Friday, October 11, 2013

Conversation with a believer, part 3

The conversation between a devout Jewish believer and myself continues, in a lengthy message and my response. I believe my final two paragraphs of my reply, at the bottom of this post, contain the most important words of the entire exchange (part 4 will conclude the conversation). They are what I write in response to the question, "What have you got to lose?" by believing the Jewish God is real.
To address your comment about the hare not chewing its cud, it is inaccurate. The hare does not practice rumination, which is the typical meaning of “chewing the cud” (bringing up food and chewing again), but they do practice refection. Refection is where they eat their partially digested pellet droppings (different than horses and pigs which just eat any feces). They take it directly out themselves with their mouth and eat their food again. The error is in the translation of the Hebrew ‘Ma’alat Gerah’, commonly translated as chewing the cud, but literally means ‘raising up what has been swallowed’. So the hare, in the uncorrupted Hebrew translation, essentially does the same, re-eat partially digested food. If you want more on this see “The Camel, the Hare, and the Hyrax” by Slifkin. So the camel, hyrax, and hare are the only three that do so, without split hooves and none other has yet to be found. Also, regarding your assertion that this knowledge was culled by traders, conquerors, and various kingdoms, integrated at the height of the spice trail in the time of Alexander and the Roman kingdom, doesn’t apply here. The Torah was written at least 1,300 years prior to those civilizations.

As far as your verses in Genesis that you are finding inconsistencies with, you are missing a key verse that screams ERROR!

Genesis 2:17 - but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'
Genesis 5:5 - And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

Wait a minute, didn’t it just say that the day Adam eats the fruit he will die? But Adam lived 930 more years! If the Torah was written by an all-knowing deity, shouldn’t he, at the very least, keep his word? After all, I want a G-d that I can trust. But if the Torah was written by man..well honestly, I think even if the person had alzheimer’s he would have remembered what he wrote just a couple of chapters ago, as not to cause inconsistency don’t you think?

The answer is….the Torah, especially the first chapters of Genesis, obviously was never to be taken literally and the intended meaning of these verses has been transferred by the Oral Law through an unbroken tradition dating back to Sinai. We call this our Mesorah. How do we know that we received an Oral Law? There are at least 13 instances in the TaNaCh that refers to “Torah’s” (plural): Gen 26:5; Ex 16:28;18:16, 20; Lev 26:46; Is 24:5;Jer 32:23;Ezek 43:11;44:5, 24;Psa 105:45;Dan 9:10;Neh 9:13. This refers to the two Torah’s received on Sinai; written and oral. How do we know that the Mesorah is an unbroken chain of tradition that has been maintained and not modified over thousands of years? Up to 100 years ago, travel, communication, intercontinental travel etc was all difficult and dangerous. But, lo and behold when people started traveling more we found that even in the far reaches of the world and in the most isolated communities, the Torah scroll, the Tefillin the Mezuza, the tones blown on the Shofar, the method of kosher slaughter… every aspect of Jewish law was practiced in the exact same way from Zimbabwe to Timbuktu. This is because the Oral law provides the how-to’s of the Torah’s laws. For example, nowhere is it found in the Torah how to slaughter a cow, but we know how. The Torah says, "You shall slaughter an animal as I have shown you on the mountain." What was it that G_d showed Moses? Regarding Tefillin, the Torah says that "these words should be totafot between your eyes." What on earth are totafot? Where is between your eyes? When do you wear them and how?

So your verses in Genesis have a meaning in the oral law and the kabbalah (which is the “why’s” of everything), but there is no point in discussing them at this juncture. One thing I will say is that you are basing some of your argument on the theory of evolution, which is still a theory, and the missing link between man and monkey has still not been found. There are so many divergent opinions in science on the age of the universe, and that number is still changing. If all the scientists are basing their results on the same data set, then why are there so many opinions? It’s safe to say that the answer has still not been found. After all, they can’t all be right so who is to say any of them are correct?

You are right, Genesis is seemingly full of continuity errors, but that’s because you are trying to understand it rationally with your human mind when the document itself is extra-terrestrial; meaning it is not of this world. It uses human terms to help us understand concepts that we can’t perceive with our limited intellect. By us trying to rationalize something in the Torah, which was written by a Higher Being, to our understanding, either elevates us to the level of the Higher Being or diminishes the Higher Being to our level; either of which is not possible when you are talking about a Diving Being.

Here are more instances where science has confirmed the ancient Torah:
  • The Earth is round and people living on the bottom of the globe do not fall off (gravity). How did the Torah know?
  • The duration of a season of the year is no longer than ninety-one days and seven and a half hours; and the beginning of one season is removed from that of the other by no more than one half of a planetary hour" (Eruvin 56a). How did the Torah know?
  • The Earth was created with a big bang (Steady State Theory was ursurped by the Big Bang Theory until 1929). How did the Torah know?
  • The sun has a sheath, a protective cover (which absorbs heat radiated from the sun and restrains shockwaves from the sun’s core). How did the Torah know?
  • There are 1018 stars (NASA says there are 1021 stars; mind you the Torah was written when the naked eye could only perceive about 4,000 stars). How did the Torah know?
  • Gen 1:7 “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so”. Interpretation: There is water above the Atmosphere. The Midrash which is written about 1500 to 1800 years ago makes the following statement. The Water above the firmament is more abundant than the water below the firmament. In effect there is more water in outer space than in our oceans and clouds. (We now know that that meteors in space are actually particles of dust and rocks mixed with ice. If all these meteors and comets were melted they would fill the oceans of over 1,000 Earth sized planets.) How did the Torah know?
  • Deut. 11:11 " but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down." Interpretation: The whole world drinks from the waters above the firmament, this is referring to the water that comes from the meteors. (Science estimates that every 24 hour period approximately 30,000 meteors strike the earth.) How did the Torah know?
  • The commandment of circumcision is to be done on the 8th day. Not the seventh, not the ninth. Only about 30 years ago did science discover that Prothrombin (clotting factor) peaks at 110% of adult levels on 8th day of life, then drops off. How did the Torah know?

You have to realize that all of these statements by the Torah were considered incorrect, out-of-touch, erroneous, and even blasphemous in comparison to the known science of the day, whether it was biblical, ancient, middle ages or modern times. Everything that you claim now about the Torah being inaccurate has been said for thousands of years. But, as Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Now that science is catching up to the Torah, there is still difficulty with scientists in acknowledging that the Torah something other than your typical book.

All other religions and cults started by the claim of one man who had an angel teach him, or found a book in a cave, or something else. In contrast, the Sinai event was witnessed by 3 million people. Consider this scenario… Let’s pretend I was Moses who was making up a religion, and making up laws, creating “hazing rituals” as you put it, and I’ve got the people wrapped around my finger. I’m having fun with this making a new religion thing, I’m writing in my man-made book, which I claim to be divine, this is soo fun! Then all of a sudden I tell the people, “Hey guys! Remember how I went up on that mountain to speak to G-d? You remember how I went up and you saw that great fire come down on the mountain, and you remember that big voice you heard? Now, don’t you think out of 3 million people, one person, only one, would say, “uhh, Moses, I don’t know how to say this, but I didn’t see or hear anything,” or, “Moses, what are you smoking? That never happened!” Maybe the blind guy in the back, or the deaf one one on the side? Maybe the one who was sleeping or the one who was on his gameboy? But no one refuted what Moses said.

God spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets.’ (Deut.4:9-13)

‘You have been shown in order to know that God, He is the Supreme Being. There is none besides Him. From heaven he let you hear His voice in order to teach you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words amid the fire.’ (Deut. 4:32-36)

Moses called all of Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the decrees and the ordinances that I speak in your ears today — learn them, and be careful to perform them. The Lord your God sealed a covenant with us at Horev [Mount Sinai]. Not with our forefathers did God seal this covenant, but with us — we who are here, all of us alive today. Face to face did God speak with you on the mountain from amid the fire.’ (Deut. 5:1-4)

What you are looking for is the sound and light show that came down on Sinai as absolute proof that a Divine Being exists. Well, that is not going to happen. It happened only once in history and never again. If such a thing were to happen then our free choice would not exist. If every time a person who desecrated the Sabbath was immediately struck by lightning or if every time a person stole, his hand would immediately get chopped off I guarantee you there will be no Sabbath desecrators or thieves anymore; their free choice whether or not to keep the Sabbath or steal would be gone. Likewise, if you had absolute proof of a G-d then your free choice of EVERYTHING would cease to exist, because you would not do anything against His word.

Have you EVER seen a creation without a creator? Cars, computers, a cup, a pencil?? Have you ever seen a creation without a purpose? Imagine an interview with an inventor, “Why did you make this device and what use is it for us?” “Umm, I don’t know” Doesn’t really cut it! And don’t say the purpose of life is to eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves, because monkeys do that too. Have you ever seen a relatively simple invention without an instruction manual? Watches, stroller, Ikea furniture? What does that say about the most complex creation on the planet, us? The word Torah has often been mistranslated as “Law”, but ask any Hebrew speaker and you will find that the word Torah means “Instruction”. The Torah is our instruction manual for life.

There are certain times in one’s life where you come upon a bridge and the bridge is shaky and narrow. Sometimes you have to take that leap and see where the path leads you. If I am wrong, what do you have to lose? After all you claim there is no Divine Being, therefore you would not be subject to Divine Justice. But, what if I am right? You are Jewish and so you have a Jewish soul. Your conscious mind denies it but the soul knows its source and deep within your unconscious mind you know what I am saying here is the truth. I hope that one day something would cognite and you would listen to the inner voice that is being suppressed. Science and Torah go hand in hand. If you want more you can read “Science and Torah” and “The Coming Revolution”, both by Zamir Cohen. I can also mail you a DVD called “Science and Torah” by Yosef Mizrachi, or you can watch it online. This DVD actually goes in depth, in a step by-step fashion with proofs repudiating all other religions, establishing that there is a Divine Being, and the Torah is Divine. Please, I would love to hear your comment and feedback.
You covered a lot of territory.

Regarding the hare, I referred to your rendition of Deuteronomy. If there is an "uncorrupted" translation of Hebrew that you know about, why not use that in the first place? I am trusting you to say what you mean in this exchange of ideas; changing "chewing its cud" to include refection seems like a bait and switch technique, which leaves me feeling frustrated (though it was probably not your intention).

Yes, the Torah was written before the height of Alexander the Great and the Roman empire, but trade routes existed far before either of these, and there is evidence of extensive trading across wide geographic areas over 12,000 years ago (though we know less of their technology and lifestyle than later societies). My specific examples were ill-chosen, but the overall point that "there were traders, conquerors, various kingdoms and empires that spanned over time all of Eurasia and Africa. Oral traditions, written records, and animal specimens were imported from all these areas" stands. People moved, and knowledge was transferred across large land masses, and a demonstration of such information in the Torah is far more an indication that human migration occurred than of the divine provenance of its verses.

I am genuinely confused by your introduction of the Oral Law into this discussion, because it seems to me to change everything you've said until now. The Torah is "eternal", "divine", "written by the hand of G-d", and that I would "never find any inaccuracies in it". Yet as soon as I did so, quoting from just the first chapter of the first book of the Torah, you state that the Torah "obviously was never to be taken literally and the intended meaning of these verses has been transferred by the Oral Law".

So the words of the Torah, written by the divine creator, cannot be understood without the human Oral Law. (Again, there was no mention of its centrality until now, which is another point I find frustrating.) And although you mention the Oral Law, you do not demonstrate even once how it resolves contradictions between the Torah and the real world ("Two great lights" when there is only the sun; "every beast is given green herb for food" when carnivores exist) or when it contradicts itself (your example of Adam surely dieing and living to 930 years is one of many).

And frankly, the rationalization that Genesis' many continuity errors (which you acknowledge) is a result of mere humans trying to comprehend the divine is a cop-out. It is an excuse that can be used any time there is content in the Torah that is demonstrably false or inaccurate. By your own standards, if anyone finds a fish with scales but no fins, "the Talmud (and Judaism) will be proven wrong". Do you stand by this comment? If such a fish were found tomorrow, would you renounce the Torah as an infallible source of knowledge? If so, why are you so committed to this verse of the Torah but not to the fact that there exist carnivores while Genesis 1:30 says there are none? Why is the first a bedrock for your faith while the latter can be explained away by our limited mortal minds?

More generally: Why, when the Torah gets it wrong, it's because we humans are trying to comprehend the divine and inevitably fail in our attempts, but when it gets things right, you regard it as proof of divine origins?

I hope you realize that the same arguments could be applied to the foundational text of any religion or cult, from the Hindus to the Muslims, from the Scientologists to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

You mention that evolution is only a theory.

Evolution is a theory in precisely the same way that gravity is a theory. In common parlance, theory can be used as a synonym for "guess," "hunch," or "hypothesis". In a scientific context, theory means "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." Evolution is a theory in the latter sense - it is a well-substantiated body of knowledge.

You also write that "the missing link between man and monkey has still not been found."

This is because no biologist has ever seriously claimed that humans are the descendants of monkeys. Monkeys and humans both descended from an ape-like ancestor. Think of monkeys as (distant) cousins, and you'll be on the right conceptual track. The fossil record is full of transitional forms from one species to another (including the human lineage). Claiming otherwise is simply false, and demonstrates a lack of knowledge or a deliberate misrepresentation of the fossil record (I assume that you simply don't know). You have great museums and libraries [where you live] - if you're interested, you can learn as much as you like on the topic.

Some of your scientific proofs are quite silly. "There are 1018 stars". False. There are many billions of stars. I can't imagine NASA stating there are 1021 (and cannot find it on their website). Even if we grant both statements (which I don't), the Torah is wrong. It may be close, but it's still wrong. Which means that its writers were clever, intelligent, thoughtful, and other very positive things, but human and subject to the limitations of knowledge of the time.

Waters above and below the firmament - this is proof of divine authorship? Really? I assume that even you will grant that anyone living several thousand years ago could easily observe the sea (or ocean, or lake) and the rain. "Water above and below" is hardly divine knowledge.

The Torah may say the events at Sinai were witnessed by 3 million people, and that no one refuted what Moses said. But since I believe the Torah was written by human hands and minds, perhaps these events were witnessed by 3 million, or perhaps by three. (People have been known to exaggerate.) Perhaps the events did not occur precisely the way they are described in in Torah. (People have been known to record fanciful interpretations of events.) Perhaps rebuttals to the official version of the Sinai events were left out of the Torah. (People have been known to edit out contrary views.) You argue that God will never show his presence again as he did on Sinai. Which means that, for all practical purposes, for the rest of history God will remain invisible. To my way of thinking, the invisible and the non-existent are indistinguishable.

Have I ever seen something without a creator? Many times. Not the human artifacts you mention, of course, but yes, many things I have seen are beautiful, wondrous, and sometimes useful without the hand of a creator of any kind. The paths rivers have carved in rocks over millions of years. Natural arches that bridge two mountains. Caves. Patterns of driftwood that form a letter, or a tent, or a recognizable symbol.

If you truly believe humans are created by God, then you must recognize that He is a terrible engineer. Humans are amazing machines, but so flawed on so many levels that to think we are created in God's image is to say some pretty unflattering things about God.

Finally, you ask, "What do you have to lose?" This is known as Pascal's wager. And it is one I refuse to accept. It can be asked of any faith - why not be a Christian? Or a Sikh? Or a Scientologist? What if they are right? Why not convert to one of those faiths? Their promised punishments for being wrong are far more severe than Judaism's - and the promised rewards certainly win out over the vague claims from the Torah. If you truly adhere to this logic, you'd best change your belief system, just to be on the safe side.

But putting that aside, I have plenty to lose. I could lose years of my life chasing an illusion, a falsehood, a lie. I could stop being curious about anything, stop contributing what knowledge I can to the world, because everything worth knowing is already documented in a particular text. I could stop thinking for myself, stop challenging assumptions about the world, stop leading the examined life to the greatest extent I can, and stop learning about new things, because (as you wrote) "there is nothing new under the sun". I could devote my life to something that claims the existence of an afterlife, never to know it is a tremendous fraud, instead of doing what I can to improve the lives of my family, community, culture, country, and planet.

What could I lose? I could lose almost everything that is of value. And so could you. Let me turn the question around - what if you devote your life to the God of the Torah (out of the thousands humanity has genuinely worshipped over its history), and you discover at the end that you have been, at the most fundamental level, wrong?

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