Thursday, November 26, 2020

Why I Can Never Be A True Rationalist

At the start of the millennium, I was in a pretty low place, in a variety of ways. I had recently been tasked by a certain outreach organization with the mission to research the topic of proving the Divinity of the Torah from the camel, the hare and the hyrax. This was in order to refute various objections that were being thrown at them from people who claimed that the topic actually disproved rather than proved the Torah's divinity. Much to my surprise and great dismay, I discovered that the objections were partially correct, and that while the topic could not be used to disprove the Divinity of Torah, it also couldn't be used to prove it. I was devastated.

Then, I was further shaken when certain (but not all) outreach organizations reacted with great hostility to my presenting them with my final report. Feeling the heat, I tried to ensure that my report would not reach anyone beyond those organizations. And then I was further distressed to find that one of my confidential correspondents had sent it to several further people. All this put me in a state of abject funk.

Meanwhile, in my personal life, things were also going badly. Nearly all my friends had long gotten married, but despite having gone out with many dozens of girls, I was still single. I was a rather out-of-the-box type of yeshivah student, and I had been scarred by certain dating experiences, and frankly, I was at a point when I thought that I would never get married.

Then, one day, I was contacted by one of the people to whom my "Camel, Hare & Hyrax" report had been leaked, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. He said that he liked it very much, and he was coming to Israel, and would like to meet me. After we met, he told me that I should go out with a former student of his from Los Angeles. 

There's not many connections between Mancunians and Los Angelinos, but I discovered that my neighbor, a very insightful psychologist who knew me extremely well, also knew this girl. I asked her if she thought it would be a good match, and she said that she didn't "see it" at all. Manchester and Los Angeles are not just geographically very far apart; they are also culturally very far apart. But I decided to go out with her anyway.

Twenty years ago today, Tali Samson and I got married.

Anyone who knows me from both before and after I got married knows that getting married is the best thing that ever happened to me, in all kinds of ways. My wife, a psychotherapist, is a truly wonderful person who exists to make the world a better place. Virtually every good thing that I have received or achieved is directly or indirectly as a result of getting married to her. My wife and I have been blessed with five wonderful children. We've faced challenges together and gotten through them.

The hyrax, which caused me so much grief, turned out to be the conduit via which I received so much blessing. It's probably not very rationalist of me to believe that I merited exceptional personal divine providence (Rambam and others did not generally believe in such personalized providence, and contemporary rationalists would dismiss it as perceiving significance where none exists), but I just can't help how I feel. I thank Hashem every day for what I consider to be one of the Great Miracles of the 21st century. May He continue to bestow blessings upon us.

 

(If you'd like to take this opportunity to make a donation to the Biblical Museum of Natural History, you can do so at this link!)

132 comments:

  1. I still remember you coming to speak at my elementary school Emek Hebrew Academy in LA circa. 2000-2001. You taught us that a Tzvi is not really a deer, it's a gazelle.

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  2. Mazal Tov on your anniversary! I’m sure your wife is a special person as she and you endured a lot these past twenty years. But I would like to ask again, as a rationalist, how do you explain the many things in the Torah that seemingly could not or did not happen. For starters; the over a million people leaving Egypt and being in the desert forty years. Unless as your title admits- you’re not a full true rationalist :)

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    1. He has evaded that question over the years by claiming to not know enough about that topic. Which, of course, is also a good excuse for chareidim to not believe in evolution, as not everybody is a biologist or zoologist. For my part, I don't think it's such a strong question. The same way you can say Genesis is dramatic fiction, you can say that about Exodus as well.

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    2. I know you asked for RNS's opinion but here is mine. I find that the Bible always exaggerates numbers to make a point. I think that only 600,000 Israelites left Egypt.

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    3. You can answer however you want but there’s a huge difference between a few difficult to understand pesukim in Bereishis (which technically has different ways of understanding) to talking about the exodus and sinai which are given over with great detail and that is the foundation of just about every mitzvah we do (or don’t do).

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    4. hey, you might benefit from joshua berman's book Ani Maamin

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    5. First of all, I wasn’t asking because I want to know. I personally have several approaches and compelling reasons that I find reasonable. I’m asking Rabbi Slifkin, as a proud rationalist to the extent of basically dismissing other approaches how HE answers the questions with the intellectual honesty he applies to his other works.
      Second of all we do find the number 6 a lot in the Chumash especially with the Exodus i.e Pharaoh took 600 chariots etc so perhaps the # 6 is taken the same way we might say a million when we only mean a lot as the poster earlier points out.

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    6. @Charedi Zionist, Yes, it is possible that the # 6 here means many just as the number 70 means many (most of the time).

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    7. @Chareidi Zionist, why do you say difficult pesukim? The pesukim describing Creation are only difficult if one refuses to accept miracles, which is the rationalist position. But they aren't inherently more difficult than saying God split the sea, or any of the Ten Plagues. (I agree there are other parts of Bereishis that are difficult, such as the Serpent, which is grappled with by the commentators. But instantaneous/six days creation isn't especially difficult.)

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    8. I disagree. Describing the Creation story is only difficult if you accept it literally (rejecting science). However, if we agree with the Rambam that it is a parable, then the difficulty is removed.

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    9. TH, yes, yes, I already know this is how you hold. And I agree that for somebody who rejects the possibility of miracles, it's much easier to say that the Rambam holds it's a parable. I'm just pointing out that strategy works for Exodus as well. Because the rationalist arguments were never about textual difficulties, but scientific difficulties, which both Bereishis and Exodus have in abundance.

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    10. Why would a non-reading of parts of Bereishit necessitate a disbelief in miracles? The scientific problem with Bereishit is not that I don't believe that the world could have been created that way, it's that I have specific current, testable and inter-subjective information that it wasn't created that way. A literal reading doesn't mean that the world was created miraculously, it means that there is miraculous intervention to make empirical observations show different conclusions. I think the miraculousness of creation is diminished, not enhanced, if it must be appended with God playing a hugely elaborate series of practical jokes on palaeontologists, geologists, biologists and cosmologists.

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    11. @Anonymous, I think that it makes no difference. In any case, G-d miraculously formed a world.

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    12. In general, I have no problem with those who interpret parts of Bereishit non-literally, in concordance with science, that has been the path of many Torah scholars. But when people ridicule the idea of an old-looking creation, it seems pretty clear that they are uncomfortable with the whole idea of miracles.

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    13. @Happy, Not necessary. Many people reject old-earth theory and still ascribe to miracles.

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    14. Anon, looks like the other part of my comment got swallowed. I wanted to say in my humble opinion, old-looking Creation should be the default. What would it even mean for the world to look completely new? And what is the difference between creating a 20 year-old-looking man or a 20 million-year-old-looking mountain? There could be many reasons why God would do this, it need not be trickery. As for the Torah scholars who prefer to interpret Bereishit according to science, as far as I can tell that is not because they ridicule the idea of old-looking earth, but because they feel actual old earth is totally consistent with the parshah.

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    15. @Happy, If G-d designed the world to look old this would be trickery. More importantly, this would be a waste of time, and G-d does not preform useless actions.

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    16. As Albert Einstein said: G-d does not play with the universe.

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    17. TH, I disagree, it would not be trickery if God has a good reason. I can think of at least two reasons why He would do it. Not involving tests of faith. And even if my reasons are not valid, God could have an infinite number of reasons, so it is not trickery at all.

      But I think it is MUCH more like trickery if He didn't create the world in 6 days, but made it seem in the Torah that He did.

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    18. @Happy, The idea that G-d made the world look old doesn't make any sense to me. I can't think of any good reason why G-d would even want to do that? Though, I agree that those who say that G-d planted dinosaur bones to "test our faith" is absurd. If you have good reasons, let's hear it.

      With regards to your second point, I admit you brought a good point. However, I could ask how do you know that G-d created the world in six 24-hour periods? Because a “day” in Genesis 1 could not mean a twenty-four hour period because that’s not the literal definition of a “day.” People who insist that a day is 24 hours are actually not literalists at all! They are putting their own definition of what a day is. Furthermore, a day is not 24 hours necessary. A day on earth is now 24 hours because that’s how long it takes the earth to rotate around the sun on its axis. But a day on Pluto is 130 hours, for example. So the term “day” depends largely on what planet you’re on!

      Not to mention that there were no planets before creation and the fact that the Bible ascribes a different length of time for G-d (which is probably figurative). How long was a "day" in Genesis? We have no idea. Therefore we can’t assume that a “day” was 24 hours.

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    19. TH, I will tell you the reasons. But first, you say you can't think of a good reason. Why is that such a problem? There are thousands of things I can't understand why God did. Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? That, to me, is a much stronger question than why did God create the world looking old. Why does the world look flat, when it is really round? Is that trickery? Couldn't God have made an actual flat earth? Secondly, do you admit that according to the literalist understanding, God created the animals, trees, and Adam looking old? Would that be trickery?

      Anyway, here are my two reasons:
      1. A young looking earth might be missing the following things:
      Mountains (takes millions of years to form) Continents (science informs us they also took millions of years to form) Caves (same, for many of them) Coal (made of million-year-old fossils) Oil (also a fossil fuel) Diamonds (takes millions of years to form). Now, I could say, maybe God could have found a way to make all those things without them looking old. But I have no idea what that would mean, and they would probably be extremely different than the mountains, continents, caves, coal, oil, and diamonds we have now. So I trust God to make them the way He felt best. What about dinosaur bones? I don't know why He made them, but I can speculate (are dinosaur bones valuable?)

      2. Many authorities say that even when God performs a miracle, he does it in a way that is close to natural. Hence RambaN says God saved the animals aboard an ark, even though the ark didn't fit them all, but He wanted it to seem somewhat natural. So too with Creation, He may have created the world quickly when He wanted, but did in such a way that world could have seemed to form naturally over time.

      Lastly, you say that "day" doesn't necessarily mean 24 hours. I agree, and that is why some authorities understand it according to science! But surely the typical person reading this a thousand years ago would understand it as a normal 24 hour day. And even now, there are many who read it that way. Isn't it misleading for those people?

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    20. I have commented on this topic in the past in a previous post. IT IS TOTALLY FINE if HKB"H created the world in 6 days but MADE IT TO LOOK OLD. There is no test of faith, no issue with timing, nothing. As to why? Because there are scientific and historical principles that would only make sense if there is a long period of time to build up to this.

      When we read a story, the characters are not all babies who then grow up in the story. We understand that they had lives prior to the story. The world they inhabit is not created only upon our opening the book (though I'm sure philosophically one can discuss it like that) but we understand that the characters have parents, the things they use were invented by other people, that weather happens and has happened the day before, etc. And we do not feel that we are lied to or cheated. We recognize that we were given the "important parts" to read.

      So too, I close the imperfect analogy, with Creation and Reality. Hashem brought us in for the "important part," and it is irrelevant if He let the Universe develop over 13.5 billion years or if He made it LOOK LIKE it did. Either way, we are supposed to INTERACT with the world AS IF it took 13.5 billion years to develop. Thus we are able to learn natural laws and properly fulfill "r'du v'dgas hayam" and "v'kivshuha."

      I personally might believe that the text Breishis is allegorical, but I have no problem with those who believe that it is literal. My only problem comes when those people say it is assur or somehow wrong to "believe" in dinosaurs, or Pangea, or cosmic red shift. Why should it be wrong? Hashem clearly wants us to believe in those things! After all, He put them there!

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    21. @Lucky, you brought many good points and reasons for why G-d would create a seemingly old earth. But I would add the following:

      1. With regards to G-d creating Adam looking old, I agree with Kabbalist Michael Laitman that Adam had a mother and a father like you and me. In his book, the Science of G-d, Gerald Schroeder points out that in Guide (part 1, chapter 7), Maimonides describes animals who were similar to Adam in both intelligence and looks. Homo sapiens? This implies that much of the creation story is an allegory.

      2. If mountains, continents, caves, diamonds, coal, and oil all took millions of years to form, wouldn't Occam's razor suggest that these things look old because they are old? Secondly, if He created the world six thousand years ago and made it look young, wouldn't that look natural, too? Surely people for thousands of years felt the world looked young because it was young. It was only after the discovery of dinosaurs and the origin of mountains, continents, caves, coal, oil, and diamonds did we begin to think the world might be older than previously thought. Lastly, by this logic, couldn't we say that G-d created the world two minutes ago and implanted all your memories so it would look natural? Wouldn't that be trickery, though?

      3. Although I do agree with your basic premises here. The sages did say that G-d performed miracles in a natural way. I just finished reading an excellent essay today by Dr. Warren Ze'ev Harvey. In the essay, Harvey writes that "According to Maimonides all miracles ... are natural phenomena." Thus, the Rambam believed that miracles can, and do, happen (even if they must be interpreted as purely natural phenomena. However, you would be deeply mistaken to equate the naturalistic interpretation of miracles with the denial of all miracles). Also, in the essay, Harvey spoke about the problem of evil and why good people suffer while the bad prospers. I think Maimonides answered this well, too. Evil is not G-d's dong, since G-d only does good. Thus, evil is the result of one of three things: People either harm themselves, harm others, or the laws of nature, which are good for the world generally may harm certain individuals. For example, a hurricane helps cleans the earth but could harm people nearby. Also, Rambam writes that evil is the deprivation of knowledge. Thus, for example, the Romans destroyed the Temple because Jews focused on bad theology, not military preparations (Art of war). (I credit this to Rabbi Natan Slifkin who pointed this out to me in Rambam’s letter to the Jews of Marseilles).

      4. Regarding your last point, yes the vast majority of people did read the term "day" in Genesis to mean 24 hour days. However, it could be argued that a careful reading of Scripture shows that the sun was not created until the fourth day. Since the beginning of time, man has measured time by the movement of the sun and stars, or more accurately, the movement of the earth around the sun. Therefore, a careful reading shows that the Bible is obscure since there was no sun to speak of on "day one." Therefore, this interpretation is no better than saying that a snake spoke to Eve in the garden when we know that snakes do not speak and many authorities say this is a metaphor for Satan or Eve's יצר הרע yetzer hara.

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    22. @Yosef R, I agree with much of what you wrote, and I definitely agree that we should learn natural laws to fulfill our purpose, telos in Greek. But as I wrote previously (to Happy), and this is relevant for you too, it makes no sense to me that G-d should create the world to look old when it is only a few thousand years old. First, couldn't we say that G-d created the world two minutes ago and implanted all your memories? But wouldn't that be trickery? Surely you would say you were cheated of "x" amount of years from your life, unless you don't care? My bet is that most people would feel upset that they were tricked into thinking they were alive for "x" amount of years when in fact, they were only alive for a few minutes! As for your analogy about a novel, whether the world was created two thousand years ago or millions of years ago, we are still planted on the earth like readers reading a book about characters who begin at the opening pages of a novel, not at the moment they were born. So I humbly don't think this analogy works at all.

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    23. @TH, I don’t know about Occam’s Razor (maybe Occam’s Razor would say 6 days is literal, since that would seem to be the simplest explanation of the text?) My point was just to give a possible reason why God would make the world would look old even if it isn’t, because a young-looking earth would be missing many things. As for whether the ancients thought the world was old or young, it’s hard to say, different cultures had different explanations. I suspect if you study different mythologies, you will find a lot of both. Many ancient philosophers thought the world existed forever!

      You ask if God could have created us two minutes ago with our memories. I don’t see why this isn’t theoretically possible, there is actually a movie about this. But since the Torah doesn’t tell us this and neither does science, I see no reason to say it.

      @Yosef I agree with what you wrote, finding reasons is not really necessary and is probably futile.

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    24. @Lucky, Torah and science doesn’t tell us that G-d tricked us into believing the world is older than it is. Do you have a better reason than the origin of mountains, continents, caves, coal, oil, and diamonds is a lie? Even if its theoretically possible that G-d tricked us, is it probable? And doesn’t G-d only do good?

      True, other cultures have different views about the age of the earth. But at the end of the day, most of us agree with the scientific view that the universe was formed over the course of billions of years.

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    25. @TH, according to the literalists, the Torah tells us that God created the world and everything in it in the six days of Creation. And they don't consider it trickery at all, any more than any thing else God does that we don't understand. They don't agree that we have to understand everything that God does. I was merely trying to give a possible reason to make the world look old even if it wasn't, but who am I to give reasons for God, or to pretend to understand His great ways?

      Although I wouldn't discount the allegorical approach to Genesis as many Torah scholars have said it, I personally find the literal approach more compelling. I also think it is the majority view among Torah scholars. I am well aware that you find the allegorical approach more compelling, so there is no need for debate.

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    26. @Lucky, "according to the literalists, the Torah tells us that God created the world and everything in it in the six days of Creation."

      Again, a “day” in Genesis 1 could not possibly mean a twenty-four hour period because that’s not the literal definition of a “day.” Those who insist that a day is 24 hours are not literalists since they are putting their own definition of what a day is. A day on earth is now 24 hours because that’s how long it takes the earth to rotate around the sun on its axis. But a careful reading of Scripture shows that the sun was not created until the fourth day. Since we have no idea how long a "day” was in Genesis, we can’t assume that a “day” was 24 hours.

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    27. TH, when I said literalist, I meant those who understand "day" as 24 hours. There are many who read it like that, and I prefer their reading. One example is the RambaN, who discusses the sun issue and nevertheless concludes that "day" is 24 hours. Surely you don't think you can read Scripture more carefully than the RambaN? I am aware that there are authorities who understand "day" like you said, and you are certainly allowed to rely on them.

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  3. Your conclusion in the headline is right on target - a pure rationalist would separate himself from his own experience and analyze starting with how many people there are, how many marriages..... and determine based on the entire sample space (ex. one person has a dream that someone they know got sick, and they actually did. analysis-how many dreams were dreamt in the world, how many about friends, how many sick, how many did get sick...)

    KT

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  4. Mazel tov to you both! May you have many more happy years together.

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  5. Mazal tov and may you all have lots of happiness and nachas!

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  6. Mazal Tov to both of you on your anniversary. Ad meah v'esrim and beyond to you both!

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  7. Meeting up with Rabbi Adlerstein is always a risky thing!
    Mazel tov on 20.

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  8. Happy Anniversary!
    (Happy Hyraversary? Hyrax Hareversary? Harey Camelversary?)

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  9. Thank you for this, which I found very moving. And may you enjoy many more healthy years together, and much nachas from your doros.......

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  10. Could of saved yourself years of grief by recognizing that the hyrax is highly improbable to be the shafan. Has paws not hooves and certainly doesn't chew it's cud. It's called confirmation bias and won't allow you to consider any other animal aa a candidate.

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    1. Why would a 2000's Charedi RNS be biased to see the shafan as the hyrax?? Wouldn't he rather bolster the kiruv narrative?

      The shafan/hyrax issue bothered me tremendously and it was the starting point for me to reform my approach to apologetics.

      I think the shafan gives us a reason to redefine biblical inerrancy and steal the narrative away from fundamentalists.

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    2. Talking about post book era. After he was confronted with questions and better approach, he dug heals in.....

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    3. Huh? What "better approach" was I later confronted with?

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    4. Camelid group fits way better. Yes questions do arise from Tehilim and Mishlei. But obviously those pesukim are way more open to homiletical interpretation than biblical pesukim which lay out the split hoof and cud chewing requirements pretty clearly. This is evidenced by the camel and pig which no one seemed to argue regarding their identity. In their case cud chewing and split hooves is clearly defined. To have two different sort of cud chewing requirement whithin cud chewing is nothing short of ludicrous. Additionally split hooves and paws are two separate categories in the Torah itself. These challenges are insurmountable, and to date you have not countered these challenges.

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    5. "But obviously those pesukim are way more open to homiletical interpretation." There's no homiletic interpretation which makes an alpaca into a familiar animal, nor into one that hides under rocks.

      "To have two different sort of cud chewing requirement whithin cud chewing is nothing short of ludicrous." I agree. That's why I didn't posit that.

      "Additionally split hooves and paws are two separate categories in the Torah itself." I have no idea what you mean.

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    6. ""To have two different sort of cud chewing requirement whithin cud chewing is nothing short of ludicrous." I agree. That's why I didn't posit that."

      You write "dibrah Torah k'loshen bnei adam"

      This most certainly is two distinct types of cud chewing, one actual and one perceived.

      As to the issue of the hyrax not having split hooves. It has paws and is hence classified under "kol holeich al kapayim". This demonstrates the impossibility of a hyrax being classified with animals that have hooves. Since the Torah states that the shafan's hooves are not split this excludes any possibility of the shafan being the hyrax.

      As to the first point you make. It's foolish to abandon a clear posuk in the Torah and instead go with parables from Mishlei and poetry from Tehilim. Since when did the words of Tehilim read so simply?! I'm astounded by your professed claim to scholarship in this area with your overly simplistic reading and interpretations of Nach!

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    7. "This most certainly is two distinct types of cud chewing, one actual and one perceived." Nope. It's one type; perceived. With camels, they also happen to actually do it.

      "It has paws and is hence classified under "kol holeich al kapayim"." That doesn't mean it's not mentioned here too. The Torah explicitly says that the gamal, shafan and arneves do not have hooves.

      "It's foolish to abandon a clear posuk in the Torah and instead go with parables from Mishlei and poetry from Tehilim." It's not a "parable" to mention God's providence with a known animal that hides under rocks. It's referencing a known phenomenon in the natural world.

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    8. @Yehuda @RNS I find it amazing that a few times a year the shafan/Hyrax issues resurfaces for the umpteenth time. Why is that? What's this really about?

      The core issues here is defining inerrancy. Lurking beneath the surface of this debate is the Charedi notion that if fundamentalist inerrancy isn't true, then judaism has been debunked. It's a commonly held belief in Christian fundamentalist groups as well (Ken Ham.)

      Slifkin, you should come out with a monologue clearly defining the inerrancy as a Rationalist would.

      (Christian Apologist JP Holding wrote a book called "Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation". We need that too.)

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    9. To suggest that what happens on high mountain tops is somehow a known phenomenon is ridiculous. The phrase before shafan in tehilim reads "the high mountains are for the y'ailim". Since when are most people mountain climbers.
      For those following this thread this will be my last response to someone who keeps responding with pseudo answers which lack any real scholarship and is merely sevaros and total conjecture. Note how he continually claims to have a definitive case for hyrax despite very serious questions on this identity. Whether shafan is a Llama I don't have definitive proof. However the questions raised about the possibility of it being hyrax are too serious to just casually dismiss them and claim with definitive certainty that it's a hyrax.

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    10. @Big Mouth, I agree. Mizrachi used to say that if any inerrancy, or if even the Western Wall came down, "that would be the end of Judaism." I don't know about Charedi or Ken Ham, but I'm still keeping kosher even if the walls come down. As it stands, the Temple itself remains in ruins (currently).

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    11. "To suggest that what happens on high mountain tops is somehow a known phenomenon is ridiculous." Actually, it's what you can easily see at Ein Gedi, which is exactly where David HaMelech spent time.

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    12. http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2014/01/proof-of-god-from-kosher-animals-part.html And see part 2. This proof and the number of star proof is still utilized by Kiruv. The arguments can convince those ignorant of our holy texts, science and those lacking good critical thinking skills. It is akin to Christian and Muslim missionaries duping people. ACJA

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    13. I agree that the star proof is not very convincing, but as I explained previously, G-d is the most logical explanation of the universe. We don't need to rely on Kiruv "proofs" to prove this.

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    14. it's a shame people like ACJA have such easy targets like aish and co. The true opposition WLC, Plantings Van Inwagin etc. Aren't well known in frum circles and don't get any attention.

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    15. @Big Mouth, I do not think its logical to be an atheist. I think if ACJA studied Rambam he would find atheism empty, and shallow.

      Albert Einstein said: "science (atheism) without religion is lame, and religion (mysticism) without science is blind."

      However, Rambam was both religious and science-minded. If people want to be religious, they should accept only the rational teachings of Maimonides.

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    16. @big mouth - my focus is on Jewish arguments. However I do write about some of WLC stuff. Plantinga makes unfounded assertions using fancy words and hypotheticals, He mainly uses ontological style argument which is an utter failure. Check out my index. Acja

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    17. @TH see my index of posts - god of the gaps. Acja

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    18. WLC and plantinga are hard to take seriously. One truly thinks he can prove Jesus resurrection. Plantinga thinks believing Christianity is rational. Come on. ACJA

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    19. @ACJA, I agree that Christianity is not rational. Rationalist Judaism is since the G-d of Maimonides is the most logical explanation for the universe.

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    20. @ACJA You speak a big game. The bottom line is that there are intellectual geniuses on both sides. Any attempt at painting the discussion as simple is wrong-minded.

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    21. @big mouth I already stated my focus is on Orthodox Judaism. I do not write about debunking Islam or Christianity directly but much of what I write addresses them. FYI I have read a lot of WLC and some of plantinga and find the latter especially deficient. I put my thoughts out there in writing for all to see and I will Discuss and have discussed them with Rabbis, Kiruv, and religious who wish to engage. Acja

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    22. @ACJA, I disagree. I think there are many strong arguments in the religious camp and just as many bright people. My personal rabbi is one of the smartest people that I know. Please summarize why you think that WLC does not present good arguments.

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  11. Mazal Tov yo you both! The universe is a big place and who knows. Maybe G-d did have something to do with it!

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  12. Mazel tov to you and your wife on your anniversary. You've had many great accomplishments over the past twenty years and may HaShem give you and your wife strength to continue to add so much knowledge to the world.

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  13. Mazal tov, God bless you and your family !

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  14. very sweet ode to your wife.
    it is true that modern secularists (for some reason they prefer the label "rationalist", but secularist is a more accurate description) reject divine hashgacha as part of their larger agenda of "limiting" god, but RMBM has no share in such an agenda.
    RMBM's writings are replete with references to hashgacha (as is all of the torah, which RMBM accepted). what RMBM did argue, which is misconstrued by ignorant or agenda driven people, is that hashgacha pratit (as opposed to hashgacha klalit) applies only to humans. since we are all a combination of a human soul incased in an animal body, free will allows us to choose to be human (ie the body serves the needs of the soul) or an animal (to serve the body).
    RMBM posits that to the extent that we are human, god interacts with us as humans and we are covered by hashgacha pratit, while to the extent that we are animals, we are relegated to hashgacha klalit.
    it is unfair to RMBM to ascribe to him modern secular belief that he explicitly rejected.

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    1. Rambam felt that Providence only applied to humans with a certain level of intellect. I agree with you that secularists are not rationalist at all since the notion of G-d behind the universe is the most logical explanation.

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  15. Mazel tov and many more healthy, happy years together, with naches from your children.

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  16. Stories of non-science-violating Providence/miracles are consistent with a rationalist approach and cast doubt only on atheism... That said, Mazel Tov and yasher koach to the wise R' Adlerstein shlit'a. It would be enlightening to examine the irrational reasons ostensibly-qualified advice-givers "don't see" good matches, starting with your otherwise-insightful erstwhile neighbor.

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  17. I think that a "true" rationalist thus defined would not be a good thing.

    I was a teenager when your books were banned, I remember owning one at the time, I kept it, read it. Mysterious Creatures, was a gift to me around the time of my Bar Mitzvah. I think your books do great work, while they cannot prove that the Torah comes from Hashem, they don't have to. it's not something which can be truly proven. no matter how much evidence shows us it is likely He exists, we'll never prove it becuase He is beyond our understanding.

    Your books are attempting to show people confused by seeming contradictions in torah and science how they are not mutually exclusive, how science is but the ever progressing method of understanding the amazing world Hashem gave us, and that the Torah was not always meant to be taken at literal word for word, and that the Chachamim of the past while amazing great sages and tzadikim, were as human as us and not all knowing, wiser yes, but not omniecsent.

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  18. Isn't it immodest to post personal pictures?

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    1. @David
      It's not immodest. It's just human and sociable.
      Not everything is sexual.
      Can't you see a picture of a modestly dresssed Jewish woman without being aroused, pervert?

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    2. I think he meant immodest as in ga'avadik, not znus.

      Within range of personal comfort, he is not wrong. Stereotypical Facebook pictures of "Look at me having fun and looking awesome!" probably fall in that category of not very tzanu'a (lowercase tzadi).

      One might disagree with that perspective, saying a pleasant picture of the family posted in context of hoda'ah LaShem is less problematic.

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    3. Yosef, I think honestly you are trying to put a reasonable face on David's comment.

      Putting that aside, I hope you are not suggesting that all the people who share their good times with friends on Facebook are displaying in appropriate pride. That would be a stupid comment.

      There is showing off on facebook, but that is a million miles removed from what Rabbi Slifkin did. So there is no need to bring it up other than to make David look less dumb or to taint Rabbi Slifkin. Neither of those are great things to aim for.


      'One' might say that posting a please family pic is problematic . But one would be a total shmuck if one did.
      Praising a spouse is, for normal people, not pride of a negative kind, but rather a positive expression of appreciation and recognition. Of course that's not problematic unless you think, generally, that women should be kept in the kitchen.

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    4. To be clear, Fozzie, I agree that a pleasant picture of the family is indeed miles away from Facebook bragging pics. I completely agree about praising a spouse and positive recognition.

      I have no idea why you would understand that I was trying to taint Rabbi Slifkin. That does not compute.

      I was trying to not go on and on, which I usually do.
      And here goes.

      I don't have to tell you that Facebook (or other social media) has a reputation for bragging or other inappropriate posts. The majority of pictures are positive, for obvious reasons (why snap a photo and why post it if you are sad!), and this leads to people who are not lucky/rich/whatever enough to have the things/experiences that they see online to be depressed (clinically or not). There are articles and advice columns and the like that tell people to remember that What You See on social media is only part of the story - that even the guy who looks like his life is awesome because he posts his parties, his ski trip, and his beautiful family ALSO has his bad days, his car accidents, and his fights with his wife.

      AAAAND this can lead to people recognizing that there are gradations and a spectrum and variability and no one rule works for everyone, but there are gaavadik postings and there are postings that are not.

      Anyway, yes of course I was trying to be melamed z'chus for David. In his favor, he did not mention women. He mentioned "personal." I do not think it was too much of a stretch to understand it as I did. I completely disagree with him in this case, but I wasn't going to say anything until you posted and were, let's be honest, rather unnecessarily vituperative. (Yes, it DID occur to me to comment about this before you posted, but I thought it wasn't worth it. It would have been simply showing off how I can read into things and also opening up this FB can of worms thing for no reason other than to create a tangent.)

      I believe that is clear enough...
      Happy Chanukah!

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  19. I have never been a fan of these kiruv "proofs". Even before seeing counterexamples I doubted this "proof". It's obvious to anybody that the Talmud is full of (seemingly) unscientific things. All of the sudden, when it comes to kosher symbols, the Talmud will be perfectly and clearly consistent with modern science?!

    I saw a book that uses the number of stars to prove that Chazal was consistent with modern astronomy. Because the Talmud states there are 10^18 stars, "which is close to the accepted number today of 10^22". The author couldn't even be bothered to ask somebody what an exponent is, he thinks it's a small difference like between 1,018 and 1,022.

    And the Bible codes. Oy vey, the Bible codes. Why the insistence on this obviously futile effort to prove the Torah using modern science? What is wrong with relying on our Mesorah, that the Written and Oral Torah was given by Hashem to Moshe, and was passed on to us in an unbroken Tradition? About these "proofs" I say, כל המוסיף גורע.

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    1. Bible Codes is not, and was never, considered a proof of anything. They were considered something cute. The highlight of the Seminars was always the small letters in Megilas Ester, not codes, plus all the other related stuff (Purim Fest, 300 towns, etc) Kiruv in general no longer features the full court press seminars with handouts. The industry has changed.

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    2. I agree entirely. If one needs scientific Mizrachi-style "proofs" that means our mesora isn't good enough. We can know HaShem exists through philosophical indulgence. Even if the Talmud records 10^18 stars, it is still off by 10^22, which is close to but still significantly far away from billions of stars. Anyway, it is not Torah, but rabbinical wisdom.  And although brilliant, like every nation, the men made mistakes. Chazal were misinformed about a good number of things. If you look at rabbinical writings with an eye for matching them (or cherry-picking and twisting them) to modern science, you will be distraught. It's a fool's errand.

      The Torah text has been changed by many translations. True, these are small variations and do not change the plain meaning of the text but if one letter is off, the entire process is fruitless and forfeits any codes which might have been. If they were Torah codes, we would not be able to derive any benefit from them now.

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    3. While I do not disagree with you that these "proofs" are not very convincing on a kiruv front (that star math one is hilarious), I don't think that was the point of the post. For someone who Already Believes and is therefore not a rationalist, this sort of thing is perfect. And therefore, by acknowledging that there seems to have been hashgacha in his life, RNS similarly "outs" himself as One Who Believes. I doubt he would recommend to Aish to use his story to attract new BTs...

      (Rabbi Slifkin, I apologize if I am putting incorrect words in your mouth.)

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    4. @Yosef, RNS has an excellent essay on the star thing. I forget the title of it, though.

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    5. Is the mesorah considered so strong? I know that is what we are told, but aren't there significant stretches throughout our history where there were very few legitimate torch-bearers? It seems to me that the mesorah can benefit from some almost-proofs to give it some backing

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    6. I happen to think that the purveyors of kiruv proofs and the rationalist Jews are similar in one important way. Both of them see scientific evidence as a higher level of truth than the Mesorah. Hence the purveyors of kiruv proofs feel the need to find "scientific" evidence for the Torah. And the rationalist Jews willingly reject the Mesorah when they feel it contradicts science. Because to both of them, science is the ultimate truth, and the Mesorah is a secondary thing that stands or falls on the weight of scientific evidence.

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    7. @Raymond, according to the Mesorah, the Mesorah is uninterrupted! Including in those stretches of history that you are referring to. Whether somebody will trust the Mesorah or not is a different question, but is not dependent on the cursory reading of some chapters in Kings 2 and Ezra. If he accepts the Mesorah, he can accept the Mesorah's explanation of those chapters. And if not, well then, he didn't need those chapters to debunk the Mesorah in the first place, did he?

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    8. http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2020/05/proof-of-god-from-number-of-stars-in.html The star proof has some deep flaws. I wonder how the advocates would respond to the flaws. ACJA

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    9. @Happy Science is widely esteemed amongst the Kiruv targets (And the general population) and that is a major reason Kiruv “finds” science in Jewish holy books. Muslims do the same exact thing. ACJA

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    10. @TH AFAIK you can not know any gods or supernatural things exist using philosophy. I write a lot about at my blog. ACJA

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    11. @Happy
      Why should anyone then trust the mesorah in the first place?

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    12. @ACJA you said "you can not know any gods or supernatural things exist using philosophy. I write a lot about at my blog."

      Baloney. Is natural theology and illegitimate field of study?

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    13. @Raymond that is indeed a problem for kiruv. I trust my parents, but how can I convince you to trust my parents. I don't think half-baked "proofs" that can easily be debunked in seconds by anybody with a phone is the solution though.

      As for me, why do I trust my Mesorah? It is hard to express, but I will say this. The reason I believe there was an American Revolution is not because of archeological evidence. And even if it was, how can I trust they weren't forged by very prolific forgers? To go back earlier, I trust there were Phoenicians even without being able to verify the archeological evidence. I trust Euclid wrote Elements even though there is no archeological evidence from his time. To me, the Mesorah is a historical tradition of fact similar to those. I am not bothered by non-Jewish historians who reject the Mesorah, anymore than I am bothered by Karaites or modern secular Jews who reject the Mesorah.

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    14. @Happy
      The problem I have with the examples you've given is that a) they are not supernatural claims, b) believing them doesn't make a difference to your lifestyle and c) there aren't educated scholars who dispute these claims. If these things did exist, I imagine that would change your willingness to believe in them. I'm guessing that you don't believe jesus was a god, right?
      What I'm getting at is at the end of the day, you have to realize that mesorah is also a type of proof. So it sounds funny to me to mock places for using certain proofs, when you yourself are similarly relying on a proof that isn't so rock-solid

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    15. Saying that the Mesorah tells us that the Mesorah is immutable is a little too circular. We trust in the Mesorah for other reasons, such as perhaps we have seen its strength.

      But to the original happygolucky post here: Mesorah and science do not argue! It's true that kiruv targets are better drawn in by something that fits their worldview rather than "I was told this by my parents/teachers" but many then see the wonder and beauty of the [mostly] unbroken transmission.

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    16. @Raymond, I agree with Happy. How do you know the dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago, or that your parents are your parents, for that matter. You have to take it on faith. As it turns out, atheist are just as religious and faithful as people with faith. We have have faith.

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    17. @ACJA said "you can not know any gods or supernatural things exist using philosophy. I write a lot about at my blog."

      Maimonides would disagree. Rambam felt that the first commandment was to study science. To investigate nature was to learn about the works of G-d, which was the birth of science. Greek natural law agreed. The Greeks felt that humans were capable of contemplating the world around them, by which they could discover an Unmoved Mover, as Abraham had done. 

      As it turns out, it is possible to discover G-d using only Reason.

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    18. @Raymond As I said, I don't think this is a proof that will convince people, just my own feelings about my confidence in my Mesorah.

      But to respond: a) I don't feel the supernatural is impossible, just unlikely, but my belief is not dependent on likelihood. b) People don't change their lifestyle based on beliefs? c) Why does no educated scholar dispute them? Because it is the historical tradition they received. I received a historical tradition that is applicable to my relatively narrow community. From my perspective, scholars from outside my community are in no position to dispute it, just like I am in no position to dispute what you have in your fridge. I can dispute that you have coleslaw in you fridge and bring evidence all day long, sifting through your garbage cans for receipts, but if you know you have it, you have it.

      @Yosef, Mesorah and science do argue. According to science, there is no supernatural. That was true in the "science" of Aristotle and is even truer today.

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    19. @TH links please.ACJA

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    20. @ACJA see Warren Zev Harvey's Maimonides First Commandment essay.

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    21. @TH and Happy
      Once you tell me that I have to take things on faith, then that line of reasoning would tell a chritian to remain a christian and a muslim to remain with muslim beliefs. Are you ok with that conclusion? I would like to think there is something more objectively compelling about our mesorah.
      And again, the idea of believing there were dinosaurs doesn't mean much to me because whether I believe or not has little impact on my life, so I don't have anything to lose by having faith. When it comes to religion, there's a lot more at stake so I don't want to just believe based on faith

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    22. @Raymond, god question. I can't say I am very knowledgeable about all the different forms of Christianity and Islam. But if they have a historical tradition that Jesus or Mohammed said or did something which was recorded at the time that it happened (as opposed to most mythologies, as far as I can tell), and that tradition was meticulously preserved, I don't see why it's different than any other historical tradition.

      You say that you only believe things that have little impact on your life, even when it comes to basic scientific facts like dinosaurs. But do you think most people share this mindset? Many people do things that have major impacts on their lives based on their beliefs. And not just religious people. Many people are willing to completely change their lifestyle because of a belief that the world is doomed by climate change. Is this a more certain fact than history, or dinosaurs? Definitely not. Others are willing to dedicate years of their life, and fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition in a belief that they will get a good job after school. This belief is much less certain than history or dinosaurs. Yet others are willing to spend their entire lives studying and teaching history or paleontology. Clearly, most believe what they are teaching, and are dedicating their lives to it.

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    23. @Raymond, Good question. I find that Judaism is the only religion to claim national revelation. All other religions only claim individual revelation. I agree with your last statement though. I will add that dedicating your life to climate change or tuition is not the same as religion. According to most religions, infidels go to hell. Not so with college or climate change, which is temporary.

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    24. @happy why does it have to be recorded at that time ? Also how do you know the dates a particular parts of the Torah were recorded ? I wrote a lot about Kuzari argument also see shragi’s book acja

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    25. https://www.amazon.com/Reasonable-Doubts-Breaking-Second-Son/dp/1690831723/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=Breaking+the+chain+Kuzari&qid=1607323418&sr=8-5 That’s the link to shragi’s book. Acja

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    26. ACJA, I don't mean exactly at that time, I would be satisfied with recording within, say, the next hundred years. To me, that is what separates history from mythology. And I know when it was recorded because that is what the historical tradition is, no different to me than any other history. As opposed to myth, where the historical tradition doesn't say when the historical tradition was recorded (which makes it able to be recorded much later than the events supposedly occurred). That is why I find Jesus and Mohammed more real than Zeus or Quetzalcoatl. This has nothing to do with the Kuzari, who never talks about such a thing, you are confusing two issues.

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    27. @ACJA You should link Gottliebs response to shragis book: http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2020/09/reply-to-breaking-kuzari.html?m=1

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    28. @Happy, Are you suggesting that the Torah was not necessary recorded at Sinai but at a later date? Even if its within the lifetime of the 40 years in the desert?

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    29. At Big Mouth, Gottlieb rejects evolution. There are better sources out there than Gottlieb. In any case, kuzari proofs is not a good proof but a necessary one. I think there are better proofs. I know Slifkin dislikes ID.

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    30. If we start another post or a new blog to debate this and it causes people to stop being religious, whose fault is it? The one who started the new blog, Rabbi Slifkin for bringing up and then evading the issue or is each one responsible for his own decisions?

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    31. @BIG MOUTH Rabbi Gottlieb wrote a post that attempts to refute the my Miracle of the Sun post, and I think he failed. I explain why at my blog ACJA

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    32. @Big Mouth RG is a clever man and thanks for the link which I intend to read. IMHO his Kuzari argument is flawed. See https://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2018/03/kuzari-argument-part-17-apple-white_28.html and my other Kuzari posts? ACJA

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    33. I want to reiterate something that I said previously. According to Maimonides (Rambam in Hebrew) Abraham discovered G-d. In other words, for the Rambam, G-d did not go to Abraham. Abraham went to G-d. And he did so by philosophical speculation and having knowledge of the laws of nature. In other words, reason was his measuring tool to revelation (Menachem Kellner).

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    34. @Turk Hill I agree that Gottliebs bends to the fundamentalists by denying evolution etc. I only linked his response to Lowenstein because it's only fair.

      As far as ID, that is a bad approach out of use in academic circles. Stick to the cosmological, teleological etc. Natural theology is booming on youtube full of excellent academic stuff: inspiring philosophy,capturing christianity, elephantphilosophy etc. It's a damn shame frum people don't study this field.

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    35. Why is everybody talking about the Kuzari? Did the Kuzari suddenly become synonymous with the Mesorah? Is that what Rabbi Gottlieb says in his book, which I didn't read?

      @Chareidi Zionist, there will be nobody who stops being religious because of this. How many people do you know who are only religious because of these quasi "proofs"? And if there is anybody like that, the rebuttals are freely available with a simple Google search.

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    36. @ACJA said: "RG is a clever man." I disagree. Did you see how he disparaged evolution and science? .

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    37. @Charedi Zionist, if a person lost his/her faith its their own fault. Not rabbi Slifkin.

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    38. @Big Mouth, I agree. But isn't the teleological argument similar to ID? I think the cosmological argument is one of the best proofs. Yes, I agree that its too bad frum people don't study Natural theology. Natural theology brought the birth of science. Aristotle and Rambam were huge proponents of Natural theology theory.

      PS Maybe Gottlieb feels like he has to bend to the fundamentalists for support?

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    39. @Turk Hill I think Gottlieb thinks cultural acceptance is part of the ideology. He doesn't realize that he isn't tied down to silly dogma...

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    40. @Big Mouth, Yes, I think you're right about Gottlieb.

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    41. TH, there is a discussion in the Talmud how the Written Torah was written in the desert. It was not written all at once, definitely not all at Sinai. Everybody in our entire Mesorah agrees that very soon after Moses's death, the Torah was completely written. Some say Moses commanded Joshua to write the last few verses. As for the Oral laws, rules of interpretation, and explanations, there were some given to Moses at Sinai and some given throughout the 40 years. Everybody agrees that both the Written and Oral Torah, which both contain timestamps of when they were given, were given by Moses. Of course, there were other rabbinic laws that came later.

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    42. @Happy, I agree that the entire Torah was not revealed at Sinai since the Torah continues after they left the mountain for 40 years and more. I also think ibn Ezra’s “secret of the twelve” is correct about Joshua writing the last few verses.

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    43. @Turk Hill You said: "isn't the teleological argument similar to ID?" By pure definition, yes, practically, no.

      ID is the moniker for arguments from "biological impressiveness" aka argument from ignorance aka god of the gaps. It has zero support among academic philosophers on both sides.

      Teleological arguments like Fine Tuning are much harder to defend against. Need to go into many worlds hypothesis etc., and garners support among major philosophers, Feser, WLC, Van Inwagin, Martin Rees etc. ACJA can be confidently flippant about it, but its a ruse. Anyone who dismisses natural theology as illegitimate is in the same boat as me 10th grade rebbe saying that "goyim are all stupid etc." Dismissing without truly engaging.

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    44. @big mouth Fine tune argument - see my posts on it and you will withdraw your false statement about. Pls don’t put words in my mouth.acja

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    45. @big mouth see my 2 posts on fine tuning.acja

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    46. @ACJA You aren't qualified to discuss fine tuning. Your dismissive hand wave is dismissed. Engage with serious scholarship and then talk to me.

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    47. @big mouth - but if you read my fine tune posts you’d read I did NOT dismiss the argument, so please do not misrepresent. BTW since you do not know my background you are in no position to comment on my qualifications. I usually cite academic sources and also back up my position with IMHO are valid logical and reasonble counter arguments. I offer my blog as a source and I am not remotely trying to debate.acja

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    48. @Big Mouth, Thank you for clarifying the difference between ID and Teleo argument. I agree that Teleo is superior to ID. ACJA, could you summarize why fine-tuning is problematic. Personally, I think fine-tuning is one of the best arguments out there.

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    49. @th - check my my blog index for my posts on fine tune argument. Btw - do you a link to the fine tune argument or a book you like about it ? Acja

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    50. Not particularly. I will check your blog, though.

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  20. Happy anniversary! May you have many more.

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  21. What happened to your essay I read this morning??? It was excellent and very funny. Did the PC people object?

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  22. Wishing you many more years of happiness, good health, and nachas.

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  23. Mazeltov on your first twenty years, may you have many more in good health and happiness.

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