The Kuzari Proof, part I

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29 Responses

  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 diffic