In the following quote, the Khazar king questions the Rabbi's belief in a (relatively) young world starting with Adam. The Rabbi concedes that the question posed 'would weaken my belief', but argues that the source of information dating the world back so long is unreliable, so therefore the question is moot. Notice he did not say 'don't worry, God made an old world' or 'don't worry the mikubalim told us the world is really billions of years old', but he actually admit it would be a good, faith weakening question.

So, now that modern science and archaeology has given credence to the claim of an ancient world predating the assumed time of Adam, what answer can we offer to the question of the Khazar, if the Rabbi himself admit that the strength of the question relies on the evidence?

  1. Al Khazari: Does it not weaken thy belief if thou art told that the Indians have antiquities and buildings which they consider to be millions of years old?

  2. The Rabbi: It would, indeed, weaken my belief had they a fixed form of religion, or a book concerning which a multitude of people held the same opinion, and in which no historical discrepancy could be found. Such a book, however, does not exist. Apart from this, they are a dissolute, unreliable people, and arouse the indignation of the followers of religions through their talk, whilst they anger them with their idols, talismans, and witchcraft. To such things they pin their faith, and deride those who boast of the possession of a divine book. Yet they only possess a few books, and these were written to mislead the weak-minded. To this class belong astrological writings, in which they speak of ten thousands of years, as the book on the Nabataean Agriculture, in which are mentioned the names of Janbushar, Sagrit and Roanai. It is believed that they lived before Adam, who was the disciple of Janbushar, and such like.

  • By "faith-weakening" do you mean with regard to basic tenets of Judaism (e.g. the Rambam's 13 ikkarim), or with regard to the traditional, popular belief that the universe that is less than 6000 years old?
    – Loewian
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 21:28
  • I meant it in whatever sense the Rabbi I'm the story meant it. He was equating the truth of the popular six thousand year belief with being proof of truth of the Jewish religion. I understand this single questing and answer is somewhat out of context, but in light off the Chazzars conversation with the priest and the Muslim, allot was riding on the six thousand years being real.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 22:36
  • A point of clarification. My main issue is his words 'It would, indeed, weaken my belief'. I can think of no other case offhand where a prominent religious personality admit that a certain piece of information would shake their faith, and then that information has been provided. He really put himself out on a ledge.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:22
  • Of course we can all say we don't agree with his statement (hindsight is 20/20) however, he did say it, and for all reasonable doubt, he meant it.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:24
  • Can you give a source where in the Kuzari this appears? Also, which translation/edition is this from? You got me curious, and I'd like to look it up in the original (or at least the Hebrew, since I can't read the Arabic!)
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 6:49

3 Answers 3


Going back a step... The key to understanding the first section of the Kuzari is to forget all the more contemporary talk about "the Kuzari Principle" and realize that Rabbi Yehudah haLevi's (Rihal's) thesis is to deprecate the value of the entire concept of philosophical proof.

This is why the book starts with the king having a prophetic dream, "Your beliefs are pleasing to G-d, but your actions are not." The mission of the first section isn't to prove G-d exists; the Rihal sets it up so that that's a given. Which is why the philosopher has nothing to tell him. Quoting the king (1:2), "Your words are convincing, but they do not address what I'm looking for. I know already that my soul is pure and that my actions are calculated to gain Hashem's favor."

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 Greeks, 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”, the approach that would later be taken by the Rambam's “The Guide for the Perplexed”, “The Ikkarim” and other such philosophical texts. 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.

Today, where it's common to question that heritage, where many of us have yet to rediscover that inheritance after generations of neglect, that may not be as convincing. Instead, the counterpoint to relying on “speculation and system” which can "prove" contradictory answers is typically our own first-hand experience as observant Jews.

So this whole question is of abstract interest. Few if any of us actually invoke tradition to justify our belief in Judaism.

But if we're following the Rihal's path, we would be rejecting the idea that proofs are more sound than the forms of justifying our belief we actually use. Including dismissing any scientific conclusions drawn from findings as being "based on speculation and system ... doctrines [that] can be established by arguments which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proven."

Third, while Rihal was a literalist when it comes to Bereishis 1-2, he is in the distinct minority among rishonim. (See https://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/64386/1570 for more detail.)

Literalism became popular among Orthodoxy during our counter-reformation period, when battling the births of German Reform, Neolog, Reform and Conservative Judaism, but historically it was not. The Torah, when we look at the sum both written and oral, does not demand that the universe is less than 6,000 years old.

For that matter, when we go back even earlier to the sages of the mishnah and talmud, it is clear they assumed creation is an incomprehensible. Meaning that both our attempts to understand the history behind the verses and our attempts to study it scientifically will fall far short of the truth. Just one example, "מעשה בראשית נקרא ומתרגם, פשיטא, מהו דתימא אתו לשיולי מה למעלה מה למטה מה לפנים ומה לאחור, קא משמע לן. -- The Act of Creation is read [in the congregational Qeri'as haTorah] and translated [which was part of the Torah reading in those days]. [Isn't this] obvious? One might have thought that it would get people to ask what is above, what is below, what is within and what is after/behind. Therefore is comes to tell us [that we do read and translate it]." The rabbis so wanted to discourage speculation into things we cannot understand, or are likely to misunderstand in ways that lead to heresy, that it wasn't obvious we would even read Bereishis in public!

  • Some of what you wrote would make sense and be an acceptable deflection. My problem is, again, the fact that he did say 'It would, indeed, weaken my belief'. Simple enough. Had he said I won't let scientific proofs dictate my belief system, like Rav Kook said, fine. If he didn't care, he could've accepted the Indian story, and gone on with his beliefs. He didn't. He marginalized it in order to not weekend his belief. His words, not mine.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:15
  • And biblical literalism is not new. It's as old as the bible. Rambam gave leeway to not take some of the creation story hyper literally, but just think about what the world thought of the Moreh Nevuchim for hundreds of years. Biblical creation story non literalism and making different calculations to creation date didn't start until the Kabbalists. It's true they building off cryptic words of Chazzal, but Chazzal said many other things about creation and the reality of the world which we conveniently ignore.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:19
  • (I don't know where R Kook said that; he struck me as a concordianist -- finding how to understand both Torah and science as describing the same thing. E.g. RAYK's paean to evolution.) Given the thesis at tradition is more sure than proof, then he is telling us today to apply the same strategy of dismissal to "modern science and archaeology has given credence to the claim of an ancient world". Be secure in your tradition. There is no more reason to accept the science than he had to accept reports about India. But in practice, we don't actually follow the Rihal on this. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:27
  • 1
    Rashi on 1:1 and 2:4 tells you the week of creation was also at once. The Ramban says that most of creation happened between 1:1 and 1:2, and that the week of creation is also the 6000 years of history -- describing a model of time very unlike the one dimensional stream we experience. (R Dessler discusses this at length.) Bereishis Rabba speaks of "creating worlds and destroying them" -- well before the mequbalim. The Rambam (Moreh 2:30, see the Abarbanel for more detai) says the 6 days of creation are 6 causal steps, and nothing to do with time. That's a lot of the big names.... Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:30
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:53

Logically, he answered that the question itself does not apply (under the circumstances in which it was asked). Had there been a legitimate question, then he might have gone into the reasoning behind it. However, since the "evidence" did not apply, then he did not have to go any farther than it did. Note that he did not say that it was not a good question or that it did not have a valid answer. He said that had the "evidence" appeared valid then and only then would it have needed to be considered. He said that had it been a valid question his belief would have been weakened which meant that he would have had to answer it in order to bring it back to the level that it had been. However, since it was an invalid question and had no effect, then he could validly ignore it.

  • Except he said it would weaken his belief. Had he not said that, we can easily answer your answer. In light of that statement, I don't think we could.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 22:38
  • @user6591 I added an explicit statement to deal with your comment. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 0:17
  • 1
    Saying my belief would be weakened ≠ I have an answer or I could come up with an answer. It means I have no answer and therefore if the question were a good question, my belief would be weakened.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 0:30
  • @user6591 So maybe the Rabbi didn't have a good answer. That doesn't mean there isn't one. Perhaps if the rabbi were living in our time with a modern understanding of science he would have an answer. Or perhaps not. There are plenty of modern answers to this question, though. Presumably the Rabbi (or R' Yehudah HaLevi) just never thought of them.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 0:37
  • 1
    @user6591 R' Yehudah Halevi said that he did not need to deal with the question because it was invalid. Had he needed to deal with the question he would have. It was the rest of the discussion that implied he would have answered it had he needed to. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 0:39

The Khazari's question was about humans claiming to have "antiquities and buildings" that were millions of years old.

In other words: Would the fact that some people could prove that advanced civilizations existed millions of years before the Torah's Adam, weaken your faith?

(NOTE: "advanced" is being defined as capable of city building and producing related artifacts of similar and noteworthy complexity.)

The Rabbi admits it would weaken his belief, but since there are no reliable sources of proof for this, it doesn't matter.

The Rabbi even adds that records of merely many tens of thousands of years before Adam would weaken his faith. (not just millions). The Rabbi offers agriculture as an example similar to the Khazari's "buildings".

The OP asks that now that science has such proof, what would the "Rabbi" say?

Simple Answer:

Science admits that it has no such proof.

Detailed Answer:

"The Neolithic Revolution or Neolithic Demographic Transition, sometimes called the Agricultural Revolution, was the wide-scale transition of many human cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, allowing the ability to support an increasingly large population. Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals evolved in separate locations worldwide, starting in the geological epoch of the Holocene around 12,500 years ago. It was the world's first historically verifiable revolution in agriculture."

  • Wikipedia, entry: Neolithic Revolution

Therefore, any case of a people building complex artifacts, using agriculture or making buildings never took place many tens of thousands of years ago (let alone millions).

The fact that science does claim that plants, creatures, and inanimate objects, as well as the planets, stars and the universe etc. existed many tens of thousands to millions and billions of years ago, has nothing to do with the question of the OP. The Khazari and the Rabbi are not discussing that. It is a different topic. (The six days of creation contain descriptions, (like evening and morning happening without a sun) which begs the question if it is to be taken literally. For instance, we do not know the "Rabbi's" position on the creation days being 24 modern hours, or rather, epochs of order. However, the post-Adam chronicles of Genesis read like literal history.)

The "Rabbi" could easily point out that science today about the neolithic revolution "starting" "about" 12,500 years ago, (and some scientists in that Wiki- article are quoted as saying that the fertile crescent's neolithic revolution started about 9,000 years ago) is close enough to the Torah's claims for the Adams family.

Medrashim, and Rishonim, have some opinions that show human type creatures existed pre-Adam.

1) Talmud, Eiruvin 18b

2) See Moreh Nevuchim (Rambam's Guide for the Perplexed; Part 1, ch.7)

3) Compare Targum Onkelos: Gen 1:20,21,24 vs. Gen. 2:7

4) Ramban to Gen. 2:7

Eiruvin 18b says, (based on nuance in the text of Genesis 4:25,) that during the 130 years of Adam's separation from Eve, he sired other children. The identity of the mother(s) is not mentioned; but it was not Eve.

The Rambam explains that the sons born to Adam mentioned in the above Medrash, were not really human in the true sense of the word, but were like animals in human form. They did have extra intelligence and were able to be cunning and harmful.

Due to the fact that the Rambam takes this Medrash as referring to literal physical offspring (albeit quasi-human) we must assume that perforce, the mother(s) were female humanoids able to become pregnant from Adam and capable of giving birth. Where did these females, (who could not produce true human children as Eve could) come from? They must have been humanoids created apart from Adam; essentially pre-dating him.

The Ramban to Gen. 2:7, explains that Onkelos held that the Adam species must have first been a living humanoid with its highest level of soul being animal-like in nature. He derives this because Onkelos describes the breathing of a soul into Adam as "Adam became a speaking spirit". This would imply that Adam was alive beforehand, and that G-d only breathed into him the extra soul of human intellect and spirituality. The Ramban concludes that the extra letter "lamed" in the verse, can imply that G-d took a man and changed him so that he became a different man altogether.

According to the above, there is no problem to say that the initial creation of the species "Adam" in Genesis 1, were male and female animal-creatures with better intelligence than animals, yet lacking the full spiritual soul of Adam HaRishon in Genesis 2; who was the recipient of the special creation of the human soul.

(IMHO, this also explains a verse which has bothered me since I was a child. Genesis 4:17 states that Cain built a city. For who?)

Also, science itself is only giving a general starting date for the revolution's beginning. It does not know for certain how long it took to get underway, who did it, what caused it, and if its dating is exact to the thousands place in years.

Science does tell us that tens of thousands to millions of years ago, the human or human-like peoples (creatures) were only capable of the most simple technologies like sharpening stone and starting fire (and living in caves, not buildings) etc. This period is called Paleo-lithic (Old Stone Age) Neo-lithic (New Stone Age) marks the amazing technological revolution of mankind.

In conclusion, we understand the "Rabbi's" position as follows:

The Torah makes significant mention of things in Adam's family history, like farming, animal husbandry, tent living, metal working, city building, and music. It appears that the Torah implies that such developments were just getting started or advancing with the advent of Adam and his offspring. Therefore, a solid proof that such technology was fully advanced and in use by people tens of thousands of years ago, would weaken his faith.

However, in actuality, science now proves that the "Rabbi's" position in front of the Khazari was absolutely correct. :)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 16:24

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