Once yearly, Arthur Dobrin - professor at Hofstra University - invites a number of representatives to address his class on their religious beliefs. Again this year, I represented Orthodox Judaism, and shared with the class Judaism’s views on morality and how it is objectively determined. Colleen Eren is the adjunct professor, with whom I discussed other issue. I asked that she remain in touch if other questions arose. She wrote me last night, and I wish to share our discussion with our readers, with her permission:
Colleen: Greetings again, Rabbi Ben Chaim. I was deeply concerned by the statements made by some of our Christian speakers, namely the Pentecostals, Baptists, African Methodist Episcopals--if the Christian right continues to grow in political power, I think all those of us who are non-Christian might do best to seek exile. [I will quote a few speakers]:
Baptist speaker: “Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists--they’re all going straight to hell.”
African Methodist Episcopal: “I am the way - the truth and the life--this means that only those who believe in Jesus will be saved by God.”
“How do you know this?” I asked him.
“This is what faith tells me.”
Pentecostal: “We have the ability to speak with the tongue of the Holy Spirit, to prophesize.”
Colleen: So Rabbi, they speak with the voice of God now. What a terrifying delusion.
Anyway, here are two long-delayed questions that I hope you won’t mind answering or at least thinking about. I greatly appreciate your offer to respond to my questions.
Question 1: Abraham preceded Moses chronologically. In the Bible, we learn that God “spoke” to Abraham, for instance when he instructed Abraham to kill Isaac. There was no one there to witness this divine interaction. Yet, you hold this to be truth, and not mere faith. I understand how you take Moses’ interaction with God to be literal truth because of the millions of witnesses and historical phenomena that followed this event that corroborate the telling. But how does “reason” tell you that the Abrahamic revelations are also true?
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Colleen, I am equally alarmed. If this is how far religions have gone, we are all best to heed your warning. Amazing, the Baptist claims we are doomed to hell, but offers no grounds for his claim. I wonder why he feels his words will convince a single person. The Methodist Episcopal feel that “faith” is to determine reality. The question he cannot escape is why HIS faith determines reality any better than another religionist. And the Pentecostal claims he is a prophet. He must also allow others to share that claim, thereby placing him in an unanswerable contradiction: for if HE claims [via “prophecy”] that his religion is proper, and another person claims the HE is the real prophet, why should the Pentecostal deny prophecy to any other religionist? And since he cannot deny him prophecy – as they are on equal footing with no proof – then they both must accept each other’s religion. It is clear: no religion except Judaism is based on proof and intelligence, as we witness in these speakers. Now let me address your question.
The very same proof we use to validate Moses, we use in connection with all events recorded in the Torah, including the prophecies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The millions of witnesses, who saw the miracles at Mount Sinai, received the Torah at that event from He who performed these miracles. By definition, God is the very source of creation, i.e., “reality”. This means He defines all that is real and true. He communicated Biblical information to man – His creation – the only Earthly being to which He granted intelligence. It is clear: God desires man to use this intelligence – God desires we apprehend His communicated word as truth. Now, in this Torah – the Bible – is contained accounts throughout the history of the Jews, including Abraham’s many prophecies. We thereby arrive at the conclusion that God desires man to recognize Abraham’s prophecies as truths. The entire Bible – the Torah – is thereby validated, as it was given to Moses miraculously in front of millions of witnesses. No other religion lays claim to proof, and therefore, they base their beliefs on blind faith, not proof. Judaism remains the only religion based on proof.
Additionally, Abraham communicated his prophecies to Isaac, who himself also prophesied. Isaac communicated his prophecies to his son Jacob, who also prophesied. Jacob transmitted this to his twelve sons, the Twelve Tribes, and they, to their numerous offspring, all of whom are recorded by name. There is an unbroken chain of transmission. This chain is then validated by the transmission of those who stood on Sinai, as they passed down the Torah’s record of this lineage, with no dispute. Had this lineage been falsified, and these people at Sinai disagreed as to who their true forefathers were, they would not have passed it down, and we would not be in possession of this Torah today.
Colleen: Question 2: Do you deny the existence of Jesus as a historical figure? If not, why is it not possible that Jesus could have been, as the Muslims deem him, a prophet? Jesus himself never said he was the Messiah or divinity. Prophecy does not mean, that one is possessed by God, but merely that one is exhorting others to come back to God. Once again, Rabbi, thank you for your offer of answers.
Best wishes, Colleen
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Yes, Jesus existed. But he was no prophet; not as you define “prophet”, nor as I define “prophet”. As you define prophet as one exhorting man to follow God, Jesus did not do this, as he deviated from God’s words. Thus, he did not exhort man to follow God, but his own fantasies. According to my definition of “prophet” – as one with whom God spoke – Jesus’ deviations from God’s Torah clearly expose him as violating God’s word, someone with whom God would never endorse, with whom God would not appoint to receive prophecy.
Proof of prophecy is only via an event witnessed by masses, and this does not exist in connection with any other religion – Jesus included. Stories fabricated about Jesus were not scripted until decades after his demise. Had true miracles occurred in front of 5000 people as they claim, these 5000 people would have transmitted such an event, in an unbroken chain. But the fact that we see absolute silence at the time of these supposed miracles clearly exposes the stories as lies.
Jesus is surrounded by lies, attractive lies, so this religion amassed many followers. But followers mean nothing. Hitler too had followers for the same reason; the public is attracted to stories which elevate their self worth: Hitler made the Germans feel superior. Stories in the New Testament too make one feel elevated, for by agreeing to these stories, one is forgiven and loved by a man, by Jesus. We learn that it is not impossible to attract masses to “believe” something. But you cannot attract masses to claim they witnessed an “event” unless they did. None of the stories surrounding Jesus contain any proof, so they are all dismissed, as we would dismiss any unsubstantiated story. What these stories do offer is emotional appeal.
On this point, I wish to elaborate. Are we to follow only a god, which we feel recognizes and protects us, or, Who is truly real? This does not mean that the true God doesn’t recognize us and respond; the Creator of eyes and ears certainly recognizes their functions, and Himself, “sees and hears” in His own way.
What I mean is that these stories about Jesus were designed to cater to an instinctual and infantile need. Ancient idols were primarily figured as humans or animals to afford man the sense that these gods “see” or “hear” man, catering to the infantile need for protection and security. The Golden Calf also catered to this infantile human need that its fabricators be recognized.
Jesus is just another permutation of this idolatrous way of life. Jesus too satisfies this very need. Christians could not advance their intellectual capabilities and approach God as He is: an unknowable being. Their need for some tangible god to “see” them and care for them was never abandoned. They projected their infantile state as dependent infants onto their adult realities, and fabricated a man-god who would replace their parental love and care. Instead of maturing intellectually, Christians and other religionists remained steeped in the infant stages of life. This is how the New Testament was commenced: by following fantasies of security, not by recording actual events.
Man has in innate need to feel that as he recognizes others, so too, God recognizes him. But man receives no response from God during prayer or when he calls out – as we define response. We are ignorant of how and when God intervenes. But this does not mean He does not. The very fact that we possess a soul should teach us that God desires each of us to engage this in approaching Him. And by definition, this means our approach must be intelligent – not a duplication of Christianity’s infantile search for a man-god, but a true Judaic search to relate to the unknowable God who is in no manner similar to man, His created clods of dirt.
When man feels God does not respond, he invents new gods, upon whom he can project his infantile understanding of how caregivers interact with us: they recognize us, they look at us and talk to us. This is all too absent in our relationship with God. “We cannot have this” many people think, but never utter such words. This is from where idolatry sprung forth: man sought his “father and mother” in idolatry.
However, honesty demands that we don’t flee from ourselves, but that we embrace whatever and all thoughts and misconception we may have. For only through admission of our faults, can we revamp our outlook and finally embrace truth, and be rid of conflict when our fantasy life fails to find support in reality. If we truly wish to discover what God wants from man, we must base our search on truth and proof, not on blind faith.
It is only he who searches for reality, who will find it.
Colleen: I only have one challenge to one of the statements you made, and this is that I believe prophecy's measuring stick should not be based on masses witnessing an event that might be perceived by all as a prophetically paranormal. For example, the high level of skill of some magicians might be capable of convincing crowds of people that, say, a building has disappeared or some such. Or, perhaps, chance might intervene to grant legitimacy to a “prophet’s” claims. (I.e. the prophet luckily “conjures” a storm or some such, in front of many people, a storm which is merely a rarity of nature that coincides with his predictions). What do you think?
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Colleen, in all cases where we can explain away a phenomenon as “naturally caused” or coincidence, in any way, then the performer lacks any claim to prophecy...to working on behalf of God. Egypt possessed many magicians, but as the Rabbis exposed, they used slight of hand. Magic is non-existent.
For this reason God orchestrated His Revelation on Mount Sinai in front of millions. He desired that there exist an indisputable proof of His intervention with man. Thereby, all other religions claiming prophecy or designation by God, but do not possess absolute proof such as Sinai, are exposed as frauds, and are false prophets, the punishment of whom is death. This severity is because these frauds mislead man as to what is truly God’s words...they cause droves of innocents to lose their lives to fallacy.