Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Turning an old debate on its head

Being an occasional reader of the Jewish Leadership blog, I've come to expect a fair share of narishkeit from its hallowed pages. But this latest one is quite impressive. OU activist Rabbi Nachman Kahana has figured out how to finally win the great debate with Jewish heretics. Sort of.
For years I have taken the intellectual initiative to convince "stragglers behind the camp" of the truth of the Torah; of our being chosen by HaShem as His people and of our historic right and obligation to Eretz Yisrael etc.

And? What has your success rate been?
But, as I view things today, I am convinced that in this upside down world in which we live, even this activity is distorted.
Distorted, eh? That doesn't sound very good.
It is not for us to convince Jews of the truth in our heritage, quite the opposite, the onus of proof is upon the "break away" to justify his rejection of 3500 years of Halachic Judaism and the 175 generations of unbroken conviction that HaShem revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and there He gave us His Torah.
Wait a minute. For several decades you've been beating your head against a wall trying to convince wayward Jews why they're wrong. Now you do a 180 and say that they need to rationalize their lives to random Orthodox folks? On what grounds? And how about the fact that you're already skewing the debate by assuming that "Halachic" Judaism is static, unchanging, and the same now as it was at Sinai, assuming there was a Sinai in the first place?

It is not I who has to prove that God created the world, it is the break away who has to explain the origin of all existence.
Um, actually, since you're the missionary, yeah, you sort of do. Wow, I sure am happy the Mormons haven't thought of this strategy. "You have three seconds to rationalize why you're not a Mormon, otherwise, you're getting baptized right now, mister!" Look, Rabbi, I'm not trying to convince you of anything, much less lead you off the derech (though there are certainly plenty of arguments and sources that could help). The assumption here that non-Orthos are all tacit participants in some great Disputation (apparently by virtue of randomly encountering you on the street) is quite odd.

The break away is the one who has to prove that the ham sandwich and the marriage to a gentile is true, whereas Avraham, Moshe, King David, the Bet Hamikdash are fiction.

No, they don't, because they aren't making an ARGUMENT about a ham sandwich! Are you kidding me? Maybe people that were raised keeping kosher and then decide to stop need a coherent reason, but people that are merely continuing in the same path they always have? Again- what is the argument for them to NOT do so?
That the teachings of his professor of philosophy 101 can stand over the TaNach, Mishna, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, tens of thousands of talmidei chachamim [talmud students] who have dedicated their lives to the study of Torah, and the many millions of Jews who have stood steadfastly in their beliefs.
Whereas science and philosophy professors, of course, are just in it for the money and prestige. The rabbi actually has a point here in that one should try to learn more about a belief before dismissing it, but there are a few issues here:

A- Why should we assume, by simple accident of birth, that Judaism, specifically Orthodox Judaism, is the One Truth?

B- There are a heck of a lot of beliefs in the world, religious and otherwise. It'll take a while for all us honest seekers to make our way through all that paper, especially if we have to start by learning Talmud.

C- This would be a whole lot more convincing if your average Orthodox curriculum included a smattering of secular subjects, including higher science and non-Jewish philosophy, if only to give them some easy strawmen to compare to the clearly-established Truth. Having failed to do even that, how can we possibly give any credence to the Rabbi's suggestion that the reason secular Jews don't flock back to the faith in droves is because they're too lazy to do the homework?

There's more, you lucky dogs. The rabbi is trying to use his same topsy-turvy argumentation method to convince Jews to immigrate to Israel.
The truth is that we do not have to convince them. It is they who have to justify their remaining in the galut [Exile], when the hand of HaShem is shown daily here in Eretz Yisrael and the dangers in galut loom ever greater with each passing day.
Again, no they don't. It is YOU who want to encourage them to change the status-quo. It is YOU who wants to precipitate a change in THEIR lives, not vice-versa. Switching the goalposts and telling non-Orthos it is now their responsibility to justify their lives and decisions to you is not only nonsensical, it's also confirmation that you can't convince people with your arguments.

For the record, a lot of us DO have reasons for our decisions. We DO have arguments for why we aren't Orthodox or moving to Israel. And if you'd ask, we might even share them with you. But this kind of condescending message from a would-be (or perhaps "former"?) outreach rabbi doesn't deserve any substantive response. You can't prove a negative. The burden of proof is on the person making the claims. You claim Divine Communication, the existence of God, the unbroken chain of Tradition, and, oh yeah, a literal, entirely historical view of the Tanach.

With all those answers, Rabbi, YOU'RE the one that should be making your case to us. If you can't it's your own failing, not ours. Though if this article is any indication, maybe that's a sign that you should look for a new job.


Jon said...

I was hoping you'd come across this, but it doesn't seem to have been blogged about extensively. A few days ago, there was an ad in the NY Times which is described well here:

and not as well here:

I guess the ad appeared at the same time two years ago.

It seemed more to me as a referendum to promote R. Schneerson to the status of King of Israel. I saved the ad and if you wish I can try to photograph it and send it to you.

Friar Yid said...

Thanks Jon,

Schneerson ha-Melech? Sounds mysterious. I'd love to see it. Send me a copy via email.