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A List of Some Problematic Issues
Concerning Orthodox Jewish Belief
By Naftali Zeligman
Posted March 16, 2003
Torah General Remarks
- In which script was the original Torah written?
Nowadays Torah scrolls are
written in a square alphabetic script consisting of 22 letters and quite
closely resembling the printing-type script used in modern Hebrew. But
scientific evidence shows that the Jews started to use this script much later
than 1313-1273 BCE, when Orthodox Judaism believes the Torah to have been
written. The script of the contemporary Torah scrolls, called in the scientific
literature "the Jewish script," evolved from Aramaic the script
used by the Aramaean kingdoms in Syria which was accepted as the official
script of the ancient Persian empire. After the death of Alexander the Great,
what before his conquests had been the Persian empire broke up into several
independent and half-independent kingdoms, and since the cultural unity between
them ceased to exist, in each kingdom the imperial Aramaic script evolved into
distinct national scripts, sometimes barely recalling their Aramaic origins.
Among those new scripts there was the Jewish script developed in Judea, and which
is basically same one in which Torah scrolls are now written. In the late 3rd
century BCE the Jews started to use that script for writing Scriptural texts (Joseph Naveh, "Early History of
Before that time a very
different script called in the scientific literature "the Hebrew
script" was used for this purpose, and that script looked quite
different from the "Jewish script." But even after the 3rd
century BCE scribes used the "Hebrew script" to write the Tetragrammaton in many Torah scrolls because of the
holiness of both the script and the scrolls. For example, in several "Jewish
script" Torah scrolls found in Qumran, the name YHWH is written in the
"Hebrew script." Apparently, the "Jewish script,"
considered by all the Rabbinic leaders most holy, was not considered holy
enough by the ancient Jewish scribes. What follows from this is that all the
Kabbalist homily on the form of the letters of the "Jewish script,"
as though these are the letters in which the Torah was given and as though the
whole world was created through these letters, is baseless.
- No Hebrew alphabet at the alleged time the Torah was
The alphabet of the
"Hebrew script" consisted of 22 letters as did the "Jewish
script," and though the form of the letters was different, their names,
alphabetic order, and the sounds they denoted remained basically the same. (The
non-terminal forms of the letters kaf, mem, nun, pey,
and tzadi appeared even after the "Jewish script" was adopted
for writing the sacred texts; before that time, the current terminal forms of
these letters were also used in the beginning and in the middle of words.)
Basically, the Torah could be rewritten from the "Hebrew" alphabet to
the "Jewish" without much trouble.
However, the "Hebrew"
alphabet itself did not appear from nothing. Archeological evidence shows that
it evolved sometime during the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE
from the Canaanite (Phoenician) alphabet. For some 200 years the Israelites
used the Phoenician script without changing it even a bit: the Gezer Calendar
of the 10th century BCE, the first inscription known to date in the
Hebrew language, contains no distinctive features of Hebrew script. The first
time features like those of the "Hebrew script" appear is on the
stele of Mesha king of Moab ("Early
History of the Alphabet," p. 65). This stele, dated to the 9th
century BCE, was inscribed by the Moabites, not by the Israelites, and its
language is not Hebrew but Moabite "a Canaanite dialect akin to Hebrew,
but not identical to it" (ibid.).
It was only about 800 BCE that inscriptions written both in the Hebrew language
and the Hebrew script appeared. We come to the conclusion not only that the
Israelites started using the alphabet only about 300 years after the alleged
time of the Torah writing, but that it is quite evident the Israelites adopted
the alphabet from the Canaanites: though more consonants existed in the Hebrew
language than letters in the Canaanite alphabet, the latter was adopted without
any change (the consonant ś had no sign for it in among the Canaanite letters
and it was only in the first centuries CE that it started being denoted by the
specific letter form sin, obtained by adding a dot above the left upper
corner of the letter shin). Were the alphabet an original Hebrew
innovation, it would obviously contain signs for all the Hebrew consonants ("Early History of the Alphabet,"
p. 54). Moreover, as we have seen, the earliest Hebrew-language
inscription known to date is written exclusively in the Canaanite/Phoenician
But the Phoenician script
itself appeared only in the mid-11th century BCE. It developed from
the more ancient Proto-Canaanite script which was structurally different from
the Phoenician: it had 27 letters instead of 22, the letters hardly had
established graphic forms, and one could write in it either left-to-right or
right-to-left, sometimes even vertically. The number of the letters was reduced
to 22 in the 13th century BCE, but the forms of the letters were
fixed and right-to-left became the sole direction of writing only about 1050
BCE. These changes, however, occurred only in Canaan, and thus the Israelites
could not have been aware of them before they entered the Land of Israel.
During their wandering in Sinai they could only have been acquainted with the
unstable Proto-Canaanite alphabet of 27 letters used by the population living
there (see "Early History
of the Alphabet," pp. 23-42). Before the Israelites entered Canaan,
and actually before the 11th century BCE, they could have no
alphabetically written book or, at very best, they could have a book written in
an alphabet structurally different from the one we use now. This being the
case, the Torah as we know it nowadays could not have been written down in
1313-1273 BCE as it is believed to be.
- Transmission of the Torah text matters of spelling.
To this very day there are
different versions of the Torah text. The Torah scrolls of Ashkenazic and
Sephardic Jews, though based on the same Masoretic formula (following the
Mesorah of the 10th century scholar Aaron Ben Asher; the most famous
printed text based on this formula is the Koren edition of the Scripture),
still differ by one letter in Deuteronomy 23:2 Ashkenazic scrolls have the word
daka with an aleph and Sephardic scrolls with a hey. The
Torah scrolls of Yemenite communities are nine letters (all vowelizing letters:
aleph, hey, vav, and yud) different from the
Ashkenazic scrolls. The books of the Holy Writ
given to Israeli soldiers, printed by the Adi publishing house and proofread by
Aharon Dotan, are based on the Leningrad manuscript a manuscript written in
Egypt in the 11th century CE, also based on Ben Asher's Mesorah, in
which there are many differences from the Koren edition: in four places where the
Adi edition spells the word hi [she] as hey-yud-aleph Koren
spells it as hey-vav-aleph, and in two places where the Adi edition
spells the word vehi [and she] as vav-hey-yud-aleph Koren spells
it as vav-hey-vav-aleph. In Leviticus 19:4 Koren spells the word elilim
[idols] as aleph-lamed-yud-lamed-mem sofit while the Adi edition spells
it as aleph-lamed-yud-lamed-yud-mem sofit (that is, with an extra yud).
Even the Rama Rabbi Moses Isserles admits that we are not expert on
defective and plene spellings in the Torah: "Because of plene and
defective spelling one should not bring another [Torah scroll when reading the
Torah in public], for our Torah scrolls are not so accurate that we can say the
other scroll will be more kosher" (Orach Chayim, paragraph 143,
section 4). And though all the differences in plene and defective
spelling listed above do not change the words'
meaning, it is obvious that all of the present-day Torah texts cannot be a
letter-by-letter copy of the original Torah (whatever that was), and there is
no evidence suggesting that one of these texts is closer to the original than
the others. So it must be concluded that no precise letter-by-letter tradition
of the Torah text exists nowadays.
- Transmission of the Torah text partition into verses.
Another category of
discrepancies between present-day Torah texts is the partition of the Torah
into verses. Thus, the text in Exodus 20, "I am the Lord your G-d, who has
brought you out of the land of Egypt, of the house of bondage. You shall have
no other gods before Me," is presented in Dotan's edition of the Scripture
as one verse (Exodus 20:2),
while the Koren edition separates it into two verses (Exodus 20:2-3). Though this discrepancy does
not change the text's meaning, changes in punctuation often change the meaning
very significantly. And besides, such kinds of discrepancies also raise a
Halachic problem: when reading the Torah in public, one should pause at the end
of each verse. The partition of text into verses is said to originate from
Moses himself (Taanit 27b,
Megillah 22a). So how should we read the above sentences as one verse
or two? And which version matches the original partition into verses: Koren or
Dotan's edition? Again, both of these versions are based on the Mesorah of Ben
Asher, adopted by the Rishonim as the most trustworthy of the Masoretic
schools, despite Ben Asher most likely being a Karaite (see Encyclopedia Hebraica, Ben Asher, v. 9,
pp. 40-41). In the Torah manuscripts based on the Mesorah of Ben Naftali
(a contemporary of Ben Asher) there were yet more differences compared with present-day
Torah scrolls, both in defective and plene spelling and in punctuation.
- Leningrad manuscript the number of letters in the
As for the Leningrad manuscript
on which Aharon Dotan's edition of the Scripture is based, in the Mesorah
remarks at the end of that manuscript it is written: "The total number of
letters in the Torah is four hundred thousand nine hundred forty-five."
However, in each of the manuscripts and editions of the Torah we possess, dating
from Middle Ages until now (including the Leningrad manuscript itself and all
the editions based on it), there is a bit more than 300,000 letters the
discrepancy between the text and the Mesorah of the Leningrad manuscript is
about 100,000 letters! If even such a basic Masoretic manuscript suffers from a
33% discrepancy between the Torah text and the Mesorah, there hardly seems to be
any reason to believe that the Mesorah succeeded in preserving the Torah text
in its original form.
- Transmission of the Torah text the middle letter,
word and verse of the Torah.
More evidence of the changes
which the Torah text underwent over the course of history may be found in the
Talmud. In Tractate Kiddushin 30a the Gemara brings what it considers the
middle letter (vav of gachon in Leviticus 11:42), words (darosh
darash in Leviticus 11:16), and verse ("Vahitgalach..."
Leviticus 13:33) of the Torah. However, in the contemporary Torah text (as
represented by the Koren edition of the Scripture) the middle letter is aleph
of the word hu in Leviticus 8:28, the middle word is achat of
"...vechalat lechem shemen achat..." in Leviticus 8:26, and the
middle verse is "Vayiten alav et hachoshen..." Leviticus 8:8.
All these "middle points" are dozens of verses distant from their
counterparts mentioned in the Gemara. And moreover: on the same page, Tractate
Kiddushin 30a, the Gemara brings a Tannaitic statement that there are 5888
verses in the Torah. Not only is this discrepant with the contemporary Torah
text, in which there are 5844 (in Koren) or 5846 (in Dotan's edition) verses,
this also contradicts the above statement of the Gemara, which speaks of "Vahitgalach..."
as the middle verse of the Torah for the latter obviously presumes that the
number of verses in the Torah is odd, while 5888 is an even number. On the
other hand, in Tractate Soferim 9:2 it is written that the verse "Vayishchat..."
is the middle verse of the Torah. And though in our Torah text there are five
verses beginning with "Vayishchat" Leviticus 8:15, 8:19,
8:23, 9:12 and 9:18 none of them is the middle verse of our Torah text, and
obviously all of them are quite distant from the verse "Vayitgalach..."
which the Talmud in Kiddushin 30a thought to be the middle verse of the Torah.
Thus the issue of the middle letter, word, and verse in the Torah appears to be
full of very significant discrepancies.
- Transmission of the Torah text melachah, melachto,
and melechet in the Torah.
In Tractate Shabbat 49b the
Talmud speaks of 40 occurrences of the words melachah [work], melachto
[his work], and melechet [the work of] in the Torah. On the other hand,
in commentaries of Rabbeynu Chananel and some other Rishonim on this issue we
find that in their Torah scrolls there were 61 occurrences of these words, and
in our Torah scrolls there are 63. Another Rishon Raaban of 12th century
Germany also copied the figure of 61 occurrences from Rabbeynu Chananel, but
was thorough enough to take the Torah text and count those occurrences. In his
count (see Sefer Raaban,
paragraph 350), not 61, but 60 occurrences of melachah, melachto,
and melechet are brought. To these, for
reasons unknown, Raaban also added 2 occurrences of melachtecha [your
work], which totals 62 occurrences. So Raaban's Torah text was different from
that of Rabbeynu Chananel as well as from the text which the Talmudic Sages
possessed and the one now used in Jewish communities.
Of course, the numbers brought
in the Talmud and by the Rishonim may be explained by assuming that the
Talmudic Sages and the Rishonim simply did not count very well. This, however,
would imply that the Talmudic Sages were mistaken in their count by dozens or
even hundreds of words, and that several different Rishonim could not arrive at
the correct count of the 63 instances of melachah, melachto, and melechet
in the Torah text. And moreover: if the explanation of a miscount is
reasonable, then it should be noted that the Rishonim themselves, instead of
admitting that the Talmudic Sages erred in their count, preferred to appeal to
rather lame excuses, omitting occurrences of melachah, melachto,
and melechet from the count without any consistent criteria. If this is
the wisdom of those who are responsible for the correct transmission of the
Torah text through generations, it leads to quite pessimistic conclusions
concerning their ability to preserve the text in its original form.
- Transmission of the Torah text changes in whole words
admitted by Judaic sources.
Actually, Chazal themselves
openly admitted that not only plene/defective spellings, but even whole words
could be changed in the Torah text. Thus it is written in Tractate Soferim 6:4:
Simeon the son of Lakish said: once they found three [Torah] scrolls in the
Temple court: the scroll of maon, the scroll of zaatutei and the
scroll of hu. In one [of the scrolls] it was written 'Maon,' and
in the other two 'Meonah E-lohei kedem' (Deuteronomy 33:27), so they
adopted [the version of] two scrolls and rejected [that of] one. In one [of the
scrolls] it was written 'Vayishlach et zaatutei benei Yisrael,' and in
the other two 'Vayishlach et naarei benei Yisrael' (Exodus 24:5), so
they adopted [the version of] two scrolls and rejected [that of] one. In one
[of the scrolls] it was written eleven times 'hu,' and in the other two
eleven times 'hi', so they rejected [the version of] one scroll and
adopted [that of] two."
Three different Torah scrolls were found in the Temple court
and the Sages used them to create a new scroll, which, as one can easily see,
was different from all three of the scrolls. One of the three scrolls was
different by a whole word zaatutei from the others, where it was
written naarei. And though these two words are almost synonyms (zaatutei
means "infants," while naarei means "boys"), there
is yet another version of this story, brought in the responsa "Ginat
Chayim, rule 2, section 6),
according to which in one of the three scrolls it was written zaatutei
instead of atzilei in Exodus 24:11 (Veel atzilei bnei Yisrael lo
shalach yado "But [G-d] did not raise His hand against the noblemen
of the children of Israel"). Here the discrepancy zaatutei/atzilei
obviously changes the meaning of the verse, as zaatutei means
"infants" while atzilei means "noblemen." Thus, both
R' Simeon the son of Lakish and R' Abraham the son of Mordechai Halevi (the
author of the responsa "Ginat Vradim") openly admitted that
discrepancies of whole words are quite possible in the Torah text. This
alone should be enough to lead to the conclusion that the Torah text underwent
significant changes, including some that changed the text's meaning.
- Non-Masoretic Torah texts.
The above (excluding the
baraita of Tractate Soferim) deals with the Masoretic text(s) used by the
Jewish communities after the Second Temple destruction. However archeological
findings reveal that at earlier times (about the commencement of the Common
Era) Jews also used other versions of the Torah text, significantly different
from the Masoretic:
Since 1947, hundreds of fragments of ancient scrolls
containing various portions of the Scriptural books were found at several sites
in the Judean Desert: Qumran, Wadi Murabba'at, Nachal Chever, and Massada.
Among those scrolls, called the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were 225 manuscripts
containing fragments of the Scriptural books, 215 of which were found at
Qumran, the site of an ancient Jewish community that lived there between the 3rd
century BCE and the 1st century CE. Of the Qumran manuscripts 89
contain fragments of the Five Books of Moses, covering the majority of the
Torah text (Martin Abegg, Jr.
et al., "The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible," pp. XV, 3, 23, 77, 108, 145).
Many formulations in these manuscripts are quite discrepant with those of the
Torah text now used by Jewish communities.
For example, in one of the
Qumran scrolls Exodus 1:5 reads, "And all the souls that came out the
loins of Jacob were seventy-five souls," while in Masoretic Torah
scrolls this verse reads, "And all the souls that came out the loins of
Jacob were seventy souls, and Joseph was already in Egypt" ("The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible,"
Another scroll reads, at
Deuteronomy 5:15, "Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep
the Sabbath day to hallow it. For in six days the Lord made heaven and
earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested the seventh day; so the Lord
blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it," while in Masoretic Torah
scrolls this verse reads, "Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to perform
the Sabbath day." And though yet another scroll of Deuteronomy found at
Qumran corroborates the Masoretic wording of this verse, it contains other
discrepancies with the Masoretic text: for example, in that scroll the verse of
Deuteronomy 5:24 reads: "Go near and hear all that the Lord our God says
to you, and tell us all that the Lord our God speaks to you; and we will
hear it, and carry it out," while in our Torah scrolls it is written:
"Go near, and hear all that the Lord our God says, and tell
us..." without the first "to you" ("The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible," pp. 154-155).
There are many more examples of such discrepancies, which leads to the
conclusion that neither the uniform Masoretic text nor any other uniform text
of the Torah was to be found in the Qumran community, which existed until a
mere century before the Mishnah was written down.
- Besides the Dead Sea scrolls, we possess yet another ancient
manuscript containing a part of the Torah text the Nash Papyrus, discovered
in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. Though it is hard to
consider it a part of a Torah scroll, as it juxtaposes the Ten Commandments and
the Shema Yisrael (which are 15 verses apart in the Masoretic Torah text),
it is thought to be a part of an ancient Jewish schoolbook or a prayerbook
where the Ten Commandments and the Shema were quoted as the credos of
Judaism. Researchers date the Nash Papyrus to the 2nd century BCE2nd
century CE. The full Hebrew text of the papyrus (more precisely, of the part of
it that survived) is brought in Stanley A. Cook, "A Pre-Masoretic Biblical
Papyrus," Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, v. 25, pp.
34-56. Though the Nash Papyrus contains only 24 lines of text, this text is
significantly different from the Masoretic wording of the Ten Commandments and
of the Shema. The most noteworthy of differences may be the order of the
sixth and the seventh commandments: "You shall not commit adultery. You
shall not commit murder" in the papyrus vs. "You shall not commit
murder. You shall not commit adultery" in the Masoretic Torah, and the
rewording of the first verse of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the
Lord is our God, one Lord is He" [YHWH echad hu] in the papyrus vs. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our
God, the Lord is one" [YHWH echad] in the Masoretic
Torah. Objectively we cannot be sure that our present-day Masoretic text is
closer to the original text of the Torah, and therefore one cannot rule out the
possibility that even such basic issues as the wording of the Shema and
the order of the Ten Commandments were subject to variations over the course of
generations, and that in general, the original text of the Torah was very
different from the one Jewish communities now possess.
Could Moses Have
Written Down the Torah?
Genesis 14:14 says that Abraham
pursued his enemies "unto Dan." Deuteronomy 34:1 says G-d showed
Moses "all the land of Gilead, unto Dan." However, a place named Dan
appeared only in the period of the Israelite settlement in Canaan, as the
Scripture itself states (Judges
18:26-29). The Israelite settlement, according to the Scripture,
occurred after Moses's death. Whether Moses knew the future topography through
prophecy or not, the whole People of Israel could hardly have been presented
with these verses before they entered Canaan.
- "On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen."
Genesis 22:14 says: "And
Abraham called the name of that place 'YHWH-will-see,' as it is said to this
day: on the mount of the Lord it shall be seen." The mountain spoken of is
Mount Moriah, where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son. The name
"mount of the Lord" was given to it because the Temple was built
there, as the Talmud (Berachot
62b) and the Rabbinic commentators admit. But the Temple was built long
after Moses's death so the popular saying "On the mount of
the Lord it shall be seen" could not have been used in Moses's lifetime
and Moses, therefore, could not have written down this verse.
Exodus 16:35 says: "And
the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land
inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of
Canaan." This verse uses the past tense (they did eat) to tell us
that eating the manna continued until the Israelites entered the land of Canaan
so it must have been written after the Israelites entered that land.
If so, it could not be written down by Moses, who died, according to the
Scripture, before the Israelites entered Canaan.
- "Until they were finished."
Deuteronomy 31:24-26 says:
"And it came to pass, when Moses ended writing the words of this Torah in
a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore
the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: 'Take this book of the Torah, and
put it in the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your G-d, that it
will be there to witness about you...'" It is written, again in the past
tense, that Moses had actually finished writing down the Torah and presented it
to the Levites, so the verses just quoted were written after Moses
finished writing down the original "book of the Torah."
- The death of Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:5-8 says:
Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the
word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over
against Beth Peor, and no man knows of his sepulcher unto this day. And Moses
was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his
natural force abated. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains
of Moab thirty days so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were
The death of Moses and the 30
days of mourning for him are described here in the past tense again,
these verses could not be written and presented to the whole Israel before the
30 days of mourning for Moses had actually passed. Moreover, Deuteronomy 34:6
tells that "no man knows of his [Moses's] sepulcher unto this day"
this, obviously, was written many years after Moses's death.
Some of the Talmudic Sages held
the view that Moses could not have written down these verses:
we have learned: 'So Moses the servant of the Lord died there' is it possible
that Moses is dead and yet writes 'So Moses died there'? But until here,
Moses wrote, from here and on Joshua wrote these are the words of Rabbi
Judah, and some say: Rabbi Nehemiah. [But] Rabbi Simeon said to him: is it
possible that the Torah scroll lacks even a single letter, and it is written
'Take this book of the Torah' (Deuteronomy 31:26)? But until here God spoke and
Moses wrote, from here on God spoke and Moses wrote in tears."
(Tractate Bava Batra 15a)
And even one of the greatest
Rabbinic commentators of the Scripture, R' Abraham Ibn Ezra, wrote on this
verse "'Unto this day' these are the words of Joshua. And it is possible
he wrote them at the end of his days." So the belief that Moses wrote down
the whole Torah, shared by most of contemporary Orthodox Jewry, appears to be
baseless and erroneous.
in the Torah Text
- The order of the Creation.
In the 1st chapter
of Genesis we are told that on the third
day of Creation G-d created the flora, on the fifth day the sea fauna and the
birds, and on the sixth day He created the animals, the beasts, the vermin
which live upon the land and, finally, the first couple man and woman
together. But in the 2nd chapter of Genesis we have quite a
different picture: first Adam (the male person only) was created, then
flora was planted, then G-d created the beasts and the fowls, and when Adam had
not found an helpmeet for himself among them, G-d created the first female
person Eve. These two accounts seem quite obviously to be written by two
different authors, each of whom had his own story of the Creation. Which of the
two was Divinely inspired is meaningless in this case.
- The Egyptian Captivity.
In Genesis 15:13 G-d says to
Abraham: "Know surely that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is
not theirs, and will serve them; and they shall enslave them and make them
suffer for four hundred years." But Exodus 12:40 says: "Now
the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four
hundred and thirty years." This contradiction can be solved by
claiming that 400 years are the actual time of enslavement and suffering while
430 years is the whole length of the exile, or that 400 years is only a round
figure while 430 years is the precise one (as Nachmanides says). Yet we have
Kohath the son of Levi among those who came to Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:11). Amram was
Kohath's son, and Moses was Amram's son. Kohath lived 133 years, and Amram 137
Moses is said to have died at the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7) after the Israelites wandered the
desert for 40 years. At the time of Exodus Moses was 80, and the total duration
of the Egyptian captivity cannot therefore have exceeded 133+137+80=350 years.
The Rabbinic tradition reduced the time of the Egyptian captivity to 210 years
(Seder Olam Rabbah, chapter 3)
and interpreted the verse of Exodus 12:40 as referring to the time from the
Covenant between the Pieces until the Exodus from Egypt (Rashi ibid.). But this
"explanation" simply contradicts the verse itself, which speaks of
"the sojourning of the children of Israel" Israel is another name
of Jacob (Genesis 32:29)
and the Covenant between the Pieces is said to take place well before Israel
(Jacob) himself was born, let alone his children.
- Who bought and sold Joseph?
Genesis 37:28 tells how Joseph
was sold into slavery: "Then there passed by Midianite merchants, and they
drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites
for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt." Though it
is not clear from this verse who exactly drew Joseph out of the pit Jacob's
sons or the Midianite merchants it is clear he was sold to the Ishmaelites
who brought him to Egypt. But in Genesis 37:36 we read: "And the Madanites
sold him [Joseph] into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh." All the
Rabbinic commentators stated that the Madanites are actually Midianites, but
this interpretation is based on nothing; the Scripture itself says that
Madanites and Midianites were two different nations: "And she [Keturah]
bore him [Abraham] Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and
Shuah" (Genesis 25:2).
So who sold Joseph to Egypt: Ishmaelites, Madanites, or Midianites? In
addition, Genesis 39:1 says: "And Joseph was brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar,
an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the
hands of the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there." There is no
explanation for this mix-up, aside from admitting that several initially
different accounts are merged here into one. Again, even if one of the accounts
is of Divine origin, the others are apparently not.
- The sons of Benjamin.
In Genesis 46:21 the sons of
Benjamin who came with him to Egypt are listed: "Bela and Becher and
Ashbel, Gera and Naaman, Ehi and Rosh, Muppim and Huppim, and Ard."
However, in Numbers 26:38-39 we find another listing of Benjamin's sons:
"The sons of Benjamin after their families: of Bela, the family of the
Belaites, of Ashbel, the family of the Ashbelites: of Ahiram, the family of the
Ahiramites; of Shupham, the family of the Shuphamites, of Hupham, the family of
the Huphamites." Ard and Naaman are described in Numbers 26:40 as the sons
of Bela. (Two other listings of Benjamin's sons are given in I Chronicles 7:6: "Bela
and Becher and Jediael, three" and in I Chronicles 8:1-2: "Now
Benjamin begat Bela his firstborn, Ashbel the second, and Aharah the third;
Nohah the fourth, and Rapha the fifth."). It is an utter mystery how many
sons Benjamin really had and whose sons Naaman and Ard indeed were.
- Does G-d repent?
Numbers 23:19 says: "God
is not a man that He should lie, nor is He a son of man that He should repent;
is it possible that He said and will not do it, or that He spoke and will not
make it come true?" Yet in the Torah we find G-d repenting of what He did
or thought about doing, and we find Him not doing things He spoke of. For
example, in Exodus 32:9-14 we read:
the Lord said to Moses: 'I have seen that people, and they are a stiff-necked
people. Now let Me alone so that My anger will burn against them and that I
will destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.' But Moses sought
the favor of the Lord his God, saying: 'O Lord, why should Your anger burn
against Your people...' And the Lord repented of the evil which He spoke to do to
So here the Lord does repent.
True, Ibn Ezra says in his commentary on Exodus 32:14, "Heaven forbid that
G-d may repent. But the Torah spoke in a human language" that is, the
phrase "the Lord repented of the evil" should be understood as a
metaphor only. However, whether it is a metaphor or not, here we find G-d
abandoning something He said that He was going to do (destroying the
Israelites) in clear contradiction of Numbers 23:19.
- Where did Aaron die?
In Numbers 20:27-30 we find:
Moses did as the Lord commanded; and they went up to Mount Hor in the
sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and
put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there on the top of the mount.
And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron
thirty days, all the house of Israel."
And correspondingly, in the
account of the Israelites' journeys in the book of Numbers it is written:
they went on their journey from Kadesh, and encamped on Mount Hor, on the
border of the land of Edom. And Aaron the priest ascended to Mount Hor
according to the commandment of the Lord, and died there, in the fortieth year
after the Exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, in the fifth
month, on the first day of it. And Aaron was one hundred and twenty and three
years old when he died on Mount Hor."
But in Deuteronomy 10:6 we find:
the children of Israel went on their journey from Beerot Benei Jaakan to
Mosera: there Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son became
the High Priest after him."
Now, the question is where,
according to the Torah, did Aaron die: on the top of Mount Hor or at Mosera?
Almost all the Scriptural commentators tried to settle this contradiction, but
all of them failed to produce an account consistent with all the verses. The
most reasonable explanation of this contradiction is that the books of Numbers
and Deuteronomy were written by two different authors, each of whom had his own
tradition of Aaron's death.
- Six days of the Creation.
The 1st chapter of
Genesis tells that the whole universe from stars and galaxies to the most
complicated living organisms like human beings was created in a mere six days
(the sixth day, the day when Adam was created, is considered the first Rosh
HaShanah by the Judaic tradition). Yet we know from scientific research that
the process of the formation of galaxies, stars and planets took billions of
years, and that the evolution of life on Earth took almost 4 billion years. If
one accepts the scientific data, one of the most fundamental Torah accounts, upon
which the commandment of observing the Sabbath is based, appears factually
- Age of the Universe.
Though the Scripture itself
does not provide us with any consistent system of reckoning years, given its
historical and biographical accounts we can conclude that the time from the
creation of the Universe until our days is measured at less than 7000 years
(Judaic tradition tells we are living in the year 5760 from Creation). On the
other hand, scientific research reveals that the universe has existed for about
15 billion years, Planet Earth has existed for about 4.5 billion years, life on
the Earth has existed for about 4 billion years, and humankind (Homo Sapiens)
for 200,000 to 400,000 years. This provided, the whole Judaic framework of reckoning
years "since the creation of the world" is wrong.
- Order of the creation.
1st chapter of Genesis gives us the following order of the creation:
Day 1: The
Heaven and the Earth were created, and the light was separated from the
Day 2: The
firmament was created, whose task was "to separate between the waters" below and above the firmament.
Day 3: The
waters below the firmament were gathered "into one place," forming
the seas. The flora was created.
Day 4: The
sun, the moon, and the stars were created.
Day 5: The
sea fauna and the birds were created.
Day 6: The
animals, the beasts, the vermin "which live upon the land," and man
However, the universe did not
begin with "the Heaven and the Earth" the stars (including the sun)
appeared first, and only then did the planets (including Earth) come into
existence. Flora appeared on the earth long after the sun was formed, and birds
appeared upon the earth after vermin and not before. This mix-up in the order
of appearance of different things in the universe makes the Creation account
altogether fictitious. (The order of Creation specified in Genesis 2 is even
more discrepant with the real natural history of the universe.)
- The firmament.
The whole second day of
Creation, according to Genesis 1, was dedicated to the creation of the
firmament (rakia in Hebrew), the task of which was "to divide the
waters from the waters" (Genesis
1:6). Genesis 1:8 says that "God called the firmament sky [shamayim]."
Yet above the earth there is no "firmament" of any shape or
composition which separates waters that are under it from waters above it and
the word "sky" does not denote any specific physical object, but is
merely a word standing for the (sometimes) seemingly-blue cupola above our
heads which actually is a mantle of gases with a density gradually decreasing as
its distance from Earth increases. The whole description of the
"firmament" is thus inconsistent with factual reality.
- The sun and the moon.
Genesis 1:16-19 says: "And
God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser
light to rule the night, and the stars. And God set them in the firmament of
the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and the
night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
And there was evening, and there was morning the fourth day." Of course,
the "great lights" the sun and the moon are not "set in the
firmament" but are constantly rotating in the vacuum of open space (the
sun around its axis, the moon both around its axis and around Earth), their
place at each and every moment determined by the Universal Law of Gravitation.
But the most interesting thing is that though the lights "to divide the
light from the darkness" appeared only on the fourth day, the light and
the darkness themselves had already appeared on the first day of the Creation!
As on the first day there were neither sun nor stars, the "light"
simply had nothing to come from. One might speculate that the "light"
of which we are told in the account of the first day of the Creation is
something like cosmic background radiation (the "initial radiation"
of the Big Bang), but the Torah says that on the first day of the Creation
"God called the light day, and the darkness He called night" (Genesis 1:5). "Day"
and "night" are terms that denote the periods a place is or is not
lighted directly by the sun's rays. No "day" and "night"
could be possible without the sun, and it seems that besides his very faulty
knowledge of natural sciences, the author of Genesis 1 simply could not make up
his mind and produce a consistent account of the Creation in his own terms.
In Genesis 1:20 G-d ordered the
waters to "teem with living creatures," and in Genesis 1:24 we are
told: "And God said: 'Let the land produce living creatures according to
their kinds: livestock, creatures that creep on the ground, and wild animals,
each according to its kind.' And it was so." Living creatures are
described here as emerging instantly from non-living matter, each species
obtaining its permanent form from the moment of its emergence. This is totally
inconsistent with modern biological science, which tells us that the evolution
of life from non-living matter was a process which took millions of years, that
new forms of life evolved gradually from older ones, and that each living
species has undergone, since its appearance, an endless series of
transformations which sometimes resulted in the appearance of new species.
- Herbivores and carnivores.
In Genesis 1:30 G-d creates all
the living creatures as herbivores: "And to every beast of the earth, and
to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps upon the earth, in
which there the living soul, I have given every green herb in food; and it was
so." We know that carnivores existed upon the Earth millions of years
before 3760 BCE, yet the Torah refrains from telling us when some of the
herbivores become carnivores. All we are told is that after the Flood people
were allowed to eat meat (Genesis
9:3); there is not a single word on when the animals started to use each
other for food.
- The four rivers.
In Genesis 2:10-14 we are told
that a river emerged from the garden of Eden and then parted into four heads:
name of the first is Pishon; it is that which compasses the whole land of
Havilah, where there is gold... And the name of the second river is Gihon; it is
that which compasses the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is
Hiddekel; it is that which goes towards the east of Assyria. And the fourth
river is Euphrates."
There is no river in the world
that parts into the four rivers mentioned. Although we are not acquainted with
any river called Pishon, we know that Gihon is only a small spring in
Jerusalem. The Hiddekel (which is the Hebrew name of the Tigris river) and the
Euphrates are not two "heads" splitting off of one major river; the
opposite is true: at Al-Qurnah (Iraq) these two rivers join to form the Shatt
al-Arab. Some Rabbinic commentators on the Scripture (Rashi and R' Saadiah
Gaon, for example) interpreted the name Pishon as referring to the Nile, but
then the Torah's error is obvious: there is not, and never has been, any
connection between the Nile and the Tigris or the Euphrates. In any case, the
author of these verses, whoever he may be, demonstrated a very poor knowledge
- The dawn of civilization.
The Torah tells us about the
first human innovations in handicraft, farming, and fine arts:
Adah bare Jabal: he was the first one of those who dwell in tents and shepherd
cattle. And his brother's name was Jubal; he was the first one of all those who
handle harp and panpipe [ugav in Hebrew; translated according to Targum
Onkelos]. And Zillah, she also bare Tubal Cain, an instructor of every
artificer in copper and iron."
According to the Torah
cattle-breeding, musical instruments, and metallurgy "in copper and
iron" were introduced during the lifetime of a single generation by the
sons of Lemech, Cain's descendant. Yet archeological research reveals that
agriculture was well underway by 7000 BCE (and animal domestication started
thousands of years earlier), the earliest harps were made about 3000 BCE, and
pipes were produced sometime during the Neolithic period (11,000-4000 BCE in
the Middle East). Though copper tools appeared in 4000-3000 BCE, iron tools did
not before 2000 BCE. So the events described by the Torah as nearly
simultaneous are millennia apart from each other. It seems that the author (or
authors) of the Torah had a very weak knowledge of human history.
- Long-lived men.
According to the Torah (Genesis 5) the first
generations of people (or at least some people in those generations) had
outstandingly long lives from 777 years (Lamech) to 969 (Metuselah). Of
course biological science totally denies the possibility of the human body
functioning that long.
- The Flood water.
Genesis 7:19-20 tells us that
during the Great Flood, "the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth;
and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered. Fifteen
cubits upward the waters prevailed, and the mountains were covered." The
water level was higher than all the mountains. The highest mountain, Mt.
Everest, is 29,028 feet high. Since the Earth's surface is about 201,000,000 square
miles, the total amount of water that would have rained down during the Flood
is about 10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten million billion) cubic feet much more
than exists in all the Earth's atmosphere. Therefore the Flood, as described in
the Torah, could never have taken place.
- The Flood vs. geology, history, and archeology.
The Flood is reported by the
Torah to have taken place in the 600th year of Noah's life, which
can be easily calculated as the year 1656 from Creation that is, about 2100
BCE. We have an almost uninterrupted
account of ancient Egyptian history from about 3000 BCE until the Greek
conquest in the 3rd century BCE, and there is no record of any flood
more significant than local overflows of the Nile. Archeological research also
reveals no traces of a major catastrophe circa 2100 BCE in which almost all the
humans and animals upon the Earth died. And geologists, having explored the
ground patterns for what corresponds to the appropriate period, found no traces
of water spreading all over Earth. This leads to the conclusion that the
account of the Great Flood in the Torah does not describe any real event.
- Noah's Ark
In Genesis 6:15-16 G-d commands Noah to build the Ark in the following
"The length of the
ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the
height of it thirty cubits. Make a window to the ark, and in a cubit finish it
above; and the opening of the ark set on its side; with lower, second, and
third stories make it."
The Ark had to be a rectangular
box in its lower part, and a truncated pyramid in its upper part (with the
lower base 300x50 cubits and the upper base 1x1 cubits). The length of the Ark
had to be 10 times larger and its width more than 1.5 times larger than its
height. Though the exact height of each part is not provided, it is clear that
such a construction, were it really put on the water, would be subjected to
extremely intense pitching and rolling, as well as steep swinging, rotating,
and jolts, making it practically impossible for people and animals to stay
aboard for any prolonged period of time. Moreover, given that the Ark was a
very long but relatively low structure, it follows that to sustain its
floatability when loaded the Ark had to sit very low in water, its upper deck
being almost at the water level. Waves would roll over the Ark's upper deck,
and a stronger waves would easily send the Ark to the bottom. The Torah's
account of Noah's Ark does not describe a sea-worthy vessel.
- Noah's Ark dimensions.
There are two different
Rabbinic opinions on how big the Scriptural cubit (amah) is: 1.6 feet or
almost 2 feet. By the most generous approach, the Ark's dimensions were
600x100x60 feet. On the planet Earth there are more than 2,000,000 species of
living creatures, including hippos, elephants, rhinos and other animals of
not-inconsiderable size. It is obvious that the Ark had no place for two
individuals of each and every living species, not to mention seven of some, as
described in Genesis 7:2-3.
- Noah's Ark how did the animals arrive?
It would be also simply
impossible for animals of all species to get to Noah's Ark. The animals who are
native to specific areas of the Earth could not withstand the climatic changes.
If the Ark were located in a hot area, polar bears and penguins could not
withstand the heat, and if it were placed in a cold part of Earth, then zebras
and rhinos could not survive the chill (let's not even touch the question of
what climate was maintained in the Ark so both polar bears and zebras could
survive). Some animals eat only one particular kind of food, available only in
their natural habitat. Pandas from the Chinese bamboo forests eat only bamboo,
and koalas from coastal eastern Australia eat only eucalyptus. They would face
starvation long before they would manage to reach the Ark. And most amazing:
some animals from distant continents sloths from the South America, for
example would have to have started their journey to the Ark long before the
world was created in order to cover the thousands of miles. All the above means
the whole account of the Great Flood one of the basic stories in the Torah
does not fit reality.
- The diversification of languages.
According to the 11th
chapter of Genesis, all humankind spoke a single language until the incident of
the Tower of Babel. This incident is reported to have happened not long after
the Flood, that is, about 2000 BCE. Yet we
definitely know that centuries before that time the Egyptians spoke Egyptian
(historians even mention a shift from Old Egyptian to Middle Egyptian circa
2200 BCE), the Semites of Mesopotamia spoke Akkadian, and the Sumerians spoke
Sumerian (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, Egyptian language, Akkadian
language, and Sumerian language). All these languages were totally different, each with its own writing
system, and we have documents written in all of them which originate from long
before the traditional date of the Flood. Moreover, we know that by 2100 BCE people inhabited most of the planet
Earth, and any language-confounding incident in Mesopotamia would not influence
the development of languages in such distant corners of the world as America,
China, Australia, or Scandinavia. The Torah, however, tells us that it was only
at the time of the Tower of Babel that all the people with their different
languages were "scattered...abroad from thence upon the face of all
the earth." This, too, is highly problematic: we know that human beings
had already spread as far as Australia about 40,000 years ago (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Australia,
history of, Prehistory). Thus, one more of the main accounts of the
Torah appears to be fictitious.
- The Chaldeans.
In Genesis 11:31 we are told
that Abraham, with his wife, father, and the rest of his relatives, "went
out from Ur of the Chaldeans [Ur Kasdim]." According to our
tradition, Abraham was born in 1812 BCE and died in 1637 BCE however, the
Chaldean tribes reached the southern Mesopotamian city of Ur only about 1000
BCE, and the first historic reference to them appears only in 9th
century BCE Assyrian documents (Encyclopedia
Hebraica, Kasdim, v. 20, p. 1076). Therefore Abraham could not
leave "Ur of the Chaldeans" and the account of Genesis 11:31 seems to
be an anachronism perpetrated by a writer who mistakenly applied the
geopolitical situation of his time to a time hundreds of years earlier.
- Sodom and Gomorrah.
Genesis 19:24-26 relates that
G-d "rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire... from the sky.
And He overthrew these cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of
the cities, and that which grew upon the ground." According to the Torah
all this happened when Abraham was about 100 years old, that is, some years
before 1713 BCE. Yet geological and archeological research in the areas close
to the Dead Sea (where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were situated) reveals
there were no such major cataclysms in that area in the 18th century
BCE. And though there are some data indicating that major earthquakes which
could produce the phenomena described in Genesis 19 occurred in the Dead Sea
area (D. Neev, K.O. Emery,
"The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorra and Jericho," 1995, pp. 140-143),
they describe "two severe destructive earthquakes within a period not
longer than 50 years... about 4350 BP [i.e. about 2350 BCE]" instead of a
single outburst of Divine wrath about 1700 BCE. This provided, one more tale
presented by the Torah as history turns into a fiction with only the sparsest
- The Philistines.
According to Genesis 21:34,
"Abraham sojourned in the land of Philistines many days," and Genesis
26:1 tells that "Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines into
Gerar." Gerar is in the Land of
Israel; in the subsequent verses of Genesis 26 G-d even warns Isaac not to leave
the Land of Israel. And yet the Philistines appeared in the Land of Israel (on
the south of its Mediterranean coast) only in the 12th century BCE.
By that time, according to the Scripture and to the Judaic tradition, both
Isaac and Abraham had already been dead for centuries. Therefore neither of
them could visit "the land of the Philistines" nor meet its king. The
author of the Torah evidently had a very poor knowledge of history.
- Joseph in Egypt.
In Genesis 41 and 47 we are told of the reforms Joseph introduced in
- Gathering of all
the surplus food from the seven plenteous years into Pharaoh's storehouses.
- Selling the food to
all countries during the famine.
- Centralization of
all the money and all the cattle in the hands of Pharaoh.
- Purchasing all the
land in Pharaoh's name and taxing each year's harvest: 20% of the grain would
go to the royal barns. The only exemptions to this law were Egyptian priests
and their lands and crops.
- Enslaving all the Egyptian population and moving
them all across the country; the priests seem to be exempted from this policy,
Yet there is no mention of such reforms in any Egyptian source. The
history of Egypt in the mid-second millennium BCE (when Joseph's adventure must
have taken place, according to the Scripture and to the Judaic tradition) is
well documented. Dozens of literary sources and monuments from that time are
available, and we can reconstruct the historical and social picture of ancient
Egypt at a highly precise level. Such major reforms as those reported in the
book of Genesis would surely leave many traces in contemporary written sources
and the fact that not a single document speaks of the events described in the
Torah, or even of something close to those reforms, leads to the conclusion
that these reforms never really took place.
- "The famine... in all the lands."
Moreover, Genesis 41:57 says:
"All countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn, for the famine was
sore in all lands." Were things really so, this would surely leave traces
in the historical documents of the countries which bought corn from Egypt
"all countries," according to the Torah and yet there is nothing.
Babylon, at that time a highly developed civilization where literature
flourished, left many historical sources, but none of them mentions a massive
pilgrimage of Babylonians to Egypt to buy food and the Babylonian population's
total dependence on Egyptian food supplies. Texts from the great Hittite empire
of Asia Minor reveal nothing of this kind about the Hittite people. One can
only conclude that the devastating famine "in all lands," which
forced them all to buy corn from Egypt, never happened.
- The Exodus.
Exodus 5-12 gives a very
impressive picture of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt: the Ten Plagues,
starting with the Nile waters turning into blood and ending with the Plague of
the Firstborns in which "all the firstborns in the land of Egypt had died,
from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the firstborn of a
maidservant that is behind the mill, and all the firstborns of beasts" (Exodus 11:5). This is
followed by 600,000 male adult Israelites leaving Egypt. As they were on their
way out, at the coast of the Sea of Reeds, Pharaoh's army reached them. Then
G-d divided the waters of the sea to let the Israelites pass "into the
midst of the sea upon the dry ground" (Exodus 14:22) and when Egyptians, pursuing them,
entered the dry ground in the midst of the sea, the waters closed over them,
"the sea returned to its strength... and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in
the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and
the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them;
there remained not so much as one of them" (Exodus 14:27-28). Thus the Israelites escaped Egypt,
the Egyptians were crushed, and the story has a happy end.
Unfortunately, nothing like
this story is found in Egyptian history. Egyptian history of the 2nd
millennium BCE is very well documented, yet no papyrus, no stone pillar, and no
inscription mentions the Israelites' enslavement in Egypt nor their escape. No
mention is found of any of the Ten Plagues, of a total defeat of the Egyptian
army in the waters of the sea, or of millions of people leaving the country at
one time. Much less significant events (such as an escape of a couple of slaves
from Egypt) were carefully put down in the chronicles by royal scribes but
not a single word mentions the great upheavals of the alleged Exodus.
Historical documents of other peoples and kingdoms of that time (who would
surely have paid attention to great cataclysms that devastated the powerful
Egyptian empire) also remain completely silent concerning the Israelite enslavement
or the Exodus, the plagues, the massacre of the Egyptian army, or the
simultaneous escape of millions of people from Egypt. About the alleged date of
the Exodus: Egypt engaged in a decades-long war with the Hittite empire, a war
that led to the great Battle of Kadesh, in which some 20,000 Egyptian warriors participated
on Egyptian side. That battle did not resolve the war, and after 16 more years
of indecisive fighting a peace treaty and a mutual defense pact were signed
between Egypt and the Hittite empire (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hittite and Ramses II,
Military exploits). Were the Egyptian army indeed to drown in the Red
Sea waters and were the Egyptian economy totally destroyed by the Ten Plagues,
Egypt would not have been able to withstand such a war, especially as,
according to the Torah, the Egyptian army was not able to recover for at least
40 years (see Deuteronomy 11:4
and Nachmanides's commentary there) the same years that the army waged
campaign after campaign against the Hittites and supplied 20,000 warriors for
the battle of Kadesh.
The only possible conclusion
from this is to confess that the Exodus, as it is spoken of in the Torah, never
did take place. This means that one of the central events in the Torah is
nothing more than a fantasy.
- 600,000 males.
said above, the Torah speaks of 600,000 male adult Israelites leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:37). Estimating a
wife and two children for each of them, we arrive at about 2.5 million
Israelites taking part in the Exodus. But towards the end of the 2nd
millennium BCE the whole population of the Egyptian empire was only two to
three million people. The Exodus, as it is described in the Torah, would leave
Egypt virtually devastated which, however, did not happen. The account of
600,000 adult males fleeing Egypt is altogether fictitious.
- On the march to
the Promised Land.
Numbers 14:26-33 we are told that 600,000 male Israelites were sentenced by G-d
to die in the wilderness. Their deaths, according to the Torah, took place over
the course of 40 years, and then the second generation of Israelites went on
their march to the Promised Land: "And the children of Israel set forward,
and pitched in the plains of Moab on the other side of Jordan by Jericho"
(Numbers 22:1). The
number of the Israelites ready to enter the land of Canaan is reported to have
been 601,730 male non-Levites over the age of 20 (Numbers 26:51) plus 23,000 male Levites of one month
and older (Numbers 26:62)
taking into consideration women and the children of non-Levites, we again
have about 2.5 million Israelites ready to enter the Promised Land. The first
book of the Prophets, Joshua, tells us they did enter the Land.
that seems extremely peculiar. Assuming a very modest amount of 0.5 liter of
water and a 0.5 kg of bread a day per capita, they would need 1,250,000 liters
of water and 1,250,000 kg of bread a day. Obviously they had no source for such
a vast quantity of provisions. The manna, according to the Scripture itself,
stopped falling from the sky as soon as they entered the Land of Israel (Joshua 5:12). The remark that
the Israelites "ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year" (ibid.) makes no sense
whatsoever, for in order to eat of the fruit of a land, one has to conquer it
first, and this, according to the books of Joshua and Judges, took the Israelites
many years. Meanwhile, 2.5 million Israelites would have nothing to eat. This
means that the Scriptural story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan also does
not reflect historical reality.
- Israelite conquest not substantiated by archeological
In fact, modern archeological
research leads to very skeptical conclusions about the Israelite population in
Canaan at the supposed time of the conquest. The reknowned
Israeli archeologist I. Finkelstein speaks of 21,000 sedentary Israelites
living in Canaan in the 12th century BCE, while towards the end of
the 11th century BCE their number increased to 51,000 (I. Finkelstein, "The
Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement," p. 334).
Other facets of the alleged
Israelite conquest of Canaan are also incompatible with the results of
archeological research. As Prof Ze'ev Herzog of Tel-Aviv University wrote,
most serious difficulties were discovered in the attempts to locate
archeological evidence for the Scriptural stories about the conquest of the
land by the Israelites. Repeated excavations conducted by different teams in
Jericho and the Ai the two cities whose conquests were told in the greatest
detail in the book of Joshuagreatly disappointed. Despite attempts by
excavators, it became clear that at the end of the 13th century, the
end of the late Bronze period, in the age agreed upon as the time of the
conquest, there were no cities at either tel and certainly not walls
which could be brought down... As excavated sites multiplied... it became clear that
the settlements were destroyed or abandoned at differing times, the conclusion
that there is no factual basis for the Scriptural story about the conquest of
the Land of Israel by the Israelite tribes in a military campaign led by Joshua
Canaanite Cities: The Scripture magnifies the strength and the fortifications
of the Canaanite cities that were conquered by the Israelites: 'great cities
with walls sky-high' (Deuteronomy 9:1). In reality, all the sites uncovered
remains of unfortified settlements, which in most cases consisted of only a few
structures or the ruler's palace rather than a genuine city. The urban culture
of the Land of Israel in the Late Bronze Age disintegrated in a process that
lasted hundreds of years and did not stem from military conquest. Moreover, the
Scriptural account is inconsistent with geopolitical reality in the Land of
Israel. The Land of Israel was under Egyptian rule until the middle of the 12th
century BCE. The Egyptians' administrative centers were located in Gaza, Jaffa
and Beit She'an. Egyptian findings have also been discovered in many locations
on both sides of the Jordan River. This striking presence is not mentioned in
the Scriptural account... The archaeological findings blatantly contradict the Scriptural
picture: the Canaanite cities were not 'great,' were not fortified, and did not
have 'walls sky-high.'"
(Z. Herzog, "HaTanach Ein
Mimtzaim BaShetach," Haaretz, November 3rd, 1999)
As far as we can judge from the
factual evidence, the Israelite conquest of Canaan as described in the
Scripture never took place, nor did the Exodus from Egypt and thus the whole
Scriptural narrative of ExodusSinai Revelationwandering in the
desertconquest of Canaan appears to be sheer fantasy, the source of which is
to be sought in the field of national mythology rather than history.
- "The fewest of all the nations."
Ironically, in Deuteronomy 7:7
we find Moses saying to the Israelites: "The Lord did not set His love
upon you, nor chose you because of your being more in number than any nation,
for you are the fewest of all the nations." Again, the whole population of
the Egyptian empire at that time was 2-3 million people; were the Torah account
true, the Israelites would really be "more in number than [almost] any
nation" at that time. But unfortunately, the author of this verse did not
trouble himself to match his words with historical reality.
- The quails.
In Numbers 11:31-32 we find:
"And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the
sea, and let them fall by the camp, about a day's journey on this side, and
about a day's journey on that side, around the camp, and about two cubits high
above the ground. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and
all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered
ten homers." The homer is a biblical measure, of which the
minimal estimation in Rabbinic sources is 249 liters. So each Israelite
gathered at least 2490 liters of quail, and even if we assume that only the
adult males went out to gather food for their families, we get a total of
1,494,000,000 liters of quails brought "from the sea" for the
Israelites. The biggest quail of the Old World, the so-called "common
quail," is 18 centimeters in length, and even if we generously assume that
the Scriptural quails were 18x18x18 centimeters = 5.832 liters each, this will
result in over 256,000,000 quails waiting near the openings of the Israelite
tents to be gathered. No such number of quails ever existed and the quails
could not be "brought from the sea" for they are not sea birds; they
prefer open country and brushy borders. The account of quails "brought
from the sea" somewhat resembles the autumn migration of quails, but the
story of the quails in the book of Numbers seems to occur during the spring
Hebrew month of Iyar, as approved by the Judaic tradition. This means
that the author of the story of quails had a faulty knowledge of nature.
- The hare and the
in the Torah (Leviticus 11:5-6
and Deuteronomy 14:7) the hare and the hyrax [Hebrew: shafan and arnevet]
are described as chewing their cud. This is simply wrong neither the hare nor
the hyrax chew their cud, and this fact is well established in zoological
research. Such a faulty knowledge of nature by the author (or authors) of the
Torah leaves no possibility for believing in the Divine authorship of this
The Torah tells that after
Moses' death G-d will raise for the Jews prophets "from among their own
18:18). A way to find out which prophet is true and which is not is also
should you ask yourselves, 'How can we know that the thing was not spoken by
the Lord?' If the prophet foretells something in the name of the Lord, and this
thing does not come true, that prediction is one not spoken by the Lord."
Unfortunately, many people
considered by Judaism true prophets predicted things which did not come true,
and even the Torah itself made predictions which were proven false:
- In Leviticus 25:2-7 the commandment of the
sabbatical year (shemitah) is given. Then, the Torah says:
should you say, 'What shall we eat in the seventh year? For we shall not sow,
nor gather our harvest,' I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year,
and it will bring forth harvest for three years. And you will sow the eighth
year, yet you will eat of the old harvest until the ninth year."
However, we do not have a
single historical document confirming that such a miracle the land giving a
treble harvest on the eve of the sabbatical year ever occurred. On the
contrary, the book of I Hasmoneans (6:48-54) relates that the inhabitants of Beit Tzur and Jerusalem
had nothing to eat because of the sabbatical year, and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 26a) says that
Rabbi Yannai permitted the inhabitants of Judea to sow their fields in a
sabbatical year so that they would be able to pay taxes to Rome. Were the land
actually giving a treble harvest before each sabbatical year, such situations
would not occur. Even in modern Israel there are religious farmers who observe
the sabbatical year with all the strictness of the Halacha, and they do not
gather a treble harvest in the sixth year; moreover, observing the sabbatical
year brings them significant economical damage, for which they regularly ask
the Israeli government for compensation.
- The Torah says in Deuteronomy 11:24-25:
place where your feet tread will be yours, from the wilderness and Lebanon,
from the river the river of Euphrates even unto the uttermost sea your
border will be. Nobody will stand before you; the Lord your G-d will impose the
fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land where you tread, as He had
spoke to you."
No Jewish tribe or state ever
possessed any land on the bank of Euphrates, and the Israelites far from
controlled every place their feet tread: despite their endless wars with the
Canaanite and Philistine populations, many parts of the Land of Israel remained
under gentile rule long after the Israelites appeared in Canaan. A lengthy list
of such places is brought in Judges 1:27-36, and it seems that the cities of
the Philistines did not lose their nominal independence until the Babylonian
conquest in the 6th century BCE. The Scripture and Judaic tradition
themselves admit that the prophecy "nobody will stand before you" did
not come true: "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings [of
Canaan]" (Joshua 11:18),
"for seven years they had been conquering [Canaan]" (Seder Olam Rabbah, chapter 11).
- The Torah predicts what will happen to the Jews after the
exile from their land:
you will return to the Lord your G-d, and will obey His voice according to all
that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and
with all your soul. Then the Lord your G-d will return you from your exile, and
He will have pity on you, and He will return you and gather you from all the
nations, among which the Lord your G-d had scattered you. Even if any of you is
driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your G-d will
gather you, and from there He will fetch you. And the Lord your G-d will bring
you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you will possess it."
The Judaic tradition, based on
Nachmanides, sees these verses as referring to the Jewish exile and return to
Zion after the Second Temple destruction. Though it is disputable whether the
mass return of Jews to the Land of Israel and the emergence of the State of
Israel during the recent century may be what these verses really intended
(after all, the Jewish Diaspora persists and many Jews even emigrate from
Israel), many Orthodox Jews see the recent events of the Jewish history as the
fulfillment of this prediction. However the 20th century return to
Zion was not preceded by a mass repentance, "returning to the Lord"
and "obeying His voice;" to the contrary, modern Zionism has been,
ever since its beginning, a mostly secular movement. Many of those Jews who
actually returned "to the land their fathers possessed" altogether
abandoned the observance of commandments instead of "returning to the
Lord" with all their hearts and all their souls. If we consider this
prophecy as meaning recent Jewish history, then the prophecy most surely
- Isaiah foretold the fall of Babylon:
"The prophecy of Babylon, which
Isaiah the son of Amoz saw... The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like
as of a great people; a tumultuous voice of the kingdoms of nations gathered
together; the Lord of Hosts musters the host of the battle. They come from a
far country, from the end of heaven; the Lord [brings] the weapons of His
indignation to destroy the whole land... For the stars of the sky and its
constellations thereof will not give their light: the sun will be darkened in
its going forth, and the moon's light will not shine. Therefore I will shake
the heavens, and the earth will move out of its place, in the wrath of the Lord
of Hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger... Behold, I will stir up Media
against them... And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans'
excellency, will be as when G-d overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be
inhabited, nor will it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither will
an Arabian pitch tent there, nor will the shepherds make their fold there... And
the wild beasts of the islands will cry in their desolate palaces, and hyenas
in their pleasant halls; her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged."
The last king in whose time
Isaiah prophesized was King Hezekiah of Judah, who died, according to the book
of II Kings, about 100 years before the destruction of the First Temple.
Babylon was actually defeated by Cyrus, king of Persia, 48 years after the
destruction of the First Temple. It is rather difficult to correlate the 150
years between the prophecy and its fulfillment and the verse "her time is
near to come, and her days will not be prolonged."
But the other details of the prophecy
fare even worse: Babylon was conquered neither by "kingdoms of nations
gathered together" nor by Media, but by Persia (though Judaic sources
refer to Persia and Media as one kingdom see e.g. Esther 1:19 these were
two different nations and empires). The Persians did not come "from the
end of heaven," but from the southern part of the modern Iran, quite close
to Babylon itself. Nothing particular happened to the light of the sun and the
stars during the Persian conquest of Babylon nor did the Persians turn Babylon
into something like "Sodom and Gomorra" in fact, Herodotus
described Babylon under the Persian rule as the most beautiful city of the
world. In 331 BCE, Babylon fell to Alexander the Great, who planned to turn the
city into the capital of his empire, and died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.
After Alexander's death in 323 BCE his empire broke up, and the next rulers of
Babylon the Seleucids neglected the city, turning Seleucia in Mesopotamia
and Antioch in Syria into their capitals. In Seleucid times Babylon started
losing its greatness and people began leaving the city, but it seems there was
always some settlement at the location of Babylon's ruins. When the German
archeologist Robert Koldewey began to study the ruins of Babylon in the 19th
century, he reported four Arab villages situated on the site: Kweiresh,
Djumdjumma, Sinjar, and Ananeh (see
R. Koldewey, "The Excavations at Babylon," pp. 11-12). This
quite clearly contradicts Isaiah's forecast, "Neither will an Arabian pitch
tent there, nor will the shepherds make their fold there."
In the early 1980s, the Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein started rebuilding Babylon as a part of his
megalomaniac belief that he is the present-day version of King Nebuchadnezzar.
"As of February 1990, over sixty million bricks had been laid in the
reconstruction of Nebuchadnezzar's fabled city... On the exact site of ancient
Babylon, he [Saddam] has reconstructed the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar,
including the Procession Street [the main street of the ancient Babylon], a
Greek theater, many temples, what was once Nebuchadnezzar's throne room, and a
half-scale model of the Ishtar Gate" (Charles Dyer, "The Rise of Babylon," pp. 26-27).
In 1987 and 1988 international festivals were held in Babylon. The last thing
these events resemble is Isaiah's prophecy "And the wild beasts of the
islands will cry in their desolate palaces, and hyenas in their pleasant
halls." Isaiah's prophecy clearly failed.
- Another prophet who foretold the fall of Babylon was Jeremiah.
The prophecy in Jeremiah 51 is very like the one in Isaiah 13, and it failed in
the same way as Isaiah's prophecy did. However, Jeremiah's prophecy contains
some details not brought by Isaiah:
your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Chaldea for all the wrong
they have done in Zion,' declares the Lord. 'I am against you, O destroying
mountain, you who destroy the whole earth,' declares the Lord. 'I will stretch
out My hand against you, roll you off the cliffs, and make you a burned-out
mountain. No rock will be taken from you for a cornerstone, nor any stone for a
foundation, for you will be desolate forever,' declares the Lord."
Jeremiah called Babylon a
"destroying mountain" but the site of ancient Babylon lies on a bare
plain; the nearest mountains are about 100 miles away. As for "no rock
will be taken from you for a cornerstone, nor any stone for a foundation,"
Koldewey found entire sections of the city being mined for bricks, which were then
used for building new houses (R.
Koldewey, "The Excavations at Babylon," p. 168). Jeremiah's
prophecy about Babylon also failed.
- In Jeremiah 25:1-13 it is written:
word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of
Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon: ... For twenty-three years from the thirteenth
year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day the word of the
Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not
listened... Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: 'Because you have not listened
to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,' declares the Lord, 'and I will bring them
against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.
I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and
an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness,
the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of
the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these
nations will serve the king of Babylon... seventy years. But when the seventy
years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land
of the Babylonians, for their guilt,' declares the Lord, 'and will make it
desolate forever. I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken
against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against
all the nations.'"
And though Nebuchadnezzar II
indeed conquered the kingdom of Judah and even destroyed the First Temple, it
should be noted that even after the Babylonian conquest neither the land of
Judah nor "all the surrounding nations" were turned into an
"everlasting ruin" and "desolate
wasteland." Archeological research shows that even after the
Temple's destruction by Nebuchadnezar "Judah was not empty after all. Most
of the population remained behind, living in the same places they had lived
before, except now under Babylonian rule. Just a few miles down the road from
Jerusalem, there is virtually no sign of any destruction at all. In fact,
archaeologists digging in these areas have discovered that many of those cities
actually expanded and flourished under the Babylonians. The people living in
them weren't all poor peasants either. Burial caves in use during the
Babylonian period have been found to contain gold and silver jewelry, fancy and
costly vases and pottery, and other luxury items that reflected the owners'
considerable status and wealth" (Amy Dockser-Marcus, "The View from Nebo," p. 155). In
Jerusalem itself, several tombs belonging to the period after the Babylonian
conquest were found. According to the Israeli archeologist Gabriel Barkai,
artifacts found in these tombs "showed incredible wealth. There were bone
and ivory objects, and small cream-colored glass vases, expensive luxury items
that were crafted by hand before the invention of glass-blowing techniques had
made glass more widely available. There were more than 250 kinds of pots, gold
and silver jewelry... Some of the jewelry contained precious rare stones" ("The View from Nebo," p.
176). Oil lamps also were found "the light of the lamp" was
definitely not banished from Jerusalem under Babylonian rule, and the city did
not become "desolate wasteland" either. And of course, when the time
of Babylonian rule over the Land of Israel ended, G-d did not bring upon Babylon all the
things written in the book of Jeremiah, as was already shown in sections (d)
and (e) above.
- Jeremiah also foretold:
I live, says the Lord, even were Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah a
signet ring on my right hand, I would pluck you from there... Thus says the Lord:
Write this man childless, a man that will not prosper in his days, for no man
of his seed will manage to sit on the throne of David and to rule any more over
Coniah is a variant on the name
Jehoiachin (the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah), who was deported with the
notables of Judea to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar 11 years before the destruction
of the First Temple (II Kings
24:15-18). But in I Chronicles 3:17-18 we find: "And the sons of
Jeconiah [yet another version of 'Jehoiachin'] were Assir, Shealthiel his son,
and Malchiram and Pedaiah and Shenazar, Jecamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah."
So this prophecy of Jeremiah was not fulfilled either.
- Prophet Ezekiel predicted the future of Egypt:
thus says the Sovereign Lord: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and
exterminate your men and their animals. And the land of Egypt will be desolate
and waste... And I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from
Migdol to Aswan, and even to the borders of Cush. Neither foot of man nor foot
of animal will pass through it, and it will be uninhabited for forty years. I
will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities
will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the
Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries."
Yet, from the days of Ezekiel
until now the land of Egypt has never been desolate, wasted or uninhabited even
for a single day, let alone 40 years. People and animals never ceased living in
Egypt during this whole period, and of course, the ancient Egyptian nation was
not "dispersed among the nations" or "scattered through the
countries," but remained in its land and slowly assimilated the Greek
conquerors and colonizers. Ezekiel's prophecy clearly failed.
- Another prophecy of Ezekiel:
thus says the Sovereign Lord: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will
bring many nations against you, as the sea brings its waves up. And they will
destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers; I will also scrape away
her rubble and make her like a bare rock. She will become a place for the
spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken it, says the
Sovereign Lord, and she will be loot to the nations. And her outward
settlements will be ravaged by sword; then they will know that I am the Lord.
For thus says the Sovereign Lord: Behold, I will bring upon Tyre Nebuchadrezzar
king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with
chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He will ravage
with the sword your outward settlements, and he will set up siege works against
you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you. He will
direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your
towers with his weapons. The multitude of his horses will cover you with dust;
your walls will tremble at the noise of the war horses, wagons and chariots
when he enters your gates as men enter a city whose walls have been broken
through. The hoofs of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill
your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground.
They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down
your walls and demolish your fine houses, and throw your stones, timber and
rubble into the sea... I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place
to spread fishnets. You be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken, declares
the Sovereign Lord."
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon
(Ezekiel's Nebuchadrezzar is a variation of his name) indeed laid siege to Tyre
in 585-573 BCE, but this siege brought him no gain, and Tyre remained
unconquered until Alexander the Great managed to take it in 332 BCE. It was
Alexander, not Nebuchadnezzar, who broke the walls of Tyre and ravaged its
outlying settlements. But even Alexander did not destroy Tyre completely, nor
turn it into "a bare rock... built no more." The city exists to this
very day, occupying most of the area upon which the ancient Phoenician city
stood. Tyre's population even grew from 16,000 inhabitants in 1961 to 70,000 in
1991. And the first time a coalition of "many nations" made war on
Tyre was during the Crusades in 1124 CE long after Nebuchadnezzar's death.
Ezekiel himself admitted that his prophecy about Tyre failed:
king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; every head was
rubbed bare and every shoulder made raw. Yet he and his army got no reward from
the campaign he led against Tyre."
- As a compensation for his loss in the campaign against Tyre,
Ezekiel promised to Nebuchadnezzar in the name of G-d, of course Egypt:
thus says the Sovereign Lord: I am going to give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king
of Babylon, and he will carry off its wealth. He will loot and plunder the land
as pay for his army. I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because
he and his army did it for Me, declares the Sovereign Lord: On that day I will
make a glory for the house of Israel, and I will open your mouth among them.
Then they will know that I am the Lord."
However, Nebuchadnezzar had
never managed to conquer Egypt and plunder it "as pay for his army."
This prophecy failed, too.
The problem of unfulfilled
prophecies troubled the later rabbis, and they introduced several limitations
on the inevitability of a prophecy coming true.
- The best known of these limitations is by
Maimonides, in his Foreword to the Mishnah Commentary: only a prediction which
a prophet said about other people (not a promise G-d gives to a prophet
concerning the prophet himself) and which foretells good for those to whom it
was said must be fulfilled. However, these limitations seem to contradict the
Torah's description of a prophet, which says, "If the prophet foretells
something in the name of the Lord, and this thing does not come true, that
prediction is one not spoken by the Lord," without distinguishing between
predictions of good and ill. And more than that: prophecies (a), (b) and (j)
above are obviously predictions of good for those to whom they were said (i.e.
for the Jews), yet these prophecies also proved false. So even Maimonides'
limitations cannot save the Scripture from unfulfilled prophecies.
- Ridbaz, in his responsa (part 3, paragraph 638), wrote that "a prediction
made for a multitude, even conditionally, must always come true, while a
prediction made for an individual should come true unless one of two things
happen: either a sin causes the prediction to be abandoned or the subject of
the prediction brings himself into a dangerous situation." This limitation
on the inevitability of prophecies' fulfillment contradicts, of course, that of
Maimonides (the latter makes no distinction between predictions made for
multitudes and for individuals), but Ridbaz's limitation is still insufficient
to explain the failure of prophecies (a), (b) and (j) above.
- In the Gemara (Yevamot
50a) we find the following discourse:
will cause the number of your days to be full' (Exodus 23:26) these are the
years of generations [the years of life allotted to a person when he is born
Rashi]. If one attains merit, he lives all these years, but if he does not, his
life is shortened thus says Rabbi Akiba. But the Sages say: if one attains
merit, his life is lengthened, but if he does not, his life is shortened. They
said to Rabbi Akiba: it is written, 'I will add fifteen years to your [King
Hezekiah's] life' (II Kings 20:6). [R' Akiba answered:] The years added to his
life were allotted him since the very beginning; see for yourself, the prophet
had already stood and foretold, 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house
of David' (I Kings 13:2) and Manasseh was not born yet."
According to Rabbi Akiba's
opinion, the 15 years which were "added" to King Hezekiah's life were
in fact allotted him from his birth, for it was in those 15 years that
Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was born, and since Manasseh was the grandfather of
King Josiah, Manasseh had to be born so that the prophecy of the "man of
G-d" concerning Josiah's birth and deeds in I Kings 13 would come true.
From this R' Akiba concluded that Hezekiah was initially destined to live 15
years longer and to sire Manasseh so the prophecy might be fulfilled; when
Hezekiah sinned these 15 years were subtracted from his life span as a
punishment, but when he repented and prayed for G-d to forgive him, these 15
years were re-allotted to him.
An obvious question arises in
this context, which is indeed asked by the Tosfot on Yevamot 50a (s.v. Teda): "But
if Hezekiah had not prayed for himself, he would die [and could not sire
Manasseh], so the prophecy in that case would fail." The Tosfot's answer
is really astonishing: "Inevitably, we have to admit: a prophet foretold
only what was designed to happen, were he [Hezekiah] not sinning." That
is, though the prophecy of the "man of G-d" was said to have been
made long before King Hezekiah was born and did not deal with Hezekiah himself
but only with his great-grandson Josiah, the deeds of King Hezekiah could lead
to this prophecy remaining unfulfilled. Thus, in the Tosfot's opinion, a factor
external to a prophecy may make the prophecy fail and this, of course, makes
the Torah's words about checking whether a prophet is true or not entirely
meaningless. If a prophet's prediction fails, the failure can always be
attributed to some external factor that somebody sinned so his days were
shortened and therefore he did not manage to sire the person needed for the
prophecy's fulfillment, or anything like that. Thus prophecy, one of the main
issues of Judaism, turns into a product of wishful thinking instead of being a
testimony to G-d's supervision over the world and the Divine inspiration of the
The Lord is one?
- Is the Scripture monotheistic?
It is widely believed that
Judaism was the first religious teaching to adopt and to introduce to the whole
world the concept of monotheism. Indeed, the Torah proclaims "Hear, O
Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). However, reading the
Scripture attentively one cannot escape the conclusion that at least in the
beginning of the Scriptural period the power of G-d was considered to be
extremely limited, and His worship, as well as His supervision, was limited to
a specific geographic area.
Thus we find King David, forced to leave the Land of Israel,
thinking that he left the domain of G-d's authority: "For they have
driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the Lord, saying:
'Go, serve other gods.'" (I
Samuel 26:19). Of course later Rabbinic sources (e.g. Tractate Ketubot 110b, Rashi and Radak on I
Samuel 26:19, etc.) stated that David's "Go, serve other gods"
is only a metaphor for staying outside the Land of Israel or for living among
gentile idolaters, but such an interpretation contradicts the meaning of
David's words themselves. At the very least, were the monotheistic concept
indeed basic for the author of the book of Samuel, he would surely find
another, less provocative wording to express what the later rabbis claim he
Likewise the prophet Jonah, not
willing to bring G-d's message to the people of Nineveh, "rose up to flee
unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3). (Tarshish is thought to be the southern
part of today's Spain). Again, later Rabbinic commentators interpreted
"the presence of the Lord" to mean G-d's revelation to a prophet
that is, Jonah fled to Tarshish so that G-d would not reveal His prophecy to
him, as prophecy is possible only in the Land of Israel. However, this
interpretation plainly contradicts the Scripture, where we find several major
prophets (including Moses and Ezekiel) prophesying outside the Land of Israel.
On the other hand, the plain meaning of the Scripture clearly shows that Jonah
(or the author of the book of Jonah, whoever he may be) thought the land of
Tarshish to be outside the domain of G-d's supervision. Therefore we see that
the ultimate monotheistic concept was not shared by the Scripture.
- "YHWH Teman and his Asherah favored."
research reveals that the name YHWH, which in the Torah is the holiest of names
for the one and only G-d, as late as in the 9th-8th
centuries BCE denoted in the Israelite circles a god who even had a family
life! The excavations at Kuntillet 'Ajrud (called in Hebrew Chorvat Teiman),
in the northeast Sinai desert, unearthed several inscriptions of that period:
days may be
prolonged and you shall be satisfied... give YHWH of Teman and his Asherah... YHWH
of Teman and his Asherah favored..."
m[lk] (the king) said: tell [x,y and z], may you be blessed by YHWH of Shomron
(Samaria) and his Asherah"
said: tell my lord, may you be well and be blessed by YHWH of Teman and his
Asherah. May he bless and keep you and be with you"
(The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near
East," ed. by Eric M. Meyers, entry Kuntillet 'Ajrud).
The pagan Canaanite goddess
Asherah is described here not only as a deity blessing her believers, but also
as the favored one of the deity YHWH a title usually referring to one's
female consort. Of course, such a perception of YHWH is in no way consistent
with the picture that Judaism provides us.
- Monotheism in ancient Egypt.
On the other hand, we find the
ancient Egyptians advancing towards the monotheism in the development of their
religious concepts since the 16th century BCE. After 200 years of
such development, about 1375 BCE Pharaoh Amenhotep IV "repudiated the
authority of the old gods and their priests and devoted himself exclusively to
Aton, the god appearing as the sun disk. He proclaimed himself the son of Aton,
taking the name Akhenaton ('devoted to Aton') and he imposed this
worship on others. By royal decree Aton became the only God who exists, king
not only of Egypt, but of the whole world, embodying in his character and
essence all the attributes of other gods" (Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. by Mircea Eliade, entry Monotheism:
Egyptian religion). The latter of Akhenaton's concepts is much like
the Judaic view, in which, though G-d is one, different attributes are ascribed
to Him the attribute of justice, the attribute of mercy, etc. And though ancient
Egyptian monotheism lasted for only 25 years, and the worship of the old idols
returned after Akhenaton's reign was over, his monotheistic ideas preceded by
centuries the Scripture's proto-monotheistic theology.
The Sages and
- The attitude of the Sages to the Torah.
Contrary to the present
Orthodox Jewish belief that each and every word of the Torah was dictated by
G-d Himself to Moses, we find Chazal in the Talmud and in the Midrashim
referring to several verses of the Torah as Moses' own words:
The Talmud in Tractate Makot
Yossi the son of Chanina said: four edicts made Moses over Israel, four
prophets came and abolished them. Moses said, 'So Israel will dwell in
security, the spring of Jacob alone' (Deuteronomy 33:28) Amos came and
abolished it, as is written, 'How will Jacob arise?' (Amos 7:5), and it is written,
'The Lord has repented for this...' (Amos 7:6) Moses said, 'And among these
nations you will find no calm' (Deuteronomy 28:65) Jeremiah came and said,
'Go calm Israel' (Jeremiah 31:1). Moses said, '[G-d] visits the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children' (Exodus 34:7) Ezekiel came and abolished it: 'That
soul which sins will die' (Ezekiel 18:20). Moses said, 'And you will be lost
among the nations' (Leviticus 26:38) Isaiah came and said: 'And it will come
to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown...' (Isaiah
(Tractate Makot 24a)
This passage treats Torah
verses as Moses' own edicts. Though it may be said that Deuteronomy 28:65 and
33:28 are quotes from Moses' speech to Israel (just as the Torah quotes
Abraham's, Jacob's, and Laban's words in other places), Leviticus 26:38 (as
well as all of Leviticus 26:1-45) is said by the Torah itself to be G-d's own
speech, and Exodus 34:7 is understood by all the major Rabbinic commentaries as
G-d's own words. Yet the Talmudic Sages attributed these words to Moses, and,
which is even more peculiar, they freely admitted that centuries after the
Torah was given, somebody may come and abolish the Torah's words, in clear
violation of one of the principles of the Orthodox Jewish faith that the
Torah will never be changed.
Speaking of the portion which
lists the impure animals and birds and which was written twice in the Torah
in Leviticus 11 and in Deuteronomy 14 the Midrash says:
were these things duplicated in Deuteronomy? The animals [were duplicated]
because of the shesuah and the birds because of the raah vulture
to teach that one should not be ashamed to say he had forgotten. It is an
inference from minor to major if Moses, the wisest of sages, the greatest of greats,
father of the prophets, was not afraid to say he forgot, a person who is not
even one of a thousand millions, of multitude of myriads of his disciples'
disciples how much more so should this person not be afraid to say 'I
The Midrash claims that Moses
forgot about the vulture called raah and about the animal called shesuah
and for that reason duplicated the whole portion, more than a dozen verses, in
the Torah. So either this midrash intended to say that G-d had also forgotten
about the raah and the shesuah, or which seems much more
plausible that Moses wrote this portion at least once without dictation from
It is written in the Talmud (Megillah 31b):
said: this Tannaitic rule [that when reading the Torah in public, portions of
curses should be read by one person only] is valid only for the portion of the
curses in Leviticus, but the portion of the curses in Deuteronomy may be
divided between several readers. Why? The first are said in plural, and Moses
said them guided by the Divine, but the latter are in singular and Moses said
them on his own."
So even for Halachic purposes
the Talmud viewed some of the Torah verses as written by Moses on his own. This
makes the present-day Orthodox Jewish belief in the Divine origin of each and
every word of the Torah rather baseless.
uproots the Scripture."
accordance with the above view, the Sages considered some of their Halachic
traditions, of uncertain origin, to be more authoritative than laws stated
explicitly in the Torah text:
"Rabbi Jochanan said in the name of Rabbi Ishmael: in
three places Halacha uproots the Scripture: the Torah said, with dust [one
should cover the blood of a slaughtered wild animal or bird] and Halacha says
with anything; the Torah said with a razor [it is forbidden to cut a Nazarite's
hair] and Halacha says with anything; the Torah said, on parchment suitable for
use in a scroll [a get should be written] and Halacha says on
(Tractate Sotah 16a)
- How the Sages canonized the Holy Writ.
In the Mishnah (Tractate Yadaim 3:5) we find
the Sages discussing whether the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs
are a part of the Holy Writ. The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 13b) states that the Sages intended
"to file away" forever the book of Ezekiel were it not for a man
named Chananiah the son of Chizkiah, who elucidated it so that it would not
contradict the words of the Torah. So despite Judaism's general attitude that
the books of the Holy Writ are Divinely inspired and contain words of the
Living G-d, we find the Sages
discussing, hundreds of years after these books were written, which of them was
in fact Divinely inspired and which was not. The Sages did not even conceal
that they and not the prophets determined what the Holy Writ would look
- The book of the Son of Sirach.
There were indeed several books
which the Sages left out of the Holy Writ while others were admitted to the
canon. However, concerning one book the book of the Son of Sirach the Sages
never did agree on whether to include it in the Holy Writ canon. On the one
hand, in Tractate Sanhedrin 100b Rav Joseph mentions it among the
"external books" which one is forbidden to read, and Midrash Kohelet
Rabba (chapter 12) says
that "everyone who brings into his house more than 24 books [of the Holy
Writ], brings turmoil into his house, and this is said of books like the Son of
Sirach and the Son of Tagla." But on the other hand, in Tractate Bava Kama
92b we find: "This matter is written in the Torah and repeated in the
Prophets, and a third time in the Writings... And a third time in the Writings,
when it is written, 'Each bird will resort to its like, and a man with those of
his like'." But the verse "Each bird will resort to its like..."
is not found anywhere in the Writings; the Tosfot there say that "perhaps
it is in the book of the Son of Sirach," and the Masoret HaShas
refers to it as a verse in the 13th chapter of the Son of Sirach. So
the author of this Talmudic statement (Rabba the son of Marei) saw the book of
the Son of Sirach as a part of the Writings! [However, the "verse"
brought in the Talmud is actually a compilation of two different verses:
"All flesh consorts according to kind, and a man will cleave to his like"
(Son of Sirach 13:16),
and "Each bird will resort to its like; so will truth return to those who
practice it" (Son of
Several more times in the
Talmud and in the Midrash the Sages give exegesis on verses from Son of Sirach
as though it were part of the Holy Writ (see e.g. Chagiga 13a, Bereshit Rabbah section 91, etc.).
In Ketubot 110b they even brought the saying "All the days of the poor are
evil" as "written in the book of the Son of Sirach," though this
phrase is found in Proverbs 15:15 and does not appear in Son of Sirach. Thus
words of a book which according to some Talmudic statements one is forbidden to
read are mixed freely with a verse of the canonic Holy Writ! In two other
places in the Talmud (Bava
Batra 98b and 146a) Chazal "quoted" from Son of Sirach words
that are not to be found there.
Rav Saadiah Gaon, in his "Sefer
haGalui," seems to have been the last Rabbinic leader who directly
quoted the Hebrew text of the Son of Sirach, but even later rabbis indirectly
quoted verses, citing the quotations brought in the Talmud and in the Midrash (see e.g. R' Joseph al-Ashkar's
"Mirkevet haMishneh" on Avot 6:2). It is totally
unclear when and upon what grounds the book of the Son of Sirach was finally
ruled out of the Holy Writ canon.
- Inconsistency in determining the canon of the Holy
Also, it is absolutely unclear
on what grounds Chazal decided to include certain books in the canon of the
Holy Writ and to exclude other books from this canon. Some of the books they
excluded (the so-called "external books") are in our possession, and
they are written exactly as the canonic books are. Like Prophets, the
"external books" cite words of the Divine, and the phrase "Thus
said the Lord" is not uncommon there (see Baruch 2:21, II Esdras 1:12, 2:1, 2:10, 15:21).
It is very peculiar: how could the sages of the Mishnah and of the Talmud judge
centuries after all those books were written which "Thus said the
Lord" is valid and which is not? In any case, we find Chazal determining
quite openly, and not always consistently, the composition of the Holy Writ making
it quite problematic to consider its books as words of prophecy, which, by the
time of the Sages, had ended.
- General unreliability of tradition.
Many people from major
Rabbinic leaders past and present to ordinary believing Jews claim that the
very existence of a widespread Judaic tradition of the Exodus from Egypt and of
the Sinai Revelation is a sufficient evidence that these events really took
place as they are described in the Torah. If there were 600,000 witnesses to
the Sinai Revelation, they say, it is impossible that the account is a fiction.
And though the number 600,000 is known to us only from the Torah itself (and
therefore cannot be used to prove the authenticity of the Torah), and the
historical and the archeological research show that it would be impossible for
600,000 male adult Israelites to have left Egypt at the alleged time of the
Exodus (1313 BCE) and to take part in the Sinai Revelation 50 days after the Exodus
as the Torah tells it, it is nevertheless a fact that for thousands of years
many Jews shared the tradition of the Exodus and of the Giving of the Torah.
However, human history shows that traditions may reflect nothing but sheer
fiction, and that multitudes of people may believe things which they could
easily find wrong had they bothered to check the factual evidence. Thus, in
Rome there is a pyramid-shaped building which is the sepulcher of Caius
Cestius, a Roman official of the 1st century BCE. It is written on
the monument itself to whom the sepulcher belongs, and the circumstances of its
building are written there, too. Despite this easily available evidence, many
people during the Middle Ages believed this building to be the sepulcher of
Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome, and others believed it to be the
sepulcher of Remus, Romulus's brother (see S. Platner, T. Ashby, "A Topographical Dictionary
of Ancient Rome," Oxford University Press, 1929, p. 478). So a mass
tradition of a certain event can definitely appear even if that event never
- "We will not
testify falsely to our sons." Or will we?
of reliability of the Judaic tradition, our rabbis often say something like,
"When we tell this story to our children, they will surely know that the
story is true, without a doubt, as though all the generations saw it [the Sinai
Revelation]. For we will not testify falsely to our sons, and will not bequeath
them nonsense and useless things. And they will not have the slightest doubt about
our testimony" (from
Nachmanides' commentary on Deuteronomy 4:9). Not only it is clear to any
reasonable person that this argument is very weak and that one cannot build his
whole worldview solely on the personal integrity of people of previous
generations we also find several Judaic spiritual leaders stating explicitly
that "truth is whatever leads to the good and to the will of the
Creator" (R' Eliyahu
Dessler, "Michtav MiEliyahu," v. 1, p. 94), and that
"the difference between lie and truth is measured by the outcome of the
things that follow from them" (Rabbi Yerucham of Mir, "Daat Chochma UMussar," v. 1, p.
113), or, to put it clearly, that "the end justifies the
means." If this is the approach of spirituals leaders of Judaism, there is
little if any doubt that pious Judaic believers would tell their sons (or any
other people) things that never were and never had been, as long as they are
persuaded that making their sons believe in those things will lead them
"to the good and to the will of the Creator." Such believers would
find no obstacle in describing their own innovations as "tradition which
starts from Moses and the Sinai Revelation," and their personal integrity
in transmitting any tradition can hardly be relied upon.
- Judaic tradition is unaware of its own history.
What is often claimed to be a
characteristic of our tradition's reliability its awareness of the history of
its own transmission appears to be nonexistent. Tractate Avot claims the men
of the Great Assembly, Simeon the Righteous and Antignos of Soho, to be the
ones who transmitted the tradition from the prophets to the first Tannaitic
pairs. Maimonides viewed the men of the Great Assembly (which he calls the Beit
Din of Ezra) as belonging to one and the same generation, which spanned the
whole period of the Persian rule over the Land of Israel. This is quite
consistent with the length of the Persian period according to the Judaic
tradition 52 years (Seder
Olam Rabbah, chapter 30), but that view is completely unhistorical. From
several independent Greek historical sources, as well as from authentic Persian
inscriptions found during archeological excavations, we learn that Persian rule
over the ancient Middle East lasted from Cyrus's conquest of the Babylonian
empire (539 BCE) until the defeat of Darius III by Alexander the Great (332
BCE) more than 200 years (a
discrepancy of about 150 years from the Judaic tradition). A
single generation of "the men of the Great Assembly" could not
survive all those years to transmit anything to anybody.
The tradition also gives us no
clear historical account of the life of Ezra himself, despite the fact that he
is considered the head of the Great Assembly, the resuscitator of the Torah,
and the most prominent of Jewish sages in the post-exilic period. The
Scriptural account of his life is self-contradictory, for though it is clearly
written that he was active during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia (Artachshasta
in the Scripture), some verses lead to the conclusion that it was Artaxerxes I
(465-424 BCE), while according to the others it could only be Artaxerxes II
(404-358 BCE). The Judaic tradition "solved" this problem by stating
that there was only one Persian king called Artaxerxes (Artachshasta), and
that he was called also Cyrus (Koresh) and Darius (Daryavesh)
but this is clearly wrong, for seven kings called Cyrus, Darius (I, II and III)
and Artaxerxes (I, II and III) ruled over Persia, each in different times.
The Judaic tradition does not
provide a clear historical account of Simeon the Righteous either: in different
places he is described as one who met Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, the
father of the High Priest Onias who founded the so-called "Onias'
Temple" in Leontopolis, Egypt circa 150 BCE, and one who was told by a heavenly voice about the recent death of the Roman
emperor Gaius Caligula in 41 CE. Judaic
tradition has no clear account of persons whom this tradition itself claims to
be central links in the chain of the tradition's transmission. This makes the
Judaic tradition quite unreliable.
- Non-Judaic traditions of mass revelations.
Judaism, of course, is not the
only religion that claims its deity revealed himself to the mass of believers.
Similar traditions also existed, and still do, in other religions.
- Herodotus wrote in his "History" (II, 91) about the people of
the ancient Egyptian city of Chemnis:
is a large city called Chemnis, situated in the Thebaic district near Neapolis,
in which is a quadrangular temple dedicated to [the deity] Perseus, son of
Danae; palm-trees grow round it and the portico is of stone, very spacious, and
over it are placed two large stone statues. In this enclosure is a temple, and
in it is placed a statue of Perseus. The Chemnitae [the inhabitants of Chemnis]
affirm that Perseus has frequently appeared to them on earth, and frequently
within the temple."
Here the deity Perseus revealed
himself to the population of a whole city, many times ("frequently within
the temple"), which does not, of course, make the religion of the Chemnite
people more trustworthy.
- In our times also there are communities that regularly hold
religious ceremonies during which, they are persuaded, their deity reveals
itself to them all and this deity, of course, is not the G-d of Judaism. Here
is what Prof. Aharon Katzir wrote of the Haitian voodoo cult in his book "BeKur
HaMahapechah HaMadait" ("In the Crucible of Scientific
American anthropologist decided to research the voodoo ceremony of the creoles,
held in honor of the forest deity. At the middle of the month, the cult
believers light bonfires in the tropical forest and dance around them until
they are exhausted and then, at midnight, they see the deity. In order to
prepare themselves for this great occasion, everybody sanctifies himself
through fast and mortification and the researcher, who found favor in the
eyes of the tribesmen and earned their trust, fasted and mortified herself,
too. At night she went with them to the forest and danced around the bonfires.
At midnight, when she was already considerably hungry and afflicted, drums beat
suddenly in a thunderous voice and she, together with the rest of the
tribesmen, saw the deity, and she became a believer in voodoo. All the beliefs
and concepts she had as a modern enlightened woman were abandoned and
instead, she fervently adopted the worldview of idolatry."
("BeKur HaMahapechah HaMadait," Am Oved publishing, 1996, p. 54)
Here, as in the story of Sinai
Revelation, there are people sanctifying themselves for the revelation, fires,
thunder and loud voices (though provided by drums and not by the shofar), and
the most important: the whole community, including even an enlightened
stranger, is persuaded that the deity, in person, revealed his glory to them on
that occasion. And all this happened not 3300 years ago, related to us only
through tales and stories, but in our very days (the book was written in the
early 1970s) and actually happens each month. These voodoo ceremonies are held
regularly and are not something singular and unique, as is the Sinai revelation
in the Judaic tradition. Of course, there isn't much sense in converting to
voodoo because of scenes of the forest deity's mass revelation these are best
described in terms of the psychology of extreme situations. But in any case, a
tradition of a mass revelation is not something unique to Judaism.
- Judaism has no mass tradition.
However, even if Judaism claims
a tradition of mass revelation, it does not have a mass tradition of
such revelation that is, the Judaic tradition can in no way be considered a
mass tradition. We do not have many independent personal accounts containing
varied details of those events, each from the viewpoint of that particular
participant, as one would expect were hundreds of thousands of fathers
transmitting a record of events to their sons. All we have is the Scriptural
text, the story of which fathers have told to their sons for many generations.
All that this testifies to is those fathers' acceptance of the story as true,
which may be because of religious devotion rather than because of any
historical veracity to the account just as hundreds of millions of pious
Christians accept the story of the Virgin Conception as historically true.
Even during the Passover Seder,
the backbone of our tradition's transmission from one generation to another,
nobody tells his children his own ancestor's personal account of those events,
transmitted in his family through the generations for there are no such
accounts. All that one does on that night is recite once again the text of the
Passover Haggadah, set and fixed by the Sages in the 7th-8th
centuries CE (Encyclopedia
Hebraica, Haggadah shel Pesach, v. 13, p. 341). And even the text
of the Haggadah itself is not an independent story of the Exodus, but a mixture
of Scriptural verses and Talmudic-Midrashic homily on them. It simply cannot be
treated as a historical account, only as the reading for a popular religious
- Nobody argues from tradition when discussing major
details of the Sinai Revelation.
Indeed, wherever we find our
sages, from the Talmudic Rabbis to Rishonim and Achronim, discussing certain
details of the Exodus or the Sinai Revelation, none claims testimony he received
from his father, but all his arguments and considerations are based on what he
finds in the religious writings of previous generations.
- In the Talmud (Shabbat 86b) two opinions of the Tannaim are brought:
the Sages said that the Sinai Revelation happened on the 6th of
Sivan and Rabbi Yossi said on the 7th of Sivan. Then the Talmud
brings three pages of discussion by Amoraim on when the Sinai Revelation really
occurred. In all this lengthy discussion nobody brings arguments based on what
he received through tradition (which would be quite expected, had these Amoraim
heard their fathers' testimony about the event). The only arguments they use
are Scriptural verses and Tannaic statements, which are, in turn, nothing more
than homily on Scriptural verses.
- On the verse, "And all the people see the voices" (Ex. 20:15) Rashi wrote:
"'See the voices' they saw what is to be heard, that which cannot be
seen anywhere else," that is, a real seeing, while Sforno and Chezkuni
wrote that "see the voices" is a metaphor of knowledge and
understanding, as in Ecclesiastes 1:16, "and my heart saw." And
again, none of the commentators brings a tradition, received from his
ancestors, which "voices" exactly were "seen" during the
- There is even a discussion among the rabbis about what exactly
G-d revealed to the People of Israel at Mt. Sinai. On one hand, after the Torah
lists in the second time the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, it says,
"These words the Lord spoke to all your public at the mountain from the
midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick fog, with a great voice that
did not cease" (Deut.
5:19). From this one may understand that all ten of the commandments
were revealed by G-d to the whole people. On the other hand, the Talmud (Makot 24a) says that only the
first two of the Ten Commandments "I am the Lord your G-d" and
"You shall have no other gods before Me" were said by G-d directly
to the people, and all the others were told to Moses alone. The latter view may
be supported by the wording of the Ten Commandments in the Torah (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5).
There the first two commandments speak of G-d in the first person while the
remaining eight refer to Him in the third person ("You shall have no other
gods before Me" vs. "Do not bear the name of the Lord your G-d in
Nachmanides tried to explain
this contradiction by stating in his commentary on Exodus 20:7 that all the
Israelites heard all the Ten Commandments from the Divine, but they could
comprehend only the first two, and therefore the last eight were repeated to
them by Moses. But Maimonides in "The Guide for the Perplexed" (part 2, chapter 33), not
troubled much by the verse of Deuteronomy 5:19, brought two different opinions
on what the Israelites actually heard from G-d Himself during the Sinai
Revelation nothing intelligible (while Moses heard all the commandments and
told them to the people later) or only the first two of the Ten Commandments
and Maimonides himself tended to the first opinion. Again, each commentator has
his own view, but none of them makes claims from a tradition that he received
from his ancestors and rabbis, and everyone tries to figure out his own view
based on what is said in the Scripture, the Talmud, and the Midrash.
- Rabbinic commentators on the Scripture disputed even what the
Ten Commandments actually were. R' Abraham Ibn Ezra, in his commentary on
Exodus 20:1, wrote that "I am the Lord your G-d" is the first
commandment, and "You shall have no other gods before Me" is the
second. However, in his commentary on Deuteronomy 5:16 Ibn Ezra stated:
"Know that in the opinion of the Sages of previous generations the first
commandment is 'I am'... But in my view, the correct meaning is that the phrase
'I am' is a foreword said by He who commands..." Thus, according to Ibn Ezra
here, the first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before
Me" (Ex. 20:3),
the ninth is "You shall not covet your fellow's house" (20:14), and the tenth is
"You shall not covet your fellow's wife, nor his male slave, nor his
female slave, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything he has" (ibid.). Unfortunately, he
himself said, in his commentary on Exodus 20:1, that this view "is
nonsense," so Ibn Ezra's account of the Ten Commandments is
self-contradictory. Obviously this account is not based on any historical
tradition, but only on Ibn Ezra's own understanding of the Hebrew lexicon and
grammar, which apparently had changed between the time he wrote his commentary
on Exodus and when he wrote his commentary on Deuteronomy.
All the above shows that either
a clear and consistent tradition on what happened in the course of the Sinai
Revelation did not yet exist in the time of the Tannaim, the Amoraim, and the
Rishonim, or that none of our rabbis thought such tradition to be reliable. In
any case, to base one's whole approach to life on such a tradition is hardly
- Transmission from fathers to sons is considered
unreliable by Judaism itself.
The alleged witnesses of the
Exodus and the Sinai Revelation did not leave us any written testimony of those
events, and we are supposed to believe that the account of events was
transmitted orally from one generation to another. Judaism itself admits that
such a transmission is unreliable in Tractate Shabbat 145a-b the Talmud rules
explicitly that hearsay testimony may not be qualified, at least in matters of
Torah laws. This rule includes even testimony of a son based on his father's
words. It is quite absurd to suppose that testimony invalidated by a Jewish
religious court can be used to validate the veracity of Judaism as a whole.
- Judaism itself admits that it has no uninterrupted
Moreover, the Scripture itself
states that for long periods the tradition of the Torah was forgotten by the
people of Israel:
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe: 'I have found the Book of
the Torah in the Temple of the Lord.' And he gave the book to Shaphan, who read
it... Then Shaphan the scribe told the king: 'Hilkiah the priest has given me a
book.' And Shaphan read it before the king. When the king heard the words of
the Book of the Law, he tore his garments... And the king gave this order to the
whole people: 'Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your G-d, as it is written in
this Book of the Covenant.' For such a Passover had never been observed since
the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings
of Israel and the kings of Judah."
(II Kings 22:8-23:22)
on the second day the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the
Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to learn the words of the Torah. And
they found written in the Torah, which the Lord had commanded through Moses,
that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh
month... So the people went out, and brought [branches], and built themselves
booths, each on his roof, and in their courtyards, and in the courtyards of the
house of G-d, and on the street by the Water Gate and on the street by the Gate
of Ephraim. The whole congregation that had returned from exile built booths
and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the
Israelites had not celebrated it this way. And their joy was very great."
The Torah scroll found in the
Temple was a great surprise for the king and his scribes, and the basic
commandments of Passover and Sukkot had not been observed by the Jews for
hundreds of years. The great Rabbinic commentators of the Scripture admitted
that the people of Israel forgot the Torah for long periods:
was king for a long time, for he reigned 55 years, and he did evil in the eyes
of G-d, following the disgusting ways of the gentiles. He built altars to
idolatry in the house of the Lord and he made the Torah be forgotten by the
Jews. None turned to it, for all turned to other gods and the laws of the
gentiles, and in 55 years the Torah was forgotten... so the Torah scroll was a
surprise for them."
(Radak on II Kings 22:8)
our sinfulness, it had already happened in the days of the evil kings of
Israel, such as Jeroboam, that most of the nation completely forgot Torah and
(Nachmanides on Numbers 15:22)
Of course neither the Scripture
nor the commentators exclude the possibility that select individuals preserved
the original tradition even in times of mass forgetfulness, but from the texts
above it is clear that Judaism does not even pretend to have an uninterrupted
mass tradition of the Torah and the commandments. Therefore it would contradict
Jewish tradition itself to claim that we have such an uninterrupted mass
tradition back to the Sinai Revelation.
- Evidence from ancient texts.
During the past century dozens
of ancient Hebrew texts (inscriptions, ostraca, and amulets) of the First
Temple period have been discovered. It is not much compared to the number of
ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian or Babylonian texts known to us, but even
so, the picture arising from these ancient Hebrew texts is remarkable.
- The earliest texts which allow one to assume
that their writer was familiar with at least part the Torah are two silver
amulets found in Jerusalem which contain a text quite similar (though not
identical) to the wording of the Priestly Blessing in Numbers 6:23-27 (see Gabriel Barkai, "Ketef
Hinnom," pp. 29-31). The amulets date to the late 7th
century BCE 700 years after the alleged time of the Exodus and they testify
only to their author's acquaintance with a tiny fraction of the Torah text,
telling nothing of the degree to which he was familiar with the Torah's law or
narrative in general.
- The earliest text which reasonably suggests that its author
had a good knowledge of the Torah's law is the Passover Papyrus from
Elephantine (Egypt), in which the date and the laws of the Passover are brought
in accordance with the Written Torah (though in contradiction to the Rabbinic
Oral Torah, the laws detailed in the papyrus permit one to own leavened bread
during the Passover if he does not bring it into his house). The Passover
Papyrus is written in Aramaic and dated to 419/418 BCE 900 years after the
time when, according to Judaic tradition, the laws of the Passover were taught
to the whole People of Israel (for
the text of the papyrus see B. Porten and A. Yardeni, "Textbook of Aramaic
Documents from Ancient Egypt," v. 1, pp. 125-126).
- Another text, dated to 639-609 BCE, is the Yavneh-Yam Ostracon
the petition of a harvester complaining against somebody who seized his
garment. Though the harvester mentions that he finished harvesting and storing
the grain "before the Sabbath," he nevertheless makes (in a legal
petition!) no reference to the law of the Torah under any guise, appealing
instead to the local officer's sense of justice (for the text of the ostracon, see "Ancient Near Eastern
Texts," ed. by J. Pritchard, pp. 568-569). One more ancient Hebrew
legal petition known to us is the Widow's Petition Ostracon, dated to the 9th-7th
centuries BCE. This petition, written by a widow to her local governor, reads:
"My husband is dead, [having left] no children. And may your hand be with
me; and may you place in your servant's hand the inheritance which you promised
to 'Amasyahu. But regarding the wheat field which is in Na'amah: you have
granted it to his brother" (for the text of the ostracon, see H. Shanks, "Three Shekels for the
Lord," Biblical Archaeology Review, November-December 1997, pp. 28-32).
From the text it follows that the widow's deceased husband had no sons but had
a brother. In this case, according to the explicit law of the Torah (Numbers 6:9), the brother
would inherit all the property of the deceased, so that both the governor's
intention to promise a part of the inheritance to one 'Amasyahu and the widow's
request to give the inheritance to her would be illegal according to the
Torah's law. Moreover, the widow asserts that it was the governor's decision,
and not the Torah's law, that gave the brother of the deceased the wheat field
in Na'amah. This document leaves the impression that both the widow and the
governor were unfamiliar with the explicit law of inheritances in the Torah.
- The Gezer Calendar, dated to the 10th century BCE,
mentions a month of "harvest and feasting," but does not name the
feast(s) celebrated in that month; moreover, since according to that calendar
the month of "harvest and feasting" is three months before the month
of "summer fruit," it is evident that this month is not parallel to
the present-day autumn month of Tishrei, the most suitable candidate for the
title "the month of feasting" using the Torah's list of feasts. Most
likely the calendar refers what is now Nissan, but the Torah's name for that
month "the spring month" is not mentioned. Neither are any of the
other Scriptural names of months "the month of Bul,"
"the month of Ziv," "the month of Eitanim"
mentioned (for the text of the
Gezer Calendar see "Ancient Near Eastern Texts," ed. by J. B.
Pritchard, p. 320).
- G-d's name YHWH appears in some texts, and some ostraca even
mention "the house of YHWH" (e.g. the Beit YHWH Ostracon see H.
Shanks, "Three Shekels for the Lord"), but there is no way to find
out whether they speak of the Jerusalem temple where YHWH is worshipped as one
and only G-d or of a village sanctuary dedicated to YHWH as a local deity.
- And of course the inscriptions from Kuntillet 'Ajrud, speaking
of "YHWH Teman and his Asherah favored" (see item 51), reasonably
suggest that at least some of the ancient Hebrews considered the pagan
Canaanite goddess Asherah not only a deity able to bless her believers, but
also the favored one (a title usually referring to female consorts) of the
deity YHWH. This is much more than yet another kind of paganism (which even the
Scripture admits to be popular enough among the ancient Hebrew population): this
is worship of YHWH himself as a pagan deity who has some kind of family life.
Were there a concept of YHWH as the one and only G-d of the Universe as we
believe was revealed to the whole People of Israel at Mt. Sinai in the
collective consciousness of the ancient Hebrews, the appearance of such
inscriptions would hardly be possible.
- To the above one can add the complete absence of any reference
in Hittite sources of the late 14thearly 13th centuries
to the plagues of the Exodus and to the drowning of the whole Egyptian army in
the sea. The Hittites were then engaged in a continual and indecisive war with
Egypt, and they would have surely been glad to record great disasters befalling
their enemies. The absence of any such account in the Hittite documents of that
period is most remarkable.
In short, among dozens of the
pre-Exilic Hebrew texts, none can reasonably suggest that its author was
familiar enough with any significant part of the Torah's law or narrative, and
none of the documents authored by bitter enemies of Egypt at the alleged time
of the Exodus mentions any disaster which befell the Egyptian empire. The most
reasonable explanation of these facts is that the Torah as a whole was not
known to the Hebrews before the Babylonian exile and that the Exodus did not really
happen as described by the Torah.
- Contradictory traditions about the Exodus.
On the other hand, we find that
as late as the beginning of the Common Era several contradictory traditions of
the Exodus existed among Jewish writers. We have three detailed accounts of the
plagues of Egypt written between the 1st century BCE and the 1st
century CE by authors who considered themselves, and were considered by the
Jewish community, faithful Jews and apologists of the Judaic tradition.
- The first of them, Artapanus a Jewish writer
circa 100 BCE and one of the greatest apologists of Judaism in Hellenistic
Egypt mentions only seven plagues in his book "On the Jews" not
mentioning anything like the plagues of murrain, of darkness and of the firstborns!
The waters of the Nile, according to Artapanus, did not become blood in the
course of the first plague, the second plague in his account is the plague of
the wild beasts (arov), not frogs, and the plagues of frogs, locusts and
lice are described by Artapanus as starting simultaneously while in the Torah
account these are completely different plagues the second, the third and the
- Philo of Alexandria (1st century CE), also known by
his Jewish name Yedidiah, was a faithful observant Jew and perhaps the most
famous of pre-Mishnaic Jewish writers, In his book "Vita Mosis"
("The Life of Moses") he does speak of ten plagues, bringing them in
the following order: 1) blood; 2) frogs; 3) lice; 4) hail; 5) locusts; 6)
darkness; 7) boils; 8) wild beasts; 9) murrain of cattle; 10) plague of the
firstborns. As Philo gives homiletic interpretation to chronological proximity
of certain plagues in his account, we can be sure that he considered his order
of the plagues real and accurate yet this order is quite different from that
of the Torah [1) blood; 2) frogs; 3) lice; 4) wild beasts; 5) murrain of
cattle; 6) boils; 7) hail; 8) locusts; 9) darkness; 10) plague of the
firstborns]. Another detail in Philo's account is that the plague of the
firstborns does not hit the cattle, while the Torah says explicitly "And
all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die... and all the firstborn of
animals" (Ex. 11:5).
- Yet another account of the plagues may be found in "The
Antiquities of the Jews" by Josephus Flavius, written in 93 CE. In
Flavius's very detailed story of the Ten Plagues ("Antiquities,"
II, 12-14) not a single plague, not murrain nor boils, hail nor the
plague of the firstborns hits cattle in contradiction to what we are told by
the Torah. The most interesting in this context is the plague of murrain, for
according to the Torah this plague hit cattle only (see Ex. 9:3-7). Instead of this story, Flavius
brings a short, blurred and difficult to understanding account of people's
sickness, which forms a single narrative with the story of the plague of wild
The existence of several
contradictory narratives of the Ten Plagues within the Jewish circles suggests
that the topic of the narratives is a subject of popular mythology rather than
- Unreliability of Halachic traditions.
We find Chazal themselves
admitting that laws described as Halacha given to Moses at Sinai that
is, Halachic laws supposedly given
to Moses by G-d at Mt. Sinai and transmitted since then by oral tradition until
they were written in the Talmud were forgotten over the course of Jewish
Jochanan said: [beating] the willow [on Sukkot] was established by the
prophets. But [we know that] Rabbi Jochanan said: [beating] the willow is a
halacha given to Moses at Sinai? They forgot it, and then established it
(Tractate Sukka 44a)
And the Tosfot on Tractate
Eiruvin (21b, s.v. Mipnei)
wrote that the laws which were introduced by the Sages were not given by G-d in
advance as Halacha given to Moses at Sinai, because in that case they might be
forgotten. So Judaic sources themselves admit that Halachic traditions may well
be forgotten, and therefore it is also problematic to rely upon tradition in
the matters of Halacha.
- Halachic traditions contradictory to the Oral Torah as
we know it.
And indeed, Halachic traditions
contradictory to the traditions of Rabbinic Judaism exist among world Jewry.
The Ethiopian Jews, also called Falasha (or Beta Israel, as they call
themselves) did not proclaim war on the Rabbinic tradition as the Karaites did;
they just preserved their Halachic tradition for millennia and the result is
quite distant from Rabbinic Halacha. Since in the past two decades, due to extensive
immigration of Beta Israel to the State of Israel (where they are subject to
massive Rabbinical influence) and due to intensive activity of foreign Jewish
organizations in Ethiopia, many Beta Israel customs were abandoned and Rabbinic
ones were adopted instead, the information given below describes the
traditional customs and practices of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia, as
given by Encyclopedia Hebraica (entry Falashim), and by Michael
Corinaldi in his "Jewish Identity: the Case of Ethiopian Jewry."
- The Torah scrolls and all the Beta Israel
Scriptures are written in Ge'ez (the ancient Ethiopian language), which is also
the language of their prayers and religious literature. The Scriptural canon of
Beta Israel also includes Apocrypha.
- The synagogues of Beta Israel are divided into two parts; one
of them, in which the Torah scroll is kept, is called the Holy of Holies.
Entrance to the Holy of Holies is permitted only to cohens and debthers
(people who help lead prayer services and are engaged in religious education).
- Cohens are heads of local communities; one of them is
elected to be the chief Cohen. To be a cohen, one does not need
to be son of a cohen; all that is demanded of him is to be a male
descendant of a respected family and to receive special education. The cohens
lead 7 daily prayer services in the synagogue and other religious ceremonies.
They also bring sacrifices and perform the regular shechitah.
- The calendar of Beta Israel is much like the Rabbinic one,
though the year starts in Nissan. On Nissan 14th they bring the
Passover Sacrifice on a stone altar situated in the synagogue courtyard.
- The feast of Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after the seventh
day of Passover.
- Blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah a positive Torah
commandment, according to the Rabbinic tradition is unknown to Beta Israel.
- Beta Israel do not celebrate Purim and Hanukkah, but they two
have Fasts of Esther a year in Kislev and in Shevat. In Av they have a 17 day
long fast in remembrance of the Temple's destruction.
- Beta Israel observe the Sabbath; however, they consider
pumping water and having sexual contact to be forbidden on Sabbath in clear
contradiction to Rabbinic Halacha. They also do not consider circumcision to be
permitted on Sabbath while the Talmud (Shabbat 132b) learns from the verse of Leviticus 12:3
that a child born on Sabbath should be circumcised the next Sabbath.
- Beta Israel have an institute of monasticism, and monks male
or female live in abstinence in monasteries or (alone) in desert.
- The Beta Israel wedding ceremony includes the groom's parents
giving presents to the bride's (and vice versa), but these presents do not
signify an act of purchase; the wedding does not include an act of the groom
"buying" the bride at all.
- The divorce ceremony includes writing a divorce document,
however it is not written as a get nor given by the husband to the wife,
and the divorce is valid even without this document.
The existence of a Halachic
tradition so discrepant from the Rabbinic one testifies that there is no
objective reason to view Rabbinic Law as the only accurate and true Halachic
tradition of the Torah from Sinai.
The Oral Torah -
- Parts of the Oral Torah.
Contrary to the popular belief
that all the Oral Torah was given to Moses at Sinai, Maimonides in his
Introduction to the Mishnah Commentary divides the Oral Torah into the
- "Traditional exegesis [perushim mekubalim]
received through tradition from Moses; there are hints to these laws in the
Scripture and they may be derived rationally. There is no disagreement
concerning these laws, and when one says 'This is what I received from
tradition,' it should not be disputed."
- The laws of which it is said 'Halacha given to Moses
at Sinai,' and there are no logical arguments in favor of these laws... These
laws, also, are not disagreed with."
- The laws derived rationally, and there was a
disagreement [between the Sages] about them... and in these matters the law is
determined by the majority; this happens when a matter is altered [two sides
understand the matter differently]... And you can find them [the Sages]
throughout the Talmud investigating the reasons and the arguments which caused
disagreement between the parties."
- "The edicts [gezerot] which were
established by the prophets and the Sages in each and every generation to make
a fence around the Torah. G-d commanded us to follow these laws, for it is
written 'Therefore you shall keep My guard' [ushmartem et mishmarti (Leviticus 18:30)], about
which we had received from tradition, 'Make another guard around My guard [of
the Torah commandments]' (Yevamot
- "The laws that are based on paradigms of thinking and
consensus about the things common between people, in which there is neither addition
nor drawback of any commandment... These laws are called regulations and
customs [takanot uminhagim]. And it is forbidden to violate them,
for King Solomon had said already about the one who breaks these laws, 'One who
breaks a fence, a serpent will bite him' (Ecclesiastes 10:8)."
So only the laws in categories
(a) and (b) are said to have been handled down through tradition from Sinai,
while all the rest are admitted to have been established by the Sages on their
own accord though Maimonides claims that the Scripture gave the Sages the
authority to establish such laws.
- Regulations and customs.
The authority of the Sages to
introduce regulations and customs originates, according to Maimonides, from
Ecclesiastes 10:8. However, in the Mishnah (Tractate Yadaim 3:5) we find that it was the Sages who included the book of
Ecclesiastes in the Scriptural canon and not without considerable dispute. So
the Sages themselves established their authority to issue regulations and
customs over the whole Israel, and this kind of Halachic law has no Divine
- Regulations and customs vs. the Torah's laws.
Anyway, Maimonides admits that
regulations and customs are not learned from the Scripture, but were
established by the Sages according to the "paradigms of thinking and
consensus about the things common between people." Maimonides brings, as
an example, that wherever it is written in the Talmud "Rabban Gamliel the
Elder made a regulation" [hitkin Rabban Gamliel haZaken] a law of
the category of regulations and customs is meant. However, in Tractate Eiruvin
45a we find that one of Rabban Gamliel's regulations was allowing Jews who went
out of their Sabbath domain of 2000 amahs to save other Jews from
enemies to walk 2000 amahs in each direction from the place they are
upon ending their mission. The commandment of the Sabbath domain is a negative
commandment of the Torah (see
Maimonides, Sefer HaMitzvot, negative commandment 321), so we
find Chazal permitting Jews to actively violate a Torah commandment because of
the "paradigms of thinking and consensus about the things common between
people." This is not what one is supposed to do with Divine law.
- Halacha given to Moses at Sinai general approach.
The laws of the Oral Torah that
are Halacha given to Moses at Sinai have, according to Maimonides, no logical
arguments in their favor. That is, they are not derived from the Scripture or
from reason, but Moses received them from the Divine at Mt. Sinai, and from
then until the composition of the Mishnah and the Talmud these laws were
supposedly transmitted through tradition without any alteration or flaw. Yet we
have already seen Judaic sources themselves admitting that Halachic traditions,
especially those of Halacha given to Moses at Sinai, may well be forgotten. We
have also seen examples of Halachic traditions contradictory to those of the
Rabbinic Judaism. And of course, the common sense cannot accept the assumption
of a scrupulous oral transmission of detailed laws through 1500 years. So we
may well doubt that the laws recorded in the Talmud as Halacha given to Moses
at Sinai are really laws that G-d gave to Moses at the Sinai Revelation, even
if we assume that the Sinai Revelation really did take place.
- Halacha given to Moses at Sinai history or theology?
Yet if we examine the laws
categorized as Halacha given to Moses at Sinai in detail, we will obtain much
more problematic results. Thus Maimonides himself, relying on the Mishnah and
the Talmud, brings as examples of Halacha given to Moses at Sinai the rules
that "A mentor may look where the children are reading" by the light
of a candle on Sabbath (Shabbat,
chapter 1, mishnah 3) and that "[Those who live in] Ammon and Moab
give the Tithe of the Poor in the seventh year" (Yadaim, chapter 4, mishnah 3). However, from
the Talmud itself we learn that the first of these rules is naught but an
exception to another Halachic law the general prohibition to read by
candlelight on Sabbath which was established by the Sages of a period much
later than the Sinai Revelation (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 1:3). The second rule was introduced by
the sages of the Early Second Temple period, who deliberately refused to
re-sanctify the lands of Ammon and Moab in order to leave them out of the
domain of lands where observing the sabbatical year is obligatory. Before the
Babylonian conquest the sabbatical year was observed in those lands too, and
they were exempted from giving any tithe at all during sabbatical year (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yevamot,
16a). Both of these laws could be established only long after the Sinai
Revelation, and it is clear that the term "Halacha given to Moses at
Sinai" does not indeed denote the "historical fact" of these
laws being transmitted through tradition from Mt. Sinai. Instead, the term
merely refers to a specific legal-theological status. This hardly leaves us a
choice but to conclude that the laws called Halacha given to Moses at Sinai
were also introduced by the Sages on their own accord and it is absolutely
unclear by what authority they did so. Therefore, the use of the term
"Halacha given to Moses at Sinai" referring to these laws smells of
"inventing" Divine authority where no authority seems to exist at
- The Sages' edicts by whose authority?
One more part of the Oral
Torah, according to Maimonides, is "The edicts [gezerot] which were
established by the prophets and the Sages in each and every generation to make
a fence around the Torah." Maimonides admits that these laws are also not
from the Divine, but from the Sages' own minds though, he says, the Sages
were authorized to establish these laws by the Torah verse, "Therefore you
shall keep My guard" (Lev.
18:30), the meaning of which is explained by tradition as "Make
another guard around My guard [of the Torah commandments]," as described
in Tractate Yevamot 21a. So to Maimonides, the explanation of this verse as
giving such great authority to the Sages is itself a law from the category of
"traditional exegesis, received through the tradition from Moses,"
who, in turn, received it from G-d at Mt. Sinai. Of this Maimonides said,
"There is no disagreement concerning these laws, but when one says, 'This
is what I received from tradition,' it should not be disputed." Yet this
matter itself is very peculiar why may we not dispute some statement just
because somebody claims he has a tradition about it? We all know that
traditions are subject to corruption, forgetfulness, and misrepresentations
over the course of generations due to the imperfection of the human mind and
memory, as was already shown above. And even the Talmud and the Tosfot admitted
that traditions may be forgotten. As the authority of Sages to issue edicts
obligatory for all Israel, "to make a fence around the Torah," is a
very important matter which embraces virtually each and every field of a
believing Jew's life, it is very strange that this authority was not stated
explicitly in the Torah text, that it was left to the oral tradition to
transmit this authority through generations. It is doubly strange that the
Torah does refer to the matter of introducing new commandments, but its
intention, at least in the plain meaning of the text, is quite opposite:
"You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away
from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon
you" (Deut. 4:2).
Why couldn't the Torah's author, whoever he may be, write something like,
"You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away
from it on your own, but if your Sages want to make a fence around My
commandments, they may impose upon you their edicts and you shall observe
- "Therefore you shall keep My guard"
authority to what?
But even if we accept the
exegesis, "'Therefore you shall keep My guard,' make another guard
around My guard," as is, it still says nothing of the Sages' authority to
issue edicts of any kind. It says, at the very most, that a Jew should restrain
himself from certain actions which are formally permitted by the Torah but
which could bring one in danger of violating Torah commandments. This seems to
be something like what the "Mesilat Yesharim" (chapter 13) says about the
virtue of abstinence [midat haperishut]: "To be abstinent and to
take a distance from things that is, one who forbids himself something
[formally] permitted." This conduct, however, is not established by any
edict, but every Jew practices abstinence from different things according to
personal considerations. How the above exegesis gives the Sages any authority
to define what all Israel should abstain from is an unsolved mystery.
- "Therefore you shall keep My guard"
authority from the tradition?
Moreover, the Talmud itself, if
one opens it to Tractate Yevamot 21a, clearly denies any possibility of
deriving the Sages' authority to institute edicts mandatory for all Israel in
each and every field of life from the verse "Therefore you shall keep My
guard." Here is what the Talmud says:
said: where does the Torah hint about those [forbidden sexual contacts] which
are of the second degree? It is written: 'For all these [hael]
abominations the men of the land have done' (Lev. 18:27); 'hael' means
'greatly severe' from here we learn that there are also less severe [sexual
sins]. And what are they? Those of the second degree. From where do we know
that 'hael' means 'greatly severe'? For it is written, 'And he took the
great people of the land [eilei haaretz]' (Ez. 17:13)...
Judah said, here [is the hint about the forbidden sexual contacts of the second
degree]: '[The preacher] handled things carefully, and investigated, and set
order in many proverbs' (Eccl. 12:9), and it is as Ula said in the name of
Rabbi Eleazar: before Solomon came, the Torah was like a pot without handles, until
Solomon had come and made handles for it. [Rashi explains: a pot is made with
handles so that one will be able to hold it at the handles and thus prevent it
from falling down; so did Solomon forbid certain sexual contacts permitted by
the Torah, to prevent people from falling into violation of Torah
Oshaya said, from here [is the hint]: 'Keep distance from it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away' (Proverbs
4:15) [That is, one should endeavor to keep distance from borderline issues
concerning the Torah commandments, so as not to violate them accidentally
Cahana said, from here [is the hint]: 'Therefore you shall keep My guard' (Lev.
18:30) make another guard around My guard. Abaye said to Rav Joseph: in this
case, they [the forbidden sexual contacts of the second degree] are from the
Torah! [He answered:] they are from the Torah, and the Sages had elucidated
them. But the whole Torah did the Sages elucidate! No, these issues were
instituted by the Sages, and the verse is just a parable [asmachta bealma]."
It should be noted that:
- The Talmud here does not deal at all with the
Sages' authority to issue edicts in order to "make a fence around the
Torah," and obligate the whole of Israel. All the Gemara wants to find is
a hint in the Torah about the specific issue of forbidden sexual contacts of
the second degree [shniyot le-arayot]. (It is noteworthy that certain
sages refer to the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs as the Torah as will be
shown below, Chazal had no clear concept of the status of the Pentateuch, the
Prophets, and the Writings in general and in relation to each other.) Actually,
it is clear that Leviticus 18:30 relates to the issue of forbidden sexual
contacts only: "Therefore you shall keep My guard, that you shall not
commit any of these abominable customs [the sexual contacts forbidden in the
verses before] which were committed before you, and that you shall not defile
yourselves by them; I am the Lord your G-d."
- The Talmud itself states that "'Therefore you shall keep
My guard' make another guard around My guard" is not a real exegesis [drasha]
of the Torah verse, but only an expression by means of parable [asmachta]
that is, a didactical method Chazal used to find symbolic expression of
certain rules and laws in Scriptural verses so that people would remember them
better. Or, as Maimonides himself defined it, "For that commandment a
parable was found in that verse as a sign, to make it known and remembered, but
the commandment has no actual connection to the verse. And this is what they
[Chazal] meant by the term 'just a parable [asmachta bealma]' wherever
they used it" (Foreword
to the Mishnah Commentary). Therefore, it is clear that this parable
cannot be an obligatory exegesis giving the Sages comprehensive authority to
issue edicts upon the whole of Israel.
All the above leads to the
conclusion that the Sages' authority "to make a fence around the
Torah" was not derived by any "traditional exegesis" from the
Scripture, but the Sages themselves introduced it for their own reasons. These
reasons, in any case, are deductions and considerations of flesh and blood, not
from the Divine and therefore the Sages' edicts cannot be more authoritative
than any other human laws.
- Traditional exegesis general approach.
Maimonides claims traditional
exegesis to be another part of the Oral Torah, transmitted through tradition
from Moses, who received the appropriate laws from G-d at Mt. Sinai. But again
traditions Halachic traditions included may well be forgotten, altered, or
even invented "of whole cloth" over the course of generations, as we
have already seen. If even concerning the text of the Torah the most sacred
book of Judaism we have no constant homogenous tradition from the era of the
Talmud and the Rishonim, let alone from the Second Temple period, how much more
can we not rely on tradition about exegeses of the Torah that is, orally
transmitted interpretations of Torah's verses. It would definitely be unreasonable
to accept certain exegeses of the Scripture only because it is claimed they are
traditional, without analyzing the rational grounds of that exegesis, all the
more so since Maimonides himself admits that "there are hints to these
laws in the Scripture, and they may be derived rationally."
- Traditional exegesis characteristics.
Maimonides also gives an
essential characteristic of the laws that belong to the category of traditional
[laws derived by the] exegesis received from tradition, which starts from
Moses, are never disagreed with, in any way. As from those times until
nowadays, in any period from Moses until Rav Ashei, we have not found any
disagreement among the Sages."
(Foreword to the Mishnah commentary)
From this statement by
Maimonides it is unclear whether he thought his criterion to be exhaustive
(that is, the laws belonging to the category of "traditional
exegesis" are those and only those laws which are based on the Torah text
and concerning which there is no disagreement) or non-exhaustive (that is, the
laws belonging to the category of "traditional exegesis" are not the
subject of a disagreement; however there may be laws belonging to other
categories which are also based on the Torah text and concerning which there is
no disagreement). In the first case the criterion does not hold up: how can the
fact that none of Chazal disputed a certain exegesis of a Torah verse be an
argument that this exegesis was given by G-d to Moses at Sinai and transmitted
through generations, without change or error, until it was written in Mishnaic,
Talmudic, or Midrashic sources? Maimonides himself wrote that "there are
hints to these laws in the Scripture, and they may be derived rationally"
maybe the Sages all simply accepted the rational bases of these laws and did
not dispute them for that reason, not because they had a tradition from Moses?
In the second case the criterion is insufficient: it does not actually allow us
to determine which of the laws derived by the exegesis of the Torah text were
transmitted through tradition from Sinai and which were instituted by the Sages
themselves, based on their understanding of the Torah (category [c] in Maimonides'
- Traditional exegesis conclusion.
Generally, it is clear that
there are neither reasonable and consistent criteria to separate traditional
exegesis from the laws derived rationally by the Sages on their own (category
[c] in Maimonides' list), nor is any tradition reliable enough to ensure that a
law categorized as traditional exegesis is indeed a law given to Moses at
Sinai. And as any law derived by exegesis of the Torah verses has rational
arguments behind it as Maimonides himself claimed one would do better to
rationally analyze the arguments behind these laws; if those arguments are
reasonable, then it is understandable that the laws derive their authority from
the Torah but if the arguments make no sense there seems to be no connection
between the Torah and the laws that the Sages formulated based on those
The Authority of
the Sages to Interpret the Torah
- Authority given by the Torah itself?
The most common objection to
the above statement is that the Torah itself gave the Sages the authority to
determine Halachic laws which obligate the whole Jewish people, through any
means the Sages wish so any law the Sages issued (including laws based on the
exegesis of the Torah) derives its authority from the Torah anyway. The Torah
portion which is said to give such authority to the Sages is Deuteronomy
there is a matter, the judgment of which is hidden from you, between blood and
blood, between lawsuit and lawsuit, between affliction and affliction, being
matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise, and ascend to
the place which the Lord your G-d will choose. And you shall come to the
priests the Levites, and to the judge that will be in those days, and inquire;
and they will tell you the verdict of judgment. And you shall do according to
the verdict which they will tell you at that place which the Lord will choose,
and you shall be strict to do according to all that they teach you. According
to the verdict of law which they teach you, and according to the judgment which
they tell you, you shall do: do not deviate from what they instruct you,
neither to the right hand nor to the left."
There are two basic approaches
on how to use these verses to learn the Sages' authority to issue Halachic
rulings according to their own considerations, whether or not these rulings
have a reasonable connection to the Torah or indeed any reasonable grounds at
- The first is the view of Maimonides in the
Laws of the Disobedient 1:1-2:
Supreme Beit Din in Jerusalem is the basis of the Oral Torah, they are the
pillars of teaching and from them law and justice spread to all Israel. About
them the Torah promised, 'According to the Torah they will teach you,' which is
a positive commandment, and everyone who believes in Moses our teacher and his
Torah is obligated to rely upon them in all religious practices.
does not follow their instruction violates a negative commandment, as is said:
'Do not deviate from what they instruct you, neither to the right hand nor to
the left'... The matters they learn from tradition, which are the Oral Torah, as
well as the matters they learn on their own in one of the methods of the
Torah's exegesis, if they see the issue this way or that, as well as the
matters where they made a fence around the Torah according to what the situation
demands, which are the edicts, and the regulations and the customs in each
and every one of these three categories, it is a positive commandment to obey
them [the Sages], and whoever violates one of these laws, violates a negative
commandment [of the Torah]. The Scripture says, 'According to the verdict of
law which they teach you' these are the regulations and the edicts and the
customs, which they teach people to strengthen the religion and to put the
world aright; 'And according to the judgment which they tell you' these are
the matters they learn from the Law in one of the methods of the Torah's
exegesis; 'From what they instruct you' this is the tradition they received
one from another."
According to Maimonides' view,
the Torah commands us to obey the Sages' rulings no matter what they are based
upon. However, the verses of Deuteronomy 17 say something quite different from
what Maimonides purports them to say. As one can see, Deuteronomy 17 speaks of
a person or a group of people who do not know what the law is in a specific
situation which has become matter of public dispute "being matters of
controversy within your gates." Such persons are commanded to go to the
Beit Din sitting "in the place which the Lord your G-d will choose."
There they are taught the law, from which they have no right to deviate. Thus,
the only authority the Torah gives the Supreme Beit Din here is that of an
arbitrator solving legal issues which become matters of public dispute. Nothing
is said of legislative activity such as introducing new laws, be it through
exegesis of the Torah or as Rabbinic edicts or regulations.
For example, according to
Maimonides the law that a woman may be betrothed with money is "the words
of the Sages" (Laws of
Interpersonal Relations 1:2), and in his responsa (paragraph 355) he explained
that it is so because this law was not given to Moses at Sinai, but the Sages
learned it later on their own through comparison of two Torah verses, as
explained in the Talmud (Kiddushin
2a). [It is clear that Maimonides refers to the historical process of
this law being derived from the Torah by the Sages on their own and not given
"as is" to Moses at Sinai. Whether this law's Halachic status is that
of "the laws of the Torah" (deorayta) or that of "the
laws of the Sages" (derabbanan) is quite another issue.] That is,
at a certain point in time the Sages came and introduced a new law, unknown
before that a woman may be betrothed with money. This is a legislative
action, and the verses of Deuteronomy 17 seem to give the Sages no authority
for such activity.
Moreover: Maimonides' exegesis
of the verses of Deuteronomy 17 ("'According to the verdict of law which
they teach you' these are the regulations and the edicts and the customs...
'And according to the judgment which they tell you' these are the matters
they learn from the Law in one of the methods of the Torah's exegesis, 'From
what they instruct you' this is the tradition they received one from
another") seems to be his own, as it is not found in the Judaic sources
preceding Maimonides' time. Maimonides was definitely not "the Supreme
Beit Din in Jerusalem," so there is no Torah verse which obligates us to
accept either Maimonides' exegesis or any ruling based on it and thus Maimonides'
derivation of the Sages' authority from the verses of Deuteronomy 17 is
non-authoritative in and of itself, so that there is no objective reason that
anybody should accept it. The question of the Sages' authority remains thus
- On the other hand, several commentators on the Scripture tried
to deduce the Sages' authority to issue Halachic verdicts, even if they have no
reasonable connection to the Torah or indeed any reasonable grounds at all,
from the phrase "Do not deviate from what they instruct you, neither to
the right hand nor to the left" (Deuteronomy 17:11), as Nachmanides explained in his commentary
there on this verse:
to the right hand nor to the left' even if he [a sage] tells you that right
is left or left is right, thus Rashi commented. And it means: even if you think
in your heart that they [the sages] are wrong and the matter is clear for you
as the difference between your right and left hands is clear, do as they command
this commandment [to obey the sages] is of a very great necessity, for the
Torah was given to us written, and it is known that human opinions would not be
the same in all the outcomes [of what is written], and disagreements would
multiply until our Torah would become several different torahs. That is why the
Scripture gave us the law to obey the Supreme Beit Din which stands before G-d
in the place He had chosen, in everything they tell us interpreting the Torah
be it an exegesis they received through tradition from Moses and from the
Divine, or anything they say from their understanding of the Scripture's
meaning or intention for according to their opinion He gives us the Torah,
even if they seem to you mistaking right for left and all the more so if they
say right is right for G-d's spirit is upon those serving in His Temple and
He will not abandon His pious men, so they will forever be saved from error and
However, regardless of any
"great necessity" that one may or may not see in it, the phrase
"Do not deviate from what they instruct you, neither to the right hand nor
to the left" does not mean what Rashi and Nachmanides claim. It only means
that after one has asked the Sages' verdict on an unclear matter, he should not
deviate from this verdict. Neither Rashi nor Nachmanides (nor Midrash Sifri on
Deuteronomy, section 154, from which they took this viewpoint) explain the
reason for this exegesis and of course, any law learned by exegesis of the
Torah's verses should be examined on the grounds of the logical arguments
showing that it indeed follows from the text of the Torah, at least while the
Sages' authority to give that exegesis a mandatory status is unproven and one
cannot consider it proven whilst trying to prove it as Sifri, Rashi, and
Moreover, there is a
contradictory Tannaitic interpretation of "Neither to the right hand nor
to the left," to be found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Horayot 1:1): "As we have
learned from the Tannaim: is it possible that when they [the Sages] tell you
that right is left you would obey them? Of this it is said, 'to go left and
right' only when they tell you right is right and left is left."
- The authority of the Talmud.
In addition to all the above,
the verses of Deuteronomy 17:8-11 clearly say that one should go for "the
verdict of judgment" only "to the place which the Lord your G-d will
choose" and this description throughout the Torah refers only to the
Temple or the Tabernacle (see
e.g. Deuteronomy 12:11, 12:26, etc.). If these verses give any authority
to anybody, they give it to the Beit Din which sits in the Temple court, as
Maimonides and Nachmanides themselves admitted explicitly: "The Supreme
Beit Din in Jerusalem..." There has been no such Beit Din since the Second
Temple's destruction in 70 CE, but almost all the Halachic rulings of the
Mishnah and the Talmud, even if they are based on interpretations of Torah
verses, were determined by Sages who lived after the Temple's destruction and
they did not have the authority given to the Supreme Beit Din by the verses of
Deuteronomy 17, whatever that authority is.
In fact, Maimonides himself
admitted that, and wrote in the foreword to his "Mishneh Torah" about
the authority of the Talmud:
the things written in the Babylonian Talmud are mandatory for all Israel to
follow, and one should coerce each and every city and each and every country to
follow all the customs which the sages of the Gemara followed, and adopt their
edicts, and follow their regulations. For all Israel agreed about all the
things which are written in the Gemara. And the sages who made regulations,
issued edicts, introduced customs or determined laws, learning the way of
judgment, are all the Sages of Israel, or the majority of them, and they
received the tradition of main principles of the Torah, one generation from
another, back to Moses our teacher, may he rest in peace."
So the authority of the
Babylonian Talmud is derived neither from any Torah verse nor even from a
legislative statement by earlier sages, but solely from the fact that the
Jewish people adopted the Talmudic rulings. That is, the Halacha, while claiming to be Divine law, is actually
determined by humans not through elucidation of the Divine Torah by people authorized
to so, but merely through a plebiscite for (adopting) or against (not adopting)
laws. In this case, the Halacha appears to be no more Divine than the
human-legislated laws of any country.
- Authority based on the tradition?
Conceptually, Maimonides' view
seems to deprive the Talmud of Divine authority and therefore he seeks to
base the Talmud's authority upon tradition: "And
the sages, who made regulations... or determined laws, learning the way of
judgment, are all the Sages of Israel, or the majority of them, and they
received the tradition of main principles of the Torah, one generation from
another, back to Moses our teacher, may he rest in peace." However, as was
shown above, tradition is too vague and too alterable a thing to base Divine
law upon. So we find that Chazal had no more authority than any common person
has to determine Halachic laws by exegesis of the Torah or by any other means.
- Wise doctors?
We find many religious Jews in
our time saying that Chazal were very wise and intelligent men, and for that
reason one should adopt their rulings, just as one who visits a doctor should
take the pills prescribed, even if he has no idea of how the pills work and
though the doctor has no legal authority to compel him to take the pills. Many
people base such an opinion on the principle of "decline of the
generations," expressed in the Talmudic saying: "If the previous
generations were like angels, we are like people; and if the previous
generations were like people, we are like asses" (Shabbat 112b). This being the case, it is
necessary to analyze the statements and rulings of the Sages of the Mishnah and
the Talmud, as well as of the Rishonim and Achronim, and check whether these
rulings speak of extraordinary wisdom and intellect or not.
In fact, the very methodology
of our Sages concerning inquiry about factual reality leaves us little
possibility to speak of their outstanding wisdom and intellect. This
methodology was explicitly described by the Sages themselves in Midrash
Bereshit Rabba (chapter 20):
philosopher wanted to know what the length of a snake's pregnancy is. When he
saw them [a male and a female snake] copulating, he took them, put them in a
barrel, and provided them food until they [i.e. the female] gave birth. When
the elders came to Rome, he asked Rabban Gamliel: 'What is the length of
snake's pregnancy?' The latter had no answer, and his face fell. Rabbi Joshua
met him, and asked: 'Why do you look so upset?' He answered: 'I have been asked
a question to which I have no answer.' He asked: 'What is it?' and he answered:
'About the length of a snake's pregnancy.' 'Seven years,' he said. 'How do you
know?' 'A dog is an impure beast, and its pregnancy lasts 50 days, and
pregnancy of an impure domestic animal lasts 12 months. It is written,
"Cursed be you [the snake] more than every animal, and more than every
beast of the field" (Genesis 3:14) and just as the domestic animals are
cursed seven times more than beasts [their pregnancy is 7 times longer], so are
snakes cursed seven times more than domestic animals.' On that evening Rabban
Gamliel went and told that to the philosopher. The later started to knock his
head against the wall, crying: all that I labored for seven years to achieve
this one came and told me in a single moment."
One may well doubt this story
ever took place and we know that there is no snake whose pregnancy lasts for
seven years but this story is very illustrative. It shows us that though
Chazal were quite aware of the empirical way of knowing through experiment and
observation, they ascribed it to a gentile "philosopher," while for
themselves they chose the method of "knowing" reality by exegesis of
Scriptural verses. In the Talmud (Bechorot 8a-b) we are even presented with a lengthy discussion on
how to determine snake's gestational period through exegesis of Genesis 3:14
depending on various exegetical approaches one may obtain pregnancy periods of
9 years, 7 years, or 15 months. Such "natural research" can hardly
lead one to appreciate the "researchers" as wise and intelligent
people. Continuing the example of a doctor, it is like a physician who tries to
treat a patient with an ache in his abdomen but instead of turning to medical
research for a cure, the doctor tries to recall whether the wolf had a stomach
ache after he ate little Red Riding Hood, and what the wolf did in that
- Flat Earth.
The Sages' methodology of
inquiring about reality may be called authority-based for it accepts certain
statements on nature not because they were proven empirically to be true, but
because they are quoted from writings considered authoritative (even if those
writings are not based on empirical observations either). It is well known that
this methodology is able to yield quite amusing results. Based on this
methodology many Christian theologians (from Cosmas in the 6th
century to Luther in the 16th) stated that the Earth is flat, though
much evidence of Earth's spherical shape existed since the 6th
century BCE. These theologians were not blind they were devoted Christians,
and they thought the Holy Writ, which speaks of the "four corners of the
earth" (Isaiah 11:12)
resting on "pillars" (Job
9:6), to be literally true.
But what is more amazing is
that in the Judaic sources we find some of our Sages also stating that the
Earth is flat. The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 94a) gives an explicit description of the flat earth
under the dome of the sky a dome which has actual thickness and in which
there are "windows." Through those "windows" the sun passes
upwards and downwards each morning and evening. According to the Talmud, the
passage through the dome of the sky takes the sun the time of 4 mils.
This picture is not an Aggadah Rabbeynu Tam (see Tosfot on Pesachim 94a, s.v. Rabbi Yehudah)
and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach
Chayim 261:1-2) made Halachic rulings according to this Talmudic
In the Talmudic period it was
already known that the Earth is spherical. The ancient Greeks knew about this
in the 6th century BCE, and after Ptolemy wrote his
"Almagest" about 140 CE, knowledge of the Earth's spherical shape
became quite common. Yet neither the Talmudic Sages themselves nor rabbis of
subsequent generations found it necessary to check the veracity of the flat
Earth concept. Rabbeynu Chananel (10th century CE) even wrote
explicitly in his commentary on Tractate Pesachim 94a: "Despite the fact
that astronomers in our times claim things which are contradictory to this
[Talmudic picture], we must not pay them any heed, but adhere to our rabbis'
words as they are, and not pay attention to anyone else"! Such an approach
speaks neither of wisdom nor of intellect, since Halachic rulings intended to
be put into practice in reality should obviously take into consideration
reality as it is.
- "A fowl has no lungs."
With such an original way of
knowing reality, it is no wonder that Chazal had little or no knowledge of the
simplest natural facts. In Tractate Chulin 57a it is written: "Chizkiah
said: a fowl has no lungs; Rabbi Jochanan said: it has." And after the
Talmud determines that a fowl does really have lungs, it says: "From the
words of our master [Chizkiah] it seems he is not erudite in fowls." To
know whether a fowl has lungs or not one need not be "erudite"
every farmer who slaughters hens for soup knows it. And even if Chizkiah did
not like chicken soup, since the matter of fowl having or not having lungs
impacts on certain Halachic issues (as the Talmud there says), one would expect
any wise and responsible person to check the matter empirically before he makes
such a statement. Ruling laws based on assumptions which one does not check,
even if they can be easily checked, cannot be considered a characteristic of outstanding
wisdom and intellect.
- The windpipe.
In another place in Tractate
Chulin (page 45b) it is
said, "Ameimar said in the name of Rabbi Nachman: there are three
windpipes, one goes off to the heart and one goes off to the lungs and one goes
off to the liver." Yet one need only to perform a section of the human
body to see that the windpipe only goes to the lungs and divides in two:
one to the right lung and one to the left lung.
- "A mouse which is half flesh and half dirt."
Chazal also took for granted
the existence of mythical creatures which had nothing to do with real fauna,
and even learned from the Torah's verses laws concerning such creatures and
used such creatures' characteristics to prove basic matters of the Judaic faith
without troubling to ask themselves whether they knew what they were talking
about. In Tractate Chulin chapter 9, mishnah 6, we find: "A mouse which is
half flesh and half dirt one who touches the flesh is impure, but one who
touches the dirt is pure." Of course there never was and never has been
such a "mouse," and it seems to be an invention of Hellenistic
Egyptian mythology. Yet the Sages were not at all troubled by this fact. In the
Talmud (Chulin 127a)
they used the verse of Leviticus 11:29 to learn whether this "mouse"
is pure or not that is, according to the Talmud the Torah gives us laws
concerning nonexistent creatures. And in Tractate Sanhedrin 91a they even
brought this "mouse" as proof of the resurrection of the dead from
the dust: "And if you disbelieve, go down to a valley and look at the
mouse which is today half flesh and half dirt and the next day it teems and
becomes all flesh." It might be asked whether we should abandon belief in
the resurrection of the dead since there is no such "mouse" in any
valley but in any case it is clear that sometimes the Sages had no real clue
what they are talking about.
Even in simple geometry we find
Chazal determining laws and only afterwards trying to make the facts fit these
laws. In Tractate Eiruvin 14a the Talmud says:
which has in its circumference 3 tefachs has one tefach in
diameter. How do we know this? Rabbi Jochanan said, it is written in the
Scripture: 'And he [Solomon] made a molten sea, ten amahs from one brim
to the other... And a line of thirty amahs circled it' (I Kings
The Talmud rules that the ratio
between a circle's circumference and its radius, known as pi, is 3. In fact, pi
is irrational (impossible to represent as a finite common or decimal fraction),
and taken to 10 decimal places pi=3.1415926536. However the ancient Greeks,
centuries before the Talmud was written, already knew 22/7 as a much better
approximation of pi. Moreover, the ancient Greeks knew that this is only an
approximation, while the Talmudic Sages thought 3 (not even 22/7) to be the
true and precise value of pi. In Tractate Bava Batra 14b they discussed how the
Torah scroll of the Temple, which was 6 tefachs in circumference, could
enter the Holy Ark, where only 2 tefachs of free space were left for it.
The answer of the Talmud was that the scroll could enter the Ark only with a
great difficulty. Were the Sages aware of the real value of pi or at least of
the 22/7 approximation they would have understood that the real diameter of a
scroll 6 tefachs in circumference is about 1.9 tefachs and that
there would be no difficulty at all to put it into 2 tefachs of free
To find that pi is
significantly more than 3 one does not need extraordinary wisdom just a ruler
and a measuring rope but the Sages preferred to determine reality from the
law instead of basing law on reality. Again and again we find our Sages
constructing a "virtual reality" for their purposes without being troubled
about whether it fits the real one, and yet considering what they said to be
- "A louse does not reproduce."
Amazingly, sometimes our Sages
based their statements on the common scientific concepts of their times, but
when later experiments and observations proved those concepts to be wrong the
Rabbinic leaders remained adherent to the old concepts which had become
"sanctified" by Halachic rulings and the practice of hundreds of
years. Thus, in Tractate Shabbat 107b the Talmud allows one to kill lice on
Shabbat, since "a louse does not reproduce." In Tractate Shabbat 12a
the Talmud states that the permission to kill lice on Sabbath was formulated by
the Halachic school of Hillel, while the Halachic school of Shammai disagreed
with it (both schools were active during the period of the Mishnah). The
Rishonim unanimously accepted the statement that lice do not reproduce, but
gave different explanations concerning their origin: from human flesh (Rashi),
from sweat and from dust (Tosfot), from old clothes (Rosh), or from mold (Ran).
Maimonides ruled explicitly, "One is permitted to kill lice on Sabbath,
for they are [born] from sweat" (Laws of Sabbath, 11:3). The Shulchan Aruch also permitted
killing lice, and as late as the end of the 19th century the Chafetz
Chayim ruled that it is forbidden to kill on Sabbath "all creatures that
reproduce, and this excludes the louse, which is born not of a male and a
female, but of sweat, and therefore is not considered a creature" (Mishnah Berurah, paragraph 316,
The origin of this concept is
quite clear. The whole ancient world believed, based on Aristotle, that certain
insects, reptiles, and even fish and small animals like mice are born of
inanimate matter. This theory of "spontaneous generation" or
abiogenesis also influenced the Sages one should note that permission to kill
lice on Sabbath had already appeared in Tannaitic literature (see Tosefta, Shabbat 16:21)
compiled in the Hellenistic atmosphere of the Land of Israel in the first centuries
CE. The Amoraim continued the tradition, and even anchored it in a most
explicit way in the Gemara, thus giving it tremendous authoritative status and
making Aristotelian theory part of Jewish Halacha for generations. From that
time on our rabbis Geonim, Rishonim and Achronim did not trouble themselves
with an empiric verification of the Gemara statement, but continued to derive
all their knowledge on the matter of reproduction vs. abiogenesis from the
authoritative Halachic texts. And even after the 19th century, when
Louis Pasteur proved, beyond any doubt that not only lice but any "living
creature can be born only of a living creature," Halachic arbiters
remained adherent to Talmudic statements, though a brief inquiry into
scientific or even popular-scientific literature would show that the concept of
abiogenesis had been proved to be sheer absurdity. A lack of awareness of
reality, mixed with a dogmatic authority-based worldview, can lead to very
peculiar results which are hardly compatible with "outstanding wisdom and
- The Sages' exegesis illogical in their own terms.
Not only is a great deal of our
Sages' exegesis factually erroneous, sometimes it is illogical even in the
Sages' own terms.
- In Berachot
31b the Gemara discusses the verse of I Samuel 1:11, "And she [Hannah]
made a vow, saying, 'O Lord of Hosts, if You will only look upon your servant's
misery...'" First the Gemara considered the emphasis "if You will only
look" (Hebrew: im ra'oh tir'eh) an odd wording and tried to
elucidate it through some homily. In the end the Gemara concluded that in this
case "the Torah spoke in human language" that is, there is nothing
unusual in such emphasis, it is common in the Hebrew language and therefore
there is no place for any specific homily concerning it. However, the Gemara's
own wording is odd: how can it be said of Samuel, a book of the Prophets,
"the Torah spoke"? The term Torah, when dealing with the
Scriptural books, usually refers only to the Pentateuch. Why could the Gemara
not say, for the sake of conceptual clarity, "the Scripture spoke" or
"the Prophets spoke"? It seems that the Sages had no clear concept of
a major issue such as the status of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings
in general and in relation to each other.
- Indeed, in Tractate Sanhedrin 22b the Talmud learns that a
regular cohen [not the High Priest] must have a haircut at least once
every 30 days:
regular cohen [should have a haircut] once in 30 days, for it is
written: 'They should not shave their heads, neither let their hair grow wild,
but they should poll their heads' (Ezekiel 44:20). And they learned it by
analogy [gezerah shavah] from the Nazarite, based on the word 'wild': it
is written here 'wild,' and it is written: 'He should let the hair of his head
grow wild (Numbers 6:5). As there it is spoken of thirty days, so here it is
spoken of thirty days, as we have learned from the Mishnah: one who makes a vow
to be a Nazarite without specifying the time should be a Nazarite for thirty
Analogy is one of the 13 ways
of Torah exegesis, and many laws in the Talmud are determined through analogy
between different verses but here we have an analogy between a Torah verse
and a verse of Ezekiel, one of the books to which the Sages themselves gave the
status of Holy Writ after some dispute, as was shown above. Chazal drew here an
analogy between what they considered to be a G-d-given text and what they knew to
be a book they sanctified by their own will and not simply an analogy, but
one having practical Halachic implications, thus violating the clear and
reasonable rule in Tractate Bava Kama 2b: "One may not learn matters of
Torah from words of the Prophets and Writings."
- Another more striking violation of this principle may be found
in Tractate Yevamot 89b. The Gemara there discusses the ruling that one who
betrothed a young girl (under age 12), inherits from her and her father does
to the Torah's law, her father should inherit from her so how could the Sages
rule that her husband inherits from her? Because a beit din can confiscate
one's property, as R' Isaac said: where from do we know that a beit din can
confiscate one's property? For it is written: 'Anyone who does not appear
within three days will have all his property confiscated, according to the
officials and the elders, and he will be expelled from the assembly of the
[returned] exiles' (Ezra 10:8). R' Eleazar said, from here: 'These are the
inheritances which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the
chiefs of the paternal households of the tribes of the Children of Israel
distributed by lot' (Joshua 19:51); what is the connection between the chiefs
and the paternal relations? It comes to teach: as fathers bestow property to
their sons, so chiefs bestow property to the people, everything they
Thus Chazal annulled the law of
the Torah (that father inherits from his young daughter) based on the verses of
Prophets (Joshua) and even Writings (Ezra)! This is not some minor law we are
dealing with, but as basic a principle as the right of a beit din to confiscate
one's property a principle which permeates Judaic property law. How can such
a basic principle, which sometimes serves to bypass the Torah's commandments
concerning property relations, be learnt from verses of Prophets and Writings?
The particular verses mentioned by the Gemara seem not to have any legislative
intent but serve a purely narrative function in the context of the stories of
the Israelite conquest of Canaan under Joshua and of the Jews' return from the
- Yet another Halachic discourse in which the Sages dealt with the laws of betrothal is altogether incompatible with the concept of the Torah
as Divine law. In Tractate Ketubot 2b-3a the Gemara rules that "one cannot
claim himself 'forced' concerning the get" and states that if a man
gives his wife a bill of divorcement and says, "This will be your get
if I don't come back here during the next 12 months," and after 12 months
he wants to come back to his wife but he is unable due to an illness, the get
is valid, though it is clear that the husband wanted to come back home and did
not want his marriage to be broken. Since according to the law of the Torah a
divorce is valid only if the husband wishes it, the Gemara comes to the
conclusion that this ruling is the Sages' own innovation. Then the Gemara
how can it be that a get is invalid according to the Torah's law, yet the
Sages... permit a man's wife to be remarried? It is possible, since everybody who
betroths a wife does it according to the Sages' opinion, and in our case, the
Sages confiscate the property he betrothed his wife with."
That is, since the Sages have
the right to confiscate property, they ruled that if one betroths a woman with
any property and later gives her a get conditional on his not returning
home after 12 months, and if he then fails to return home because of
circumstances beyond his control (illness or the like) the property he betrothed
his wife with should be considered confiscated since the moment before the
betrothal (Rashi). In
this case the marriage is considered invalid from the very beginning, and
therefore there is no need for a get valid according to the Torah's law.
Such an approach seems strange
enough already: it is a retrospective confiscation of property. Because of a man's actions at one point
in time (when he fails to come back home though he wants to) part of his
property should be considered as confiscated at an earlier point in time (when
he betrothed his wife). It seems a rather bizarre judicial situation. But more
than that according to the Halacha, one can betroth a woman in a way that
does not involve property, as the Gemara immediately asks:
said to Rav Ashi: well, that is possible if one betroths a wife with money, but
what can you say in a situation when he betroths her by having intercourse with
her? The Sages gave that act of intercourse the status of whoring."
A man may have intercourse with
a woman in order to betroth her by that act, with her full consent and in
accordance with the Torah's law, but the Sages give themselves the power to
proclaim their intercourse merely an act of whoring and they even do not
bother to look in the Scripture for the authority to issue such a ruling. According to the Halacha, it is the law of the
Torah that if a man isolates himself with a woman in presence of two witnesses
and has intercourse with her, intending to betroth her by this act, it is
enough to validate the betrothal (Tosefta Kiddushin 1:3 and Maimonides, Laws of Interpersonal Relations
3:5). No property is involved here only the physical act of
intercourse and the intention of the couple. What can one say: that the Sages
can confiscate not only one's property, but also his thoughts retroactively? Or
that they invalidate the Torah's law on their own, without even trying to look
for the authority to do that? The Sages' ruling seems to testify that they did
not take seriously the concept of "the Torah from Heaven;" more
evidence leading to such a conclusion was already cited above.
- Can law determine natural facts?
Actually, Chazal even thought
and the most later rabbis adopted their view that they could determine factual
reality by issuing Halachic rulings. Thus they thought that if a girl under
three years old had sex with a man her hymen would eventually regenerate. By
"three years" they meant neither solar not lunar years, but three
calendar years, the length of which can vary up to a month, and which were
determined by the Sages themselves. Not only were Chazal aware of this fact,
they even stated explicitly: "A girl three years old and a day, if the
Beit Din determined that year as a leap year her hymen regenerates, and if
not it does not regenerate" (The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 1:1). If a girl became three
years old and had sex with a man and then the Beit Din determined that year as
leap, so that "according to the calendar" it would take her another
month to turn three, her hymen would regenerate, and if the year was not
determined as leap, her hymen would not regenerate! Thus the Sages' Halachic
rulings determine biological processes in the body of a girl who may even not
be aware of the Sages' existence.
Bizarre as it is, this view was
adopted almost unanimously by the Achronim. The author of Pnei Moshe,
the most accepted commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, wrote on this issue:
agrees with the earthly Beit Din, so that if she is three years and a day old,
if she has intercourse, her hymen does not return; but if the Beit Din changed
their mind and ruled that year or month to be intercalated, as said above her
hymen returns if she has intercourse, for she had not yet become three years
and one day old. So the Writings teach us that even nature agrees with them
[the Sages], according to His decree, glorified be He."
The Chazon Ish wrote something
similar in his commentary on Orach Chayim (39:15).
Legislators who think that by
the very act of their legislation they can determine biological facts can
hardly be considered "outstandingly wise and intelligent."
- The Messiah.
The coming of the Messiah is
considered one of the foundations of Judaism, and as Maimonides wrote,
"One who does not believe in him [in the Messiah] or does not wait for him
to come rejects not only the Prophets, but even the Torah and Moses our
teacher" (Laws of Kings
11:1). It is obvious that in so crucial a matter, any error may lead to
disastrous consequences. Some of Chazal understood this, and in Tractate
Sanhedrin 97b it is written: "Rabbi Samuel the son of Nachmani said in the
name of Rabbi Jonathan: woe to those who calculate the end of times, for people
may say: since the moment of the end of times had came and [the Messiah] did
not, he would not come any more. But instead one has to wait for him [the
Messiah], as it is written, 'If he tarries, wait for him' (Habakkuk 2:3)."
Yet many Jewish sages both
Chazal and later rabbis did not agree with the opinion of R' Samuel the son
of Nachmani and tried to figure out the time of the Messiah's coming, sometimes
even basing their predictions on high spiritual revelations.
- Thus on page 97b of Tractate Sanhedrin it is
"Elijah said to Rav Judah the
brother of Rav Sala the Hasid: the world will exist for not less than 85
Jubilees, and in the last Jubilee the Son of David will come."
Since a jubilee is a period of
50 years, the Messiah, according to R' Judah, would come no later than in the
year 50x85=4250 since the Creation, 490 CE. The Messiah, as we know, did not
come then, so either Elijah the Prophet never said what R' Judah claims or
Elijah the Prophet gravely erred about the time of the Messiah's coming.
- On that same page of the Talmud we find:
Chanan the son of Tachlifa sent a message to Rav Joseph: 'I have found a man
who possesses a scroll written in the Assyrian [i.e. the Jewish see above]
script and in the Holy Tongue... and it is written in that scroll: 4291 years
after the Creation of the world, the world will come to its end. Some of these
years will be the wars of the leviathans, some of these years the wars of Gog
and Magog, and the rest of them will be the days of the Messiah. Then G-d will
not renew His world until 7000 years [from Creation] pass. Rav Acha the son of
Rava said: it is spoken of 5000 years [from Creation]."
Thus our Sages relied on a
mysterious scroll possessed by an unknown man in their eschatological
calculations. This kind of frivolity is unseemly from a responsible and
intelligent person even on unimportant matters, and especially so concerning
the coming of the Messiah, an issue so fundamental to Judaism. And of course in
the year 4291 from Creation (531 CE) the world did not "come to its
end," and it was not "renewed" in the year 5000 from Creation
(1240 CE) as R' Acha the son of Rava said, so this whole Talmudic discourse
seems something between fantasy and absurdity, as might be expected of
predictions based on a scroll of unknown origin.
- Unfortunately, the ill-fated predictions of the Messiah's
coming did not end with the Talmudic sages. Rashi wrote in his commentary on
Daniel 12:11 that the period from the beginning of the Egyptian captivity until
the Final Redemption will last 2874 years. Judaic chronological tradition
states that the duration of the Egyptian captivity was 210 years and that the
Exodus took place in the year 2448 from Creation so the Egyptian captivity
began, according to the tradition, in the year 2238 from Creation. So the
redemption should have occurred, according to Rashi, in the year 2238+2874=5112
from Creation, 1352 CE. Of course no redemption occurred in that year and the
practice of bringing the daily sacrifice was not renewed. It is interesting to
note that Rashi lived 1040-1105 CE, long before the redemption he predicted was
due to occur.
speaking in his commentary on the Song of Songs 8:13 about the
Ingathering of the Exiles first of those from the Ten Tribes of Israel and
then of those from the kingdom of Judah (together with those from the tribe of
Benjamin and some from the tribe of Levi) wrote:
it is possible that between these two ingatherings of the exiles a lot of time
will pass... This will be after 1290 years, which is the end spoken of by Daniel
(Daniel 12:11), which is 5200 years since the Creation of the world. And it is
also written, 'Blessed is the one who awaits and reaches the end of the 1335
days' (Daniel 12:12) so the Redemption will be also 'purified and made
spotless,' that is, it will not occur at once... and in that time, wars and great
calamities will prevail, after which the times of condolence and of the
wondrous, great and amazing promises will come."
Of course Nachmanides's prediction of the beginning of the
redemption in the year 5200 from Creation (1440 CE) failed and no ingathering
of the exiles happened in that year.
the other hand, in his commentary on Genesis 2:3 Nachmanides wrote:
the sixth day [of the Creation] it is said, 'Let the earth bring forth living
creatures, each of its kind, animals, creeping things, and beasts of the earth,
each to its kind,' and this creation took place before the sunrise... Then the
man was created in G-d's image, and it [the daytime] is the time of man's power...
All this corresponds to the sixth millennium [since the Creation], in the
beginning of which beasts that is, kingdoms that know not G-d will rule;
but after a tenth of that millennium has passed which corresponds the time
between the dawn and the sunrise the Savior will come... and he is the Son of
David... This will be 118 years after the fifth millennium."
Here Nachmanides understood redemption as due in the year
5118 from Creation (1358 CE), and not 5200 from Creation, as he wrote in his commentary
on the Song of Songs. Whatever the reasons for Nachmanides's change of mind,
1358 CE was not the year of the redemption either. Nachmanides himself lived 1194-1270
CE again, long before any of his predictions was due to be realized.
the dates of Redemption, as predicted by the earlier commentators, all came but
the Messiah did not, the later rabbis might be supposed to have learned their
lesson and ceased dealing with eschatological exegesis. Yet as late as in the
19th century R' Meir Leibush Weiser (the Malbim) wrote in his
commentary on Daniel 12:11-12:
the year 5685 [1925 CE]... the promised wondrous end will come. And I have
already explained that there are two more dates: about one of them it is
written 'an age, ages and half an age' (Daniel 12:7) which refers to the year
5673 [1913 CE], as I wrote above [in his commentary on Daniel 7:25], and the
other date is given in the phrase 'For 2300 evenings and mornings; then the
sanctuary will be vindicated' (Daniel 8:14), which was revealed to Daniel
during his second vision and this time will come in the year 5688 [1928 CE],
as I wrote above [in his commentary on Daniel 8:14]. So we have the three dates
uniting: in the year 5673 the Redemption will begin, and it will last for 14
years... and in the year 5685, three years before 5688, they will begin to build
the Temple, and in the year 5688... 'the sanctuary will be vindicated' the
daily sacrifice will be brought again."
Needless to say no redemption began in 1913 CE, nobody started
rebuilding the Temple in 1925 CE, and no daily sacrifice was brought in 1928
CE. Malbim was wrong in all his predictions and it is noteworthy that he
wrote his commentary on Daniel in the autumn of 1867 CE, when he was 58 years
old, and there were still 46 years before the redemption was due to come
according to his prediction. Yet another rabbi predicts the end of times
occurring after he would die.
to what might be supposed, even after the failure of this prediction the
oracles of the Messiah's coming learned nothing. R' Menachem Mendel Kasher
wrote in his book "HaTekufah haGedolah" (p. 441), published in 1969, that "the period of the Beginning
of the Redemption [atchalta degeulah] will continue until the year 5750
[1990 CE], and it is the era of Messiah the Son of Joseph, but from that time
on, the era of Messiah the Son of David will begin." Messiah the Son of
Joseph is said to lead the Jewish people in the period preceding the final
redemption and to be killed in the war of Gog and Magog near Jerusalem, after
which Messiah the Son of David would come and bring the final redemption (see e.g. Maharsha's "Chidushei
Agadot" on Sukkah 52b).
The year 1990 CE has already passed; Messiah the son of
Joseph did not come and the war of Gog and Magog, luckily, did not occur. R'
Kasher's prediction also failed, and nobody knows how many ill-fated oracles of
Redemption the Jewish people will have to face in the future.
From all the above it seems that many prominent rabbis did
not and do not pay heed to the wise saying of R' Samuel the son of
Nachmani, "Woe to those who calculate the end of times." Such
recklessness concerning one of the basic issues of Judaism a recklessness
whose consequences may be disastrous for our religion is at the very least puzzling,
and definitely does not testify to the "outstanding wisdom and
intellect" of the rabbis who made all these faulty predictions.
in the Halacha
- Were Chazal outstandingly moral?
Another belief, common in
present-day Orthodox Judaism, is that Chazal were outstandingly moral people.
Yet, in fact, the Talmud itself admits that a high moral standing was not
necessarily the Sages' greatest characteristic.
- In Tractate Nedarim 81a it is written:
do Torah scholars not usually have sons who become Torah scholars? Mar Zutra
said: because they act high-handedly against the community... Rav Ashi said:
because they call people asses."
So prominent Talmudic rabbis
like Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi admitted that the Sages behaved arrogantly towards
the ordinary people and even called people asses. Such conduct can hardly be
called "outstanding morality."
- Incidentally, of Mar Zutra himself the following account is
brought in the Gemara:
Judah the Indian [Rashi: the Ethiopian] was a proselyte and had no heirs. When
he was ill, Mar Zutra called on him. Seeing that R' Judah was dying, he [Mar
Zutra] said to his [R' Judah's] slave: 'Take off my shoes and carry them to the
(Tractate Kiddushin 22b)
Mar Zutra's action was intended
to engage the slave in his service after R' Judah's death, since by taking off
Mar Zutra's shoes and carrying them into the house the slave would be acquired
as Mar Zutra's property by the right of possession [chazakah]. Rashi
explains that Mar Zutra was especially careful to take the possession of the
slave before R' Judah's death, since otherwise the slave would acquire freedom
at the moment R' Judah died. The slave obviously did not know this rule and
so we find Mar Zutra, one of our exalted Sages, using his knowledge of the
Halacha for his own advantage while defrauding another person.
- However the above case apparently speaks of a gentile slave,
and from the Talmud it seems that Chazal did not even consider gentile slaves
people. As is said in Tractate Bava Kama 49a,
an ox gores a [pregnant] female slave and she had a miscarriage [the ox's owner] has
to pay [the slave's master] the compensation for the fetuses. Why? Because his
ox injured merely a she-ass, as the Scripture said: 'Sit here with the ass'
(Genesis 22:5) the people who are like asses."
The very institute of slavery,
adopted and legalized by the Scripture and the Talmud, can hardly be considered
"outstandingly moral," and neither can statements calling people
asses simply because did not happen to be born to Jewish mothers.
- Not only gentiles suffered from the sharp tongue of
Chazal. In the Talmud the term am haaretz (literally: "people of
the land") refers to a certain category within the Jewish people. The term
is defined in Tractate Sotah 22a:
rabbis had learnt [in a Baraita]: who is an am haaretz? Rabbi Meir says:
everyone who does not recite the Shema and its blessings in the morning
and in the evening, and the Sages say: everyone who does not put on tefillin.
Ben Azai says: everyone who does not have tzizit on his garments. R'
Jonathan the son of Joseph says: everyone who has sons and does not raise them
to Torah study. Others say: even if one reads and learns but does not minister
to Torah scholars, he is an am haaretz."
According to the Talmud an am
haaretz is a Jew who wittingly or unwittingly does not fulfill certain
commandments. And in Tractate Pesachim 49b Chazal said: "One should not marry a daughter of an am haaretz,
for they are an abomination, and their women are like reptiles, and of their
daughters the Scripture said, 'Cursed is he who lies with any animal' (Deuteronomy 27:21)."
Women here are called reptiles and animals not because their own faults, but
solely because their husbands or fathers are not meticulous in fulfilling some
commandments. And here is what the Gemara says of an am haaretz himself:
"Rabbi Eleazar said: one is permitted to slay an am haaretz on the
Day of Atonement which occurs on Sabbath. His disciples said to him: Rabbi,
cannot you say 'to slaughter like an animal' [which is a less offensive
expression]? He answered: no, since a blessing is needed for ritual slaughter,
but no blessing is needed on [slaying] an am haaretz" (Pesachim 49b) Ironically, one
who violates the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" is not
called an am haaretz.
- And here is what Chazal thought of women apparently,
regardless of the degree of their religious observance:
Baraita says: a woman is a sack full of excrement and her mouth is full of
blood yet everybody longs for her."
This statement might be
intended to prevent men from extreme lust, but the Sages could have chosen a
less offensive phrase to express that idea. Calling people "sacks full of
excrement," maintaining that some people are lower than animals since
animals must be slaughtered with a blessing and these people without a
blessing, and statements like those are hardly testimony to the
"outstanding morality" of those who make them. And though some Sages
spoke positively of women ("Rav Chisda said: ... so we learn that G-d gave a
woman more intellect than He gave a man" Niddah 45b), it does not help
salvage the image of Chazal in general: are we supposed to think that while
some of them were moral people the others had no problem damning all those who
did not belong to their circle? And even if one calls somebody a "sack
full of excrement" on one occasion and praises her on another, such a
person can hardly be considered "outstandingly moral."
- The status of non-Jews.
The above statements by Chazal do
not necessarily have practical Halachic implications. But the situation is much
worse: many practical Halachic rulings harshly discriminate between different
categories of people. Let us consider, for example, the status of a non-Jew
according to Halacha:
- Though one must violate the Sabbath to save the
life of a Jew, it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save the life of a
non-Jew (Yoma, chapter 8,
mishnahs 6-7; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 330:2; Mishnah Berurah, 330,
subsection 8). The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 26a) tried to explain this law: Jews who observe the
Sabbath one is permitted to violate the Sabbath to save, but gentiles who do
not observe the Sabbath one is forbidden to save by violating the Sabbath.
However, this "explanation" is not worth much: how can one hold it
against gentiles that they do not observe the Sabbath if they are not commanded
to? Only Jews are so commanded and can it be a reason to forbid saving people
- Moreover, this is the fate of a non-Jew who wants to observe
the Sabbath, according to Halacha:
gentile who observed the Sabbath, even if he did it on a weekday [and all the
more so if it was actually on Sabbath], if he behaved on this day like a Jew
behaves on the Sabbath, he ought to die."
(Maimonides, Laws of Kings 10:9)
Actually, this law is set by
the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 58b, and Rashi there explains: "They [the
non-Jews] are forbidden to rest not only on Sabbath, which is a day of rest for
the Jews... but any rest is forbidden to them, so that they must not relax from
their work even on a day that is not a day of rest." So people who happen
not to have been born to a Jewish mother are treated by Halacha worse than
animals a Jew's animal, as we know, must have a rest on the Sabbath.
- The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 154:2) goes even further in ruling on how to treat
non-Jewish women and children:
Jewish woman may not breast-feed a gentile child, even for pay (except if she
has too much milk, which makes her suffer then she is permitted to
breast-feed him). And she also may not help a gentile woman give birth, except
if she is known as a midwife then she is permitted, but only for pay and not
on Sabbath and holidays."
Here one does not deal even
with desecration of Sabbath: it is simply forbidden to breast-feed non-Jewish
children it is all right to let them die unless breast-feeding them will
bring some physical relief to a Jewish woman! Nor are we permitted to help a
gentile woman give birth at all except for a renowned midwife, for if
she refuses to help a gentile woman the gentiles would be hostile to the Jews
and would not help Jewish women to give birth (Shach on Yoreh Deah 154:2). And even a renowned
midwife may help a gentile woman give birth for pay only that is, the
common human virtue of charity may not be applied to non-Jews.
- However, nowadays one can see observant Jewish doctors healing
non-Jewish patients, on weekdays as well as on Sabbath and holidays. Why? Here
is the answer:
our times, when there is fear of more than just animosity if Jewish doctors
forbore from treating non-Jews on the Sabbath and left them to die, even this
issue is one of saving Jewish lives, for if non-Jewish doctors heard this they
would stop treating Jewish patients."
(Rabbi Ovadiah Yossef, "Yabiah
Omer," part 8, Orach Chayim, paragraph 38)
That is, the only reason to
save gentiles from death is that if we abstain from doing so, it may harm the
Jews. No human values, no decency and no compassion.
property issues, too, there is injustice to non-Jews in Halacha:
Jew's ox that gored an ox of an idolater [the Jew] is not liable. An
idolater's ox that gored an ox of a Jew may this ox be harmless before, or
already proclaimed dangerous, [the idolater] must pay the whole sum of the
(Bava Kama, chapter 4, mishnah 3)
And though Maimonides (Laws of Property Damages 8:5) tried to explain this law as a fine to gentiles for their
irresponsible conduct (in not preventing their animals from damaging), it is
clear that this law applies to all non-Jews at every time, independent of how
this or that gentile population treats their animals and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 410:1) ruled this mishnah as a plain
practical Halachic law without even mentioning fines, gentiles'
irresponsibility, and the like.
includes a legal system for non-Jews the seven Noahide commandments
however, these are super-draconic laws: "A Noahide should be killed even
for [robbing or stealing] property worth less than a prutah [a coin of a
very low value]" (Avodah
Zarah 71b). In
comparison, a Jew that robbed must only return the robbed property, and if he
stole, he must pay the double, quadruple or quintuple value of the stolen property,
depending on circumstances. A gentile is liable to death if he violated any of
the seven commandments, and he "may be sentenced to death by one judge,
based on the testimony of one witness, and even if he was not warned [before he
violated a prohibition]" (Sanhedrin 57b).
Again, in comparison a Jew may be sentenced to death only if committed one of
the relatively few prohibitions for which he is liable to death, only by a
court of 23 or 72 judges (depending on circumstances), only if he was warned
before he violated that prohibition, and only if two observant Jews testified
before the court that he violated it. Were such a "system of justice"
ever applied to a non-Jewish population it would lead to something much like
our Sages even ruled that the commandment "You shall not murder" does
not apply to non-Jews:
who intended to kill an animal and killed a person, one who intended to kill an
idolater and killed a Jew, one who intended to kill a newborn unable to survive
and killed one able to survive this one is not liable."
(Sanhedrin, chapter 9, mishnah 2)
As "Sefer HaYereim" explained (paragraph 175): "For [in order for one to
be liable] he needs to intend to commit an action for which one is liable. And
the term murder applies only when a Jew is murdered, as it is written: '...who
kills his fellow' (Deuteronomy
4:42) one who
murders his fellow is called a murderer, but one who murders an idolater is not
called a murderer."
to give a gift to a non-Jew, or to praise his good deeds, is forbidden by
them no mercy' [lo techanem] do not give them estate [chanayah]
in the land; another meaning: lo techanem do not ascribe to them grace
[chen]; another meaning: lo techanem do not give them a
(Avodah Zarah 20a)
And though in their plain meaning the words of Deuteronomy
7:2, "Give them no mercy," speak only of the Seven People of Canaan
at the time of the Israelite conquest, the Halachic arbiters ruled it to be a
law applicable to all non-Jews in every era (Maimonides, Laws of Idolatry 10:4; Shulchan Aruch,
Yoreh Deah, 151:8-14).
According to these Halachic arbiters a Jew is strictly forbidden to give to his
non-Jewish neighbor any present (even if he himself has nothing he can do with
it, like non-kosher food) and to speak in a gentile's praise even if this
gentile did many good deeds and perhaps even saved the Jew's life.
- In general, Chazal's attitude to the people whose only
sin is that they had happened to be born non-Jews is best described in the
words of the Talmud in Tractate Yevamot, 61a:
you, the flock of My pasture, you are men' (Ezekiel 34:31) you are called
men, but idolaters are not called men."
- Secular Jews.
But it is not only non-Jews who
"are not called men." Even a Halachically Jewish person may be
treated in a manner which hardly can be called humane:
- The Talmud states in Tractate Sanhedrin 57a:
"A gentile and a shepherd of small cattle one should not lift them nor
push them down," and Rashi explained: "One should not lift them from
a pit to save them from death, nor push them down into a pit to actively kill
them." "A shepherd of small cattle" here, according to Rashi, is
a Jew who is accustomed to commit sins, like the shepherds who are used to
pasturing their small cattle in others' fields and thus they commit robbery.
One is forbidden to save the life of a Jew who is used to sinning and it is
not spoken of severe sins like murder but of minor ones like pasturing cattle
in others' fields!
- Yet the above speaks only of a believing Jew who violates some
specific commandment. A deliberately secular Jew deserves a much more harsh
attitude, according to Halacha:
that is Jews who do not believe in the Torah or in prophecy it is a
commandment to kill them. If one can kill them with a sword in public he
should, and if not he should act against them with cunning until he causes
them to be killed... But gentiles who are not at war with us and Jewish shepherds
of small cattle and all the like one should not cause them to be killed, and
it is also forbidden to save them from death if they are in mortal danger. For
example, if somebody sees one of them fallen into the sea, he may not pull him
out of it, for it is written: 'You shall not stand against the blood of your
fellow' (Leviticus 19:16) and he is not your fellow."
(Maimonides, Laws of Murderer and Protection of Soul,
A similar ruling may be found
in the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 425:5.
- Of course, nowadays even the most Orthodox rabbis do not want
their congregations to start a massacre of secular Jews, and so the Chazon Ish
ruled in his commentary on Yoreh Deah (paragraph 2, section 16):
seems that the law obligating to kill [the secular Jews] is valid only in those
times when His supervision is clear, like in the time when miracles were
frequent and the Divine Voice was heard... At that time, clearing out the
evildoers was considered guarding the world, for everybody knew that leading
the generation astray [from the ways of the Torah] brings calamities to the
world... But in the time of concealment, when faith has been uprooted from the
poor people, pushing [the heretics] down into a pit would be considered not as
guarding the world, but as a deterioration... And because our main goal is to fix
things, we should not apply this law when it would not lead to improvement, but
we have to return them [the heretics] through ties of love and put them in the
rays of light as much as we can."
It is quite clear that the
whole excuse of "special perverseness" of the heretics in ancient
times has no leg to stand on. One may speak of miracles and the Divine voice
during the times of prophets, or at the very most in the Talmudic era, but not
in the period of Maimonides, and certainly not in the time of the Shulchan
Aruch. So the Chazon Ish abolished a definite and well-established Halachic
ruling, accepted for generations, because it conflicted with the modern human
conscience of even the most observant Jews. It was a good and reasonable act by
the Chazon Ish; why shouldn't other immoral Halachic laws be abolished, too?
- However, even the approach of "ties of love" was
used only to permit not killing deliberately secular Jews. In other matters
they are still treated as aliens: it is permitted to save their lives on
Sabbath only because of the danger of the secular public's hostility against
religious Jews ("Tzitz Eliezer," part 8,
section 15, essay Meshivat Nafesh, chapter 6), their testimony is
invalid ("Igrot Moshe,"
part 1, Even HaEzer, paragraph 82), the wine they touch is forbidden for
drinking (ibid., part 4, Yoreh
Deah, paragraph 58), and a husband who has become religious may divorce
his secular wife without paying her the sum stated in her marriage contract ("Yabiah Omer," part 3,
Even HaEzer, section 21). And of course none of the modern Halachic
arbiters has ever thought to apply the principle of "ties of love" to
non-Jews, and all the inhumane Halachic laws which concern them are still
One more group of people that
is harshly discriminated against by Halacha are women:
- The Mishnah in Tractate Kiddushin, chapter 1,
speaks of "buying" a woman as it speaks of buying slaves, cattle and
the like. That is, the relationship between a couple being wed is seen by
Halacha as an act of purchase in which a man purchases a specific kind of
property a wife. Likewise, in Tractate Berachot, 57b, we find: "Three
things bring man a good mood: a nice home, a nice woman, and nice
- Moreover, a married woman is severely limited concerning the
basic right to property:
woman's find and her handwork belong to her husband, and of her inheritance he
enjoys the benefit while she is alive. Money which one should pay if he
embarrasses or damages her belongs to her. Rabbi Judah the son of Beteira says:
if she is hurt in a covered part of her body, she gets 2/3 of the sum and the
husband gets 1/3, but if she is hurt in an uncovered part of her body, the
husband gets 2/3 of the sum and she gets 1/3. The husband's share should be
given him immediately, but the wife's share should be used to buy land, of
which the husband enjoys the benefit."
(Ketubot, chapter 6, mishnah 1)
That is, all that a woman earns
for her labor, or even finds in the street, belongs to her husband. If she
inherits any property it is considered hers but practically, all the profit
this property brings belongs to her husband. And even if somebody damaged or
embarrassed her, according to Rabbi Judah the son of Beteira he should pay a
part of compensation to her husband and the part due the husband is paid him
immediately, but the part due the wife is invested in real estate, and all the
profit of this investment belongs to the husband! And the Halacha was ruled
according to the son of Beteira (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 83:1). Though the Sages' regulation
is that in return for giving him all his wife earns the husband is obligated to
provide his wife money for living, a woman's find was ruled by the Sages to
belong to the husband so that there would not be animosity between him and his
wife (Bava Metzia 12b).
It is a rather peculiar way of settling family quarrels, to give one family
member's property to another. And for some reason, the husband's property is
not given to the wife, only vice versa.
- On matters of inheritance, too, women are discriminated
is the order of inheritance: one who died, his sons inherit from him, and they
are privileged over all the others; males are privileged over females. Anyway,
a female does not inherit where a male inherits. If one has no children, his
father inherits from him, but a mother does not inherit from her sons and
this law is known to us from the tradition... A wife inherits nothing from her
husband, but a husband inherits all his wife's property..."
(Maimonides, the Laws of Inheritance 1:1-8)
- If in property issues a woman is merely discriminated against,
in all concerning interpersonal relations Halachic sources actually treat her
as her husband's servant:
woman has no value in and of herself in Creation, for she is only something
additional to the main entity [i.e. man], taken from him and designed to serve
him. That is why our rabbis OBM called her 'a tail'."
(Rashba, Responsa, part 1, paragraph 60)
woman should wash her husband's face, hands, and feet, pour him a drink and
make him a bed (and according to some opinions, she has to make all the beds in
the home). She also should stand before her husband and serve him, i.e. bring
him water or a tool he needs, or take it from him, and all the like."
(Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 80:4-5)
any woman abstains from doing the work she ought to do [to serve her husband],
one should force her to do it, even with a whip."
(Maimonides, Laws of Interpersonal relations 21:10)
Of course, nowadays no man
treats his wife as a servant, and during the last centuries the average
religious Jewish husband has treated his wife much better than his gentile
neighbors have treated theirs but this only means that the average Jewish
husband was and is much more decent and sensitive than Orthodox Jewish Halacha.
- Though in matters of inheritance several customs and
regulations were introduced in recent centuries to give women inheritance
rights by bypassing the laws of the Torah and earlier Halachic rulings, in many
fields of life Jewish women are still discriminated against. They are forbidden
to study Torah, except the Halachic laws which apply to women (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:6).
Consequently, women cannot be religious judges or Halachic arbiters (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 7:4).
Moreover, they are generally not accepted before a religious court as witnesses
(Shulchan Aruch, Choshen
Mishpat 35:14). Maimonides (Laws of Kings 1:5) even ruled that a woman may not be appointed
to any public position, and most contemporary Halachic arbiters adopt this
opinion. In Ashkenazic communities women are not permitted to perform ritual
slaughter simply because of an age-old custom, without even a Talmudic source
behind it (see Rama on Yoreh
Deah 1:1). Women are also forbidden to read the Torah in public,
"because of the honor of the public [i.e. men]" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3),
though it is a mystery why one would consider it an insult to his honor if he
hears a woman reading the Torah in the synagogue.
- The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 373:4) rules that a cohen may not impurify
himself to participate in the funeral of his daughter if she was raped. Not only did she undergo a horrible and traumatic
event, she is also punished for being a victim. Of course if a male cohen
is raped (which can also happen) or even if he himself is a vicious rapist, his
father may impurify himself to attend the funeral.
- Heavy restrictions are made on women's wardrobes: their thighs
and forearms, and even their hair if they are married, are considered
"pubes" (see Mishnah
Berurah, 75, subsections 1-13) though at the time of the Shulchan Aruch
(see Even HaEzer 83:1)
a woman's forearm was considered "an uncovered part of her body."
Even a woman's singing voice is considered "pubes," and a man is
forbidden to listen to a woman (who is not a first degree relative) singing if
he is forbidden to have sex with her or even if she is permitted to him but his
intention is to have pleasure of her singing, "lest he comes to a sinful
Berurah, 75, subsection 17). This, obviously, means that a woman is
forbidden to sing at any public event, even within her family circle if a
stranger is present. Obviously, Halacha does not speak only of women singing
songs with sexual content while dressed in something particularly provocative.
The prohibition also refers to a 12 year old girl dressed in a long blouse and
a long skirt singing the United States' national anthem. It really seems
impossible that somebody would think of having sex with that girl under such
circumstances. Was the author of the Mishnah Berurah so much more obsessed with
women than the average man is?
- Many rabbis try to explain the restrictions placed on women's
dressing and singing by exegesis on the verse "A king's daughter, all her
honor is inwards" (Psalms
45:14), that is, a woman should practice chastity not because of worry
about her safety from potential rapists and not because of men's problems with
their libidos, but because she is like a queen and her honor depends upon parts
of her body remaining unseen. The earliest source for this view may be found in
the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Yoma 1:1. However, the problem is that Psalms
45:14 has nothing to do with a king's daughter's honor. The Hebrew wording
there is not kvodah [her honor], but kvudah [her chattels,
treasure, or precious things]. The Scripture uses the word kvudah in
this sense only, and this meaning is approved by the Rabbinic commentators on
the Scripture themselves (see
Radak on Judges 18:21). And indeed, this meaning perfectly fits the
context of Psalms 45, the wedding of a king with the daughter of another king
and during the wedding ceremony the royal bride brings her dowry into the
groom's palace, of which the verse of Psalms 45:14 speaks. Obviously it has
nothing to do with any woman's chastity.
- Returning to the matter of saving a life, the Mishnah (Horayot 3:7) rules:
man has privilege over a woman, to be saved from death and to return his
And the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 252:8) adopts this
as practical Halachic law: "And if they both [a man and a woman] are going
to drown in a river, one should save the man first." So if one sees a man
and a woman drowning in a river and he can save only one, he should save the
man simply because he is a man. Pitchei Teshuvah on Yoreh Deah 252,
subsection 7, brought a Halachic ruling that if gentiles take two Jewish
children into captivity, a boy and a girl, and want to convert them but agree
to release one of them for ransom one ought to redeem the boy. Though the
girl's children, even if she converts away from Judaism, would remain
Halachically Jewish and so in redeeming the girl one loses only one Jew (the
boy), and in redeeming the boy, the girl and all her offspring on the female
line would be lost forever among the gentiles it is nevertheless obligatory
to redeem the boy. If this is not discrimination against women, what is?
- Forbidden thought?
According to Halacha there are
even thoughts that one is forbidden to think! Judaism teaches that what
distinguishes human beings from animals is the capacity for thought and
understanding (see Rashi on
Genesis 2:7) yet the following rulings exist in Halachic literature:
not only it is forbidden to turn in our thought to idolatry, but about each and
every thought that may bring one to abandon one of the Torah foundations we are
warned not to let it enter our minds."
(Maimonides, Laws of Idolatry 2:3)
they OBM said that not only is the thought of idolatry forbidden, but each and
every thought that brings one to abandon anything from the Torah [is
forbidden]. And the Scripture warned about it explicitly in another place,
where it is written 'And you shall not stray after your heart.'"
(Sefer HaChinuch, commandment 213)
are six commandments which we are obligated to fulfill constantly... And here
they are: ... 6) [A commandment] not to follow the thoughts of our heart and the
sight of our eyes, as is written, 'Do not stray after your heart...' The Sages
said, 'after your heart' means heresy... and heresy is all the alien thoughts
that are the opposite of the Torah's outlook."
(Chafetz Chayim, Biur Halacha, paragraph 1, second reference).
Halacha obliges one to deprive
himself of his human nature if a certain thought may undermine "one of the
Torah foundations." Not only is this an inhumane and absurd ruling (for a
ruling forbidding a person to think can hardly be upheld), it is also highly
suspicious for as it was shown above, many things considered "Torah
foundations" have no leg to stand on if they are subject to a reasonable
and intellectually honest inquiry.
- Outreach arguments.
Thus far we have seen much evidence
suggesting that most fundamental beliefs of Orthodox Judaism are simply wrong.
One may ask whether there is any positive evidence in favor of these beliefs.
It appears that no real evidence of such kind is available. Indeed, there are
numerous organizations engaged in kiruv inducing secular Jews to the
belief and the practice of Orthodox Judaism and one of the basic trends of
such activity is presenting the secular public with various arguments
suggesting that the main principles of Orthodox Jewish belief are factually
true. However, the arguments of outreach organizations originate in ignorance
at best or in charlatanry at worst.
- For example, outreach people claim that the
four animals listed in the Torah as each having a single sign of purity the
pig, the camel, the hare, and the hyrax are the only animals in the world
with only one sign of purity, and not only that, but that Chazal knew of this
from Divine tradition and stated so explicitly in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Chulin 59a). If Chazal's
tradition were not of Divine origin, the outreach people argue, how could they
dare say that no other animal in the world has only one sign of purity and how
could they be correct?
Unfortunately, instead of containing
a proof of the divinity of the Torah, this issue seems to show gross
inaccuracies in the Torah text. The Torah explicitly states that the hyrax and
hare (Hebrew: shafan and arnevet) "bring up the cud" (Leviticus 11:5-6), which
clearly means rumination. But as we have already seen above, neither hare nor
hyrax ruminates. And though there are some Rabbinic authorities who claim that shafan
and arnevet of the Torah are not the hare and the hyrax familiar to us,
or who interpret the term "brings up the cud" (maalat gerah)
as some action or quality other than rumination, all these excuses cannot stand
up to the scrutiny of reason. Moreover, there are definitely more than just
four animals with only one sign of purity. The Torah's list does not include
the warthog, the babirussa, the peccaries, and the llamas. One can say that
from the Torah's viewpoint all llamas are camels, and the warthog, babirussa,
and peccary are all pigs, but we have specific criteria for distinguishing
between different species (minim) of animals. We consider the horse and
the mule, for example, or the mule and the donkey to be different species, and
there are fewer differences between the mule and the donkey than between the
pig and the peccary or between the camel and the llama.
- Another example of outreach argumentation is their claim that
while the whole world believed for millennia that the Earth is flat, the Jewish
sages knew (from the tradition of Divine origin, of course) that the Earth's
shape is spherical. However, the earliest Jewish source speaking of the
spherical Earth is the Jerusalem Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3:1), written in the 4th
century CE; the Greeks already knew in the 6th century BCE that the
earth is spherical. The Jerusalem Talmud itself uses the statement that
"the world is made like a ball" to explain why a statue of a gentile
deity holding a ball is forbidden (the ball symbolizes power over the whole
earth); that is, the Talmud admits that knowledge of the Earth's spherical
shape is initially gentile knowledge.
Moreover, this is the view of
the Jerusalem Talmud, while the Babylonian Talmud, as we have already seen,
gives in Tractate Pesachim 94b an explicit description of the flat Earth under
the dome of the sky a dome which has actual thickness and in which there are
"windows." Through those "windows" the sun passes upwards
and downwards each morning and evening. According to the Talmud, the passage
through the dome of the sky takes the sun the time of 4 mils. This
absurd picture was even adopted as the base for practical Halachic laws by
Rabbeynu Tam and the Shulchan Aruch, as was shown above.
- One more argument of the outreach activists is what they claim
to be fulfillment of the prophecies stated in the Scripture. However, as we
have seen above, too many of these prophecies were unfulfilled, and close
analysis of this topic would lead one to conclusions quite different from
acceptance of the Divine origin of the Torah.
- But perhaps the most outrageous field of the outreach
argumentation is the so-called "Torah codes." They claim various
information relating to personalities and events long after the Torah was
written is "encoded" in the Torah text by various methods (mostly by
ELS equidistant letter skips). However, all the accurate statistical analysis
performed until now shows that no more occurrences of such information may be
found in the Torah than in any other written text of equal length, and the
textual research shows that any of the Torah texts used now by various Jewish
congregations seems to be very different from the original version of the
Torah, so that any information "encoded" in the original text could
not be found in contemporary versions. However, when the scientific dispute on
the matter of the "Torah codes" tended to conclusions unfavorable to
the outreach activists, and when it became known to them that many of the
scientists opposed to the idea of the "codes" are observant Jews, the
outreach people did not hesitate to appeal to the haskamot given by
leading rabbis to their activity as weighty arguments in the scientific
dispute. Not only is this charlatanry; it is quite silly.
- No other positive argumentation.
However, even if we cast away
the outreach arguments, we will find no factual evidence supporting the
correctness of Orthodox Jewish belief. So we remain with an unsupported
dogmatic belief which contradicts factual reality at multitude of points, as we
have seen. This is a rather disappointing conclusion for anyone who wants to
check the veracity of that belief.