Thursday, July 13, 2017

Another source that the Torah was forgotten by the masses

IMHO, the best answer to the Kuzari proof is to deny the underlying assumption, that there is a mass mesora about Matan Torah.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (21b) discusses whether Ezra changed the alphabet of the Sefer Torah from Ivri to Ashuri. The Ran there says the following:

ובאמת כי כשגלו ישראל לבבל כבר הלכו להם עשרת השבטים בחלח וחבור ונשארו מתי מעט ושנו את לשונם ואת כתבם ונשתכחה מהם התורה הלא תראה בימי עזרא שנשתכחה מהם התורה ואפילו המצות המפורסמות כסוכה כשקראו להם המצוה היתה להם כחידוש גדול ואז עזרא האיר עיניהם בדיני התורה ומצותיה והוא החזיר להם את כתבם שנשתכחה מהם

In Truth, when the Jewish people went into exile in Babylonia, the 10 tribes were already lost and there were only a small number of Jews left, they changed their language and alphabet and they forgot the Torah. We see that the Torah was forgotten in the time of Ezra and even the famous mitzvos like Succa [were forgotten]. When [Ezra] read the mitzva [of Succa] it was a big surprise to them. Then Ezra opened their eyes to the laws of the Torah and the Mitzvos and he restored the alphabet that had been lost.

The Ran says that they forgot even famous mitzvas like Succa and had no recollection whatsoever of it. They also forgot the alphabet and couldn't read it. In short, they completely forgot the Torah and Ezra restored it.

We see from here not only that there is no mass Mesora about Torah but a refutation of the fundamental principle of the Kuzari proof, namely, a charismatic individual came and reinvented the Torah for the masses and even restored a long lost alphabet.


  1. Kuzari proponents would respond that it's true the masses forgot much of the Torah, but the mesorah survived with a small group of elites. More importantly, the masses wouldn't have accepted the story that their ancestors had all witnessed matan Torah unless they had heard the story from their parents, who heard it from their parents, etc., which proves that matan Torah must have happened.

    What your post does show is that the Torah we have today may have been entirely Ezra's invention, so even if the Kuzari wasn't full of holes, there's no reason to think the text we have is Divine or that the mitzvos derived from it are binding.

  2. If they forgot that the holdiay of Succos existed and they forgot the alphabet that the Torah was given in why should we think that they remembered Matan Torah?

  3. See who argues something like there is scant evidence of a revelation chain in Tenach. Also, someplace at his blog "Are Roster" proves the Torah goes back to Mt Sinai using the Kuzari argument. I pointed out the Ramban and Yehudah Halevi in his Kuzari book write the vast majority had forgotten about the Torah ! There is no chain of the Torah being passed down from Mt Sinai. Kuzari proponents may respond - maybe the Torah was forgotten by the masses but the masses did not forget about a revelation at Mt Sinai. It is possible a distant memory of a volcanic event gave rise to the Sinai story. Moshe had close ties to the Midianites/Kenites who may have resided at one time in an active volcano region. Yahweh as a fire-volcano/mountain god takes on the additional character of a storm god like Baal.

  4. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist"

    The greatest trick the Kzari proof ever pulled was convincing the world it did exist. Arguments against it always fall into the trap of trying to argue from tenach whether there is a mesorah. or to look for other traditions of a "mass revelation event".

    The fact is that the kuzari proof is simply not a reasonable argument at a far more fundemental level. Even if tenach had no story of the jews ever forgetting the torah and even if there is no other remotely similar tradition, the kuzari proof still fails. There is no reason to assume that a revelation tradition can not be established through the usual process of myth formation. It may have only happened once that would just mean it is an unusual myth, not that it must have formed through an entirely different process. If the writers of tenach thought that torah had never been forgotten then that's what they would have written, even had it not actually been the case.

    1. Kuzari proponents will respond that the Sinai revelation is a nation changing event and is thus protected from all methods of myth formation. I wrote 13 posts so far the Kuzari argument.

    2. I have read them all.

      But again, it is the basic assertion that is unreasonable. That it is a nation changing event itself does not change anything (nor is that a well defined concept). In defence, proponents like R' Gottlieb claim that there is evidence for this assertion in that no other such event appears in mythology. Cue adversaries running around the world to find similar myths and then having long drawn out debates as to how similar or not they are to Sinai. This is precisely the issue I was pointing out. The evidence given is simply not supportive of it being a different class of events even if such evidence does exist. All that would mean is that it is an outlying event, not that it is a class of its own.

  5. The Kuzari is a strawman argument. It successfully proves that at no point could you convince an entire nation that didn't believe in Torah and Sinai, that there's a book full of laws that was given to all your ancestors.

    No historian of yahwehism has ever claimed that: the traditions are far older than the Sinai myth, and once traditions exist, it's not very hard for myths to develop surrounding the source of such traditions. Remember, once your already keeping these traditions, it doesn't really matter if they happen to have been given on a mountain to you by God or if they had some other divine source.

    Eventually as the torah developed as a uniform body of work, the mount Sinai myth came to be associated with the giving of the law in a more formalistic fashion, and the details of the myth were concretised,e.g that everyone was present, the 10 commandments were given etc.

    Remember at that stage the Torah was not claimed to be of divine origin,only a recording of events of divine origin. Only much later was the Torah presumed to have been written by God, and hence the Torah itself was associated with sinai.

    Once you realise that these mythologies grew only slowly, the Kuzari argument doesn't even have any question.

    1. @Yavoy - good summary refute to the Kuzari argument. It is why I think the Kuzari Argument is special pleading. Kuzari proponents will claim the Sinai story is "special" and can not develop thru myth formation. Meaning, all religions and mythologies are subject to myth formation but not the Sinai story.