Monday, October 05, 2009

Q&A

Hello,
I am a Baal Tesuvah that was recruited by Aish Hatorah. I am interested in leaving Judaism since the Orthodox lifestyle is way too difficult for me. However, there is certain circumstancial evidence used to prove Judaism that scares me into believing that maybe I should be frum. Here are some things that worry me:
1. In Deuteronomy there is a prophecy that Israel would be taken away in captivity (fulfilled during the Babylonian captivity) and that Israel would one day return from being scattered across the nations( did occur) and that people would return to Judaism (Baal Tesuvah movement).
If some prophet foresees events that happens many years after they were proclaimed one may entertain the idea that this prophet got his messages from someone who knows more than a normal human being can know, although one may argue that it was a coincident. But...
What if the relevant verses in Deuteronomy were written after the first set of events happened (after the Kingdom of Israel was dispersed), indeed way after - perhaps during the Babylonian period when all of the Jews (the important ones at least) were already exiled? What if refers to the return of the diaspora from Babylonia? In order to be phased by the prophecy we must be surer that it means what we now see as the events that unfolded, and was indeed foreseen before the events happened.
Also, while our history verges on the miraculous, culminating surely, with the return of many Jews to a homeland dispersed almost two millennia prior. A large contributor to our return to the land must be the constant yearning, daily prayers and seasonal reminders - these have been enforced by the promises Jews believed to have been given by the almighty. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. The fact that we were persecuted by so many nations, yet survived so long.
That is extraordinary indeed, but it is hard if not impossible to use that as proof of anything other than it being extraordinary. Some may find an easy answer in a deity that prescribed the history of the Jews in the diaspora, but in reality a deity raises more questions than answers - it becomes the unnecessary added explanations not allowed with Occam's razor.
3. Evidence geological and in stories across cultures that there may have really been a flood.
Geological evidence supports localized floods that contributed to the stories many cultures have about floods - there is no evidence to believe that there was a central flood all across the world. From this evidence to the belief in a very confused biblical account - with a deity involved - requires a huge leap of faith.
4. The torah stated correctly that there is only one animal that has split hooves and does not chew its cud.
An interesting twist on the proof of the torah's divinity originated in the Talmud that there are only 4 animals in the world that have only one of the two kosher identifiers but not the other.
Aish apparently had a problem with the talmudic proof for a few reasons, kangaroos being one of them. In addition the hare and hyrax are not ruminators at all, rather, like hamsters they are coprophagous animals. So the proof was tweaked a little.
Truth is, the Torah never stated anything of the sorts. It just lists, erroneously, 4 animals that have one of the two kosher signs but never claims them to be exclusive.
5. Many aspects of Greek philosophy were stolen from Torah.
Suppose it's true, and it's hard to do so without specifics, so what?
That is the circumstancial evidence that scares me. Here are some philosophical arguments that worry me:
1. How could Moses managed to convince so many people to obey the laws of the torah?
It would be a hard task to do, even in those days. But who says that there was a Moses that managed to convince so many people? Could it have gone down differently?
2. Without monotheism we would be sacrificing babies to Moloch.
Said who? Fads change.
(Monotheism was, according the torah, hundreds of years old when Jews still practiced human sacrifices.)
3. Judaism was the first monotheist religion and how could someone invent the concept and ideas of monotheism?
1) I'm not so sure it was the first. 2) reading the torah critically clearly reveals a transition from monolatry to monotheism. 3) Why couldn't someone invent it? Some one had to invent the wheel too - surely a much harder invention as it actually had to involve trial and error. Although, just like most other ideas it evolved over the time from simpler ideas.

24 comments:

  1. Hi HH,

    Great post, very interesting. Think you could rewrite some of it as stand-alone questions for an FAQ on my page? http://sites.google.com/site/otdresources/

    Could you kindly correct the link called "Could it have gone down differently?". It links to nirvana now (http://goog_1254704890514/).

    Thanks!

    KR,
    Chatzkaleh

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  2. The biggest thing to realize is that the Bible almost certainly wasn't put together until around AFTER the Babylonian exile in the 400s BC.

    The other thing is just how crazy would it be for there really to be an all-powerful creator of the universe who would punish you for not being an Orthodox Jew? I mean, come on.

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  3. Fear is no way to sell religion.

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  4. >The fact that we were persecuted by so many nations, yet survived so long.

    Had they have dropped their identity altogether would they still have been persecuted? Seems to me to be a better argument for assimilation more than anything else.

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  5. >Evidence geological and in stories across cultures that there may have really been a flood

    However archaeology and genetic evidence rules our such a flood conclusively.

    >The torah stated correctly that there is only one animal that has split hooves and does not chew its cud.

    Err no, according to Talmudic animal classification, warthog, the babirussa, the peccaries, and the llamas should all count as separate species and are all split hoofed ruminants.

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  6. Those who advocate such a late date for the Torah have to explain why the Shomronim have more or less the same Torah as the Jews do. Unless the split actually happened much later than in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. But the book of Deutoronomy was likely written after the fall of the Northern Kingdom. So talking of exile wasn't too crazy...

    On the flood - it is the single least plausible event in the Bible. There is no evidence of a break and destruction of civilizations such as ancient Egypt that existed already at the date the Bible gives for the flood. And there is no geological evidence for it at any time except for the rise in sea level at the end of the Ice Age and the possible catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea in the process. So there was widespread loss of land sometimes quite fast during that time (before the date the Bible gives for creation).

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  7. Moom,
    The divergence of the Samaritans coincides with the Postexilic period.

    JR,
    Sure, go ahead.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Your "dvar torah" on parshat Noach Gives new meaning and insight to rashi comment

    אף נח מקטני אמנה היה מאמין ואינו מאמין ש(י)בא המבול... ושבעים פנים לתורה

    Chag semach, a gitten moed

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  10. S

    I'm sure you've considered that this email could very well be someone trying to reform you.

    However, on the chance that it was a BT that submitted this question and that the question is genuine, I must say that I feel very sorry for him. The proofs being provided are so lightweight that it's beyond belief. It is clear that if this BT actually believes the drivel that he has been fed, then he is not a normal well balanced person capable of critical analysis.

    If anything, the email is a sad reflection on Aish, in that they are preying on lost and vulnerable people.

    j

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  11. BT I will try to point you to a direction you will need to use your talent to discern between all the different religions I will try to answer a few points at a time due to my schedule, please understand my job is not to convert you but to shine a light that you would be able to find yourself and do the right thing.

    YOU
    Hello,
    I am a Baal Tesuvah that was recruited by Aish Hatorah. I am interested in leaving Judaism since the Orthodox lifestyle is way too difficult for me. However, there is certain circumstantial evidence used to prove Judaism that scares me into believing that maybe I should be frum.

    ME
    Well before you even asked any questions, you state that you considering leaving the Orthodox lifestyle because of one reason “the Orthodox lifestyle is way too difficult for you” if your adherence to any religion is based on the degree of difficulty then you are not practicing the religion because of the love and believe in that system, you are only willing to practice as long as it doesn’t conflict with your personal life style. Moreover, do not think for one second that a Muslim, born again, or Christen have it easier no they have numerous laws and restrictions too. In conclusion, on this subject you should not use your personal preference as a crutch why you would like to leave.

    YOU
    Here are some things that worry me:
    1. In Deuteronomy there is a prophecy that Israel would be taken away in captivity (fulfilled during the Babylonian captivity) and that Israel would one day return from being scattered across the nations( did occur) and that people would return to Judaism (Baal Tesuvah movement).
    If some prophet foresees events that happens many years after they were proclaimed one might entertain the idea that this prophet got his messages from someone who knows more than a normal human being can know, although one may argue that it was a coincident. However,

    ME
    Ok for the sake of this discussion, let us dispense with the Torah view and let us review what a prophet is, A "prophet" is any human person, male or female, ordained or lay, who has received the gift of prophecy from God. A prophet is given power and authority from God to receive His Word and communicates the Word to others, the greatest single definition I have ever found is that a prophet is one who “tells forth the will and counsel of God.” This would include things past, present and future. Now that we have a definition, lets look at who claims they are prophets, there are no question that in every religion you have leaders who claimed they are prophets and therefore they know what is best for the community, I do not intend to point to Jesus, or Mohamed, however, I will to go back to the 15th century. Nostradamus was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of prophecies that have since become famous worldwide. He is best known for his book Les Propheties ("The Prophecies"), the first edition of which appeared in 1555. Since the publication of this book, which has rarely been out of print since his death, Nostradamus has attracted a following that, along with the popular press, credits him with predicting many major world events. I think Nostradamus prophecies has way more weight then Deuteronomy, furthermore, nations to loss wars and be enslaved in the victors land is noting new, since the beginning of tribal communities the victor would kill and enslave the man and rape and pillage the woman, so what is news.

    MORE TO COME
    JAY

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  12. YOU
    What if the relevant verses in Deuteronomy were written after the first set of events happened (after the Kingdom of Israel was dispersed), indeed way after - perhaps during the Babylonian period when all of the Jews (the important ones at least) were already exiled? What if refers to the return of the diaspora from Babylonia? In order to be phased by the prophecy we must be surer that it means what we now see as the events that unfolded, and was indeed foreseen before the events happened.

    ME
    Baruch Spinoza did write an in depth analysis of the Old Testament and establish that it was written during different generations and after the destruction of the first temple. Nevertheless, regardless as I said before I do not portray this as a prophecy.

    YOU
    Also, while our history verges on the miraculous, culminating surely, with the return of many Jews to a homeland dispersed almost two millennia prior. A large contributor to our return to the land must be the constant yearning, daily prayers and seasonal reminders - these have been enforced by the promises Jews believed to have been given by the almighty. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy

    ME
    Actually it took way to long to get back the land were our forefather came from, throughout history you have nations being conquered and with time the locals fought back and got there land back I don’t need to point to any specific nation literally every nation from the dark ages are back were they were you name me one nation who totally vanished, and please don’t quote me the bible, the bible is not an historical document, it is a religious document therefore we cannot rely on it as an historical prove.

    MORE TO FOLLOW TOMORROW
    JAY

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  13. j,
    I have considered it. but it was sent on shabbos - so I have reason to believe that it is genuine. I also believe that you shouldn't judge a person who falls for these "proofs" as most of our brethren - some quite smart and thoughtful do the same.

    Jay,
    The bold in the post is my answer to the writer of the questions. I'll agree with most everything you wrote but the last paragraph. Many upon many nations lost their identity and homeland after being exiled, conquered and so forth. And NO ONE came back to their homeland after so many years. No one.

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  14. S

    I disagree with your "shouldn't judge" comment. I understand that FFB's will fall for these proofs. We are indoctrinated not to think any other way and until we start to be able to think for ourselves, we know nothing else. It is different for BTs, especially adult BTs I guess I can understand that children and teenagers can get caught up in the nonsense. However, normal thinking mature adults would not fall for this. In my view, only adults with the brainpower of JP swallow this stuff.


    Also, regarding your comment to Jay, there is a huge difference between a religion surviving and a nation surviving. Yes, Judaism has been around for a long time, but so has Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and I'm sure a few others. The Jews have not survived as a nation for 2000 years. All we have done is maintain the religion. And so what. Look at yourself. You don't believe in it, yet you will make sure your kids continue it on. I don't see anything so special here.

    I really hate it at every Pesach when some kid talks about how the Egyptians did not survive as a nation and the Jews did. In fact the opposite is true. The Egyptians are still there, and as far as I know, have been there all the way through. We're the one who didn't have a nation. All we did was continue the religion. And regarding that, so what.

    J

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  15. Jay,
    The bold in the post is my answer to the writer of the questions. I'll agree with most everything you wrote but the last paragraph. Many upon many nations lost their identity and homeland after being exiled, conquered and so forth. And NO ONE came back to their homeland after so many years. No one.

    Thank you Shtreimel now that I understand that your were replying in bold I get it, in regard to my challenge to name even one nation from after the dark ages which has vanished, if you look again you will noticed that I intentionally used the cutoff time from the dark ages because I did not want to debate the civilizations: of Pompeii, Troy, Nicola, Babylon et al, Pompeii but I willing to argue that Pompeii was destroyed by a natural disaster, not a war, Troy, you right the original country was destroyed but the people live on as Turkish citizens, Babylon is the current Iraqis, Nicola, the Roman Empire are today’s Italians, overwhelmingly the barbarian, the slaves of Athens were "barbarian" in origin, drawn especially from lands around the Black Sea such as Thrace and the Tauric Chersonese (Crimea), while from Asia Minor came above all Lydians, Phrygians and Carians. It is hard not to despise the people you are keeping as your slaves, even essential: in the intellectual justification of slavery (Aristotle Politics 1.2-7; 3.14), barbarians are slaves by nature. So here you have them as Eastern European notably the Slovak, the same goes for The Celts are known as the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. The Vikings are from the native Scandinavian nations. Even if you look closely at the destruction of all they Mesoamerican Civilizations you will noticed they destroyed from internal strife not by outside conquerors, last but final point if you would say well but all these nations don’t look or act in any way as their forefathers I will say you are right, and I will add the same is with the Jews, the religious Jews from today, are absolutely noting as our forefather the same as all the other nations.
    Tomorrow I will add to the original post
    Jay

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  16. Baal Tesuvah
    2. The fact that we were persecuted by so many nations, yet survived so long.
    Me
    Indeed this so called prosecution doesn’t belie the fact that there is zero evidence to extrapolate from the persecutions that one; there is a deity that created the world and two, that this deity is indeed the God of Abraham. Ask yourself if indeed the Torah was given from God to the Hebrews then how come nowhere in it is mentioned that the same deity created the galaxy and earth is not the main event
    3. Evidence geological and in stories across cultures that there may have really been a flood.
    Me
    Yes the creationist movement is trying very hard to convince that there are geological evidence that there were a flood, but all science points to only localized flooding noting more then we have currently during hurricanes, but if you follow their view that they have some evidence to proof of a global then you need to take one more additional step and belief in the christen theory that Jesus was the son of God, God, and the holy spirit why not and if you take it to the extreme them go all the way that Muhammad was the last prophet and he was right. One more historical point, throughout history we find different religions claiming that a flood was brought on by God as a reminder that you need to follow your local priest and it makes sense with a hurricane and flooding wracking havoc on the community the leader and plain folks will look to its leaders for an explanation why it did happen guess what the Gods did it was the easy answer they neither couldn’t explain the volcanoes’

    4. The torah stated correctly that there is only one animal that has split hooves and does not chew its cud.
    ME
    Let’s assume that you are right that and the Torah stated rightly that there is only one animal which has split hooves and does not chew its cud, so what let’s face it there numerous point which is wrong and have no rational explanation, for instance the whole story of creation neglects science which point to the big bang theory, and the half-life of radiation is proof beyond any doubt that the earth is older than 6,700 plus years, also ask yourself if the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt and they build the up the two cities how came there are zero archeological evidences when we have an enormous amounts recovered and know and understand the Egyptian hieroglyphics why not a mention of theses slaves or how about the ten plagues and the exodus of Egypt, or how about the giving of the Torah, the fact is that we claim that the whole world so the event but no word is mentioned in any of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, forget about mentioning the Hebrews in their writings, how about one piece of physical evidence, noting nada.
    5. Many aspects of Greek philosophy were stolen from Torah.
    That is the circumstantial evidence that scares me. Here are some philosophical arguments that worry me:
    Me
    I don’t know on what you base this pure BS it is the other way around one of the first Jewish philosophers was Moses Maimonides 1135 AD -1204 AD who actually first studied under the Moslem philosophers and then he studied Greek philosophy he is credited with rediscovering the today’s accepted Maimonides's Aristotelian world-view basically there is only Greek philosophy which Plato taught first Along with his mentor, Socrates, and then his student Aristotle rediscovered the science in 384 BC – 322 BC a full 1,600 years after Plato.

    Jay

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  17. Baal Tesuvah
    That is the circumstantial evidence that scares me. Here are some philosophical arguments that worry me:
    1. How could Moses managed to convince so many people to obey the laws of the torah?

    Me
    Let me ask you how did Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler just to mention a few if someone has a following that by itself doesn’t validate their deity quest.

    The other few question doesn’t even need an answer, it is childish to assume that because Hebrews decided to use animals as sacrifices therefore this is the last word, how about Christens they went even they explained how is it possible that God created a world that young babies die the reason the argue is due to the original sin, did I run and convert because they have one interesting view no because a few answers doesn’t make it the truth only science could validate any claim.

    Jay

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  18. Sorry a few typos
    I wrote “or how about the giving of the Torah, the fact is that we claim that the whole world “so” the event but no word is mentioned in any of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, in instead “so” it should state “saw”
    Also it should state that that Moses Maimonides was a full 1,600 years after Plato.
    Thanks
    Jay

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  19. There's a related issue about the matter of persecution. First, other groups have been persecuted for very long times and survived. The obvious example would be the Roma.

    Second, if I have many groups being persecuted, some of them should survive by pure chance. It is only be looking at the surviving groups that it seems like we have survived miraculous odds.

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  20. Couple of points:

    1. Are there any prophesies in the Torah or Nevi'im that clearly have NOT come true?

    2. I recall a tour that I took of the Roman Forum in which the local guide, on reaching the Arch of Titus, described proudly how the only way that people today know what the ancient Menorah in the Bait Hamikdash looked like, is from the carving preserved in the Roman Forum.

    Whenever I hear people saying things like, "we outlasted our persecutors' civilisations because we're still learning gemarah", I think of this story.

    (Guys, please don't bother commenting about whether the carving is accurate or not because that's not the point of this post.)

    Grubeh Gartel

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  21. "Are there any prophesies in the Torah or Nevi'im that clearly have NOT come true?"

    It's hard to pinpoint prophesies that were made before their time altogether. Also, prophesies with glaring failures didn't make it to the finish line, I would assume. Only those prophets that were ambiguous enough, or better yet, those who didn't give a time frame - something which later generations took to mean a for a much later time than the prophet obviously envisioned cut the threshold to be canonized.

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  22. Dear Baal Teshuva,

    The answer is to learn, learn, learn. Study outside sources. Study science, history, anthoropology and archeology. And study Judaism because you will see that much of what they tell you isn't in the Torah at all.

    If you don't have the time, motivation or aptitude to do all this studying and you prefer a quick fix, well there's no reason you should believe them over the many more learned people who don't abide by them.

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  23. Just a historical detial - Most Jews weren't necessarily monotheists until a couple centuries B.C. They were henotheists.

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  24. This was a good post with good answers. There are other ways of doing Jewish as well though. Orthodoxy is not the historical Jewish faith so to feel a sense of obligation to the frum community based on the Torah narrative is a bit absurd. There are other ways of doing Jewish including a Humanistic branch.

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