I have asked two questions on Mi Yodeya regarding discrepancies between claims found in Torah and what we think we know about the world.

One is a small one: Rivers in Genesis

And one is a huge one: How to reconcile Biblical Flood story vs science and history?

How would you explain to someone who does not a priori take for granted that the Torah was given on mount Sinai and that the Rabbis (continuing the Pharisaic tradition in the exile) are the one and only authoritative group of people to interpret what it says, that Judaism does not have a double standard with respect to every other religion?

Here is what I mean. Given almost any other religion - let's say Christianity for example, orthodox Jews don't believe in it for one of two reasons:

1) They didn't investigate it, and therefore they don't care enough or know enough about it.

2) The rabbis found some objection, typically a discrepancy with what it says in Torah, and therefore this objection renders the religion a false one.

Now, Protestant Christianity warns that without proper acceptance of the salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus, a person is likely to go to an eternal hell which, unlike the Jewish hell, lasts forever. It would seem that Pascal's wager would at least make one consider Christianity if one considers Judaism's blessings and curses section in Deuteronomy. If one indeed wishes to "choose life" then one should also be concerned with Christianity, it seems.

And yet, it is largely dismissed by orthodox Jews. I am using Christianity as an example, but we may as well use Islam, which shares a belief in one God but has different requirements in order to get into heaven (depending on who you ask).

So my question, simply put, is this: if orthodox Judaism does not consider any scientific objections or theological objections fatal to its belief system, how come it considers the most introductory objections to Christianity already completely fatal? Isn't this a double standard? As one specific example out of many:

Skepticism vs Judaism: "Do you really think after the flood that killed everyone on earth, animals teleported to Australia, two guys built egypt, and all ecosystems started with 2 predators and 2 prey 4k years ago?" "It's possible, why not. God can do anything, it says in the Mishnah that ..."

Judaism vs Christianity: "Do you really think that God can have three different persons? Do you think he would make the Messiah die on the cross for everyone's sins and change the covenant after telling us that the law is forever?" "Well you see, the Law wasn't abolished, it was fulfilled, and as far as the Messiah and sins, you see you have no temple and no messiah for 2,000 years, maybe you missed him?" "Yeah but the rabbis tell us this is wrong." "Well yeah, Jewish leadership sinned in previous generations so God passed the baton onto the Christian sect, who have the true authority to interpret scripture now."

Basically, the reaction of Jews to the second conversation would be "yeah, ok". But remember - the stakes are greater if they are wrong. If the atheist is wrong, and Orthodox Judaism turns out to be the correct view of the world, he just gets a few months in Gehinnom or his soul is annihilated just as he expects anyway. If the Jew is wrong about Christianity, it would really suck. So what justifies this double standard, if a priori we are not assuming Orthodox Judaism of the Talmud is correct and just being rational?

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    I think you misunderstand a central critique of other theologies -- Judaism doesn't deny them because of a fatal flaw in them (thus opening itself up to a claim of double standard in denying what others see as fatal flaws in Judaism). It denies them as valid paths to God (for Jews, often) simply because they aren't Judaism. Only when people use aspects of Judaism in a way not reflective of our understanding of Judaism to misrepresent what Judaism is does anyone need to point out the flaws. – rosends Feb 4 '14 at 16:50
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    I don't understand the question at all. What double standard? Different problems require different answer... – Double AA Feb 4 '14 at 17:27
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8231/472 – Monica Cellio Feb 4 '14 at 17:47
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    "Now say they become convinced that in fact supernatural things described in Torah are true. How do they know at this point that they can still safely rule out others?" They don't. If religion is a function of rational explanation and not belief then it is subject to rational refutation. No other religious system would be any more or less persuasive. If I felt that I could move beyond Judaism then why stop at Christianity? Be a Raelian. – rosends Feb 4 '14 at 18:18
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    @GregoryMagarshak Because there is no "jump". After you learn enough, and apply skepticism critically to all fields, you should eventually end up at Judaism. – avi Feb 4 '14 at 18:39

I'm going to mostly ignore the examples you gave in your question, because I think they are a red herring. Just to address your examples quickly, none of what you described seems rational to me. What difference does eternal hell make if I don't believe in the existence of hell in the first place? My human experiences tell me that no matter how bad a situation is, I will eventually "get used to it." So really, this is a non starter.

In your Judaism vs skeptic paragraph, in that line of argument, I would side with the skeptic. It's a really bad response, and not at all convincing.

However, you would be correct to suggest that I am more willing to work with a contradiction over differences in science and Judaism than I am willing to work through a contradiction between another religion and Judaism.

My thoughts on this topic are basically the approaches of Rambam and the Kuzari.

  1. When it comes to Christianity or Islam, both religions base their premise on the Torah. Any arguments they have, must be consistent with Judaism. Any arguments that they have which is inconsistent with Judaism, must be backed up with facts that are inarguable. (None exist).

  2. When it comes to science, it's really a question of reality. There are many declarations of science which I do not believe to be true, because I do not think that those statements are actually backed up by the facts, or there are multiple theories which are not yet conclusive. However, the majority of science can be replicated, is observable, or leads directly to a usable technology which I can verify. This means that I know for a fact that some statement of science is true. (I have seen fruit flies mutate from generation to generation for example) I believe the Torah to be true, and I believe this scientific fact to be true. Because I believe both idea to be true, I must reconcile them.

If it ever happened, that Jesus appeared on earth, and I knew for a fact that it happened, then I would be required to reconcile the Torah with that fact. (It's not going to happen, btw) Because, reality can not contradict the Torah.

If however, I was not certain that the Torah was true, then I would be equally uncertain if Christianity was true, (since it's based on the Torah being true), and same with Islam. I would also have to investigate if Hinduism or Buddhism, or Shinto, or Animalism, or any of 1,000 different other religions were true. But rationally, the fact that a religion make some claim about eternity or the afterlife, will have absolutely zero impact on how I decide if that religion is true.

So to repeat myself. I know that most of science is true, and I know that some of science is false. I also know that Judaism is true. Those constructs, must then be reconciled.

If I don't know if Christianity or Judaism or Zoroastrianism is true, then I don't need to attempt to reconcile any of them together. There is no starting point of truth to even give me a desire of reconciliation.

When it comes to religion, I personally find that reconciling Jewish behavior with Jewish theory, is much harder to reconcile, than Science and Religion, or different religious texts and views. But the standard by which these judgements are the same. There is no double standard.

If two things are true, they must be reconciled, if only one is true and the other is unkown, then first you must prove the unknown before reconciliation is required.

And just to prove to you that threats of damnation are meaningless...

Pirkei Avot: "Do not be like slaves who serve the master in order to obtain a reward. Rather, be like slaves who serve the master not to receive a reward. And let the awe of Heaven be upon you." (1:3) "Be as careful in observance of a minor commandment as in a major commandment, because you don't know the respective rewards for the commandments." (2:1)

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  • Right, but the question is what would you say to someone who doesn't "know that Judaism is true". Of course, if you a priori come in saying that you know Torah is true, given on mount Sinai, or better yet that the Pharisees are right and Talmud really records the Oral Torah from Sinai, then the matter is settled. The question is, what if we don't assume this a priori? We have the Kuzari argument, etc. in favor of the Torah, and discrepancies with science. Suppose we decide to believe anyway that Sinai happened and miracles occur. How can you rule out Christianity without using double standard? – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:29
  • I addressed that starting with "If however, I was not certain that the Torah was true,". What part isn't clear? – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:32
  • Why do you believe that Sinai happened? And why would that make you open to Christianity which nullifies Sinai? – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:34
  • define "nullifies". Christianity affirms that Sinai happened. In fact, it does not deny anything in the TaNaKh. It simply claims that additional things happened, which the Rabbis in the Talmud interpret as Jesus stealing magic powers and which Christians interpret as a new revelation. I didn't say I believe Sinai happened... I have strong reasons to doubt that Judaism is true, but I am trying to learn more and see how it can be reconciled with science/history. My position is essentially along the lines of what I wrote here: magarshak.com/blog/?p=90 – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:44
  • What I meant with my first comment was, you said: "So to repeat myself. I know that most of science is true, and I know that some of science is false. I also know that Judaism is true. Those constructs, must then be reconciled. If I don't know if Christianity or Judaism or Zoroastrianism is true, then I don't need to attempt to reconcile any of them together. There is no starting point of truth to even give me a desire of reconciliation." So that explains why YOU reconcile science with Judaism but not Judaism with Christianity. But what if you were a Jew but didn't know Judaism was true? – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:46

The big difference between Judaism and other religions is that Judaism holds that millions of people saw God give the Torah at Mount Sinai. No other religion in the world claims such a thing.

This matters because it's one thing for one person to announce that they had a vision or dream or prophecy, and then persuade lots of other people (using words or swords) to believe him. On the other hand, you can't convince millions of people that millions of their ancestors saw something. Hence, a tradition based on that many witnesses is far superior and more credible than a tradition based on one.

Therefore, when Jews say that Christianity or Islam is wrong because XYZ doesn't make sense, I don't think that they're trying to make a watertight argument against those religions; they're just making a point.

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  • So are you saying that since the historical basis for Jewish belief is more reliable, in your opinion, due to the nature of the claims about how it got started, therefore it isnt possible Christianity can be right? After all, if the skeptics are wrong and Sinai in fact happened, Christianity can STILL be right. They have historical proofs in their favor too, which are very hard to address comfortably. Take a look: christianity.about.com/od/easter/a/… After all, if a skeptic turned out to be wrong about Judaism, they should be careful to be openminded now. – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:19
  • @GregoryMagarshak that link is easy to address comfortably. See.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:36
  • How is that different than addressing the Kuzari comfortably like this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_Unearthed – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:40
  • The Christian bible claims that the tomb was empty and there was no body. Archaeologists found a tomb with a body which is labeled as being Jesus. Your link to the bible_unearthed isn't so straight forward. Recent archeological finds show that bible unearthed is mistaken on quite a few points. – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:47

All of your examples of inconsistencies are reasons why no sane person should switch religions based on the integrity of the narrative.

A priori sticking to the Talmud is the rational option for Jews that started out as Jews. Since both Christianity and Judaism have apparent narrative flaws to switch one lame horse for the other would not be helpful from an objective truth seeking perspective.

Even Atheism is flawed in this way because one ultimately has to get around how either something came from nothing or something existed without a precursor. Both of these phenomena are currently considered to be supernatural.

Judaism is thus not less true than its leading competitors but the Jew is expected to stick with it not based solely on its truth value, but also because it is the lore of our tribe and community. From my understanding, the big deal about apostasy is not so much the incorrectness of the new set of tenets, but the turning away from the tribe.

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  • I see what you're saying, but wouldn't each individual have to balance the benefit of being part of the tribe and its traditions, versus eternal damnation and hell? It would be nice if one of the religions was demonstrably true, but given that as you say each one has its problems, what would you say to someone who is more concerned about their afterlife than how many lechaims they get to do with their tribe? – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:13
  • the "eternal damnation and hell" is only a valid fear once one has already adopted the other theology. If being part of the tribe and its traditions includes its beliefs, the threat of hell and damnation leveled against non-adherents of other religions BY those other religions is empty. – rosends Feb 4 '14 at 17:18
  • I don't understand your point, can you clarify it in some other way? How is a threat empty just because it is based on a belief system that may or may not be true? If there is a chance it is true, then Pascal's wager says you should hedge your bets if you're being rational. And if it turns out that miracles did in fact happen, then at that point we humans shouldn't be so arrogant as to know what we could rule out both naturally and theologically. In short, once you open the door to miracles, you have to be more openminded, and can't know for certain if someone's belief system is true or not. – Gregory Magarshak Feb 4 '14 at 17:24
  • @GregoryMagarshak Opening the door to miracles, doesn't require you to do anything other than be open to miracles. – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:29
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    Each claim and point of question has to be evaluated on it's own terms. You can't make illogical leaps of the kind saying, If I was wrong about my teacher in 1st grade being crazy, then I must also be wrong about the guy in the insane asylum being crazy. – avi Feb 4 '14 at 17:56

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