A Letter to Boruch

1) In order to serve God in a general way, it is perhaps sufficient, to follow one’s moral instincts to the best of one’s ability. But in order to serve God in a particular way (such as both Judaism and Christianity purport to do), the moral instinct must be augmented by a communication from God.

2) Jews believes that they possess such a communication. The Jews believe that the totality of the living testimony of their nation, is the communication through which they can accurately know God’s will concerning their service of God. (I hope to include a note providing some synopsis of this “totality of testimony”, at this point let me say that although there is much complexity to this testimony, the basics are quite simple.)

3) Jews are confident that this testimony originates with God, and that it accurately conveys God’s will. The basis for this confidence is a confluence of many factors. It is not any one defined factor, but like the testimony itself, it is a totality of the national experience which testifies to the veracity of the totality of the national testimony. (Perhaps I will include another note in an attempt to articulate the totality of this evidence.)

4) The uniqueness of the totality of this national experience forms the basis for the Jew’s conviction that there is no comparable claim for a communication from God.

5) Christian missionaries argue that the totality of the Jewish testimony is false. In order to establish a basis for this argument they draw evidence from several sources.

A) They draw evidence from within the totality of the testimony (such as by quoting from scripture or from the rabbinic writings) to the effect that the totality of the testimony is inconsistent.

B) They draw evidence from documents that stand outside of the living national testimony (such as quotations from the Dead Sea scrolls, or similar historical documents which are not part of the living testimony of the nation) to the effect that the totality of the testimony is false.

C) They draw evidence from human experience (such as miracle works, or other spiritual experiences – your own complete sense of confidence in your future fate, would fall into this category) to the effect that the totality of the national testimony is false.

6) Even with the amalgamation of all these types of evidence, and the totality of every single item drawn from these sources of evidence, there is not the power to move the Jew’s confidence in the truth of his nation’s testimony. The magnitude of the national experience is not challenged by these arguments. In the Jew’s eyes, the missionary assault on the testimony of Judaism, is comparable to the holocaust-denier’s assault on the holocaust. In both cases, a mountain of evidence is being ignored and a crumb (or crumbs) of evidence is being highlighted. (I am aware that you might take offence at the comparison – perhaps another note on that. I also hope to include a note explaining the general Jewish reaction to each of the three types of evidence [A,B,C, above] offered to discredit Judaism.)

7) Every honest person must take the following fact into consideration. The human mind is very capable. Every belief (or almost every belief) that human beings have accepted as truth, were provided by the human mind (of the believers) with rational (or semi-rational) arguments that justify acceptance of those beliefs. Every set of beliefs has its own apologists who supply arguments that aim to satisfy the human sensitivity to truth. In many cases these arguments only appeal to those who have already accepted the set of beliefs (that the arguments were called to defend), but these people tend to be satisfied that a bone has been thrown to their sense of honesty. Furthermore, since they are intimately familiar with their own line of argumentation, they see their own arguments in a much clearer light. Their own arguments and experiences loom as huge mountains in their minds, while the arguments of their opponents which peep over the horizon of their mind-sets seem to them, vague and disjointed. Even if the arguments of their opponents manage to prick their sense of honesty, they still do not have the power to overturn what they perceive as the mountains of arguments in favor of their own ideology. Thus many people manage to honestly think that their, and only their belief system is the honest truth.

8) Once this fact has been considered, the question becomes obvious. – So how do I know that my set of beliefs is the one which is correct? Just because there are some arguments in favor of the acceptance of my set of beliefs? There are similar arguments which support other belief systems! Is it because these arguments appeal to me? The arguments in favor of other belief systems appeal to other people, while the arguments which support my belief system, fail to impress them! So what is the truth? Or is the truth perhaps unknowable? Is there a different truth for every group of people?

9) Perhaps we can say that there is one set of arguments, in support of one set of beliefs, that has a more universal appeal than all of the competition? Adherents of many belief systems, like to think that their particular system possesses this quality. Christians point to the vast numbers of people who convert to their belief system from the midst of various societies and cultures. Communists, Mormons and Muslims also see in the vast numbers who accept their respective sets of beliefs, a supporting argument for their ideologies. Jews too, like to believe that their arguments are the ones with the most universal appeal. Firstly, they point to the quality of the converts that Judaism attracts from within every different culture. Jews like to think that the converts that they attract are often the cream of the crop of the other culture, people with the most information available to them. Secondly, Jews would argue that it is their ideas that have the most universal appeal, wherever they are to be found. (In other words, the basic concepts of monotheism, kindness etc. are the ideas which are the most universally attractive, regardless of which package they come in.) All in all, this does not seem to be a very decisive method of finding the truth – aside from the fact that the Western ideology of materialism, seems to catch the most people (in other words – seems to be the most universal in its appeal), in spite of its obvious lack of truth.

10) I believe that there is really only one set of arguments for the soul searcher. If someone seriously considers the obvious fact, that as a human being, he may be mistaken, then he will analyze the arguments which he was taught in support of the beliefs he adheres to. And he will continuously examine those arguments until he gets to the bottom of them. Only one set of arguments stands the test.

11) I can speak for my own experience. I have examined (and continue to examine) the various arguments as they relate to the Jewish and Christian claims, and I find that the Christian claims don’t pan out. I have discussed this issue with many Christians, and they seem to have come to the same conclusion. They have invariably done one of two things. Either they refused to continue the discussion, or they have told me that their feelings which convince them of their claims, are more meaningful to them than logical arguments. (see below for a note with a summary of these arguments and discussions.)

12) I propose that there is another decisive method of finding the truth. Now I realize that the argument that I am going to present is thoroughly Jewish. This argument might have little appeal to those of a different mind-set, yet I believe that it must be the deciding argument on this issue. I do believe that this argument cannot fail to get people to think a bit, when considered honestly. And ultimately, it encourages people to see beyond the limitations of their own mind-sets and backgrounds. Before I begin, let me admit, that my keyboard cannot do justice to this argument. In fact, I’ve presented this argument several times in different formats, and you’ve read the underpinnings of this argument in scripture. It seems that the argument did not come across with all of its power. I will attempt to present it here in a different format, and together with the previous introduction, I hope it will penetrate. I recognize my inadequacy to serve as a representative of the truth. I do hope however, that together with all of your reading of scripture, and the totality of your interaction with the bearers of God’s truth, enough of the argument comes across, that your own sense of honesty can pick up the thread and take it from there. Here goes.

13) The arguments which are summoned to support every other belief system, try to appeal to members of society. They advance an idea or a set of ideas, which they hope that society will accept. Judaism does not argue for ideas. Judaism presents a society. Judaism’s claim is not that a particular set of ideas is true (although it is usually presented that way), but rather that a certain living society was chosen. Judaism claim is that the contiguous living Jewish nation was chosen by God. In Deuteronomy 4:30-35, God is not presenting an argument for the advancement of a set of ideas. God argues for a nation. You are a unique society, you are a nation that stands alone.

14) Every other ideology, presents an idea. An idea is smaller than society. Ideas need people and societies to accept them and to maintain them. Judaism is a society. This society was given the idea by God, and the society knows the idea to be true. God utilized the natural process by which a society passes on information from one generation to the next. God orchestrated the events (Exodus, Sinai) which would give the society to understand what it is that He wants, and he orchestrated the events (Holidays, observances) that the society, through the natural process, will keep that knowledge. The argument of Judaism is not so much that the idea that this society is carrying happens to be true, but that the idea must be true because this society is carrying it. Judaism is not trying to appeal to the mind-set, Judaism is arguing for a mind-set. The entire claim of Judaism is that God chose this particular mind-set to bear His message.

15) To carry the point one step further, Judaism is not even arguing for a mind-set, because Judaism is not trying to appeal to anyone outside of its own mind-set (with one exception – sort of – see below paragraph # 20). As opposed to all of the other world religion, Judaism does not believe that all of man-kind is obligated to abide by its message. Instead of encouraging conversion as do the other religions, Judaism discourages them. A prospective convert is taught, that by following his conscience, he can enjoy a deep and eternal relationship with God, without converting to Judaism. The foundational events of Judaism (Exodus, Sinai) were presented by God to the Jewish people, and to no-one else. No-one is being threatened with eternal hell-fire for doubting that the Exodus happened except for the people who experienced it, and their physical descendants. So Judaism is not trying to convince anyone of an idea, nor is it trying to recommend a mind-set. Judaism is God interjecting His message into the natural process of a national mind-set.

16) The Jew does not have to ask himself, “what do members of other mind-sets think of the ideals I live by?”. The Jew follows the natural flow of his national mind-set, and he will bear the message. In this field there is no competition. There is no other credible claim for the choice of a mind-set, of a nation. This is the point of those verses in Deuteronomy (4:30-35). This is the point of the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai. God was not so much presenting an idea as He was choosing a nation.

17) This is not to say that everything every Jew thinks or says is automatically stamped with God’s seal of approval. It does say though, that whatever the Jews testify to having received through a contiguous line of living Jews originating with Moses, is true. Moreover, this testimony is addressed to this group of people, so anyone else examining this testimony must read it through their eyes, and hear it through their ears. Any Jew who participates in this eternal national endeavor (of examining his nation’s testimony through the Jewish mind-set), becomes a living part of the process, and has joined the chain. But that is only true as long as there is living contiguity. Anyone who studies the testimony while disregarding the contiguous chain of living people who bear the testimony, is wasting his time.

18) There are certainly going to be (and there often have been) arguments amongst Jews as to how to understand or to apply various details of their nation’s testimony. These arguments can only be valid, if they rest on the authority of the national testimony, and these arguments can only be settled internally, through the natural process of the nation sorting things out. Those who present arguments with the intention of denying the validity of the living testimony of the nation, are running into the wall of Sinai.

19) Judaism’s quarrel with Christianity, is significantly different from its dispute with any other belief system. Christianity does not try to present an independent argument with a supposed universal appeal (although it is often presented that way). Christianity claims to be the product of Judaism. Christianity rests on its claim to fulfilment of Jewish prophecies. As such, it must appeal to the Jewish mind-set, or else it must be false. The amazing thing about Christianity is that it both denies and accepts the validity of the Jewish testimony at the same time. The Christian argument is that the dead Jews (Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah etc.) got it right, while the living Jews (who saw Jesus, and all who lived since then) have it all wrong. The obvious problem with this assertion, is that Isaiah and Jeremiah were once living Jews, and all of their authority rests in the fact that they were part of a chain of living Jews that goes back to Moses. The fact that someone is a part of this living chain is either important or not, it can’t be both.

20) Those in the Christian camp who recognize the magnitude of this problem, point to the Jewish disciples of Jesus. They argue that these Jews saw in Jesus the fulfillment of the prophecies as they were understood through Jewish eyes. There are a few problems with this argument.

A) First and most important is the fact that with the information that God wants us to consider (the totality of the living testimony) we see clearly that they were mistaken (if their beliefs were indeed what the living Christians claim them to be. – Remember – if the living Jews today could be so totally off the mark, they could have been off the mark in Isaiah’s days as well as any other time. The entirety of their testimony would have to be discarded.)

B) The arguments they presented (in the NT, which may not even be their arguments, but that is all we have to go with) don’t fit with the Jewish mentality now, and they don’t fit with what we know of the Jewish mentality then (the Targumim, Mishna, B’raysa, Medrashim).

C) Since there is no contiguous chain of living people which goes back to those disciples of Jesus, we can never know what it was that they really believed. (The books of the Christian scriptures were edited by a gentile church who had their own agenda.)

D) Some of the books of Christian scriptures give the impression that the Jewish disciples of Jesus directly disregarded the testimony of their nation in order to believe in Jesus. If this were true then this argument fails.

21) The one exception to the rule (of Judaism not trying to appeal to outsiders – mentioned earlier in paragraph # 15) is the situation where a physical descendant of the original mind-set, was born and bred in a different mind-set. One born into such a situation, is not considered liable for his individual violations of the law of Moses. But the Jewish people who have been born into the mind-set of their ancestors are enjoined to try to enlighten this lost son of God. This is the framework of our discussion. Furthermore, most lost Jews are aware that their ancestors were testifying to something, they know that their ancestors were carrying a message. This knowledge is the natural spark that encourages the reconnect with the living testimony.

Note 1) The totality of the testimony; In short – A) The Jewish perception of God. B) The understanding that Moses is the only man authorized by God to deliver law. C) The belief that the living Jewish people are the only ones authorized by God to carry the details of the law through the halls of time. D) The belief that the contiguous chain of living disciples of disciples of Moses are the only ones authorized to pass judgement concerning the application of the law. E) The way the message was borne throughout the generations is both complex and simple. It is simple because that is how nations do things, it is complex because anything natural is complex. Each individual Jew is part of the process. People with basic knowledge carry that knowledge, together with the ability to identify those more knowledgeable than they are both in letter and in spirit. People more knowledgeable carry their knowledge together with their recognition of those more proficient than they both in letter and spirit. People that do not live with the letter or the spirit all the way still recognize the spirit when they see it to a certain degree, and they constantly correct each other as a nation is wont to do. This human chain of knowledge and recognition spans the generations both forward (when the elders acknowledge the proficiency of the new generation – to whichever degree they are proficient) and backwards (when the new generation looks back at its elders and see their proficiency). This human chain crosses oceans and continents (when Jews of different cultures interact and acknowledge each others proficiency).

Note 2) The totality of the evidence; A) The fact that it is a nation’s testimony about events which seriously affected their physical existence (from slavery to freedom, escape from enemies, and sustenance in the wilderness.) B) The fact that there is no other belief system which has living people testifying about their foundational events as something that their ancestors collectively experienced on a physical level. C)The fact that the bearing of the testimony requires a complex and radical type of lifestyle (keeping kosher, Sabbath, family purity, holidays). The constant commitment (as opposed to one-time sacrifices) to this lifestyle can only come from an unquestioning belief. D) The fact that the testimony is a national experience. An entire nation together observing this complex lifestyle in commemoration of events that they all claim to have physically experienced. E) The unity and the harmony of all the vast complexity of information. F) The fact that the Jewish understanding of God’s word provides a precisely accurate map of reality. This is especially obvious in the understanding of human nature. G) The fact that the bearers of the testimony value honesty to the degree that they do, the fact that they recognize that the spreading of knowledge and the asking of questions is the key to truth, and the fact that they live with dedication to these values. H) The type of society produced by the adherence to the testimony. A society which values truth and kindness. A society who chooses its leaders based on their character qualities (holiness, honesty, humility, kindness, and wisdom). A society which is constantly striving for betterment in all areas of morality. A society which values self-criticism and makes criticism an integral part of life. A society which understands giving and justice as no other society does (there may be great individuals in other societies, but there are no societies that match ours in the understanding of these concepts). I) the fact that this society produced, and continues to produce the number of moral giants that it did and does. J) The fact that this society was able to maintain its unity (in understanding the spirit of God’s word) across the boundaries of culture and time (the fact that the Yemenite Jews have the same laws as the Hassidim of Eastern Europe – this before international communication was an everyday occurrence. The fact that Rashi from tenth century France, together with Maimonidies from eleventh century Egypt, and with Bait Yoseph from sixteenth century Palestine, Gra from eighteenth century Lithuania, the Chofetz Chaim from twentieth century Poland – all are alive and well in the mind of a twenty-first century American child).

Note 3) The comparison to holocaust denial. I recognize that holocaust denial is so blatantly immoral because it is produced by an almost conscious desire to justify murder. I am not making the comparison to holocaust denial on the level of its obvious immorality (although any argument that justifies worship of a human – a subject of nature, is also sorely lacking in morality. In fact, according to the Jewish Scriptures, idolatry is a worse sin then mass murder. If not for the idolatrous devotion that the Europeans had towards Jesus, the holocaust would have never occurred.) The comparison I am making is on the level of one piece of evidence versus mountains of evidence. If you read the arguments of the holocaust deniers, you will realize that they are not total fools. They focus on specific pieces of evidence, and build arguments which sound quite logical. The same is with the missionaries. They focus on one specific passages, and build arguments which sound quite logical. But in both cases, the sense of proportion is being distorted. When the totality of the evidence is being considered, the questions being raised (by the missionaries or holocaust deniers) do not even deserve to be answered.

Note 4) The Jewish reaction to the arguments drawn from three sources of evidence. A) The questions drawn from scripture and rabbinic writings. The Jews see these as reading things out of context. In some cases it is obvious from the immediate context, in others one must look at the general context, but in any case, context is being ignored. B) The questions drawn from outside sources. The Jew’s question is; How reliable are these witnesses? How reliable is our analysis of these testimonies? And are these the means through which God chose to communicate with us? C) Those arguments drawn from human experience. There is no way of knowing which experience is more powerful, until all are tested. Obviously, experiences can be misleading, because many honest adherents to many opposing belief systems claim similar experiences. Furthermore, Judaism has its own experiences, but these are not looked up to as decisive in any way. This is not to say that these experiences are less powerful than those of people who do consider their experiences decisive, rather they tell you that the Jewish belief system recognizes that one cannot find the truth through emotional experience. For example, the Christian confidence in forgiveness of sin contrasted with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s lack of confidence in the outcome of his judgement. Just because Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai says he doesn’t know where he stands in judgement does not mean that he did not experience a feeling of confidence in his status with God far superior than Paul’s feelings on this matter. It is just that he recognized that God is the only judge, and human feelings – no matter how spectacular or convincing, simply cannot be trusted in this matter.

Note 5) A summary of my own arguments and discussions about Christianity. Without getting into individuals. This also includes books that I’ve read on the subject. Once Christians are made to realize that the totality of Tanach is not on their side, they either resort to bringing evidence from their own feelings, or they pretend not to understand the Jewish arguments, or they argue that Tanach must be read with Jesus in mind, or they cut off the conversation, or they bring up quotes from Rabbinic literature to support the Christian contentions (Brown’s book is a prime example of this tactic). The problem with this last tactic (quoting Rabbinic literature) is that we know the Rabbis. There is a ton of detailed writings which give us a very solid picture of how they lived and thought. And they did not see the world the way the Christians want us to believe that they did.

I still haven’t met a Christian that admits that he understands the seriousness of the argument from the living testimony of the nation (as I tried to present above). This doesn’t say much for common dialogue between Jews and Christians, because for Jews this is one of the most important points.

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Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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4 Responses to A Letter to Boruch

  1. bography says:

    Yisroel
    You say
    “…they (Christians) have told me that their feelings which convince them of their claims, are more meaningful to them than logical arguments.”

    Can you give me an example of the kind of logical argument you are talking about?

    Good post.

    Raphael

  2. Hi Raphael
    the logical arguments I am talking about are the arguments from scripture – I’ve met many high ranking Christians (I mean people who are widely respected in the Christian world) – that when they were confronted with the fact that the scriptural evidence is not on their side – they tell me that they cannot deny their (subjective) encounter with Jesus – one minister told me that “Jesus is the only valid hermeneutical principle through which to read scripture” – another told me that his concept of truth only comes after his concept of Jesus – etc.
    This is with the scriptural arguments – when it comes to the faith structure arguments – I find that they generally don’t even understand the arguments

  3. bography says:

    Yisroel

    Like a magnet you have drawn me back to your post.

    You said:

    “Every other ideology, presents an idea. An idea is smaller than society. Ideas need people and societies to accept them and to maintain them. Judaism is a society. This society was given the idea by God, and the society knows the idea to be true.”

    If I understand you, you are saying that Judaism is not merely a set of ideas like other religions/thought systems; it is a society, a society chosen by God. God gave the thoughts/words that make up Judaism to this chosen society. Now, if it was God who gave Judaism to His chosen society, it follows that this chosen society will know with absolute certainty that Judaism is true.
    Have I understood you?

  4. Hi Raphael
    It is good to hear from you again. Thanks for your question
    I think you may have understood the point that the society was chosen by God and that God presented the idea to this specific society – but the conclusion that you jump to is unjustified – if I understood your conclusion correctly.
    Since God fashioned this society so that it be a society that bears witness to His truth (Isaiah 43:10,21), we can be sure that God will preserve His testimony amongst this society (Psalm 78:5). Thus the society – as an abstract entity will know with absolute certainty the truths that they stand for. However, there is no assurance that every last member of this society will know this truth with absolute certainty, or even that most of them will be consciously aware of the knowledge of the truths that they carry as a society. But the truths were planted in the heart of this society – so any individual member can connect with the collective heart and know the truths with absolute certainty.
    To illustrate. Any specific Jew can wake up one morning and begin doubting if the testimony of his or her nation is true. But in order to dispell those doubts all this individual needs to do is to think about the collective observances that commemorate the collective experiences -and arrive at the truth – with confidence. Deuteronomy 4:30-39 describes this process of questioning and reassurance.
    I hope this answered your question. Please do not hesitate to ask for clarification or to ask any further questions. Our knowledge of truth only benefits from sincere questions.
    Thanks again
    Yisroel

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