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Unread 04-27-2011, 01:46 PM   #1
FlyingAxe
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Bottleneck argument re: Kuzari Principle

The Rebbe seemed to hold Kuzari Principle in high accord, to the point of saying that Mattan Torah is the most verifiable historical event. (In one of the letters about "proof" of Torah's veracity, the Rebbe basically brings the Kuzari Principle as explanation.)

I was talking to my father-in-law over Peisach about emunah, and I said that it is possible to approach emunah from rational point of view namely, using Kuzari Principle. He said he had a problem with Kuzari Principle, which was the following:

Kuzari Principle states that Mass Revelation that happened to one's ancestors is a kind of idea that could not be invented, because the person whom you'd be trying to convince of it would expect to already know about it and if he didn't, he wouldn't believe you. So, I can convince you that my grandfather witnessed a miracle, but I cannot convince you that your grandfather witnessed a miracle (if it is a kind of miracle that cannot be easily forgotten), since you will ask: "If that's the case, why don't I know about it already?"

Well, my father-in-law brought an example of times from Jewish history (e.g., during the times of Ezra) when most Jews did not keep Torah. A select group did keep Halacha and was in charge of transmission of mesoira. Then, the Jews came to the select group to be taught Torah again. This created a sort of "bottleneck" that would allow the members of this group to introduce new concepts into mesoira. So, this is the potential series of evens:
  1. Jews keep Torah.
  2. Jews stop keeping Torah except a select group (e.g., "priests"). They never lose awareness that there is such a thing as Torah; furthermore, they know that there is a group of people that keeps it, but for the most part, the majority of Jews is not interested in Halacha.
  3. There is a resurgence of interest in Halacha. Jews come to priests, who teach them Halacha.
  4. Priests also teach/invent the Mass Revelation story.
  5. Jews ask: "Why have we not heard about this story before?" (As Kuzari Principle postulates they should.)
  6. Priests answer: "Because there was a break in tradition, as you know. Just like you don't know how to put on tefillin or keep Shabbos, you didn't know about the Mattan Torah and Har Sinai. Your father did not teach you how to put on tefillin; he also never told you about Mattan Torah. Now we are telling you." If the priest is charismatic enough, he can convince simple farmers about this.
The reason why the priest's argument in step 5 would be believable, is because the farmer could reason: "Indeed, I knew that there is such a thing as tefillin, but I didn't know how to put it on. I knew there is such a thing as Shabbos, but I didn't know the details of keeping it. Obviously, I don't know everything about Yiddishkeit, since my father and grandfather did not teach me. This explains why I never knew about the Mass Revelation." This is different from the case when a priest comes to someone who already fully kept Torah. In that case, it would indeed be difficult to convince him of something he should already know.

Now, whether in fact it happened during the times of Ezra that most Jews did not keep Halacha or not is irrelevant, because one could imagine that such a time could happen in Jewish history. This "model" would introduce a potential "mechanism" through which the story of Mass Revelation could be fabricated, thus debunking the Kuzari Argument as a foundation for Yiddishkeit.

Therefore, said my father-in-law, our emunah is not based on rational argument (since one can poke holes in every rational argument). It's based on "faith".

So, I was wondering what a proponent of Kuzari Principle could answer to the above "model".
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Unread 04-29-2011, 05:18 AM   #2
danzinger
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See arguments on this thread. In particular posts 13-18.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 04:03 PM   #3
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Sorry, I don't really see how the posts answer the issue I raised above. They give a decent explanation of the Kuzari Principle, but they don't address the "bottleneck" scenario: where the mesoira is in the hands of a small, select group of people, while the rest of the nation chooses to ignore the mesoira, relying on the small group to preserve it. Then, when there is a renewed interest in the tradition, the small group of "transmitters" has opportunity to insert whatever they want into the tradition and the general populace won't question it (as Kuzari Principle says they should), since they know that there was a period of widespread ignorance, and it is expected that they wouldn't know all the details.

I want to emphasize that this argument is not saying, chv"sh, that Torah is not min haShomayim or that it was invented. It is saying that in order to believe in that it is min haShomayim, we have to rely on emunah, not on knowledge, since the attempt to "know" it through Kuzari principle can be disproven, as shown above.

Last edited by FlyingAxe; 05-01-2011 at 05:20 PM.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 04:09 PM   #4
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I mean, I came up myself with two possible answers to the argument:

1. At no point of Jewish history was the number of religious Jews so small as to allow a group of them to "hijack" the tradition and introduce new elements into it. (Which is also a counter-argument against the "broken telephone" idea.) So, even though it might have been possible for the "priests" to convince the ba'alei teshuva that the tradition included mass revelation, they would also have to convince the rest of the frum Jews.

This is one of the arguments about how "broken telephone" could not happen with transmission of Oral Torah (i.e., how do we know that the Oral Torah was transmitted correctly down the generations?). The moment someone transmitted mesoira incorrectly, his colleagues would correct him. And the more essential an aspect of mesoira, the higher the chance of correction.

2. No matter how much of the tradition was lost, the idea of mass revelation is too strong a "meme" to be discarded. I.e., people may not have been interested in keeping Shabbos, but it's unlikely that they would forget about revelation of G-d.

But the second argument requires someone who is already an ignoramus (in the "bottleneck" scenario) to apply a reverse psychology in order to question someone's authority. Therefore, I find the first argument more convincing, even though it relies on an empirical assumption that indeed there was always a critical minimal number of frum Jews. (I think the Rebbe actually says as much in the letter that I referenced: "There have never been fewer than 600,000 observant Jews among Klal Yisroel in any generation.")
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Unread 05-01-2011, 04:50 PM   #5
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There is an erroneous presentation that failing to observe the Torah means that somehow the Torah became unknown. Since there was always a text of the Revelation at Sinai, how could it be 'forgotten'? Most sinners know they are sinners, they just imagine that their sins don't really separate them from HaShem.

The references in the posts do in fact answer the questions, if read completely.

Check out, for example,

http://www.aish.com/h/sh/se/48943936.html#

which was referenced in a previous post.

Also, Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb spends much time on this topic from a rationalist perspective in his audio lessons on 'The Oral Law parts 1-5' and an older stand-alone lesson 'The Oral Law' at

http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/Rabbi_Gottlieb_Tapes.html
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Unread 05-01-2011, 05:07 PM   #6
FlyingAxe
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We see that nowadays, in the Jewish families, where Torah was not observed, it has become largely unknown. I knew, for example, before I started learning Torah and keeping mitzvos, that there was some prohibition regarding using electricity on Shabbos. When I came to a Chabad House on Shabbos, I asked my rabbi: "How come there are electric lights on?"

So, you can imagine the same sort of thing happening, within a few generations, to the general populace that stops being observant.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 05:14 PM   #7
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I actually relied on the reference from Rabbi Gottlieb's Oral Torah shiur for the possible answer 1. (Except applied to Mass Revelation, as opposed to Oral Torah.)

Regarding the argument from AISH web-site, the "bottleneck" scenario precisely attempts to provide the kind of answer Ezra could've given to Jews. Quote from AISH article:

Quote:
Let's assume for the moment that the revelation at Mount Sinai is really a hoax; God did not write the Torah. How did the revelation at Sinai become accepted for thousands of years as part of our nation's history?
Imagine someone trying to pull off such a hoax. An Ezra figure shows up one day holding a scroll.
"Hey Ezra what are you holding there?"
"This is the Torah."
"The Torah? What's that?"
"It's an amazing book filled with laws, history and stories. Here, take a look at it."
Very nice, Ezra. Where did you get this?"
"Open up the book and see what it says. This book was given thousands of years ago to your ancestors. Three million of them stood at Mount Sinai and heard God speak! God appeared to everyone, giving His law and instruction."
How would you respond to such a claim?
The people give Ezra a quizzical look and say,
"Wait a second, Ezra. Something is a little fishy here. Why haven't we ever heard of this before? You're describing one of the most momentous events that could ever happen, claiming that it happened to our ancestors and we never heard about it?"
"Sure. It was along time ago. Of course you never heard about it."
"C'mon Ezra! It's impossible that our grandparents or great-grandparents would not have passed down the most significant event in our nation's history to some of the people! How could it be that no one has heard about this up until now?! You're claiming all my ancestors, the entire nation, 3 million people heard God speak and received a set of instructions called the Torah, and none of us have heard about it?! You must be lying."
And then Ezra answers: "I am not lying. For generations, your ancestors did not care about Torah. As a result, you know bits and pieces of it, but not everything. You know that you have to put on tefillin, but you don't know why, where, how and what's it supposed to look like. You know you're not supposed to do something or rather on Shabbos, but the details are hazy. Because with passage of time, a lot of details became lost. The same way, the fact that all these laws and traditions were given to use by G-d during a Mass Revelation (as opposed to, say, private revelation to Moses) was also lost. Your grandparents did not tell you about it, because they didn't much care."

I mean, the story could go from "G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu Aseres HaDibros" to "G-d told the whole people". And, if you introduce enough doubt about one's ancestors' accuracy of information passage, you can convince someone that in fact it was mass, as opposed to private, revelation.

(Also, note, that in the bottleneck scenario, a Jew would not ask: "What's Torah?" He would already know there is such a thing as Torah. He would ask: "Where did this story about G-d speaking to the whole nation come from? I thought G-d spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu alone, and everyone believed him.")

So, then, according to the counter-argument 2 above, a farmer who came to Ezra is supposed to use reverse psychology and say to himself: "Such an event as revelation of G-d could not be forgotten, even if the specifics of the laws of tefillin or Shabbos could." But here we are making an assumption that a farmer would be able or would care to do this mental gymnastics.

That's why, for me it is much more reliable to assume that there were always enough frum Jews around who would prevent a hoax from passing through.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 05:25 PM   #8
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These kinds of questions should probably be dealt with on a personal basis by consulting a local shaliach, and maybe also studying some basics of logic. Accepting the consequences of one's own logic is sometimes not so easy. And the Revelation at Sinai is just not equivalent to the prohibition of activating electricity on Shabbat! The problem comes from seeing it as a myth or fairy tale, not from 'forgetting' it.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 06:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlyingAxe View Post
(I think the Rebbe actually says as much in the letter that I referenced: "There have never been fewer than 600,000 observant Jews among Klal Yisroel in any generation.")
What letter is this? Reference, please.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 06:41 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjbennoach View Post
There is an erroneous presentation that failing to observe the Torah means that somehow the Torah became unknown. Since there was always a text of the Revelation at Sinai, how could it be 'forgotten' Most sinners know they are sinners, they just imagine that their sins don't really separate them from HaShem.
I would also point out that in the times of the Beis Hamikdash the people sinned with Avodah Zarah- and sins of the like. In other areas they were very pious and probably great scholars.

I'm not sure of the source, but I once heard the following: the fact that Eliyahu was able to eat food from Achav's home- (which birds used bring to him while he was hiding) shows the level of Kashrus in an idolators home.
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Unread 05-01-2011, 06:43 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjbennoach View Post
There is an erroneous presentation that failing to observe the Torah means that somehow the Torah became unknown. Since there was always a text of the Revelation at Sinai, how could it be 'forgotten' Most sinners know they are sinners, they just imagine that their sins don't really separate them from HaShem.
I would also point out that in the times of the Beis Hamikdash the people sinned with Avodah Zarah- and sins of the like. In other areas they were very pious and probably great scholars.

I'm not sure of the source, but I once heard the following: the fact that Eliyahu was able to eat food from Achav's home- (which birds used bring to him while he was hiding) shows the level of Kashrus in an idolators home.

I don't think it was possible up until recently- with the start of the enlightenment and assimilation, for so many jews to forget Torah.
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Unread 05-02-2011, 12:55 AM   #12
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FlyingAxe: You wrote,
Quote:
(Also, note, that in the bottleneck scenario, a Jew would not ask: "What's Torah?" He would already know there is such a thing as Torah. He would ask: "Where did this story about G-d speaking to the whole nation come from? I thought G-d spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu alone, and everyone believed him.")
The verses state specifically that Hashem spoke to all of Bnei Yisrael and then they asked that Moshe Rabeinu transmit Hashem's words to them (See Shemot 20:15-16). The Torah that Ezra would have shown them is the identical Torah to the one that MR wrote - no other tradition exists.
Also, if they knew that they had to put on tefilin, they would presumably be aware of what the tefilin had written inside them (excerpts from the Torah) and what on earth were they doing that for if they didn't have the Torah before then?
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Last edited by danzinger; 05-02-2011 at 02:24 AM.
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Unread 05-02-2011, 02:58 PM   #13
FlyingAxe
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Originally Posted by Torah613 View Post
What letter is this? Reference, please.
More accurately, it says:
Quote:
And let it be emphasized again that during this long chain of tradition, there has been no break, nor has the number of transmitters at any time been reduced to less than many hundreds of thousands, for at no time was there less than one million Jews in the world, Jews from all walks of life, who had no personal ax to grind, etc., yet in each generation of the uninterrupted and unbroken history of our people, this event was accepted as authentic history and the text of the Decalogue remained exactly the same. This is certainly undeniable evidence according to all the rules of scientific proof accepted today. To deny such a fact is anything but scientific; it is the very opposite of science.
The source they bring is: "Excerpted from letters written by the Rebbe on 23rd of Adar I 5717, Rosh Chodesh Adar II, 5738; 4th of Adar II, 5738, 12th of Shevat 5744 and on various other occasions; Sichas Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei 5742, par. 43".

This is from the first chapter of Gutnick Rambam on Torah (principles 8 and 9).
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Unread 05-02-2011, 03:10 PM   #14
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The numbers intrigue me. Maybe someone (with time on their hands...) can point to the exact source. Hopefully it is not found in one of the "various other occasions"...
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Unread 06-29-2012, 01:55 PM   #15
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I realize this thread is old -- but it is important to note that along with the claim we do have some external "proofs."

We have an unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah -- each generation is recorded down to modern times. The Rambam listed it in the Mishna Torah. I have copied some of this and given a list of the chain at Messiah Truth (a counter missionary forum).

Perhaps more compelling is modern science. There have been DNA studies on the koheinim (the priests) who descend from Aaron, Moses' brother. DNA proof shows a common male ancestor going back 3500 years (to the giving of the Torah time-wise). http://www.cohen-levi.org/jewish_gen..._tradition.htm
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Unread 06-29-2012, 02:10 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by sophiee1 View Post
We have an unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah -- each generation is recorded down to modern times. The Rambam listed it in the Mishna Torah. I have copied some of this and given a list of the chain at Messiah Truth (a counter missionary forum).
The whole point of the bottleneck argument is that despite an unbroken chain of transmission, the "broken telephone" phenomenon can occur if the chain passes through a bottleneck narrow enough for a small group of people to hijack the tradition or misinterpret it. Rambam's list does not disprove this argument; if nothing else, if taken alone, it supports it: it shows Torah passing from a single person or a very small group of people to another single person or a small group of people. This is enough to hijack the tradition.

(Of course, what Rambam does not mention is that the people he lists are the heads of the generation, not the whole "learned elite" of each generation.)


For example, if you look at how the tradition of what American Founding Fathers meant when they wrote the US Constitution has been hijacked, you will see this principle at work. And you don't have much of a bottleneck here. You have thousands of lawyers, of all political affiliations, on all sides, constantly interpreting the Constitution and evaluating the Justices' decisions at any moment of the last 230 years.

At the same time, once interpretation of the Constitution has been hijacked even one time (as has happened during FDR's era a few times), the worship of authority and of the precedent (which exists in Judaism as well) is enough to propagate the error through the generations: even if people know that the previous interpretation is wrong, they will submit to it because of respect for the one who made it or respect for tradition in general.

Quote:
Perhaps more compelling is modern science. There have been DNA studies on the koheinim (the priests) who descend from Aaron, Moses' brother. DNA proof shows a common male ancestor going back 3500 years (to the giving of the Torah time-wise). http://www.cohen-levi.org/jewish_gen..._tradition.htm
This merely proves what it purports to prove: that there was a descent of kohanim from very probably a single ancestor. This proves one very small claim of Torah. It does not prove the veracity of all of Oral Torah.
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Unread 06-29-2012, 02:27 PM   #17
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But is it a narrow chain? After all, national revelation is predicated upon 3 million people hearing G-d Himself speak and then each generation passing that message along to the next.

Granted it is circular reasoning to use the Torah as proof of itself -- but I'll do it any way! The Torah tells us that Moshe set up courts of law with members of each tribe -- this is NOT narrow.

Josephus (2000 years ago) tells us that the religion was ancient. How ancient was ancient? Josephus retold the stories in the Tanach in his History of the Jews.

Interesting thread!
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Unread 06-29-2012, 02:36 PM   #18
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When Ezra returned from Babylonian exile most Jews remained behind in Babylon -- and yet they tell the same story of Torah and they observed the same mitzvot. Indeed -- the Babylonian Talmud was written in exile!

At the same time there were Jews living in other lands as well -- and this goes back 600 years or so before the common era. There were Jews in Egypt and later there were Jews in Rome.

We can trace the Tanach back to Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly -- and per Josephus there was an oral tradition of long standing before the Talmud was written. . . Have you ever read Jospehus' "Antiquities of the Jews"?
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