How Can We Overcome the Barriers that Keep People from Accepting Torah?

A recent article in Hamodia presented a quote from Rabbi Tzvi Inbal, the Baalei Teshuva co-founder of Arachim. Arachim pioneered the seminars which present the Evidence of the Truth of Torah. Rabbi Inbal stated:

“Arachim has spent years compiling research on what motivates people to grow. For a person to change his life, he needs to resolve three different types of issues:
1) Whether the Torah is true;
2) Whether the Torah is good for his life;
3) To explore any defense mechanisms he’s carrying with him.”

For the friends, family, co-workers you know who aren’t observant, which of these issues come in to play?
Are there any ways we can we better address these issues?

70 comments on “How Can We Overcome the Barriers that Keep People from Accepting Torah?

  1. From Likutey Moharan I, 64 (Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum—see short bio at http://www.barmitzva.org/rebavraham.shtml )

    THE EMPTY VOID

    found at http://www.barmitzva.org/Essential/thought.htm

    “This empty void was essential for the creation of the world, because without it there would have been no place to create the world. However, it is impossible to grasp or understand the “contraction” that brought about the empty void. This will only be possible in the future. For we have to postulate two opposites: existence and nothingness.

    This is because the empty void came about through the contraction of His Godliness from there, with the result that Godliness is not present there, as it were. For if this were not the case, the void would not be empty; everything would have been infinite and there would have been no room to create the finite world at all. Yet the real truth is that even so, Godliness is most certainly present there because nothing at all exists without His vitality. Due to this contradiction it is impossible to grasp the concept of the empty void. This will be possible only in time to come.

    And know that there are two kinds of atheism. There is the kind of unbelief that arises out of alien systems of wisdom, of which it says, “Know what to answer the non-believer” ( Avot 2:14 ) . For there is an answer to this kind of unbelief since it derives from alien wisdoms that arose out of the superfluities caused by the breaking of the vessels. A person who has fallen to this kind of unbelief should certainly flee and make every effort to escape, and indeed if he does seek out God he will find a way to be saved. For since these wisdoms derive from the breaking of the vessels, various holy sparks and letters broke and fell there, and he may therefore find Godly intelligence there in order to resolve the challenges posed by the kind of unbelief that derives from alien wisdoms.

    However there is another kind of atheism based on wisdoms that are not wisdoms at all. It is only because they are so deep and hard to grasp that they have the appearance of deep wisdom. For example, a person might posit a false Talmudic argument which he imagines is exceptionally deep but, lacking the necessary scholarship, he fails to realize that his line of argument is untenable. Similarly, the philosophers pose various problems and questions that are in truth devoid of all wisdom. The problems are intrinsically non-existent, but because it is not within the bounds of the human mind to unravel them, they appear genuine.

    The truth is that it is impossible to resolve these problems because the questions posed by this brand of atheism derive from the empty void, where Godliness is not present, as it were. This is why the questions that derive from the empty void cannot be answered in any way, because it is impossible to find God there. For if one could find God there it would not be empty and all would be infinite. For this reason it is said of this atheism, “None who go to her return” (Proverbs 2:19 ) .”

  2. The point is that you “know” that you exist not that you “believe” you exist. If the choices are believe and know, then saying that “believe ” more correctly categories your understanding of existence, is not a true statement, for most people.

    Most people would take an oath in court that they exist even if the court required knowledge and belief wasn’t good enough for the oath. The sugya of aydim (witnesses) in the Gemorra touches many of these issues.

    You might be interested in seeking the truth, as I’ve said before that’s your own personal struggle. I can’t help you there, ultimately you are responsible for what you know and what you believe.

    As far as not wanting to continue, you’re correct. I’ve corresponded with skeptics a few times before and there is a pattern of the discussion. You are meeting the pattern very closely.

    There are plenty of blogs out there for skeptical rhetoric, this is not one of them. I gave you the benefit of the doubt to begin with, despite the objections of others who have proven to me to be trustworthy.

    I think you might honestly “believe” you are searching for the truth but I don’t “believe” you can possible “know” you are truly searching, according to your limited definition of knowledge.

    If you understand belief and knowledge as being a continuum, then discerning whether you believe or know something is a much different question.

    Deeply understanding belief and knowledge is at the core of Judaism which is why Emunah (Belief in G-d) is the primary mitzvah according to most. Think about it.

  3. Mark:

    You said yourself that reason and logic “can’t prove a fundamental question like whether we in fact exist.” I’m willing to admit that you’re right about this. So, what does prove it? At best, it seems that I can choose to “believe” that I exist (which, in fact, I do). Whether I exist or not, however, the rules of logic will still apply (e.g., I cannot both exist and not exist). Thus, anything anyone says– and, indeed, the Torah itself– must still be subject to scrutiny by those rules.

    Moreover, it’s hardly fair for you to say that my admitting that I can’t “know” something with certainty means that I’m uninterested in seeking the “truth.” That statement is not logical (what I think I can or cannot “know” with certainty does not define what might interest me– I doubt I’ll ever understand how my wife thinks, but I still find her interesting). Thus, here’s an absolute truth for you: regardless of whether I exist, your statement about me is inaccurate.

    I will add that your dismissive tone suggests a certain unwillingness on your part to question what you wish me to believe is the truth. Perhaps you’re the one who doesn’t want to find the truth here, because you’ve got too much invested in your current version of it.

  4. “While I also did not ever meet the Kotzker Rebbe, I can say confidently Dave is no Kotzker Rebbe.”

    Heck, I’m not even the Skverer Rebbe, although it’s statistically more likely that I could be the Bostoner Rebbe, given the multiplicity of persons claiming that title. Still, chances are slim.

  5. If someone makes a statement that they don’t “know” they exist, do you think that is an indication that they aren’t really interested in a truth searching discussion?

    On the other hand, by a limited western understanding of knowledge that might be an accurate statement. However if we don’t know we exist, than discussing whether G-d exists would be pointless. So for the discussion to be meaningful we need to “know” that we exist.

    Most people seem to have no problem with the fact that they exist and in fact would state in court under oath that they do exist. So for anybody still playing at home, we can know with absolute clarity that we do exist without proof. Didn’t want to ruin anybody’s Shabbos by creating a doubt of whether they actually exist.

    I would never write someone off, and at first blush I like to give the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think it makes sense to have a public search for truth discussion on Beyond BT with someone who is more interested in the argument than the outcome.

  6. While I also did not ever meet the Kotzker Rebbe, I can say confidently Dave is no Kotzker Rebbe. And neither are any of us!

    Hah! Speak for yourself! Yet another unsubstantiated assertion! :)

  7. Dave is a first-class, if somewhat abrasive, Internet polemicist, demonstrating high intelligence and passion. True, I never met the man. But he is not on the same page, or even in the same book, as those of you who are trying to reason with him or to bring him around to the Torah perspective/. While I also did not ever meet the Kotzker Rebbe, I can say confidently Dave is no Kotzker Rebbe. And neither are any of us!

  8. Chaim:

    If you opined that Hitler YM”S was unkind to his Jewish neighbors, I’d probably believe you. Although I never met him, either, I’m more familiar with his reputation and his record.

    If you proposed to interpret something Hitler said as meaning something other than what the words themselves appeared to mean, I might actually be a teeny bit skeptical!

    In the case of the Kotzker, however, I didn’t express either skepticism or incredulity (by the way– it’s folks from Missouri, not Kansas, who have the “show-me” reputation). I merely acknowledged my own ignorance and declined to opine beyond expressing my admiration for the Kotzker’s saying.

  9. Nebich on my poor conversationalists, I do. Besides even if I didn’t what’s a blog for? :)

    You be right about that. Or not. As I said, I never met the man.

    Read a biography or some passages from one of his s’forim. If I opined that Hitler YM”S was unkind to his Jewsih neighbors would you express skepticism/incredulity/I’m-from-Kansas-show-me on the grounds that you’d “never met the man”?

  10. Chaim:

    “IMO especially as applied to the Kotzker, he meant that there are no rhetorical questions that lead to kefirah.”

    You be right about that. Or not. As I said, I never met the man. Still, I thought it was a nice, pithy little saying.

    “A cursory review of the Kotzker’s life and Torah will reveal a Gadol who was constantly troubled, an active or brewing storm that blew away superficiality and cherished conventional wisdom like a powerful hurricane.”

    That was positively the purplest prose I’ve ever perused. You don’t talk like that, do you?

  11. It was (I believe) from R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotzk… he intended no disrespect to believers. For the record, in quoting him, neither did I.

    I’ve heard this attributed to him as well. But sikhas chulin shel Talmidei Chachomim tzreecha talmud. IMO especially as applied to the Kotzker, he meant that there are no rhetorical questions that lead to kefirah. He meant that there are no questions so daunting that they stop a ma’amin from soldiering on. He DID NOT mean that ma’aminim are untroubled and never wrestle with G-d and themselves.

    A cursory review of the Kotzker’s life and Torah will reveal a Gadol who was constantly troubled, an active or brewing storm that blew away superficiality and cherished conventional wisdom like a powerful hurricane.

  12. But who’s doing the pushing, me or the Rambam?

    Further, any fair reading of the Rambam cannot yeild a conclusion that he ever suggested “checking one’s intellect at the door”. OTC what the Rambam DOES say is that after stretching and exercising your intellect to it’s whole potential, a sense of the difference between the holy and the mundane, demands the humility of applying a dual standard to these two spheres and not rejecting the holy that one finds rationally wanting as one would reject the mundane that one finds rationally wanting.

    Although G-d and spirituality cannot be empirically proven to exist doesn’t the preponderence of evidence suffice to sense the distinct quality of these two spheres?

    BTW, where did you get thes quotes

    he’s directing his words to people who “are firm in religious matters” but who are otherwise “perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in the holy writings.”
    from?

    My Rambam is form the end of the Laws of Meh-eelah not from the forward to Moreh Nevuchim.(If that indeed is waht you’re citing.)

  13. Chaim:

    I don’t propose to defend the statement about believers. It was (I believe) from R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. I didn’t know the man, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that he intended no disrespect to believers. For the record, in quoting him, neither did I.

    As to your citation of the Rambam to prove that the Torah is beyond rational evaluation, I think we’re talking past each other. For one thing, Rambam makes it clear that he’s directing his words to people who “are firm in religious matters” but who are otherwise “perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in the holy writings.”

    For such people, the best Rambam can offer is to tell them that their intellects will not suffice to understand what they already believe to be God’s work.

    I think we can agree that it merely states the obvious to observe that, if a particular rule comes from an omnipotent, infinite and perfect being, then it is “reasonable” to accept the notion that your limited and imperfect faculties may not grasp everything about the rule in question. That, however, is irrelevant, since we’re not all on that page.

    If a person is skeptical about, or has not accepted, the Torah (the basic subject of this article, right?), it is a loser of an argument to tell him that he’s not permitted to evaluate the matter, but is simply obligated to believe, accept and obey. The only people you’d convince would be simpletons and lunatics.

    If you press the point, I’m prepared to acknowledge that these groups are well-represented among believers of all stripes; however, I’m not prepared to agree that you can “overcome the barriers” that keep a reasonable and even open-minded person from accepting the Torah by simply ordering him to check his intellect at the door.

    Indeed, if the person is anything like me, you’ll just alienate him, and push him farther away from Torah.

  14. Dave needs to prove he exists. All the inputs we have so far can be interpreted to be consistent with Dave’s nonexistence.

  15. Dave

    “I don’t “know” that to be the case;”

    Most people, do know that they exist.

    If you can’t agree to that premise, than any future discussion of what is knowable would be pointless.

  16. Mark:

    “I am stating that there is knowledge beyond the sensory and independent of the sensory.” If you refer to knowledge based on reason, that’s fine. But you haven’t indicated what you mean. As to “knowing,” the most I can give you is that I simply predicate my life and all actions on the assumption that I’m here and that my perceptions, when coupled with my reason, are generally valid and reliable. I don’t “know” that to be the case; I merely assume it to avoid walking into walls, which, it seems to me, hurts.

    I’m happy to continue on Monday, but please spare me the Descartes, and confine yourself to what you can argue.

  17. Thus, min-haTorah, I’d say you can’t reasonably argue that the Torah should be exempt from the rational function of the minds of the people to whom, by its own terms, it was given.

    Indeed you can. And the one who does so is neither me nor Mark F. but a hyper-rationalist heavily influenced by Greek thinkers known as Maimonides.

    Dave- If you have further bones to pick do so with the Rambam (or at least with my reading of the Rambam)

    I blogged about it here:
    http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2006/12/boundaries-of-rationality.html

  18. for the believers there are no questions

    I think this is simplistic and prejudicial towards ma’aminim. Skeptics tend to patronize ma’aminim in one of two ways; with wistful envy “I wish I could be as confident and untroubled by them” or “Only an unthinking clod could be so oblivious to the obvious troubling questions”.

    OTC I think that the deeper ones Emunah grows, i.e.the more ubiquitous G-d’s Providence becomes in one’s perceptions, the sharper and more troubling the questions of Theodicy and predestination vs. free will become. To be a ma’aminim does not mean to have no questions, but to live with them and not consider them rhetorical.

  19. Dave

    Your putting the word “know” in quotes illustrate we don’t have agreement on what is is to know something. Do you have a definition of knowledge that you actually believe in, not just assume for the sake of argument.

    I am stating that there is knowledge beyond the sensory and independent of the sensory.

    Let’s start with the basic question again. How do you know that you and your sensors (eyes, ear, brain, etc) actually exist? Perhaps it’s all a dream-like illusion. The answer to that question by definition can not be answered through sensory means, because it is these exact sensors existence that we are questioning.

    You have to think about this. Reading Descartes may be helpful. I’m sorry I can’t lay it all out for you on this site.

    How about taking a break until Monday, because I have a ton of work to do and I lost significant time yesterday. Maybe we can both think about how we know what we know and what knowledge is.

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this here, it’s been helpful for me.

    For anybody else reading this thread I again highly recommend listening to Rabbi Tatz’ tape Chanuka: Western Mind, Torah Mind.

  20. Mark:

    “Compelling evidence is not proof but it can lead to knowledge.”

    OK, but you haven’t provided any.

    “An assumption that we can possibly share is that we can know something, even though it can not be proven through western physical measurement processes.”

    I’m willing to assume that we can “know” something for all practical purposes. That assumption is merely that I can rely on the use my senses and my reason to observe, analyze, predict, or explain various phenomena.

    What else you got?

  21. For the record. I see that there is another Mark posting on some of the other Torah-oriented blogs, so from now on I will return to using my full name, Mark Frankel, in the comments.

  22. All I can say is that the more that I learn I realize that the Torah view, and especially TSBP, remains centuries ahead of the contemporary legal system and ethos , the more in depth that I study the structure of Tefilah and the more one realizes that a Shabbos or a YT meal is the means by which one sanctifies the biological act of eating and celebrating the fact that  time is holy and sacred always will remain as the experiential and intellectual elements by which one recognizes God’s role in our lives.

  23. Compelling evidence is not proof but it can lead to knowledge.

    An assumption that we can possibly share is that we can know something, even though it can not be proven through western physical measurement processes.

    Knowing that we exist is a good example of that. If we can agree that we know we exist even though it cannot be absolutely proven, then we can take the next step of common ground.

  24. “At their core all arguments are based on a set of assumptions/assertions and can only be as strong as those initial assertions. This is definitional.”

    Fair enough. So, the only way that we can have a meaningful argument is if we share a basic set of assumptions, or can be persuaded to adopt some new ones.

    Since you initiated our exchange by defending Discovery-type arguments and claiming that you have “compelling evidence,” so you must think that there’s some set of shared assumptions on which you can persuade me that your views are correct. Except when you’re pressed, you seem to retreat into the notion that none of your arguments can fairly be subjected to rational scrutiny.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either you prove your point, or you acknowledge that you really don’t have one that can be shared in any meaningful way.

  25. “An argument is (or should be) a statement or logical series of statements intended to be persuasive through reason. An assertion is merely a statement that something is or is not true.”

    At their core all arguments are based on a set of assumptions/assertions and can only be as strong as those initial assertions. This is definitional.

  26. Dave

    You can not, by definition, measure the spiritual using physical means. That is a fact if we define spiritual as non-physical. I don’t believe I said anything about the interface between the physical and the spiritual, that’s a realm of Kaballah.

    Dave, have you proven with absolute proof that you exist. If you have, then you have answered one of the great outstanding philosophical questions of all time. This is an undeniable fact. Can you prove whether you can verify the veracity of a system from within the system itself. If you can, then you will have solved another classic philosophical problem.

    The definitions of faith, believe and knowledge are the underpinnings of this discussion. From what I’ve seen there are no standard universally accepted definitions. Do you have a set of definitions that you use?

    I’m not trying to diagnose you, I just wanted to illustrate that the same set of information will yield different results to different people with similar sets of assumptions, showing that there is an important aspect of knowledge that goes beyond the measurements of the physical world.

  27. Bob

    You’re right it can’t go anywhere, if anywhere means “proving” or disproving the spiritual in a physical realm.

    But hopefully we’ll be able to illustrate that we can know something without having proven it through the physical measures of western thought. To me that’s a very important thing to understand.

    On the tape I recommended above, Rabbi Tatz gives numerous important examples of things we know as fact but can’t prove. The fact that we exist is a prime example.

  28. Bob, I don’t know if the discussion is going nowhere, but I think it has great value. I appreciate Mark’s questions and arguments. He articulates well a lot of questions I am struggling with.

    Back to the topic of this post: I will comment from my own experience as someone who is reexamining her lifelong Conservative beliefs in favor of Orthodox ones. The first step was indeed becoming dissatisfied with the status quo. The second step was becoming open to the idea that Orthodoxy might enrich my life. The truth (or falsity) of Orthodox belief comes third and pretty much just grows out of the second step. If I become convinced that Orthodox *practice* is “better”, then that is for me an indication of the truth of the beliefs that underlie it. Conversely, if the pracice doesn’t seem much better, or seems worse in very significant ways, then for me it calls into questions the beliefs that the practices are based on.

  29. Mark:

    An argument is (or should be) a statement or logical series of statements intended to be persuasive through reason. An assertion is merely a statement that something is or is not true.

    As to your limitations, number one is false. Assuming that there are things to be said about the spiritual world (which, by your own acknowledgement, intersects with the physical world), there’s no reason that those things can’t be subject to logical and rational scrutiny. Number two is silly, but, assuming it to be true, the Torah and your spirituality can’t prove we exist, either, so, to that extent, they are at least as limited as anything else. Number three suffers from the exact same defects.

    Faith, belief and knowledge are not a continuum. Faith is the acceptance of what one does not or can not know. But, again, you’ve just made an assertion which you have not supported– indeed, you haven’t even tried to define your terms.

    As to your final question, why can’t you get away from trying to diagnose me? You keep wanting to know what I believe, or why I believe X when someone else who (according to you) has a “similar outlook” believes Y.

    There is too much wrong with your question for me to answer it– I don’t know what people with outlooks that strike you as similar to mine believe, nor am I answerable for their conclusions, any more than you can be answerable for the nonsensical segulas that some people with outlooks similar to yours seem to believe.

  30. Dave

    How are you differentiating between an argument and an assertion and let’s add assumption to the mix.

    Here are some limitations:
    1) It doesn’t say anything about the spiritual world by definition.
    2) It can’t prove a fundamental question like whether we in fact exist.
    2) It is based on a set of assumptions, which in themselves have not been proven.

    If you look closely at faith, belief and knowledge, I think you’ll see that they are not distinct categories but are in fact a continuum.

    How do you understand that given the same information, you believe, whereas others similar in outlook to you don’t?

  31. Mark:

    “What’s erroneous about them is that Western physical-evidence-based methodologies aren’t the arbiters of Truth.”

    That’s not an argument; that’s just another assertion. You may (or may not) believe it yourself, but a mere assertion cannot reasonably be expected to convince anyone of anything. If you insist on beginning this discussion by negating the validity of any tools I might use to understand or evaluate your claims, you thereby negate my ability to accept your claims, except on pure faith. I’m not sure how you expect to persuade me of anything.

    “I am not rejecting Western notions of the scientific method, I’m just trying to point out their limitations.”

    So point them out. Let me guess: they’re not arbiters of truth? Back we go again.

    “Dave, do you believe in G-d? Please tell the truth!”

    Yes.

    “If you do believe, then how you know your belief is true?”

    If I believe, how do I know my “belief” is “true?” I don’t, almost by definition. It’s a belief, and far from a certain one. Maybe I’m wrong.

  32. What’s erroneous about them is that Western physical-evidence-based methodologies aren’t the arbiters of Truth.

    I am not rejecting Western notions of the scientific method, I’m just trying to point out their limitations. And even the scientific methods have a set of assumptions attached to them.

    Dave, do you believe in G-d? Please tell the truth!

    If you do believe, then how do you know your belief is true? Have you proved G-d exists with Western physical-evidence-based methodologies?

  33. Mark:

    How can you claim that Western physical-evidence-based methodologies can sometimes lead to erroneous conclusions? What’s erroneous about them? The fact that they don’t coincide with your conclusions? How do you know your conclusions aren’t erroneous? And, even if you do know, since you’re rejecting Western notions like the scientific method or objectivity, how could you possibly transmit this knowledge of yours to me? And, if you can’t, what’s the point of this discussion?

    I did not claim to be unsure about the existence of the spiritual or of God. However, precisely because the spiritual is (as Tatz seems to say) not really susceptible to being defined very well, I find it somewhat less fruitful to discuss. Your spiritual experiences are (I think you and Tatz would agree) deeply personal. Thus, I cannot share them, nor can I refute or negate them. By the same token, however, you cannot expect me to acknowledge or share any “truth” you may or may not obtain through these experiences. If we are to share something, it must be in a much more Greek fashion (no gay joke intended).

    The bottom line is that I think that anybody who makes any truth claim that he does not believe can withstand rational scrutiny is making a claim that, on some level, he knows to be false.

  34. Steve said “IMO, seminars such as the above listed are very important, but they cannot replace an initual experience to a Shabbos table, learning Torah and other mitzvos as a way of seeing that God is the King who runs the world.”

    I agree with you and I would classify the methods you describe as experiential evidence of the spiritual. Unfortunately some people aren’t sensitive to that which is beyond the physically measurable.

    I’ve noticed that sometimes BTs aren’t getting continuing positive spiritual experiences from learning, davening and chesed. In these cases their correct initial clarity that Torah is True starts to get cloudy.

  35. “it’s important for people who do kiruv to recognize that their arguments are not irrefutable, and that someone who does not buy them is not necessarily being obstinate or evil”

    In this statement, Dave, I think you hit gold. We’re talking truth with little t, not big T. Torah as G-d’s Will is Truth, big T, but trying to rationaize it for those looking from the outside in must be little t. When this is confused, much bad blood is aroused.

    Kinda like trying to exxtol the virtues of marriage. It’s TTTTrue. But if it’s done wrong, it’s oh, so, tttttrue… until it could destroy! Indeed, like marriage, premature belief in Torah can produce some nasty “children!”

  36. Dave

    Western physical-evidence-based methodologies can sometimes provide insight into the spiritual, but can sometimes lead to erroneous conclusions.

    Western based biases often prevent us from understanding (or even hearing) a truth in a different (non-physical-proof) realm. That was exactly Rabbi Tatz’ point and I can understand why you had the reaction you did.

    If you are unsure about the existence of the spiritual, then you are wrestling with the question of whether there is a G-d. From your posts, you made it sound like you were beyond that first step.

  37. Mark:

    The Torah is a physical reality on this planet, regardless of who produced it and when. Thus, I can’t see why Western evidence-based methodologies should fail to provide insight into the matter. Indeed, assuming that there is a non-physical God who gave us the Torah, it is readily apparent that the non-physical God in question chose to enter into the physical reality, and also chose to leave His Torah in that reality. Or, to quote the Talmud, “lo ba-shamayim hi.”

    Thus, min-haTorah, I’d say you can’t reasonably argue that the Torah should be exempt from the rational function of the minds of the people to whom, by its own terms, it was given.

    As to Rabbi Tatz’ piece, I took your suggestion. Frankly, I thought it was complete nonsense. Notions about rabbis praying and removing desire from people, or taking the yetzer-hara for idolatry out of the world, and infants in the womb learning the whole Torah are more folklore than anything else; I can’t see taking them seriously. Moreover, his notions of history are laughable and demonstrate nothing more than the silliness of trying to use anecdotes from the Talmud in lieu of actual history. Tatz proves nothing– he simply piles unfounded assertion on unfounded assertion; in the end, he’s got nothing but unfounded assertions.

    Further, to say that the Romans, who contributed the basis of what remains Civil law in Europe today, had no culture but simply propogated what the Greeks said is nonsense.

    Moreover, to make Hannukah into a great clash between Judaism and “the Greeks” is a bit of a stretch– the fact is that the whole business took place in Syria between Hellenistic Syrians and Jews. The Greek Classical period was long since over, and the end of the Greek era was rapidly approaching. Thus, painting Hannukah as the clash of Judaism and Greek philosophy seems a bit of an overstatement– especially since the (actual) historical sources make it clear that the Syrians in question used force, not philosophy, to make their point.

    Now, there may (or may not) be a conflict between the notions of the scientific method that is certainly the legacy of Classical Greece and the spirituality that R. Tatz sees in Judaism.

    But maybe the two can co-exist, as well. I’m not denying the value of spirituality (I express no opinion on the subject at all). I will, however, emphatically assert the value of the intellectual tools provided by the Greeks. I’ll go a step further and say that I’m highly skeptical about any area in which I’m told that those tools will have no foothold.

    I suppose Tatz would just tell me that I’m a Greek, to which I would respond with a shrug.

  38. Dave

    I don’t think it’s just a question of emotional biases. Biases can be intellectual, emotional or experiential and are usually some combination.

    There is an objective reality, the Torah is either from a non-physical G-d or not. Western evidence based methodologies don’t even address the spiritual and can only take you so far even in the physical realm.

    Have you listened to Rabbi Tatz’, Chanuka: Western Mind, Torah Mind. I would like to hear your thoughts on it.

  39. Mark,

    Again, all of the Discovery seminar “proofs” can be refuted– fairly easily. The Babylonians and Greeks knew the lunar month before it made it into the Talmud. The fins/scales business really doesn’t prove anything at all, since, if the Torah knew that everything with scales had fins (not necessarily true, by the way) there would have been no need to mention fins. The Torah appears to be dead wrong on the question of animals that chew their cud (unless you decide that the “shafan” is not what everybody thinks it is, but some mythical creature that no longer exists).

    One could go on (and on) citing various problems with the text of the Torah, and someone else could go on (and on) with rationalizations or explanations.

    The problem is, there is no silver bullet, and I know reasonable people on both sides of the issue. As one rabbi memorably put it, for the believers there are no questions, and for the unbelievers, there are no answers. I think he was spot on.

    Indeed, you yourself wrote:

    “We can not prove the existence of a non-physical and infinite G-d using the physical and finite tools of our physical world.”

    I think you’re right about this. However, you go on to say:

    “We can however provide compelling evidence that there is a G-d. And we can provide compelling evidence that He gave the Torah.”

    Well, maybe, maybe not. Clearly, you find the evidence compelling, but, just as clearly, not everybody agrees with you. You add:

    “Whether a person will accept the evidence depends to a great degree on the intellectual and emotional biases he has against the acceptance of Torah.”

    I think this may be true, but I also think it cuts both ways. In that memorable little volume “Permission to Believe,” Rabbi Kelemen more or less acknowledges that much of what one is willing or unwilling to accept comes from what one is emotionally prepared to accept. If one truly wishes to believe in the Torah (i.e., has “intellectual and emotional biases” in favor of the Torah), there is enough out there that can be used as a premise on which to base this belief. But, is that really so different from one who does not have such a wish, and simply remains unconvinced?

    I think that belief in Torah is predicated more on one’s emotional state than on the evidence itself. I also think it’s important for people who do kiruv to recognize that their arguments are not irrefutable, and that someone who does not buy them is not necessarily being obstinate or evil.

    All this leads back to the emotional underpinnings of belief. Perhaps people will only attain an “intellectual” belief in Torah once they’ve reached a point where they have an emotional need or desire for such a belief. To be honest, I’m really not sure…

  40. IMO, seminars such as the above listed are very important, but they cannot replace an initual experience to a Shabbos table, learning Torah and other mitzvos as a way of seeing that God is the King who runs the world.

  41. “If you want to persuade people, it’s not enough to wave the Kuzari at them and assume that they’ll buy it– after all, the various Aish Discovery seminar arguments are all out there– most Jews still aren’t buying them.”

    – Most Jews have not seen the Discovery Seminar.

    – You don’t have the statistics of what percent who do see it are persuaded.

    – Even after they see it, factors 2 and 3 and bias come in to play.

  42. David:

    The arguments you raise are, to some extent, persuasive, but they are not irrefutable. Moreover, there is a whole lot of biblical scholarship and common sense that tends to weigh against the truth of the Torah. If you want to persuade people, it’s not enough to wave the Kuzari at them and assume that they’ll buy it– after all, the various Aish Discovery seminar arguments are all out there– most Jews still aren’t buying them.

  43. Some folks avoid the question by denying C”V the existence of G-d, others by not recognizing that there could possibly be any dissonance between the two.

    That’s where mussar comes in.

  44. >>The question, then, is do we have enough ammunition to persuade people that the Torah is true.

    The ammunition is definitely there. There’s the Kuzari principle (historical argument), the prophecies that came true, knowledge of truths about nature that couldn’t have been known 3000 years ago (such as the precisely exact lunar cycle, fish with scales always have fins), the astounding genius of the Torah arising from a vacuum and changing the world. Some use the Codes (not me, personally).

    >> If not, why not?

    The ol’ bogey monster — cognitive dissonance — insures that people bristle up their defenses and deflect away persuasive evidence with rationalizations.

    It has to be that way, otherwise, how would we have free will?

  45. If you read Rabbi Dessler’s – The Truth Perspective” in Strive for Truth he illustrates that our ability to properly perceive the truth is hampered by our biases.

    We can not prove the existence of a non-physical and infinite G-d using the physical and finite tools of our physical world. We can however provide compelling evidence that there is a G-d. And we can provide compelling evidence that He gave the Torah.

    Whether a person will accept the evidence depends to a great degree on the intellectual and emotional biases he has against the acceptance of Torah.

    The primary factor is the human being’s self-centered orientation, as opposed to the G-d centered orientation that the Torah demands. Many/most people do not want to have to answer to G-d 24×7.

    This is the primary struggle every Jew faces – Am I driven by what I want to do or what G-d wants me to do?

  46. Because I think that you’ve got it inverted. Unless and until defense mechanisms are removed or bypassed they are resitant to recognizing acknowledging the truth. The truth is demanding in ways that lies never are.

  47. On the most fundamental level, the question to be addressed is #1.

    It’s always possible to lure someone into being more observant based on emotions or feelings of acceptance that everyone values. Presenting a comprehensive world-view that seems to offer answers to all of life’s big questions is always appealing, too. Everybody wants that.

    In the end, however, people need to believe that the Torah is actually true. If that foundation is missing, whatever is built on it is likely to crumble at some point.

    As to the other two issues, if someone believes that the Torah is true, it seems more likely than not that he would also believe that it is good for his life and certainly likely that any “defense mechanisms” would be swept away. What’s the point of defending yourself against a truth that is good for you?

    The question, then, is do we have enough ammunition to persuade people that the Torah is true. If not, why not?

  48. Chaim, no one said here that it was the sole cure or even the first cure to use for clinical depression. You ought to know better.

  49. The fact that Torah is good for everyone means it’s even good for the maladjusted/needy…!

    Not so fast. Would you treat someone clinically depressed with prozac or with Breslover s’forim? How about somone sub-clinically depressed.

    The path to *** is paved with good intentions and often well-meaning kiruv pros and certainly well-meaning laymen may be doing more harm than good when ministering to the maladjusted. Anecdotal evidence of such folks initally taking off like rockets and then crashing and burning abound.

    I think that although Torah is indubitably good for everyone sometimes withholding Torah until some basic hangups are resolved is the more prudent and compassionate course of action. IMO this is included in im ain derech eretz ain Torah. In these case NOT applying Torah MAY fall under the category of

    כשם שמקבליו שכר על הדרישה כך מקבליו שכר על הפרישה

  50. The fact that Torah is good for everyone means it’s even good for the maladjusted/needy…!

    The main thing is for the helpers to help and not manipulate.

  51. LC, Bob-

    My point was to sharpens Bob argument that and/or by new events or information, seems to be necessary to get things off dead center. does not mean that we need to induce dissatisfaction as it is intrisic and part of the human condition. FFBs have it yet we seldom see them making the kind of OVERT lifestyle makeovers that BTs do.

    What is required is to raise the level of dissatisfaction to the critical mass required to “get things off dead center”. IM already stated opinion this is more wholesomely accomplished by teaching the truth and by demostrating the beauty of Torah than by highlighting deficiencies in the current lifestyle.

    It becomes ethically ambiguous when done to maladjusted or needy individuals and/or to people grieving or otherwise in crisis.

  52. Chaim said “The fully observant (as long as they’re breathing and sentient)also have some dissatisfaction on some level.”

    This is true, too, which is why self-improvement continues even for someone now considered “fully” observant. That’s one premise of this blog.

  53. The fully observant (as long as they’re breathing and sentient )also have some dissatisfaction on some level.

    Yes . . . and therefore? I don’t see why this is a counter-proof. Change in one’s life/lifestyle can *always* involve greater and/or deeper connection to Hashem. BTs don’t have a monopoly on teshuva.

    I think it really depends on whether you’re looking at life as ‘what can I do for Hashem’, or ‘why am I not more comfortable’. But yeah, the motivations change once you accept the basic premises of Torah and the subsequent need to act based on this understanding (i.e., do mitzvos).

  54. The fully observant (as long as they’re breathing and sentient )also have some dissatisfaction on some level.

  55. Chaim, I wasn’t focusing on image and strategies for advertising but on the reality.

    I also wasn’t talking about total dissatisfaction but about dissatisfaction on some level.

  56. Bob-

    While you’re right, an overemphasis on this leads to the negative pub for kiruv that “the movements” efforts are concentrated on the needy and maladjusted. Arachim and gateways do good jobs of evoking the “need” for truth (#1 again!)@ their seminars.

    IMO transmitting the message that you want/need truth but lack it is more positive, and addresses unfulfilled needs in even the most well-adjusted people, than a message that says “I’ll prove to you that your REALLY unhappy and that your success is a mirage”

  57. “Are there any ways we can we better address these issues?”

    Another important difference is that 1 and 3 are more about discussions, debates, reading and analysis. #2 requires demonstration not evocation. You set a role model as a mentsch, invite folks to your home to celebrate a Shabbos and Yom Tov together, involve them in your own Mitzvos and/or learning and it might give them pause to consider a lifestyle-makeover.

    No amount of “selling” can do this. People want to see the product perform. Rabbi Wein’s (in)famous formulation that “I love Judaism it’s Jews that I can’t stand” will not attract many new BTs. We have to present not only a Judasim that they find compelling but Jews that they find attractive.

  58. Arachim began in Israel. Folks there are more confrontational and have more prejudices against Torah Observant Jews than in the diaspora. There, IMO, #1 and #3 are more important. In the USA, I think that the emphasis should be placed on #2.

  59. A primary consideration is
    4) Is he basically satisfied with his status quo or not?

    Some level of dissatisfaction, induced by his own reflection and/or by new events or information, seems to be necessary to get things off dead center.

    Issue 2) above relates to this a bit, but might be less compelling if he feels his life is already good.

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