Letters July 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Can I Accept All Religions?

Reader: I respect all religions and am open to accepting any one.

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim:  You must realize that religions reject each other on fundamental issues. Thus, your acceptance of all religions means you accept contradictions. This in turn means you do not commit to any convictions, so you in fact have no clear positions, or values. You do not affirm anything as true. And when we are in doubt, we have failed to act as an intelligent being.

Many religions accept intermediaries to relate to God, while Judaism fully rejects this. This rejection is based on the reality that God knows all, and can do all: He is omniscient and omnipotent. Nothing else is required for man to relate to God. Belief in intermediaries also elevates that intermediary to greater capacity than a human: one thinks the intermediary can reach God where a human cannot, explaining the need for the intermediary and not simply praying to God directly. And in all cases, when one accepts an intermediary that is not human, that person projects intelligence onto either an inanimate idol or natural force, or he projects intelligence onto a fantasy, like one who has a wrong notion of the stars or angels, and prays to them. He may also wrongly pray to the dead or engage in amulets to control his fate. 

Most religions do not require reason or proof and applaud those who can accept as true, a notion that has not been proven. They value this “faith” as a grand display of an admirable religious person. In essence, faith means man believes what has not been validated as true. He denies his senses as tools through which God deemed man determine reality. God does not wish man to believe he sees what is not there. He does not wish man to accept unproven notions, like intermediaries existing between man and God. God prohibits idol worship, superstitions, praying to man and all intermediaries. 

Accepting all religions means one is not engaging his or her mind. And when the mind is inactive, it is impossible that one knows what is real. Thus, accepting all religions means one knows nothing, which in fact, invalidates the religion  you wish to endorse. 

We certainly respect all human beings, but we do not confuse respect with intelligent thought: we can respect and disagree with the same person. And we certainly must not allow respect to make us agree with what is false. This removes the opportunity for us to correct another of God’s creations. And we should desire to perform good for all people, which at the highest level means we educate them. 

Certainly, all religions cannot be true as they fundamentally oppose each other. The only true religion is the one proven to originate with God. This requires mass witness as validation—as does all history—and Bible alone provides proof of mass attendees at that event on Mt. Sinai 3334 years ago. Yes, there are claims, but there is no other event throughout time with masses witnessing God giving a religion to man. And without proof for a religion’s claim of divine origin, one simply follows unproven notions. 

It is irrelevant how ancient a region is, or how man adherents the religion has. For idolatry is older than all religions, and it had nations of followers. There is only one human design. Just as cancer is treated identically among blacks, whites, Asians and Indians, racial differences also do not change the human psyche, which is identical across all mankind. We all seek happiness, are hurt when insulted, we miss those who have passed, and we care for children. There is one human being, explaining why God gave only one religion. All religions other than Bible fail to provide proof of divine origin.  

Who Wrote the Oral Law?

Reader: How can we prove the Oral Torah/Talmud is from Sinai? Compared to the written Torah—the 5 books of Moses—which is direct revelation from God, the Talmud seems to be a [human] commentary on the Mishna. How can we prove that the Talmud is of Divine origin and not human invention? Thanks.

Rabbi Reuven Mann: We must assume that the Written Law is incomplete (by itself) in terms of its task to serve as a guide to mankind’s actions. This is because it’s too vague and lends itself to many possible explanations. For example the Torah does not specify what Tefillin or Tallit are, yet they are very serious Mitzvot. Thus, alongside the Written Law there had to be an Oral system of interpretation making sense of the Written. The Torah alludes to the authority of Moshe in this area, as well, by saying, “And also in you they will believe forever” (Exod. 19:9). We therefore believe that the Oral Law is a vital component of the Written Revelation and was transmitted by God’s chosen prophet, Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Rabbi Israel Chait too shared Rabbi Mann’s reasoning. But there are more considerations that validate the Oral Law as originating from God.

In his introduction to his Mishneh Torah. Maimonides writes:

All of the commandments which were given to Moses on Sinai were given together with their oral explanation for, it is said: “And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the Torah and the commandment” (Exod. 24.12); “Torah” is the written text; and “commandment” is its oral explanation. Moreover, He commanded us to observe the Torah by the word of the commandment; thus it is this commandment which is called Oral Torah.

Exod. 24:12:

God said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments…”

Ibn Ezra quotes Saadia Goan: 

The meaning of the “teaching” is the Written Law and “commandments” is the Oral Law, as all the commandments were given to Moses on Sinai during the days that Moses was on the mountain. 

Thus far, we refer to authoritative sources endorsing the Oral Law as originating with God. No Torah authority says it was suddenly introduced at some point after Sinai. The unanimous agreement among the sages and rabbis leaves no doubt that God gave Moses the Oral Law. 

Furthermore, we cannot seek miraculous displays in connection with the transmission of the Oral Law as was the case regarding Revelation of the physical 10 Commandments, the Written Law. As the Oral Law was communicated through prophecy, a metaphysical phenomenon, and as miracles are physical, the 2 cannot coexist. 

While Talmud is the sages’ discussions, what they discuss is Mishna, the Oral Law received at Sinai. 

Tefillin’s Purpose is?

Friend: What are Tefillin for?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim:  “For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every [male] first-born in the land of Egypt, both human and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I am God” (Exod. 12:12).

Only in connection with the death of firstborns does God “punish all the gods of Egypt.”  No other plague was accompanied with God punishing Egypt’s gods. Why?

After the firstborn deaths, God speaks:

“God spoke further to Moses, saying, ‘Consecrate to Me every male firstborn; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.” And Moses said to the people,“Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how God freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten’.” 

(Exod. 13:2,3)

“And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the Teaching of God may be in your mouth—that with a mighty hand God freed you from Egypt.”

(Exod. 13:9)

Subsequent to the firstborn deaths, God commands the Jews in Passover, sanctifying firstborn animals and males, and Tefillin. Passover is a yearly celebration commemorating the Exodus. But a yearly recall of our redemption from slavery is insufficient in God’s eyes. That we remain ever-thankful to God for redeeming us from slavery and bringing us to Sinai to receive a new life of Torah, additional more frequent commands are required. In addition to Passover’s once-yearly Seder, sanctifying firstborns now engages us in the very object God spared on that night in Egypt. And even though this sanctification occurs more frequently than Passover, this is still insufficient…

A sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the Teaching of God may be in your mouth

The Exodus history, Passover, and the commands of sanctifying firstborns are to become our regular conversations, “that the Teaching of God may be in your mouth.” Tefillin contain texts of all these topics, and we are to wear them throughout the day. The repetition in the Torah text of “With a mighty hand God took you out of Egypt” is significant. For it was with the firstborn deaths—not other plagues—that the Jews were freed. This freedom expressed that God is unopposed, He alone has a “mighty hand” as all Egypt’s gods were dead silent. This is the meaning of God “judging Egypt’s gods”…He exposed them as lies. Egyptian deities were static, lifeless, and unresponsive to all the plagues. God demands the Jews recall this most primary principle, that God is one: there are no other forces. This must become our regular daily speech, and Tefillin provide this conversational piece. Moses later added 2 more Torah texts to Tefillin, the 2 first paragraphs of Shima Yisrael. These paragraphs too refer to God’s unity. 

Tefillin serve to engage us in frequent discussions of God’s unity. We require this frequent reminder, as our instincts constantly seek to derail us and cave us to instinctual pleasures, emotions, and evil conversation. God deemed it essential that we wear on our bodies reminders of the most fundamental truths. We subjugate both parts of our makeup: our hearts (emotions) and our minds by wearing Tefillin near our hearts and on our heads. 

Trusting Rabbis vs. Seeking Proof

Friend: When to trust rabbis, and when to use reason and proof? 

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim:  Rabbi Bachyai ben Joseph—author of Duties of the Heart—states that we seek the rabbis’ guidance as God authorized them: for limited matters not subject to reason, but for guidance in statutes like blood purity, courts, skin impurities, and legal disputes (Deut. 17:8). These matters require authoritative Torah transmission and halachic rulings. The author then cites another verse, “Know therefore this day and place it on your heart that God alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other” (Deut. 4:39).  He says this means to first learn God’s unity, but not to stop there, but to then to “place it on your heart”—to use reason and proof so you know the matter with full clarity and full conviction without doubt. This matter must be based on self-conviction, not trust in the rabbis alone. The author continues that not in God’s unity alone, but any matter in which reason and proof can be used, is one bound to engage his or her mind to arrive at proof.