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I recently came across something that challenged my faith. I have believed in Judaism because of the Kuzari Argument. I thought it was a very good argument. But then I came across this article (http://www.talkreason.org/articles/kuzariflaws.cfm#lep). Most of the article I was able to refute because I realized that the person misunderstood the Kuzari Argument. But the part about the Irish history myth (click on leprechauns in contents) seems to be pretty convincing. Is there anybody who can refute this?

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    Probably better not to base your Judaism on just the Kuzari. Otherwise you'll forever be swinging back and forth as you analyze every detail ad absurdum
    – Double AA
    Jan 10 at 21:50
  • I have believed in Judaism because of the Kuzari. Do you mean because of the Kuzari (a Twelfth Century book), or because of the Kuzari Argument (a modern formulation of a particular evidentiary point) that is loosely based on the Kuzari?
    – Alex
    Jan 11 at 1:59
  • I'm vaguely reminded of the section in which Rihal talks about the beliefs of the Hindus. I'd have to look inside to see if there's actually a connection.
    – Harel13
    Jan 11 at 4:21
  • @Alex The Kuzari Argument
    – Champ
    Jan 11 at 15:10
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    @DoubleAA So what should I base my Judaism on?
    – Champ
    Jan 11 at 15:12

3 Answers 3

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I think that the aspect of directly refuting the leprechauns has been properly dealt with by a previous answer; and I do believe it has been refuted.

My answer would like to address an equally important factor in answering your question IMHO. I think this is really important and integral to the OP. It is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after you deal with the leprechauns standing in the way. It is that important.

René Descartes was a famous French philosopher (1596 - 1650), who (among other things of course) investigated questions of what would constitute "proof" of a matter?

For instance, Descartes asked how you know you are not really sleeping right now and everything you are experiencing was just a dream? He grappled with this in order to truthfully understand the concept of real 100% proof.

So for instance accordingly, "Cartesian" proof that there are no dragons would require you to have video footage of every part of the universe in front of you at once showing no dragons anywhere etc.

That's great for philosophy and it has its place. However, in real life, this will not get you very far.

For instance, maybe there is a chance that the bus driver is a secret terrorist or the medicine in your prescription was replaced with Jim Jones' koolaid in the middle of the night?

Do you stop riding buses or stop taking your medicine?

No, that would be silly. This is because life decisions on a daily basis do not require and should not entertain a need for Cartesian proof of anything, or you will never cross the street.

The Kuzari principle is a holy philosophy, but it has its limits in the realm of intellect, as does everything.

The great value of the Kuzari principle is that it A) Makes a lot of sense and B) is not really refuted.

Is it 100% proof? Has it no weaknesses? Maybe it does have a flaw, SO WHAT??

When choosing a religion and philosophy, one must choose a practical path which has been shown to be most likely true and much better than alternatives. The Kuzari principle grants that to Judaism on an intellectual level.

We absolutely do not need the Kuzari to refute every possible scenario in history or every oral tale. It is 99% bulletproof (or even 88% bulletproof would be fine) and it does its job.

That job is to grant a person the freedom, right, and confidence to go down the path of Judaism knowing that it is the most rational choice and option to investigate as a religion, revelation, and way of life.

The Kuzari does not have to be 100% irrefutable in every way. You just need to be allowed to be convinced enough that it holds a huge amount of intellectual honesty. Such cannot be said for any other religion on Earth. Thats good enough.

You never demand 100% from the bus driver, and you do not lock your medicine in a secret vault every night for fear of tampering. So why would you feel the need to demand that your initial religious guidance must deliver 100% irrefutable chances of accuracy?

The real challenge is no longer the question of "is Judaism the true path?" The question now is how to pull off getting yourself to include Judaism in every aspect of your life. How do you pray (Talk with your Creator?) How do you live a better life? That would be a much more important trick than refuting the leprechauns.

I hope I expressed this correctly. :)

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  • A very nice and meaningful answer. I would say that the last percentage is perhaps the leap of faith that is required in faith (hence it being called a "leap of faith". I heard a rabbi once say about his faith something along these lines: He isn't 100% that Judaism is the truth, but since this is where he is in life, he thinks it's the best way to go.
    – Harel13
    Jan 14 at 13:21
  • @DavidKenner I think this is a very good answer! Thank you!
    – Champ
    Jan 16 at 16:06
  • thanks people, i appreciate it. Much Success. :) Mar 7 at 7:58
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When you speak of "The Kuzari Principle" you are talking about the majority of book I of the Kuzari the way it is usually presented in kiruv contexts or other inspirational programs. Something like this:

No one could invent a story that alleges all of the target’s audience’s ancestors experienced some miraculous or otherwise special event. It is implausible that a lie could be consistently retold by millions. And, the audience’s reaction would be one of disbelief, “Why does he know all about this event, and we never heard of it before from our grandparents?” Since Judaism uniquely makes claims of national miracles and national revelations, events with audiences of millions who are the ancestors of nearly all of the target audience (excepting geirim) this gives Judaism a unique claim to authenticity. The commonality of the story amongst so many and the acceptance of the story by their descendants is unique. (In contrast, Jesus’s alleged miracles were only said to be witnessed by at most the 500 attendees of the wedding at Cana, and the target audience isn’t primarily the descendants of those guests.)

However, I do not believe this is the Kuzari’s point. Before I get to what I believe Rabbi Yehudah haLevi really is saying in book 1, this argument is flawed for two reasons:

First, there are counterexamples, other cultures that had myths about their origins that they all believed. For example, the Theban origins myth. Central American myths about gods who appear and lead whole peoples. I didn't look into it, maybe the Irish myths you mention qualify too.

Second, and this may explain how the counterexamples emerged, the assumption is made that the claim is made out of the blue, in a single stroke. It doesn’t account for gradual acceptance of a story. Say something starts out as a myth about a subset of the people, and it’s known to be a bed-time story. The next generation it’s “some say”. Over several generations, it can become “official history” about everyone, with no one generation expressing the disbelief that is critical to this argument.

But the actual reason why I doubt that this is Rav Yehudah haLevi’s intent is because he had the king already approach a philosopher as well as a Christian Scholast, and the king already rejected philosophical proof as unconvincing. The Rabbi provides as a counterpoint to his statement (Kuzari I, par 13):

The Rabbi: That which you describe is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.

In other words, the Rabbi’s basis for belief is not one based on “speculation and system”. It’s not philosophical proof. Reducing his words to an argument of the style described above defeats the whole point Rav Yehudah haLevi is trying to make! As he later writes (par 63), “There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances.”

The Kuzari can be seen as a response to Rav Saadia Gaon’s “Emunos veDei’os”, and on opposition to later such philosophical texts “The Guide for the Perplexed”, “The Ikkarim”. Rav Yehudah haLevi rejected the entire tendency of placing Jewish belief on Greek Philosophical underpinnings.

Instead, he says that Judaism is unquestionable for the Jew because it is our heritage.

What is being mistaken for the above proof is the Rabbi’s argument to the king, who didn’t yet accept this heritage as his own, and needs to assess that entire choice. But not the approach advocated for a Jew.

I see a kindred — but still very different — approach in existential thought.

One of my signature files, the only one that’s a self-quote, reads, “The mind is a wonderful organ for justifying decisions the heart already reached.” This echoes the King of the Kazar’s objection to the philosopher, that for any philosophical position justified by argument, there are conflicting opinions whose adherents claim equally valid arguments.

The Kiruv Movement is not founded on philosophical dispute, even if many who teach in that context may think so. The most effective kiruv tool is the experience of a Shabbos. People do not accept the proofs of G-d and the Divine origin of the Torah and halakhah and therefore keep Shabbos. Rather, they experience Shabbos, get first-hand experience of the power of halakhah, and based on that believe in the authenticity of the Torah and its own claims about its origin.

In addition to the experience of performing mitzvos, Torah study too has this defining characteristic. Torah has an elegance one finds in the most “beautiful” of mathematical proofs despite tackling concepts far less simply defined. A discussion of the laws of theft could explain a seemingly unrelated point in the laws of Shabbos with a single theory (sevarah) uniting both.

I should be clear that I’m not speaking of the emotional reaction of liking Shabbos. Rather the experience of Shabbos, the first-hand but internal to the mind qualia of Shabbos, that that reaction is based upon. The difference between a mathematician finding a proof to be beautiful and the actual features of the proof that cause that judgement. It is as real and as objective as the experience seeing a ball. And just as I unquestioningly accept that a ball is red if I see that it’s red. I similarly accept the reality of Shabbos.

To extend this metaphor: What if many of us see the ball as red, but others, perhaps even a far larger group, insist they see it and it’s blue? Would their claims shake my faith in my own group’s perception, or would I trust my own eyes? (Assuming they work in general.) Why would the claims of another faith community (even the community whose faith is agnosticism or atheism) shake my belief in Torah?

Torah is based on first-hand experience of Torah, not on its “principles of faith”. My belief in those principles is because they explain that which I experience, not the other way around.

Rabbi Prof. Shalom Carmy (Yeshiva University) posted something similar to Avodah (an email discussion group):

People who throw around big words on these subjects always seem to take for granted things that I don’t.

The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.

Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.

R’ Gil Student posted the following quote from Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe, pp. 25-26, 28-30 on Hirhurim:

Since Kant, these proofs [of God’s existence] have been heavily assailed…. Many theologians, nowadays, accept the validity of these refutations and admit that there can be no proof of God in the sense that there can be no proof of a mathematical formula… But they go on to remark that we can be convinced of a thing beyond of a shadow of a doubt by means other than that of mathematical proof. There is no such proof, for instance, of the existence of other human beings beside ourselves, yet we are convinced that they do exist… In other words a distinction must be drawn between proof and conviction — proof is one of the ways to conviction but there are other ways, too…

Many have arrived at this conviction as the result of a personal experience which convinces them that God exists. These men would rule out of court the very discussion of whether God exists, for, they would say, if a man is truly in love he does not ask himself if he is in love. The experience of God’s Presence is sufficient…

Other thinkers, again, hold that though each of the traditional proofs in itself is unconvincing, taken together they are convincing… Granted that the proofs carry no weight as evidence, they are indications and as such have the power of supplementing each other…

What it all amounts to is this, that while the existence of God cannot be proved if we start from the beginning, none of us do, in fact, start from the beginning. We are presented with two alternative beliefs about the ultimate reality and we have to choose between them. According to one view God exists–it is He Who created us, Who fashioned our minds and implanted the moral sense within us so that we are capable of recognizing beauty, truth and goodness and fighting ugliness, falsehood and evil. In this view the difficulty is how to account for the existence of evil. According to the other view there is no God… In this view the difficulties are how mind came from matter, how life emerged where there was no life before, how the universe itself came into being, how the good is possible of realisation and how man came to strive for it–how man as a tiny part of the universe came to pass judgment on it?

So to answer your question, I cannot refute flaws in the Kuzari proof. I instead ask if you really do rely on this or any other philosophical argument as the foundation of your faith. And if you do -- should you?

Judaism neither stands on proof nor ought to be about proof. (In this approach. Obviously, R’ Saadia Gaon, the Rambam, et al disagreed.) Rather, it stands on our having a relationship with Hashem and His Torah.

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  • Without responding to your vague references to other groups (yes I am familiar with those claims) simple question for you. If you truly believe that there are groups who claim to have an unbroken tradition of a mass revelation from God why do YOU assume it did not happen? It would be from the most well documented and recorded events in all of history.
    – Schmerel
    Jan 11 at 21:19
  • @Schmerel -- because I don't found my belief on what others claim. As the answer itself says, I believe because the experiences of learning Torah, keeping Shabbos and numerous other mitzvos are compelling reason to believe I am experiencing something real. Jan 11 at 21:21
  • You aren't answering the question. If you truly believe that there are groups who claim to have an unbroken tradition of a mass revelation from God why do YOU assume it did not happen? If you believe those groups exist to begin then you certainly are basing your (sociological) beliefs on what others told you and claimed. Why do you believe those who told you those groups exist but not those groups themselves ?
    – Schmerel
    Jan 11 at 21:38
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    I think he's saying a group of people claiming an unbroken tradition is a flawed proof as there are alternative explanations for its origin. That's why he doesn't believe it. @Schmerel
    – robev
    Jan 11 at 22:09
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    @Schmerel "He certainly isn't giving an alternate explanation for their belief." He certainly is. He literally wrote "this may explain how the counterexamples emerged..." Read the post.
    – Double AA
    Jan 12 at 2:46
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The guy seems to misunderstand the Kuzari with regard to this point as well. Of course you can rewrite history and get people to believe all sorts of things took place in the history of their country when in fact those things never happened. Particularly when you are dealing with not particularly educated population to begin with. Because someone reading revisionist history does not have the obvious question of "why don't I know about it?" The answer is simple "you weren't born yet, it never had any reason to came up and now you are being taught by the history experts" Ditto when mythology turns into something people believe. The people have no intrinsic obvious reason not to believe it.

What you can't do is convince an entire country that either (1)they themselves saw something which they didn't see but because they saw it they need to take on many, many practices and obligations and celebrate many commemorations of their seeing it or (2)their ancestors saw something and because of what they saw they immediately started many, many practices and obligations and many celebrations commemorating their seeing it happen, when none of those things are actually in practice. Because then you would never be able to get around the question of "why didn't I hear about this until now?". And if a mythology claims to have a practical outcome that clearly isn't the case it would perpetually be recognized as mythology.

The Kuzari is discussing the latter situation. Belief in leprechauns is the former.

I've seen other variations of this question. They all involve a parallel situation where there was no obvious question of "if this is true then why don't I know about it already?" The parallel events are like Eliyohu on Har HaKarmel or the Mohn falling. They are also miraculous events believed to have been widely viewed but no says that belief in those events proves the truth of Judaism.

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    How many people believe there were 1.5 million people at Trump's inaugural address? Let's not overestimate people's intelligence and or discount the strength of a charismatic leader to tell lies that slowly evolve out of anyone sane's wildest imagination. If anything the echo-chamber effect of politicized news sources was stronger 5000 years ago when all you had to compare to was your neighbor.
    – Double AA
    Jan 10 at 23:23
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    Yes to everything but the last one, and even the last one I'm not sure he couldn't have done if he'd wanted to. I certainly couldn't but he might be able to. The question isn't what I could do, but what Trump could do to a captive audience of idiots. Multiplied by many many chances over the generations; recall unlikely things happen often enough given enough chances.
    – Double AA
    Jan 10 at 23:45
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    Ahh but isn't that all the argument ever is? How good are humans really at estimating how likely unlikely things are over many repetitions? That's why discussing if this is a binary logical proof or not is somewhat missing the point.
    – Double AA
    Jan 10 at 23:56
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    No. Everyone understands you can not do what is explained in the second paragraph of my answer and that it has never been done. Your beliefs about peoples beliefs and strength of evidence of how many people attended Trumps first (and second...) inauguration are subjective opinions of yours . I will not respond to you further.
    – Schmerel
    Jan 11 at 0:04
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    @Schmerel The number of intelligent people who have studied history/religion/Kuzari and still don't think a revelation at Sinai occurred calls your "everyone understands you can not do what is explained in the second paragraph of [your] answer and that it has never been done" into doubt.
    – magicker72
    Jan 11 at 0:26

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