Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kuzari Schoomzari

Saturday May 12, 2007

Many Orthodox Jews point to the so-called "Kuzari Principle" is bolstering their beliefs in the Torah. The Kuzari principle is based on the medieval works of the Jewish philosopher Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. It purports to ‘prove' that events of the Jewish exodus from Egypt are plausible and reasonable. The proofs offered are actually simple and are outlined as follows:

The Kuzari Principle: Let us say that one or more significant events occur over a short period of time. These events can be the parting of a sea, or the descent of God to the top of a mountain and the giving of a holy document. These events, because of their enormity, would have left a lot of easily identifiable evidence. Thus, to logically illustrate the principle of Kuzari, as one internet site framed it, paraphrasing from Dr. Dovid Gottlieb's book: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred.

Now let E be the Sinai revelation; since it is claimed that 3 million Jews saw the revelation, and since the 3 million Jews raised no objection once this claim was made, then necessarily the fact of revelation did occur. If Moses falsely claimed that he parted the sea, if he claimed that 3 million people crossed the Sea of Reeds, well, then the 3 million people would have said to Moses "no, you did no such thing. We don't remember crossing a parted sea - you are a liar!" But since the Jewish people of the time did no such thing and believe the revelation and the desert story, then the story is plausible, even probable.

I do hope that I have done some justice to the Kuzari Principle. If I have not, I do apologize. Please correct me if I am not understanding this principle.

But here is my issue with the principle: All of the events that the Jews have witnessed are chronicled in the 5 books of the Torah. The parting of the sea, the revelation at Sinai, Manna from heaven, miracles, etc., are all in the 5 books. These 5 books were all written by Moses according to orthodox Jews. The 5 books describe events from creation up to the death of Moses. Thus, at the earliest, the 5 books of the Torah had to have been completed at the time of the death of Moses.

At the earliest, Torah's claims would have been presented to the Jewish people - the so-called 3 million witnesses - shortly after the death of Moses. At that time, the Jews would have already crossed the Jordon River, being led by Joshua, preparing for the battles for the land of Israel. Joshua, or a priest would have shown the newly finished 5 books to the Jewish people.

Now, note that according to the Torah tradition, all of the people who originally left Egypt, some 3 million people, died in the desert. No one, except for Joshua and Caleb who crossed the parted sea actually made it to the Jordon River. They died of plagues, battles, God's wrath, purges etc. Not even Aaron or Moses made it to the land of Israel.

Those who made it to the Jordon River were the second generation of the exodus. Again, if I am wrong about this, please tell me.

Now, when the Torah is presented to the second generation, and the various miracles etc. are mentioned, the people would have no way of verifying the veracity of the claims since THEY WERE NOT THERE! As you know, the Torah was given 49 days after the exodus. All the people who witnessed the revelation at Sinai would have been dead by the time the Torah was completed 40 years later! Of course Caleb and Joshua are exceptions to this.

Note, then, that the Kuzari Principle is no longer valid in the case of Jewish exodus. The only witnesses to Torah's claims were Joshua and Caleb. There are only 2 witnesses to a purported event. I will not go into the obvious interest of these two to support the claims of the bible. I will only mention that there were not 3 million witnesses, nor 10,000. Rather, there are only 2 witnesses to the multitude of miraculous events that Jews say occurred.To summarize, at the time when the Torah made its supernatural claims, there were only 2 witnesses available to verify such claims. These claims, then, are no different from claims of other religions. The veracity of the Torah is no more witnessed than that of Mohammad's Quran or Smith's Mormon Bible.


Anonymous said...

If you're analysis is based on Jewish tradition, aren't you forgetting women?

badrabbi said...

What do you mean?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Everyone under the age of 20 at the time of the Exodus was there. Furthermore, the Kuzari principle would also explain how that second generation came to believe the story - i.e., how Joshua and Caleb could have convinced them that their entire ancestry experienced events of a grand magnitude like the Exodus and Revelation. So your argument is fundamentally and pretty obviously flawed.

badrabbi said...

Rabbi Maroof;

I am not understanding your criticism. My information is that no one who experienced Sinai, save Joshua and Caleb, made it to the banks of the Jordon. Please correct me if I am not correct about this.

But if this information is correct, then, Joshua could have come before the Jewish nation, said some lies, and would have only Caleb to worry about. None of the Jews in that audience would be in a position to confront Joshua about his story.

Again, understand what I am saying. The exodus event could have happened for all I know. I doubt that it happened, but it is possible, I suppose. What I am saying, though, is that the Kuzari argument does not support the notion that the exodus event happened for reasons I mentioned above.

BrooklynWolf said...

What Rabbi Maroof is saying is this:

Only the men from ages 20-60 died in the wilderness. If Ploni was aged 17 at the time of the Exodus, then he was still alive (aged 57) when they entered Canaan. Ergo, Joshua and Caleb weren't the only witnesses to the event, even at the time of the entrance into Canaan.

The Kuzari "proof" has it's faults, but it does stand up to your point.

The Wolf

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The Kuzari "proof" has it's faults, but it does stand up to your point.

Taken as a formal proof, it is not ironclad. But it does highlight the uniqueness of the Jewish claim, and make one wonder, if the Exodus and Revelation didn't happen, why no other religion in the history of mankind was ever founded based upon a similar "mass revelation" myth.

BrooklynWolf said...

Of course, it should also be pointed out that the Kuzari proof only applies to the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai. It cannot be used to prove Creation or the Patriarchs, since those, in effect, become "single witness" events.

The Wolf

Cameron said...

Just so I get this straight, the point you are making here about mass reveleation is that because the claim is so extraordinary, so mind-bogglingly unbelievable - it therefore must be true?

avrum68 said...

Cameron, try this:

Get a whole bunch of your friends and family (let's say the total number = 55) and go out for dinner. After dinner, go home and write a fictional account, whereby, during dinner, the roof of the restaurant parted, and a huge turkey landed on your table. As well, don't forget to mention that your entire family/friends witnessed this event, and at first were frightened, but then feasted and were quite full.

Then next morning, provide then with copies of your story. Ask them for feedback.

Does this help?

badrabbi said...

The point I sm trying to make is that according to the Torah, the following happened:

1. God spoke to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai

2. Later, the Jews sinned (I can not remember the sin de jour) but God was very angry. God then decided that all the adults,from age 20 on, would die in the desert, save Caleb and Joshua

3. So when Jews finally made it into the promised land, there was only Joshua, Caleb, and minors.

What I am saying, given above, is this: Let's say that we wanted to test the veracity of all the claims. We have only Caleb, Joshua, and a bunch of Jews who were minors who witnessed "the event". The point I am making is that this was not a mass revelation since practically all adults who witnessed this died.

avrum68 said...

badrabbi...two points:

1) As a therapist, I've worked with adolescents for over 12 years. And while they pierce things they shouldn't, they are the one's we turn to during family therapy sessions to guage the emotional "healthiness" of a family. Moreover, try telling a bunch of 15-19 year old that something happened when it didn't. Ask any parent abou this...teens/minors are a better guage of "truth" then adults. Hands down.

2) The adults who died in the desert passed on their story. Not unlike my grandfather passed on the story about his leaving Poland before Hitler came to power. Now I've never lived in Poland, nor experienced the Holocaust 1st hand, but the collective story that all my friends heard (similar to mine), lend me to believe that what my grandfather told me is correct.

badrabbi said...


First, welcome to the blog. I appreciate your reading this and commenting.

Second, please understand what I am saying. The Kuzari argument was always sold to us as an event that had 3 million witnesses. What I tried to show in this blog is that there were in fact not 3 million witnesses. Instead, there was Caleb, Joshua, and a number of minors. As you point out, this can still be significant. No doubt about it. This is what Rabbi Maroof was saying, and I appreciate and accept his comment. (BTW, on another blog you commented that he 'put the likes of badrabbi in his place'). I do not see it that way at all. I have elsewhere in this blog admitted admiring both Wolf and Rabbi Maroof's comments. I value their teachings. I do not think that means that they put me in my place. I, instead, see it as a mutual learning process, as I certainly do not claim to know everything.

avrum68 said...

I apologize. It was actually "wolf" who "put you in your place", here:

I've read your rebuttal, but find their - particularily wolf's comments - more convincing.

With respect to the Kuzari shabbos book club read the Kuzari a few months ago. We all concluded that if this is a sorry excuse for top notch Jewish theology. Though after reading comments by wolf, Rabbi Maroof (as well as articles by Aish and Rav Gotlieb) I've come to accept that though the style is utter crap, the substance is quite compelling. Anyway, your post, and subsequent comments, helped clarify some issues I had with the Kuzari. Probably not in the way you intended, but I appreciated the process nonetheless.

I look forward to reading more of your posts (they echo struggles I'm familiar with), and the comments they generate.

Finally, I should thank Jacob for introducing us, wolf and Rabbi Maroof. Such good reading to fill boring work hours.

badrabbi said...


Indeed I too have found Wolf's and Rabbi Maroof's comments compelling. Regarding menstruation, where you state that 'wolf put you in your place', I must admit that until Wolf pointed out that zava did not necessarily imply mentruation, I had not considered this possibility. I was forced to rethink my theory.

But contrary to JP and others, I do not feel embarrased by this process. Alterations of hypotheses are a part of scientific thinking. I am not ashamed that I did not consider that there may be discharges other than menstruation. Wolf taught me something and I am grateful.

You see, Avrum, I am not JP, and am not infected with his line of thinking. I am happy to exchange opinions, and if I am wrong, then so be it. I look forward to your teaching me other aspects of Judaism or logical thought processes in general.

avrum68 said...

Oh boy, you won't be learning much from me. If you recall, my wife's the scientist/dr, I'm the psychodynamic, artsy-fartsy, subjective type.

It's quite true, you're not JP. And I look forward to reading your posts/comments in the future.

badrabbi said...

Thank you. You have already taught me a great deal.