Reader: In Rabbi Ben-Chaim’s reply to my comments on the Kuzari argument he demonstrates that his “proof” rests upon arguments that are used inconsistently and that it is based on a method of determining the past that is completely alien to the historical methodology used by professional historians. This does not mean that the Torah’s narrative false, but it does demonstrate that Ben-Chaim has provided no “proof” that it is true.
First, Ben-Chaim writes in reply to a Christian miracle, “I do not doubt that once a story is accepted on faith, that the adherents may believe all parts ... [But] these purported stories were not passed on by any supposed ‘witnesses,’ but were written decades later.”
It is true that most historians consider the book of Matthew to have been written around 90 CE, decades after the events it describes (see the Oxford Companion to the Bible on “Matthew, The Gospel”), but it is also true that most historians believe the Torah was written between 900 BCE and 400 BCE, centuries after the claimed date of the Sinai event (ibid, “Pentateuch”). It is irrational to arbitrarily accept the judgment of historians in the case of a Christian miracle but reject it in the case of a Jewish miracle.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You suggest Torah accuracy be determined by “historians”, instead of the true Torah authorities. It is inconsequential that historians claim the Torah to be written later than it actually was. The Torah was given to a group of individuals on Sinai, and they passed it down to other Torah authorities. These initial recipients and those subsequent never doubted when the Torah was given. So whom should we accept as authoritative: the original recipients, or those historians who came thousands of years later? Additionally, historians may be accepted when they know of what they speak. But in the case of the Torah, these historians did not study all of the data, and are incomplete in their estimates. The Oral Torah provides greater information, essential to such estimations. These historians do not refer to the Oral Torah, so their conclusions are not accurate.
Reader: Ben-Chaim writes further that “once a doctrine is believed without proof, those accepting such a ‘blind faith’ credo, have no problem accepting other fabrications on this very same blind faith.” Similarly, it is entirely plausible that centuries after the presumed date of the Sinai revelation, Jews began to believe it as a result of religious faith.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You make an “assumption” which is not an impressive argument for your position. But be consistent, and assume Caesar never existed too. Why have you never made this claim? Perhaps Sinai is attacked so much, as it obligates man in Torah adherence. Other beliefs in history place no obligation on us. We are not forced to action or to question our morality when we accept the history of Caesar, so we accept it. It is reasonable and must have occurred. But, when our emotions and actions must be guided against our will by acceptance of Sinai, then we are suddenly quick to dismiss this history, even if our arguments are based on assumptions, or poor reasoning. Since the objective is to remove Torah obligations from ourselves, we try any argument that can justify (in our hearts) a lifestyle free from Torah laws.
Reader: Later in the article Ben-Chaim writes that “There is no breach in the Torah’s accounts ...” In fact, we cannot say with certainty there is no breach in the Torah’s accounts. As I demonstrated above, the claim that the Torah was written in 1312 BCE is controversial among historians (to say the least), and text in the Tanakh indicates that parts of the Torah were forgotten for long periods of time (Judges 2:8-12; 2 Kings 22:8-23:22; Nehemiah 8:13-17). One is certainly entitled to believe that “there is no breach in the Torah’s accounts,” but belief is neither evidence nor proof.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You suggest the Jews all forgot the Torah. But if you would read further in Judges 3:4, you will find this statement, “And they (the Canaanites, Philistines, Tzidonites, Hivites) were to test Israel to know whether they would listen to the commands of God, which He commanded their forefathers in the hand of Moses.” God let loose these enemies, as He desired the Jews return to following the Torah. But I ask you, how can they return to that which they forgot, according to you? Rebuking the Jews to repent and resume Torah lives, is only possible if they had retained the Torah. What really happened was this: although the Jews knew the Torah, they sinned against God, ignoring what they knew. They did not ‘forget’ the Torah. They were simply disobedient. Even on the words, “And they didn’t know God”, the Rabbis state they did not know God “clearly”.
But allow me to point out a contradiction you are making without realizing it: Due to your assumed breach in transmission, you attempt to disprove our Torah today…but you do so by quoting parts of it as truth! You quote Judges, Nehemia and Kings as truths…the very book you say is not authentic! In one breath, you say the Torah is both false and true. Do you see what you are doing? To discredit a book like the New Testament, one rightly exposes its verses as inconsistent with reason. That would be a reasonable methodology of refutation. But you contradict yourself with your claim that the Torah is false, simultaneously deriving proof from that very Torah.
Reader: Second, Ben-Chaim writes that my characterization of an Irish and Christian example as myths invalidates these examples. This is not the case, however, since it is I who characterized them as myths, not the people who believed them. Similarly, the global flood in Genesis is often characterized as a myth even though many people believe it with certainty.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I apologize for making an error. I assumed you were quoting those Irishmen. If they feel their myths - as you called them - are truths, let them provide proof. As of yet, they have none. But do not feel that any condemnation of the Flood story as a mere myth succeeds in rendering history into myth. Similarly, the Holocaust does not fade into a myth because of Holocaust deniers.
Reader: Third, Ben-Chaim claims that the many thousands of witnesses to the 1968 Virgin Mary apparition above the Church in Zeitoun are nonexistent. This is an odd claim to make, considering that the event was documented by many news sources , that there are many recorded independent eyewitness accounts of the phenomena , and that every serious skeptic who has investigated the event (such as J. Nickell , J. Derr, M. Persinger , R. Barthomolew, and E. Goode ) agrees that hundreds of thousands of people witnessed an anomalous phenomenon (although they attempt to provide natural explanations for it). In contrast, we have no evidence independent of the Torah that 2.5 million Jews even existed at the time of the Sinai revelation.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I repeat myself: independent accounts are meaningless. If in truth there were 200,000 witnesses, then they would have spread it to others from that point forward, and them to us today, like all history, and there would be no doubt…but there is doubt. This lack of testimony means there were no witnesses. The story never occurred.
Reader: Fourth, Ben-Chaim argues that requiring independent sources of contemporary evidence for a historical claim to be “proven” is flawed. In fact, this is simply basic historical methodology. A single document with a controversial date and an oral tradition that corroborates this document does not constitute historical proof, at least according to the methods used by professional historians. I apologize to Ben-Chaim for misunderstanding his argument about Julius Caesar. Unfortunately, however, it is incorrect: if historians had only a single document with a controversial date and an oral tradition that testified to the existence of Julius Caesar, they would not accept Julius Caesar’s existence with certainty. (For an overview of historical methodology see The Historian’s Craft by M. Bloch. For a case study on how historical methodology demonstrates that the Holocaust occurred see Denying History by M. Shermer.)
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I agree with you: a document alone is insufficient to prove history. Additionally, we require masses to transmit the story. Millions today are in receipt of an unbroken transmission concerning Sinai. So we do not rely on the document alone, but in its universal acceptance regarding the story of mass witnesses. Conversely, Christianity has a number of flaws: 1) it was not transmitted from its point of supposed origin, 2) its claim of mass witnesses is safely unclear as whom these people were, 3) it contains four conflicting accounts about one point in history, and 4) its tenets oppose reason. There are many more.
Reader: Finally, the Rambam does in fact argue that the Jews did not hear any intelligible words from God, but that they heard all the laws from Moses (Guide to the Perplexed, Part 2, Ch. 33). And in fact, none of the numerous records from ancient Egypt have corroborated the ten plagues or a massive exodus of 2.5 million Jews, and this indeed tells a different story than the Torah.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: True, the Jews may have heard something different than did Moses. However, does Rambam or any great thinker deny the event at Sinai, or that the Jews witnessed miracles? No one denies this. Disputing a detail as you do does not refute the story. Thereby, our proof remains intact. Additionally, “lack of evidence” as your disproof is not a rational argument: perhaps that evidence will yet surface. For example, just because I never saw your gold watch, this does not disprove its existence testified by many others.
Reader: None of this is proof that the narrative in the Torah is false, nor is it intended to be. It does demonstrate, however, that Rabbi Ben-Chaim’s “proof” rests on arguments that are used inconsistently, as well as misconceptions about the methods used by historians to discover the past.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I feel I have shown otherwise.
Reader: I appreciate that the editor of JewishTimes was graciously willing to publish both of my replies. –Avi