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