Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Guest Post: Responding to a Response on the Discourse and TCS

Copyright 2015 by David Ohsie. All rights reserved

Rabbi Dovid Kornreich [1], on his blog, has countered some of our posts on Rabbeinu Avraham's Discourse and TCS.   These counter-arguments fail to address the evidence and in some cases introduce further misinterpretations of Rabbeinu Avraham's writings.  Since they come from a student of Rabbi Meiselman, they are worth addressing and we'll address them here. [2]

Purported Variant Texts


To recapitulate, TCS notes that the Rambam in Guide 2:8 references the text "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel" with respect to their theory of the motions of the stars.  In contrast, the Discourse, cites the softer text "their words appear correct".  This is a purported contradiction [3] and thus evidence of forgery [4].   We showed however, that Rabbeinu Avraham himself quotes the same phrase "their words appear correct" in another work of his, Milchamos Hashem.   Rabbi Kornreich concedes that TCS's argument is refuted by this observation. [5]

However, Rabbi Kornreich then attempts to resurrect the argument from TCS by noting a purported contradiction between the Discourse and Milchamos Hashem. [6]  In doing so, Rabbi Kornreich repeats and redoubles TCS's faulty approach.  By the thesis of TCS, Rabbeinu Avraham would never have quoted the phrase "their words appear correct".  Since he does, the thesis and method is proven faulty.  Repeating the same method on a different text doesn't fix the demonstrably broken methodology. [7]

Nevertheless, let's examine this new supposed contradiction. Rabbi Kornreich returns to the Discourse's interpretation of R. Ammi's exclamation "even if Yehoshua bin Nun had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!" (Chulin 124a).
If the author [of the Discourse] understood Rav Ami had the ability to openly contradict a halachic statement of Yehoshuah Bin Nun because he wasn't personally convinced of the cogency of his logic, it means the author of this ma'amar did not subscribe to the doctrine that an Amoraic sage could not --on his own authority--openly contradict a statement of a higher ranking sage-like a Tanna--and certainly not one of the earliest Chachmei Hamesorah like Yehoshuah Bin Nun! [7a]
We should note here that we've already demonstrated that this claim is false.  Everyone who has picked up a Gemara knows that Amoraim don't argue with Tannaim.   In fact, TCS makes the claim that "It is hard to imagine, therefore, that any mainstream halachic authority could have penned these words."  In other words, if there is a contradiction here, it applies to all authorities, not just the Rambam.   Yet we showed that the Chasam Sofer writes [8] that not only could R. Ammi have disagreed with Yehoshua, he could even have disagreed with Moshe Rabbeinu on a matter of Sevara, in complete agreement with the Discourse. [9] So this argument has already been foreclosed.

Nevertheless, let's keep at it.  Rabbi Kornreich goes on to reproduce a couple of pages of Milchamos Hashem and summarizes it as follows:
[N]o amora can stand in contradiction of a tannaic statement on his own authority, with his own logic. The author of the Milchamos Hashem adds for good measure that amoraim must bow to the collective authority of tannaim on ANY topic discussed in the Talmud-including the purely hashkafic ones like the nature of the world-to-come that he is currently discussing.
Does Rabbeinu Avraham really claims that the Tannaim have the final say on "hashkafic" issues? Let's look at it.  I presume that Rabbi Kornreich refers to the following:
... It is a well know fact that among the sages who involves themselves in the study of Talmud, that whenever an Amora makes a statement, and a contradictory statement is found in a Mishna or Beraisa authored by a Tanna, either an answer must be found to align the words of the Amora with those of the Tanna, or else the Amora's words are nullified by the statement of the Tanna.  And if there is a dispute between the positions of two Tannaim, for example when a Mishna and a Beraisa or another Mishna disagree with one another, the sages of the Talmud will discuss this until they either resolve the conflict or else one of the Tannaitic statements is rejected in face of the other.
Rabbeinu Avraham goes to on state that Rav is considered a Tanna.  And since Rav states openly that the world to come does not involve any physical activity [10], the Talmud must be endorsing the view of Rav over the various Midrashim that indicate that the world to come involves a physical reward. [11]  Thus Rabbeinu Avraham seems to be endorsing the use of halachic reasoning and authority in a non-halachic context.

Unfortunately Rabbi Kornreich has misunderstood Rabbeinu Avraham and reversed his meaning. The context of the quotation above demonstrates Rabbeinu Avraham's own position is completely the opposite of what Rabbi Kornreich argues for here.  To unravel this, let's look at what is hidden by the introductory ellipsis in the quotation above:
Behold we will explain this to him and those like him using the Talmudic method of give and take (משא ומתן) and question and answer which they are familiar with, and not using the methods of intellectual judgement such as the evaluation of logical deduction and principles which they are not familiar with ...
Thus, Rabbeinu Avraham prefaces his "halachic" discussion of the nature of the world to come with a disclaimer: he is speaking to those unsophisticated people who can only think in halachic terms and don't really understand how to interpret the depths of Chazal's statements in non-halachic areas. [11a]  However, since he wants his reasoning to be universally accepted, he shows that even under the assumption that halachic reasoning is appropriate, one can still come to the conclusion that the world to come is of a non-physical nature.  His own position, explained earlier, is that all of the statement of Chazal which appear to imply a physical world to come are allegorical. [12]   Moreover, he states repeatedly that halachic reasoning is not appropriate in non-halachic contexts.  For example:
[The Rambam] did not write that book [the Guide] for the multitude, and not for those beginning in their study of wisdom, nor to teach those how have only learned give and take reasoning (משא ומתן) from which you can only learn the ways of Halacha. (Milchamos Hashem)" [13] 
Thus, Rabbi Kornreich has mistakenly attributed to Rabbeinu Avraham a position which he explicitly rejects.

R. Ammi Redux


Rabbi Kornreich also attempts to resuscitate Rabbi Meiselman's argument that the Discourse's interpretation of R. Ammi conflicts with that of the Rambam in the introduction to his Commentary on Mishnah .  Rabbi Meiselman apparently [14] maintains that the Rambam's position is as follows: R. Ammi's exclamation referred only to statements made by Yehoshua through prophecy; had Yehoshua stated the objectionable halacha based on his own opinion, then R. Ammi could not disagree.  [15]

Rabbi Kornreich writes:
Despite the logical difficulty in explaining Rav Ami's "rhetorical point", Rav Meiselman's reading is clearly supported by the Rambam's concluding words immediately after citing the gemara: כוונתם בכך שאין תוספת וגרעון בתורה מצד הנבואה בשום פנים
The phrase starts with "Kavanasam be'kach" meaning--this was the point they were making by referring to a Navi. The point they were making was that nevuah plays no role--not as David Ohsie claims--that their greatness+ nevuah plays no role.
There are a number of problems with this argument:

1) If your explanation makes a hash of the Gemara, then it is uncertain at best.  You certainly don't have an explanation strong enough to be evidence of forgery.  Rabbi Kornreich admits that the flow of the Gemara is not consistent with his explanation.

2) Rabbi Kornreich's narrative is inaccurate.  The phrase "כוונתם בכך שאין תוספת וגרעון בתורה מצד הנבואה בשום פנים"  follows a discussion of a different Gemara which discusses how we would ignore Eliyahu HaNavi if he state something contrary to halacha.  (See graphic below).  [15a]



3) The Rambam here states that there is "no addition or subtraction to the Torah on the part of prophecy in any manner whatsoever".  This can easily encompass the case where a prophet states his own opinion.   The fact that he possesses prophecy does not give any greater weight to his arguments.  They must stand on their own two feet.

4) In fact, as Professor Kaplan pointed out in the comments, the Rambam is explicit that we would not give any special weight to a prophet who states his own opinion whether or not supported by prophecy.  Thus, R Ammi's statement includes the case where the prophet states his own opinion, according to the Rambam.

Rabbi Kornreich writes further:

In addition, at the beginning of the excerpt, the Rambam makes an important qualifier when demoting a Navi's position in the realm of Dinei Torah:
הרי הוא כשאר חכמים הדומים לו שאינם נביאים.  A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham by those who are on his level of chochma.
This clearly contradicts the author of the Ma'amar's interpretation of Rav Ami, and it also explains why the Rambam did not interpret Rav Ami as making a rhetorical point.
This is because the Rambam tells us in this very passage that Rav Ami could not argue on Yehoshua Bin Nun in sevara because Yehoshua was certainly was a greater chocham in Torah. Only a sage on the same level as Yehoshua could argue on Yehoshua in Torah.
Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his first statement.  Torah study is not completely egalitarian; there are greater and lesser figures.  So even if we ignore his prophecy, Yehoshua is not the same as Rabbi Kornreich or David Ohsie or even R. Ammi.  Which was precisely why R. Ammi exclaimed that he would not admit to the mistaken halacha even if Yehoshua stated it.  It would have made little sense to say "even if Rabbi Kornreich had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!".

So while Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his interpretation of the Rambam, this is an idea that everyone agrees to including the Chasam Sofer who explicitly disagrees with Rabbi Meiselman's interpretation.  So this statement of the Rambam proves nothing about whether the Rambam's position aligns with that of the Discourse.

 [Update: Commenter "Yoni2" points out that I misread Rabbi Kornreich's statement as "A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham who are on his level of chochma.".   But he actually wrote "A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham by those who are on his level of chochma.".  Those bolded words are added by Rabbi Kornreich and are not in the Rambam and simply read Rabbi Kornreich's position into the Rambam.  What the Rambam wrote is "behold they are like other sages similar to them who are not prophets" as we described in the previous two paragraphs.]

Furthermore, we have already mentioned that the Rambam rules explicitly (Mamrim 2:1) that any court can overrule a previous court's ruling based on reason, even if the later court is lesser in wisdom than the prior court.   So the Rambam has no principle that a lesser figure cannot disagree with a greater one. [16]  His statement that some figures are greater than others is obviously correct, but not contradictory to the Discourse.

While we've dealt with the bulk [17] of Rabbi Kornreich's objections, we have a few more arguments in TCS to examine before we conclude our discussion of the Discourse.  Stay tuned.

Comments are both welcome and encouraged. I'll make every effort to address any questions or arguments posted in the comments.

Notes


[1] Rabbi Kornreich is Talmid of Rabbi Meiselman.

[2] We'll avoid addressing the bare polemics in Rabbi Kornreich's post. For example: "I want to acknowledge but decline to comment at length on the disturbingly misleading and obfuscating phrases Mr. Ohsie employs", "I also want to acknowledge and decline to comment at length on David Ohsie's mis-characterization of this particular piece of evidence", and "I couldn't find much that wasn't misguided, trivial or highly subjective about Mr. Ohsie analysis". Since these kinds of comments do not break any new ground but simply express opinion without foundation, we'll leave them alone.

[3] As we noted in this post, there is no contradiction at all, since the Discourse also cites the Rambam's text.   Rabbi Kornreich merely characterizes this argument as consisting of  "disturbingly misleading and obfuscating phrases" without further analysis.  Rabbi Kornreich addresses this issue in a comment: "I would certainly think significant contradictions and textual variants are indeed troublesome-- something every serious scholar should be concerned about when trying to ascertain the real intent of the original author--whoever it may be. I don't see how pointing out that this problem is widespread in Medieval manuscripts at all mitigates the seriousness of the problems they create."  Rabbi Kornreich seems to miss the point here: of course we study such contradictions (and we call it Talmud Torah).  What we don't do is dismiss texts out of hand.

[4] Of course an apparent contradiction in an author's writings doesn't provide evidence of forgery, let alone a contradiction between and author and his Father or Rebbi.  A significant fraction of both Talmudic and post-Talmudic halachic discussion revolves around the discovery and resolution of contradictory texts.  If we simply resort to the attributing contradictions to forgery, then these discussions become senseless.

Rabbi Kornreich addresses this issue in a comment: "I would certainly think significant contradictions and textual variants are indeed troublesome-- something every serious scholar should be concerned about when trying to ascertain the real intent of the original author--whoever it may be. I don't see how pointing out that this problem is widespread in Medieval manuscripts at all mitigates the seriousness of the problems they create."  Rabbi Kornreich seems to miss the point here: of course we study such contradictions (and we call it Talmud Torah).  What we don't do is dismiss texts out of hand.

[5] "This would seem to make a definitive case that if Milchamos Hashem was authored by Rav Avrohom, there is no evidence whatsoever-- on the basis of this textual variant-- that the author of the Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal  was not Rav Avrohom. Scratch Exhibit A."

[6] "However, once we have the Milchamos Hashem essay brought to out attention, then in addition to similarities, we can check to see if there might be any significant discrepancies between what David Ohsie safely assumes to be Rav Avrohom's writing and the Ma'amar in question. If we do find such significant discrepancies, then I maintain, this would be further evidence against attributing the ma'amar to Rav Avrohom."  Rabbi Kornreich implies that there is some doubt as to authenticity of Milchamos Hashem, but doesn't discuss this further.

[7] By way of analogy, suppose that Rabbi Kornreich had invented a gold detection machine.  He sets up the machine and it gives a reading that indicates that gold will be found at a depth of 100 meters, but digging that far deep is very difficult, so the claim is hard to verify.  Luckily, at that very moment, there is an earthquake that tosses the machine aside while at the same time exposing a 100 meter deep fissure.   But no gold! 

Rabbi Kornreich then responds as follows: "it was serendipitous that the earthquake moved the machine to its new location.  The machine is now giving an even stronger signal now that there is gold at 150 meters depth at the new location".   Do we still expect the machine to work?

[8] Chasam Sofer Commentary on Chulin 124a.

[9] We also showed that the Rambam's position is that a later court can uproot the decision of an earlier court even if the later court is of lesser stature.

[10] A favorite saying of Rav was: [The future world is not like this world.]  In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, And they beheld God, and did eat and drink. (Berachos 17a)

Note that Rav Meir ben Todros HaLevi Abulafia interprets Rav's statement to mean that the world to come will be of a physical nature, but that our bodies will no longer requires nutrition.

[11] For example, "Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan;" (Baba Basra 75a)

[11a]  Professor Kaplan points this out in the comments section of Rabbi Kornreich's previous blog post and writes "This is a le-shitatkha argument."  However Rabbi Kornreich seems to have failed to grasp the meaning of the comment.

[12] In the case of the feast of the Leviathan, Rabbeinu Avraham equates the Leviathan with the evil inclination and eating with it's destruction in the world to come.

[13] A couple of other examples:
And these blind of heart do not understand wisdom and judgement.  Therefore they cannot understand the answers for their complaints and their foolishness based on judgement and intellectual assessment .  So that whoever provides an answer to them which relies on judgement, intellectual assessment or logical argumentation provides an answer that they will not understand ... rather it is fitting to provide an answer the in manner of wisdom that they are familiar with and that they understand and by bringing forth matters which they are capable of comprehending.  (Milchamos Hashem)
... 
These people speak of hidden things which they don't know and don't understand as if they are speaking of the height of an alley or a tall Sukkah. (Milchamos Hashem)

[14] "Apparently" because Rabbi Meiselman doesn't spell this out.  However, Rabbi Kornreich interprets Rabbi Meiselman in this manner.

[15] As pointed out above, Rabbi Meiselman maintains that no authority could think this, but we already showed that the Chasam Sofer explicitly states that R. Ammi can disagree even with Moshe Rabbeinu's non-prophetic opinion.

[16] One can also point to the first Mishnah in Horayos: "[IF, HOWEVER, WHEN] THE COURT ISSUED [AN ERRONEOUS] RULING ONE OF THEM, WHO KNEW THAT THEY HAD ERRED, OR A DISCIPLE WHO WAS HIMSELF CAPABLE OF DECIDING MATTERS OF LAW, PROCEEDED AND ACTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR RULING ... HE IS LIABLE,"

[17] While we've dealt with Rabbi Kornreich's main arguments, we pick up a few odds and ends here:

A: 'I also want to acknowledge and decline to comment at length on David Ohsie's mis-characterization of this particular piece of evidence as one which is merely "judging the text to be out of character" or "surprising". '    Yet Rabbi Meiselman writes on this same piece of evidence: "It would be very surprising if Rabbeinu Avraham knew of both variants of the Gemara, yet chose to ignore the one cited by his father..." (emphasis mine)

B: So it would seem that Mr. Ohsie has a rather unpleasant choice in reconciling this blatant inconsistency between the Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal and the Milchamos Hashem regarding this fundamental doctrine about Talmudic authority. He can either claim that:
1)  The Ma'amar al Aggados Chazal is the more likely of the two to be true work of Rav Avrohom ben HaRambam and the Milchamos essay is a forgery/mis-attribution. But this in turn will resurrect Rav Meiselman's evidence against the Ma'amar based on the textual variance with the Rambam. 
2) The Milchamos Hashem is the more likely of the two to be the true work of Rav Avrohom Ben HaRambam and this sub-section of the Ma'amar is a mis-attribution. Again, this will directly support Rav Meiselman's overall thesis.
(Of course, Mr. Ohsie is at liberty to claim that there is no significant contradiction here whatsoever and move on. As far-fetched as that might seem to me, it's his prerogative.
Of course, we showed that there is no contradiction.   But Rabbi Kornreich's list of possibilities presents a false choice, skewed towards his own preferred conclusion.  Even if we could not explain this "contradiction" that would grant us no license to assert that either of the texts is a forgery.

Ironically, one of Rabbi Kornreich's comments proves this point.  Commenter "A Careful Reader" spotted a contradiction in TCS itself:

A Careful Reader June 27, 2015 at 10:48 PM
Actually, in footnote 186 on p. 237, Rabbi Meiselman claims to have shown in chapter 8 that "it is IMPOSSIBLE to maintain that the relevant statements in Maamar Odos Drashos Chazal were actually penned by Rabbeinu Avraham" (emphasis added). So much for your claim that it is a "cautious proposal that there is reasonable doubt", and his claim that "there is some evidence... that it may not be... etc."
Freelance Kiruv ManiacJune 28, 2015 at 2:36 PM
Well, if Rav Meiselman wrote the pages I cited and they aren't a forgery, then my claim still stands.

Joking aside, we have a problem where a footnote cross-referencing the book itself overstates the actual text in the book. In such a case, I would think the actual text in the book overrides the cross-referencing footnote.

C: From the comments section: When I approached Rav Meiselman about David Ohsie's "discovery", he told me that he knew of it and that he simultaneously knew of the contradiction between the Milchamos Hashem and the ma'amar regarding Talmudic authority when he was researching the book.  He explained that although this contradiction with Milchamos would have been the better point of the two options, to make it in a definitive way would have required investing another huge amount of time, effort and money to do a thorough investigation of the authenticity of the Milchamos Hashem.  So he resigned himself to only presenting the textual variant problem knowing that if anyone would pull the Milchamos as a counter-point, he could respond with a "mimoh nafshoch".

This explanation is most disturbing and I don't accept that it represents Rabbi Meiselman's viewpoint.  Presenting a false argument because you have another argument available if the falsity of your argument is discovered is not an intellectually honest way to proceed.

In addition, I'm not aware of any doubts as to the authenticity of Milchamos Hashem or why it would take huge investments to present the evidence that it is not reliable.  So the whole "Mimoh Nafscoch" is difficult to comprehend.

D: Indeed, such a doctrine would fly in the face of the entire thrust of this sub-section of the ma'amar. Namely, the Mama'ar insists we may not concede any authority to the Talmud merely on the basis of the stature of the Talmudic sages alone. Their authority --on any subject, legal or scientific--must be earned by passing the scrutiny of our own contemporary expertise! (The wording I employ here in describing the Ma'amar's position vis-a-vis authority is specifically designed to correct David Ohsie's latest misunderstanding of Rav Meiselman's argument about the Ma'amar. That was rather painless, wasn't it?)

Rabbi Kornreich's "explanation" is difficult to understand.  Rabbi Meiselman appeared to claim that the Discourse lends no credence to authority at all, since he tries to refute it with a statement from the Rambam that authority is a source of knowledge.  If all the Discourse means is that we don't accept a statement based entirely on authority regardless of whether or not it makes sense, then this is no contradiction to the Rambam.  We showed in the post that he puts reason ahead of authority as a source of knowledge, and rejects Talmudic statements with which he disagrees.

10 comments:

  1. If the idea that Rabbeinu Avraham's work(s) are a forgery is so fundamental to the thesis of TCS, this proposition needs to be tackled head-on by scholars with the appropriate expertise (philology, etc.). Calling something a forgery solely based on apparently inconsistent intellectual statements seems very weak to me.

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    1. I agree, but I think that you can go farther and say that TCS doesn't really raise anything that would make one think that a re-examination is needed.

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  2. "Since these kinds of comments do not break any new ground but simply express opinion without foundation, we'll leave them alone." IOW, you "want to acknowledge but decline to comment at length on[them]". Fair enough, LOL.

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    1. :).

      But to take your comment more seriously than you probably intended, there is a difference between saying that "I don't like this, but I won't bother to say why" and noting that that kind of argument is bankrupt. The latter is apparent on it's face and doesn't require more than to be pointed out.

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  3. Hi David

    “A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham *by* those who are on his level of chochma.”
    “…Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his first statement….”
    “…while Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his interpretation of the Rambam…”

    Surely this is a mistranslation by RDK. Should it not be “A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham *who is* on his level of chochma”?

    RDK is (seems to be) saying that the quote says that only someone on the same level of chochma as the prophet has the right to treat him no different to a non-prophet. However it seems to me (without having read the context) that the Rambam is actually simply saying that the fact he is a prophet makes no difference no matter who you are.

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    1. Excellent comment. I was not careful enough in delineating the parts that are in the Rambam that everyone agrees to (Yehoshua minus prophecy does not equal average man) and the parts that are not (no one on a lower level can disagree). I think that, in part, I was confused by the somewhat awkward syntax of his statement. I'll probably update the post.

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  4. RDK ( FKM) understands the phrase "ha-domim lo," in the Intro to the CM, to mean that a hakham who is not a navi can only disagree with hakham who is a navi if the former is on the same level of hokhmah as the latter, Now aside from the fact that such a view contradicts what the Rambam himself states in Hlkhot Mamrim, I think the phrase "ha-domim lo" does not mean that the non- navi hakham has to be on exactly the same level of hokhamah as the navi hakham, but that they are similar in both being hakhamim, albeit of different ranks. In a like fashion, the verse "navi mikirbekha akim kammoni" does not mean the future prophet must be on exactly the same level of Moses, an obvious impossibility, but he will be similar to Moses inasmuch as he will be a prophet as Moses was a prophet. Thus "ha-domim lo" and "kamoni" do not designate equality, but similarity in a certain respect.

    On another point, I am stunned that RDK so completely missed the point of my "le-shitatkha" remark..

    Lawrence Kaplan

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    1. 1) I lean towards thinking that "ha-domin lo" in that sentence means "same as" or "on the same level" because his point is simply that, with respect to halacha, he is the same as the others "similar" sages who are not prophets. But that sentence says nothing about who can argue with whom. I presume, as you point out, that if 1001 sages say A and 1000 prophets say B, they are not all on the same level and he doesn't say anything about the 1001 being equal to the the 1000 in greatness (or how you could possibly measure this).

      2) Since Rabbi Kornreich expressed agreement with your "le-shitatkha" remark in the comments, I think that he misinterpreted it to mean that he (Rabbi Konreich) was making a ""le-shitatkha" argument against me. So that he was saying that if "le-shitatkha" the Milchemes HaShem is authentic, then you have a different supposed contradiction.

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  5. [17] C: ... In addition, I'm not aware of any doubts as to the authenticity of Milchamos Hashem or why it would take huge investments to present the evidence that it is not reliable.

    Second part of the sentence is resolved by the first half. Since there aren't any doubts as to the authenticity of Milchamos Hashem THAT IS WHY it would take huge investments (of money and finding the right character) to present the evidence that it is not reliable :)

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  6. Second part of the sentence is resolved by the first half. Since there aren't any doubts as to the authenticity of Milchamos Hashem THAT IS WHY it would take huge investments (of money and finding the right character) to present the evidence that it is not reliable :)

    Good answer :).

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