Da Mah L'HashivóThe Academic Fallacy

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  • #610347
    Sam2
    Participant

    This is something I realized years ago and a post I meant to write weeks ago (when the Zev Farber thing came out), but the recent scientific discussions have finally given me the motivation to actually do it.

    This thread will be irrelevant to those who just disregard academia’s questions as silly and irrelevant, and that’s fine. The main issue at hand is: how do we answer the academics’ questions? Things like textual criticism of Chumash, Nach, and the Gemara are real and ask legitimate questions. Maybe some of us can sweep them under the rug, but others want and need real answers.

    To answer this, we must understand how historians and academics reach their conclusions. In essence, they apply the scientific method to history and textual criticism. They ask questions, test possible answers, and see what works best. The issue is, with history, you cannot prove any theorems because you cannot duplicate the results. As such, the scientific method for history can be simplified down to three steps.

    1) Gather all relevant evidence.

    2) Weigh all possible results of what the evidence tells us.

    3) Apply Occam’s Razor and assume that the most likely answer is the correct one. For the majority of things in religious history and textual history, Occam’s Razor is the only way to reach conclusions because no definitive proofs can be brought.

    Now, this is the important thing for us to realize: 99% of the time this absolutely works.

    If we apply these three steps to Hindu, ancient Chinese, and who knows what other religious texts we would get a much deeper understanding of what actually happened because the historical academic approach will get you to the truth in these cases.

    The problem that arises for academics in Judaism. They don’t view it as a problem and, really, it’s not a problem for them. They are following their methods. And if you apply Occam’s Razor to their method, it’s the right method. They get it right 99% of the time. And, in the case of Judaism and Chumash, Occam’s Razor dictates that G-d did not give over the Torah in its entirety to the Jewish people. Occam’s Razor dictates that all the Nissim V’niflaos that HKBH did never happened. Occam’s Razor dictates that there really were different traditions that were later incorporated into one text.

    The important thing to realize is that this is the one case that Occam’s Razor gets wrong. The odds, from an entirely outside perspective, of an Almighty existing and choosing the Jewish people and giving us the Torah are much lower than the odds that several bands of nomadic tribes joined up at some point. That in no way changes the fact that it is what happened.

    HKBH did give us the Torah as we have it today, He did take us out of Egypt, and He made us into a Nation that believes in him until this very day. The academics are not a silly group of people asking silly questions and giving Apikorsusdik answers to shove us off the Derech (some might have that ulterior motive, but that is not the ultimate purpose of academia). They are a very smart group of people, asking good questions, and giving good answers. Their answers just happen to be wrong.

    Before anyone points out that my argument is circular (academics are wrong because we’re right), I want to point out my purpose here. I’m not proving the academics wrong in this post (such discussions about proving G-d and Mattan Torah and such have happened many times). I am explaining why their questions should not bother those of us who believe. They ask good questions. We just happen to have answers that they can’t accept. But that doesn’t mean our answers aren’t right. Because they are.

    #970678
    eclipse
    Member

    An apikoras is THE ONE PERSON WE ARE PERMITTED TO SPEAK LOSHON HORA ABOUT. A person who causes even a seed of doubt in another Jew as to whether Torah is 100% truth deserves nothing but scorn. Sometimes, the simpler the Jew, the more pure his faith is.

    #970679
    eclipse
    Member

    And engaging in discussion with an “intelligent” apikoras is even more dangerous than a foolish one! Think about it…

    #970680
    Sam2
    Participant

    You missed the point. There are some good, Frum, entirely-believing Jews who are troubled with some of the questions that academics ask because, on the surface, they are good questions. I was pointing out that we have the answers to those questions, even though they can’t see it. The point is to see and understand their questions but to ignore their conclusions because their processes, useful that they are, do not work in this situation.

    #970681
    eclipse
    Member

    I understand, I just feel it’s dangerous territory upon which to tread. Or near, for that matter. Imagine if someone wrote a slanderous letter about you or a loved one, posing many fantastic questions, yet arriving at horribly inaccurate and libelous conclusions — about you or your loved one. Would you ever distribute that letter? Would you encourage people to read it, with the disclaimer: Great questions, just ignore the answers; they’re so OFF. I think not:)

    #970682
    Sam2
    Participant

    eclipse: I’m not encouraging people for foray into Biblical criticism. But questions do get around and trickle down, and there are those who are interested in the questions regardless. For those, this is an important thing to realize.

    #970683

    Those questions are out there already. I don’t think Sam2 is encouraging people to spread the questions. But knowing that many frum Jews have already been exposed to the questions, he offers a framework for us to view them and to feel confident that we have the correct answers.

    #970684

    Those questions are out there already. I don’t think Sam2 is encouraging people to spread the questions. But knowing that many frum Jews have already been exposed to the questions, he offers a framework for us to view them and to feel confident that we have the correct answers.

    #970685

    Those questions are out there already. I don’t think Sam2 is encouraging people to spread the questions. But knowing that many frum Jews have already been exposed to the questions, he offers a framework for us to view them and to feel confident that we have the correct answers.

    #970686
    ujew
    Participant

    @Eclipse: sure, but what would you say to someone who had read the letter? How would you answer him? For that matter, how would you answer to yourself if you became aware of the questions?

    #970687
    eclipse
    Member

    If the questions are “already out there” and this guy has the WRONG answers, what purpose does he serve?

    #970688
    charliehall
    Participant

    “in the case of Judaism and Chumash, Occam’s Razor dictates that G-d did not give over the Torah in its entirety to the Jewish people”

    That isn’t just Occam’s Razor, such opinions are found in the Gemara and Rishonim. The statement in the introduction to the Artscroll Chumash that it is a unanimous opinion that every letter was dictated to Moshe by God is false and a distortion of Torah — in fact the Artscroll Chumash itself cites the opinion in the Gemara that the last seven verses were written by Yehoshua. But the additions they cite are quite minor, just a handful of verses. The link from such small additions to the Documentary Hypothesis is completely unsupported by anything in our tradition and anyone who justifies DH based on Ibn Ezra is out of line.

    And in fact, regarding the rest of the Torah text, it is not possible to prove or disprove its age, or its Divine origin, and anyone who says otherwise is promoting junk science.

    Let me give an example of a successful proof of authorship, which shows how these methodologies work, and also why no rigorous scientific statement can be made regarding the text of the Torah: The Federalist Papers (well worth a read) were published anonymously in 1788 to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. We know that the three authors were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. However, for some of the papers, whether they were written by Hamilton or Madison was uncertain. Modern scientific analyses comparing the papers of uncertain authorship to contemporary works by the two authors have shown pretty conclusively that the works of uncertain authorship were in fact written by Madison.

    Compare this to the attempts to promote a late authorship for the Torah: There are no documents in the Hebrew language from the time of Matan Torah, and none other than the Prophetic works for many hundreds of years later. The only Hebrew language work available are small inscriptions found in archaeological sites. There is nothing with which to compare the Torah text! It must therefore be concluded that it is impossible to either prove or disprove the hypothesis that the text of the Torah was written in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, and it must either be accepted (or rejected) on faith. It is not a falsifiable proposition and must remain non-falsifiable until such time that some archeologist discovers a huge trove of three thousand year old documents in Hebrew. It is unlikely that that will ever happen. The folks who insist that it has been conclusively proven that the Torah text was written later are simply out of line.

    This does not mean that literary analysis, including grammatical structure and the study of the meaning of the many cognate words found in other languages to Hebrew can’t inform us on the meaning of pshat. Such is not a threat to any fundamental of Judaism and should not be treated as such.

    #970689
    charliehall
    Participant

    And the same goes for academic knowledge increasing our understanding of Talmud. Here is a great example:

    The Latin teacher at the local Jewish high school used to attend daf yomi. I joked one morning that she can help us understand all the Latin words in the Talmud. Just a few minutes later we discovered that the very first word in that day’s daf was “familia”, a Latin word that is cognate to the English “family”. My hand immediately shot up and I asked the maggid shiur why Chazal hadn’t used the Hebrew term, “mishpachah”. The Latin teacher jumped in, not even waiting for the maggid shiur, and informed us that the meaning of “familia” in Latin was not identical to the English “family” of the Hebrew “mishpachah” because it applied to ones entire household, including slaves and servants. Chazal were being extremely precise and knew exactly what they were doing! However, as the understanding of Latin was lost from our mesorah we can only understand what Chazal meant by relying on such “academic” knowledge.

    #970690
    Sam2
    Participant

    eclipse: That is precisely my point. But for most thinking people, a simple dismissal of “this guy has the wrong answers” does nothing at best and causes doubt at worst. The point is to explain and understand why the academics got the wrong answers, not just dismissing them out of hand, which, if someone then looks into it more, can actually do more harm than good. Not giving an answer, in many people’s thinking, is tantamount to admission that you don’t have an answer. “They’re wrong because they’re wrong” doesn’t encourage people; it is merely a meaningless tautology that doesn’t help the person asking the question gain anything. “They’re wrong because of XYZ” hopefully instills faith and understanding in those who may have previously been troubled by questions.

    #970691
    HaLeiVi
    Participant

    After seeing how well academia understands people alive today, I don’t put too much credibility in their understanding of things from the ancient past. They apply today’s simplistic, outsider, perspective of anything religious to anyone, anywhere, from any period.

    If they couldn’t be bothered to find out why we look at the moon and pray once a month, before writing foolish articles, are we to believe them when they describe what exactly ancient Egyptians believed?

    Sam, I think 99% is overdoing it.

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