The Kuzari Proof, part I

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  1. RJ Maroof says:

    I revisited your very thoughtful posts in the midst of an exchange I’d been having about the Kuzari argument. I certainly feel that your conclusion about the beauty of Torah as experienced directly is both poignant and powerful. But, after much consideration, I am not sure that your dismissal of Kuzari is well founded.

    The fact that other nations have origin myths is one thing. But the Exodus is not an origin myth, it is a transformation story. It is a story about an already constituted nation witnessing unbelievable miracles and going through a huge set of radical changes as a result. No nation’s history includes such stories.

    With regard to your second objection – the question is, who would be evolving the story? The very people against whom the Neviim were using it? This highlights an aspect of the “myth” analogy that is deeply flawed. Most myths are explanatory; few create obligations. The stories of the Torah are the basis for a covenant that asked the Jews to leave attractive beliefs and practices behind. They were not bedtime stories recited to entertain; they were challenges that demanded a response.

    So I think that the argument based on the Kuzari for the veracity of our tradition is a solid one.

    Meanwhile, though, it is the intrinsic beauty of Torah that motivates all of us more than any formal proof ever could. On this we are in agreement.

  2. micha says:

    Your question of who would evolve the story presumes the conclusion — that it happened as told, and thus there was a continuous chain of neviim.

    If the story were made up, there would be a cabal of unintentional inventors of the new religion.

    But the bottom line is that as a proof it doesn’t work. There are other foundation stories, and I proposed the mechanism by which stories about millions of ancestors can arise. Once that possibility exists, one is left with claim and counterclaim, not proof.

    But then, Rav Yehudah haLevi himself doesn’t consider such proofs to be of value, that any such proof that one person can create, another can deny, so that none actually prove anything.

  3. Yoni Sacks says:

    According to your thesis there could there be a Kuzari book at all? Surely the Rabbi should have told the King to stop the discussion and follow his on heritage?

  4. micha says:

    You’re conflating two subjects: The basis of knowledge, and the study of knowledge once established. The Kuzari opens by showing that philosophy is a shaky basis for knowledge; one the Greeks had to rely upon because it was the best thing left to them. However, given that one established one’s givens though more solid means, philosophy can be used to reach conclusions from them and thereby fill out one’s belief system.

  5. Yoni Sacks says:

    I do not understand how there can even be communication about religion according to your thesis. As you present it, “Emunah peshuta” means unquestioningly taking what the authorities of ones own nation say, as the truth. Any universal source of truth other than unquestioning acceptance of national authorities, ie use of sense perception and reasoning, would by definition, be “philosophy”. I still fail to see how any discussion about Judaism being “superior” to other approaches that Kizari is about, is possible according to your understanding. Superiority of Judaism would have to be according to a human standard beyond national authority, otherwise one would be left with every group following its Emunah Peshuta without possibility of discussion at all. How have you avoided this problem?

  6. micha says:


    Emunah peshutah means having a relationship with the Almighty. It’s not knowing ABOUT Him, even through the authority’s of one’s own nation. I point you again to my quote of R’ Dr Carmy, “The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d. Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.”

    This is also the division between the two subjects: I know there is a G-d because I have a relationship with Him. I experience His Presence, His ‘Hand’ in Torah and the events of my life. I also know ABOUT G-d through philosophical speculation and study of sources proven in the past to be reliable (scripture, my parents, the mesoretic chain, etc…). But that’s how I know more about Him once I already know He is there.

    And yes, there can’t be real communication between faith communities. See R YB Soloveitchik’s “Confrontation“:

    Second, the logos, the word, in which the multifarious religious experience is expressed does not lend itself to standardization or universalization. The word of faith reflects the intimate, the private, the paradoxically inexpressible cravings of the individual for and his linking up with his Maker. It reflects the numinous character and the strangeness of the act of faith of a particular community which is totally incomprehensible to the man of a different faith community. Hence, it is important that the religious or theological logos should not be employed as the medium of communication between two faith communities whose modes of expression are as unique as their apocalyptic experiences. … The great encounter between God and man is a wholly personal private affair incomprehensible to the outsider – even to a brother of the same faith community. The divine message is incommunicable since it defies all standardized media of information and all objective categories. If the powerful community of the many feels like remedying an embarrassing human situation or redressing an historic wrong, it should do so at the human ethical level. However, if the debate should revolve around matters of faith, then one of the confronters will be impelled to avail himself of the language of his opponent. This in itself would mean surrender of individuality and distinctiveness…

    And this is true of philosophical discourse as well. Because again, philosophical discourse does not eliminate the need for immediate experiential knowledge. Rather, it declares such knowledge “first principles”, “postulates” or “givens”, and procedes from there. We don’t speak the same language as people of other faiths — and really only overlap in language (to a greater and lesser extent) with other Orthodox Jews. We do not share all our postulates, and thus, as the Kuzari warns, philosophers can never reach consensus on many topics.


  7. Yoni Sacks says:

    You are just proving my point. Indeed the Rav states in “confrontation” that religion is rooted in personal experience and cannot therefore be a topic of debate between communities. The Rav would not in the same article advocate for a debate between communities in which a non Jewish king becomes convinced of Judaism’s superior argument and converts. What I am asking is how the Kuzari, could be imagined to be sharing the Rav’s opinion as stated in “confrontation”? If Religion is incapable of being measured in objective truth standards, the notion of a debate between various religions, the basis of the Kuzari itself, in which Judaism triumphs, is absurd.

    (The Rav, as you surely know, often offers different opinions to different audiences. Though this is best known to his students in Halacha, it is so in Hashkafot as well).

  8. micha says:

    True, the Rav’s position on experience and categories isn’t the Kuzari’s. But even so, the Kuzari converts because a dream told him to. The whole discourse was to decide which religion to explore. It’s not in-and-of-itself justification for the conversion.

    I also never said religion can’t be measured in objective truth standards. It can’t be discussed, because it involves experience more than the consequent ideas that are tokenized into words or have logical structures built upon them. But that’s not denying their objectivity, but their communicability.

  9. Yoni Sacks says:

    What role does Sinai play in helping a non Jewish king choose which religion to explore?

  10. micha says:

    Read the book!

    The king went hunting for a religion when G-d appeared to him in a dream complimenting his intent, but saying his actions felll short. Then it became an exploration of what to convert to. After part 1 explains why knowledge must be founded on tradition, at least in Rihal’s opinion, there is part II…

  11. Yoni Sacks says:

    I am just pointing out that your explanation in this piece titled “Kuzari #1” of RYHL’s view of Sinai is not correct. It would make sense in the Rav’s framework only. As a resolution to the non Jewish kings problem it is untenable.

  12. Yoni Sacks says:

    It would require saying that a person converting has superior basis for being Jewish while deciding to become which he must forget, in favor of simplistic “faith” after converting.

  13. micha says:

    I don’t think my explanation adds much if anything to the author’s own words. Some quotes from Hirschfield’s translation:

    13. The Rabbi: That which thou dost express is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and thou wilt find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.

    63. The Rabbi: There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances. They belong to the descendants of Japheth, who inhabited the north, whilst that knowledge coming from Adam, and supported by the divine influence, is only to be found among the progeny of Shem, who represented the successors of Noah and constituted, as it were, his essence. This knowledge has always been connected with this essence, and will always remain so. The Greeks only received it when they became powerful, from Persia. The Persians had it from the Chaldaeans. It was only then that the famous [Greek] Philosophers arose, but as soon as Rome assumed political leadership they produced no philosopher worthy the name.

    64. Al Khazari: Does this mean that Aristotle’s philosophy is not deserving of credence?

    65. The Rabbi: Certainly. He exerted his mind, because he had no tradition from any reliable source at his disposal. He meditated on the beginning and end of the world, but found as much difficulty in the theory of a beginning as in that of eternity. Finally, these abstract speculations which made for eternity, prevailed, and he found no reason to inquire into the chronology or derivation of those who lived before him. Had he lived among a people with well authenticated and generally acknowledged traditions, he would have applied his deductions and arguments to establish the theory of creation, however difficult, instead of eternity, which is even much more difficult to accept.

    66. Al Khazari: Is there any decisive proof?

    67. The Rabbi: Where could we find one for such a question? Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved! On the other hand…

    Does he not explicitly say that philosophy can not prove anything (in any strong sense of the word prove), that it merely produces arguments in favor of this idea or that?

    You’re still contrasting philsophy with faith. I do not know how to clarify what I’m saying without repeating myself.

    1- We’re not talking about faith, we’re arguing about which justification system is a more reliable way of producing knowledge.

    2- We’re not talking about one or the other, but rather the appropriate role for each. I’m saying that relating to G-d, knowing Him through experiencing His Creation and His Torah is the basis of emunah, atop which one uses philosophy to know more about Him. That He Exists (and perhaps the more basic things we say about Him as well, this is a blurry line which drifts off), though, is most soundly proven the way we prove postulates, not as a structure built atop postulates.

  14. micha says:

    You’re still contrasting philsophy with faith. I do not know how to clarify what I’m saying without repeating myself.

    1- We’re not talking about faith, we’re arguing about which justification system is a more reliable way of producing knowledge.

    2- We’re not talking about one or the other, but rather the appropriate role for each. I’m saying that relating to G-d, knowing Him through experiencing His Creation and His Torah is the basis of emunah, atop which one uses philosophy to know more about Him. That He Exists (and perhaps the more basic things we say about Him as well, this is a blurry line which drifts off), though, is most soundly proven the way we prove postulates, not as a structure built atop postulates.

  15. Yoni Sacks says:

    The Rabbi: Where could we find one for such a question? Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved! On the other hand…

    I think there is something very important in this statement of the Rabbi. The Rabbi is very careful to recognize what is manifest and proved. He does not view what is proved as shaky. Much to the contrary, he makes sure the King is aware that the Bible does not contradict what is proved. Heaven forbid that the Bible should contradict what is proved! This is very similar to Rambam’s point regarding Creation. If it could be proved that the Universe is eternal we would take Creation as a Mashal.

    But there are certain areas that cannot be proved, either because of the beginning study of the student. Or perhaps because of the immaturity of human knowledge, or because of the inherent limitation of our knowledge. It is here that we are guided by tradition it would seem. Yet, which tradition shall we choose? Surely there must be a way of intelligently choosing a tradition where formal proof does not, or cannot exist?

    In principle, this is where the Kuzari’s argument from Sinai enters the picture. Forgetting your difficulties with the argument for the moment, clearly, for all those who do not have prophetic dreams, this is the course Kuzari advocates. An argument to justify Jewish tradition where stronger proof cannot exist.

  16. micha says:

    I took the piece you quote to be talking about science, math, and areas of philosophy more amenable to proof. But not religion. IOW, if we prove that sunset is caused by the earth’s spin, then obviously the story of Yehoshua stopping the sun isn’t literal and contradicting what’s proven. But if you deal in theology, philosophers not only can contradict, they usually do.

    The method of philosophical proof doesn’t guarantee soundness, that doesn’t mean that no proof is sound. After all, a proof is also no less sound than the combined shakiness in its postulates and logical steps.

    • O G says:

      “IOW, if we prove that sunset is caused by the earth’s spin, then obviously the story of Yehoshua stopping the sun isn’t literal and contradicting what’s proven.”

      This sounds to me like you are saying: “Because this miracle is impossible, it cannot have literally happened.” Krias Yam Suf is also impossible. So was the mann. Miracles happen outside the natural order. If I wanted to put it in more materialistic terms, I could claim that Hashem miraculously stopped the earth’s rotation while simultaneously negating any effects inertia would have on its inhabitants (which is really an extension of the exact same miracle of stopping the earth’s spin) – and restarted it again in the same way. But do we even need to, or can we, explain it? It was a miracle, outside the natural order.

      IT doesn’t seem like the miracle is any less probable once you consider the earth’s spin than it was when we thought the sun was spinning in a giant sphere and Hashem had to stop it.

      • micha says:

        I didnt deny the miracle, I denied the literalness of calling it “stopping the sun”. Which is the navi’s phrasing — “shemesh beGiv’on dam”. It does not say Yehoshua had HQBH stop the earth’s spin, which is apparently what happened.

        • O G says:

          Thank you for the clarification. I see now what you meant. On a somewhat connected note, I don’t know why people get so excited about the whole geocentric/heliocentric debate. My understanding is that according to the strict definitions of modern physics, there is no absolute reference point in the universe, which means that any given point can be taken to be stationary. If so, the Torah simply chose the Earth to be its reference point. Heliocentrism is not absolute fact, it’s a reference frame that has proven the easiest to enable calculating astronomical phenomena.

          • Holy Hyrax says:

            Oh boy. There is nothing in physics that would entertain the idea that would lend to geocentricism in relation to the sun. Sure, perhaps somehow, you can measure the universe and earth itself can somehow be the “center” (though this is nonsense too)… but in relation to the sun, which is what is in question here, there is no denial of what revolves around the other.

          • micha says:

            Actually, HH, it’s not that simple. For example, see

            Effect of General Relativity on a Near-Earth Satellite in the Geocentric and Barycentric Reference Frames
            Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 903 – Published 22 August 1988
            J. C. Ries, C. Huang, and M. M. Watkins

            Whether one uses a solar-system barycentric frame or a geocentric frame when including the general theory of relativity in orbit determinations for near-Earth satellites, the results should be equivalent to some limiting accuracy. The purpose of this paper is to clarify the effects of relativity in each frame and to demonstrate their equivalence through the analysis of real laser-tracking data. A correction to the conventional barycentric equations of motion is shown to be required.

            Both geocentric and barycentric (based on the solar system’s center of gravity; almost heliocentric) are equally valid, and both are actually used.

            The problems with claims of geocentrism is that it is usually invoked in order to put humanity front and center. Learning that the earth was no place central was the central philosophical fallout of the Copernican Revolution. This relativistic viewpoint is actually more “Copernican” than the Copernican Model — it’s saying that no part of the universe is “front and center”. Far from saving geocentrism from its critics, it makes the philosophical issue they’re trying to avoid even more profound.

  17. Proud Hungarian says:

    The Theban foundation legend of the founders who sprouted from the teeth of
    dragon left 5 people standing. see for example

    The Aztec myth concerns Huitzilopochtli, who was a god of war, sun and human sacrifice. He sometimes appeared in human form. According to the Aubin Codex, the Aztecs originally came from a place called Aztlan. They lived under the ruling of a powerful elite called the “Azteca Chicomoztoca”. Huitzilopochtli ordered them to abandon Aztlan to find a new home. Huitzilopochtli guided them through a long journey.

    The story basically describes the public appearance of a superhero of some sort, not the public revelation of the Almighty Creator.

    Also, the Aubin Codex is one book currently in the British Museum Library. It was written by an unknown author in the Aztec language in 1576. We don’t know how many Aztecs actually knew of this story or believed it.”

    “To the best of my knowledge, the only reference to a mass revelation in the Aztec chronicles in in the “Cronica Mexicayotle” which was written a hndred years after the conquest, and was discovered two hundred years after. I couldn’t find any evidence that the Aztec acutally saw it, let alone accepted it as their auithentic histor. And the mircales of the New Testimate seem to have witnessed by other people. So if someone asks, “Why didn’t my father tell me about those miracles” The answer would be “becuase he didn’t see them. Ony other people’s fathers saw them.” That doesn’t hold true for the National Revelation at Sinai.”

    • micha says:

      I’m not sure your point. The “Kuzari Proof” doesn’t depend on the miraculous event being a revelation in particular. Just that it happened to the overwhelming majority of the ancestors of a community who consist of some large population. Similarly, if 5 alleged survivors (as per the story) grew into an entire civilization, the same argument (“if this is true why had I never heard of it before?”) holds. Think about it, the argument depends on the population of the oldest known generation of believers, not the number of attendees within the myth.

      I also gave a mechanism — bed time story becomes legend becomes half-believed myth becomes accepted history over the course of centuries — by which there is no generation that would be startled by the new tale and reject it. In fact, Reform claims this is exactly what happened.

      You’re also missing the forest for the trees… There are many many such myths. By the time you draw lines to show why Matan Torah’s claim differs from those of every myth, you have a very arbitrary little niche that will convince no one. OTOH, if you can just accept that it’s the obvious truth of shemiras Shabbos (or pick any list of mitzvos) that convinces you. It’s like looking up near the sun at midday and concluding the sun is yellow. It’s not a proof you can articulate and prove to others, but internally, it’s a lot more convincing than complex chains of logic.

      • Proud Hungarian says:

        “Similarly, if 5 alleged survivors (as per the story) grew into an entire civilization, the same argument (“if this is true why had I never heard of it before?”) holds.”

        Five people could’ve told their kids whatever they wanted,

        The criteria is stated:

        ( כִּי שְׁאַל נָא לְיָמִים רִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנֶיךָ לְמִן הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם עַל הָאָרֶץ וּלְמִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם וְעַד קְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם הֲנִהְיָה כַּדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה אוֹ הֲנִשְׁמַע כָּמֹהוּ:
        (לג) הֲשָׁמַע עָם קוֹל אֱלֹהִים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַיֶּחִי:
        (לד) אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱלֹהִים לָבוֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי בְּמַסֹּת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדֹלִים כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לָכֶם יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּמִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֶיךָ:
        (לה) אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי יְדֹוָד הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ:

        Out of your entire forest of mythology, you won’t find a nation believing the above,

        • micha says:

          Only if the 5 people existed. But then you’re already buying into the myth… That’s why it’s the earliest generation of believers, not number of people allegedly in the story.

          Sorry, Proud, you’re wrong. It’s not a rare claim at all. Xianity has an alleged eclipse (and according to Matt, and earthquake) at the time he was nailed up. Mind you, a solar eclipse during a full moon would be miraculous. (They only happen at the molad.) And this is something they say was experienced across the entire Roman Empire and beyond.

          The British have King Arthur, who allegedly united them. Is this to be taken as proof he was real?

          I already mentioned that the “Kuzari Proof” doesn’t address what most Reform clergy teach. It also doesn’t address possibilities like Yoshiahu blaming Menashe’s near-obliteration of Yahadus for why people didn’t hear of what he read in that book he found. Or Ezra blaming galus Bavel. Picture what would have happened have all of Israel been through 70 years of Soviet-like religious oppression. Lots of opportunity to say that one was restoring what everyone once knew, before the troubles. Well, we were in that situation on more than one occasion.

          Which is why the Torah speaks of us performing osos. The signs of the truth of our faith are what we see — or perhaps I should say what we hear “na’aseh venishma” — when we perform of its commandments. The Kuzari itself explains the weakness of formal proofs.

          • Proud Hungarian says:

            “Mind you, a solar eclipse during a full moon would be miraculous.” Only if you know astronomy, not for the masses.

            “The British have King Arthur, who allegedly united them. Is this to be taken as proof he was real?”

            His existence is still debated, but did he ever do a supernatural event in front of a nation?

            He purpoortedly fought giant cat-monsters, destructive divine boars, dragons, dogheads, giants and witches but, not in front of an entire people, and the nation as a whole didn’t see it.

            I’m not getting into the mechanics of why, but the Torah’s argument of שְׁאַל נָא is that the replications of the sinai and egypt traditions were not produced elsewhere.

  18. jacob says:

    If I am understanding you correctly, philosophical attempts to prove G-d’s existence fall short. Rather, a jewish person should remain/become religious because first-hand experiencing of the power of halachah and shabbos, lead one to believe in the authenticity of the Torah and its own claims about its origin. In addition Torah study has an elegance etc… (Please correct me if I have misunderstood)

    Now what would you say to a religious individual, such as myself, who experiences shabbos and halacha and Torah and still does not feel the authenticity of Judaism. Even when things feel real doesn’t mean they are. In fact, most Muslims (at least in my experince) will tell you the proof that Islam is the true religion is the Quoran. They say “The beauty of the Quoran makes it impossible to have been man-made. The Quoran is clearly the truth…”

    What makes you think that these emtional and spiritual highs you get when keeping shabbos and studying Torah are any different than the ones that Muslims experience when they study and practice? In truth, there is a strong biological basis for religion and the need for spirituality. Maybe these experiences you are so sure you have are all in your mind?

    Based on your article there is no reason for a jew to be shomer torah and mitzvos if it doesn’t fel real to him or her.

    • micha says:

      There is still reliabilism — trusting information from trusted sources. Like the way most people believe in most of the things they know. E.g. very few people actually saw something evolve. We believe in evolution because we developed a trust in textbooks, certain magazines and news sources, etc…

      And reliabilism WOULD state that if sources you trust say there is something there and yet you have tried Shabbos, or learning Torah, or…. and havent’ found it, that you would assume the flaw was in your attempt. IOW, that you should continue looking for it until you find a Judaism that works.

      But I was speaking of philosophical proof vs evidence, not of reason. People don’t really need things to have an airtight proof in order to hold of them. That’s an abstraction.

  1. September 28, 2014 – ד׳ בתשרי תשע״ה

    […] and (b) contradicts one of the most common arguments for the Torah’s truth (the so-called Kuzari proof).  But the relentlessly simple-minded commentator treats Rashi as […]

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