Kuzari Principle

Kuzari Principle

The Kuzari Principle or National Revelation is a line of philosophic reasoning derived from the medieval work Kuzari. This principle claims to logically prove the historicity of major events recorded in the Bible from the nature of the belief in them. More specifically, it is argued that one can prove from the oral testimony of the story itself that some three million Israelites personally were led out of Egypt in an Exodus, and witnessed God's revelation to them at Mount Sinai, thus establishing the proof of the events discussed in the Torah.

Major formulation

A modern statement of the Kuzari Principle is as follows: "Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred." (Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb, "Living up to the Truth", Chapter 6.)

Gottlieb then goes on to argue that events such as the revelation at Sinai fit the requirements of the Kuzari Principle and so their truth can be deduced merely from the fact that the Jewish people believed they were true. He also argues that other mass beliefs, such as those of other religions, do not fit the requirements, without giving any compelling evidence.

The basic logic of the Kuzari argument is that a story such as that of the Sinai revelation must have originated with a real event or have been introduced at some later moment. In the latter case, the population will have been able to infer its falsehood merely from their lack of prior knowledge of the claim. Therefore, according to this logic, the story can only have been introduced at a time when the population knew it to be true from their own observation.


There are both logical and historical counter-arguments, including:

* The most powerful counter-argument against the Kuzari Principle is the fact that there are numerous examples of falsified myths that people take for granted. Here are a few examples from both Islam and Chrstianity:
** Islam: "...the traditions of Shi'i Islam say that on the day Husain ben Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed, the stones of the Temple Mount were drenched in blood for the whole day. That should have left some commentary from other sources, such as Christians living in Jerusalem at the time, but let us grant that the non-Muslims were not interested, and that the miracle took place only for a single day, and still we have a public miracle."
** Christianity: Feeding the multitude - Jesus fed over 5,000 people in one town and over 4,000 in another, creating food from 5 and 7 loaves of bread (respectively).

* It may not be possible to fabricate a public event during one or two generations, however, when time is distant it is perfectly possible to create a myth regarding the ancestors: "...Greek mythology has it that Prometheus gave fire to the first humans, and afterwards the Greek gods gave Pandora's box of diseases to humanity. Those gifts, for good or bad, were given to the first humans, which are supposedly the ancestors of us all, of the humanity of all the world. "Your ancestors were witnesses to the fact that Prometheus gave them fire", it could be so phrased. Would Rabbi Gottlieb find it strange? It is no more strange than his own saying, "your ancestors were witnesses to the fact that God gave them the Torah". There is as much justification in believing the Prometheus myth, but an Orthodox Jew has already taken it for granted that Greek mythology must be false."

* Speaking of public miracles, what about Joshua 10:13 that says that the sun stood in the middle of the sky for the whole day. That is a much more public miracle, in fact, the whole world would've seen it, yet we see no evidence of this event in other ancient cultures or at least cultures that had a writing system and astronomical awareness. The Egyptians and Babylonians had writing systems, yet they left no trace of the event in their writings, so we are left with only one source for this miracle - The Bible.

* This argument assumes that how the Torah is understood has always been the same. Perhaps over a period of many generations the story of 'strange events at a mountain' evolved very slowly to the current version. Or perhaps the original was a partial fiction which slowly began to be accepted as a factual.-The proponents of the principle view this argument as irrelevant. The Kuzari principle states that as long as a nation believes it had a national experience at any point in time that national experience happened (e.g. national revelation).-The proponents of the principle argue that this idea, while sounding plausible lacks any concrete details of how it could have happened and therefore is impossible to assess. Also even if someday a plausible sounding transformation is thought up, that doesn't mean it is actually possible. The very minimum indirect evidence would be for the critic to find some cases in which we know that this type of transformation did in fact happen. see [http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Kuzari_Principle_Intro.htm]

* This argument assumes that when a text is first written, its precise text became widely known among nearly the entire community, and that most people would know if the text changed. However, this is often not the case. The assumption is that if they are given a new story, they will know that it is new. However, in many times and places people had little accurate knowledge of their history.-The proponents of the principle argue that this argument suffers from the same flaws as the previous one.

* The argument assumes that widespread cultural acceptance of an event as miraculous as proof of the miracle in that the former is impossible to fake. The argument ignores the fact that using this line of reasoning, the arguer would be forced by symmetry to accept the public miracle claims of other conflicting religions. Thus by asymmetrical rejection of public miracle claims of other religions, the argument fails.-The proponents of the principle argue that indeed we are forced to accept any public miracle claim of other religions, provided they do fit the same criteria. But the criteria of the Kuzari principle is not simply that the miracle is public (happening to a group of people). For example one could claim that 500 years ago 1000 people in a village in Australia had a shared prophetic experience, in which the creator of the Universe came to them and gave them a book of rules to live by. One could conceivably go to Australia today and convince people of this story (if one was charismatic and convincing enough) even though it is false. However if one tries to convince them that ALL the population of Australia had this vision together then (according to Kuzari principle) people will reject the claim. The reason they will reject it is they are able to check to see if it is true. When they see that no one in their family, nor anyone they know has ever heard of this event, an event which if it had occurred would have had massive and lasting repercussions. Since no one has heard of it, it must not have occurred. No religious group claims that a miracle took place that fulfills the Kuzari Principle criteria that Judaism does not believe took place as well.

* This argument assumes that the text has always existed in one set form. However, research has shown that early versions of the Bible and other ancient Near-Eastern literature differed in a number of ways. Texts often existed in multiple forms for many centuries, and later forms were the result of an evolutionary editing process. Most Orthodox Jewish writers dispute the validity of this counter-argument, insisting that the Torah's transmission process ensures that it is little changed from its original form. [http://www.aish.com/holidays/Shavuot/Accuracy_of_Torah_Text.asp] -Proponents of the Kuzari principle note that this argument is irrelevant (see previous notes about the proponents' view).

A refutation of the Kuzari principle will also have to explain how the Jews adopted all of their practices remembering the Exodus. Some examples:

The commandments to "tell about the Exodus" to "tell it to your son" to "remember the day you left Egypt" etc.

All the Jewish Holidays and the Sabbath recall the Exodus.

Teffilin and Mezuzos both contain passages recalling the Exodus.

* This argument assumes that we can show that the force that produced all the miracles and the public revelation of Ten Commandments to all people is indeed the Creator of the world, not (for example) an alien civilization whose technological capabilities include production of Biblical miracles or a deity that can bend the laws of Nature (thus producing miracles) but that did not create the world. Even if one is convinced that the events at Mt. Sinai, in Egypt and in the desert happened, what proof is there that they were produced by the creator of the world, besides the assertion by the source of the voice that he is the one who "created Heavens and the Earth" in seven days. This counter-argument can even assume that a conscious Creator of the Universe exists. Since there is no way to link the source of Biblical events and mass revelation with that Creator, one can never prove that Torah laws stem from the Creator. Since we cannot assume anything a priori either about the Creator or the source of the voice at Mt. Sinai, we cannot assume that either the source of the voice would not lie about it being the Creator of the Universe, or that the Creator of the Universe would mind the actual source lying and pretending to be the Creator. (An argument that we can assume anything about the Creator actually contradicts Judaism itself, which states that the only things we can assume about the Creator -- and even then, only as He is invested in the Universe, not in His Essence -- is what He revealed about Himself. Since we are trying to prove the validity of Torah, however, we cannot assume that what Torah says He revealed about Himself is true just because the Torah says so.)

-The statement "the only things we can assume about the Creator... is what He revealed about Himself" is not entirely true. Read Unity of God in Duties of the Heart. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chovot_ha-Levavot#Contents_and_Message

It is true that the Kuzari proof is insufficient without knowledge of (a), that there is a Creator, and (b), that the Creator wants man to know the truth of him (and therefore would not allow a false concept of himself to exist in a plausible way, as well that the Creator would allow to exist a perfect way to conclude to truth of his existence). Knowledge of (a) might exist through arguments for the existence of a Creator, as Bahya ben Joseph ibn Paquda proposes to prove in his book Duties of the Heart. Knowledge of (b) might exist through the tradition of Jewish philosophy concerning the purpose of creation, as taught in one popular source, Derech HaShem, which states that man was created for the purpose of receiving the ultimate good, which is closeness to the Creator, which is the result of resembling the Creator to the greatest degree that a created being can resemble his Creator, which is through self-determination to achieve that degree of closeness (as the Creator is self-determined in his perfection, in a way incomprehensible for a created being, so too must the created being be self-determined, by free will, in his achieving the closest level of perfection available to a created being). While it is true this philosophy relies on Jewish tradition, which is what is in suspicion, it does not detract from the fact that this is the only existing philosophy of creation without flaw.

As well, when one considers that the miracles performed for the Jews throughout history, including fulfilled prophecy in Jewish survival against nature defying circumstances, one must admit the author of the Torah not only has the ability to create biblical miracles, but displays a powerful control, and manifestation in our world. Considering that there is no other being that man knows of that we can attribute this power to, and being that there is no other false statement in all of the Torah (that man is aware of) it seems most compelling to accept the divine authorship of the Torah as the Torah itself claims.

* If one needs to assume the existence of Creator to believe in the Kuzari argument, the argument is not self-sufficient. It is then based on the already existing belief in the existence of the Creator and the necessity of His relating His Will to the Creation (which cannot be proven from an existing Jewish tradition because it is the validity of Jewish tradition that a proponent of the Kuzari argument is attempting to prove). Therefore, people that find teleological proofs for the existence of an Intelligent Creator unconvincing [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Incoherence] cannot agree to the Kuzari principle and must either ascribe to agnosticism of what really transpired at Mt. Sinai (agreeing perhaps that what happened was a set of supernatural events whose source still needs to be proven) or use blind faith to assume that the source of the events was the Creator (and that one indeed exists).-Part of the Jewish tradition is that the 3 million Jews (600,000 adult men with wives) all attained prophecy. There is no tradition counter to this. Hence, part of Kuzari proof of what occurred involves knowledge that the original witnesses would have sufficient knowledge to disntinguish between an experience with the Creator, or a lesser force like an angel. (The Midrash alludes to this as it relates that the Creator spoke, and made seen, all Ten Commandments in a single utterance, both version of the Ten Commandments, as it appears two times in the Torah). While the later generations could not produce enough knowledge of the divine to distinguish between an encounter with a true deity, or false, self proclaimed deity, the tradition that was accepted and passed down was that each individual could discern and understand for himself that the Creator was present at the revelation of Sinai.

* One cannot use any information from the Torah or Jewish tradition in order to prove Torah and Jewish tradition. Since the information that 3 million Jews all attained prophecy is from the Torah, we cannot use it as a proof for validity of Torah. Also, it is not clear how one would prove post factum or even during the revelation that what one has is indeed a level of prophecy, not an illusion of one produced by the source of the prophecy. E.g., if one has a unique moment of revelation, during which he observes what seems to be the Creator of the world, His glory, etc. -- how does one know that this experience and the experience of the truth of the experience is not an illusion produced by the source of revelation? People who have psychotic illusions experience an absolute assuredness of the illusion's reality and complete logical cohesiveness, while to an outsider, both the illusion and the logical cohesiveness are evidently false. Indeed, a sleeping person experiences the same assuredness about the reality and validity of his dream. So, certainly, there are mechanisms in a human being's brain that grant some experience a feeling of reality that could have been potentially hijacked by whoever was the source of revelation at Sinai to give credibility to the sensation of speaking to the Creator (and not an angel, lower-lever god or an alien civilization).

*The argument ignores numerous statements within Jewish tradition, in the Bible, the Talmud, and other texts, that precisely the event it denies did occur; that is, there were periods in Jewish history when tradition was forgotten (if it existed) by the masses, who were then taught it (or re-taught it) by the leadership. Such an incident occurs under King Josiah at the end of the Book of Kings, when a Torah Scroll is discovered in the Temple and no one outside of one prophetess knows what to make of it; another is described in the Book of Ezra, when Ezra reads the Torah to the returnees from Babylon, who are ignorant of the laws and traditions. Further, such events have occurred more recently in Jewish history, for example with the "discovery" of the mystical work the Zohar, never heard of by the masses before the Middle Ages and yet immediately accepted by them as authentic.

External links

*In Favor of the Argument
** Dovid Gottlieb, [http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/publications.htm Living up to the Truth]
** Betzalel Avraham Feinstein, [http://chidusheibetzalel.blogspot.com/2006/01/kuzari-principle-rigorous-formulation.html The Kuzari Principle - A Rigorous Formulation] (A Formal Proof of the Divine Origin of the Torah)
** Nechemia Coopersmith, [http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/G-dAtSinai.htm The Kuzari Principle] (Formal explanation of how the Kuzari principle works)

*Against the Argument
** Shlomi Tal, [http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/shlomi_tal/sinai.html The Sinai Argument] (a reply to Gottlieb), also see [http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/works/SinaiArgument.htm Gottlieb's rejoinder] .
** David Yust, [http://www.talkreason.com/articles/kuzari.cfm The Kuzari - The Principle and the Formalism] (detailed history and analysis).
** Mark Perakh, [http://www.talkreason.org/articles/kellemen.cfm Prohibition to Think] (Criticism of the Kuzari Principle as formulated in Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen's book Permission to Receive, including discussion of whether revelation at Sinai was before entire nation according to traditional Jewish sources)

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