I just listened to one such lecture given (downloadable here) by Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi. The title of the lecture is Proof That Torah is Divine Part I. In his lecture, he claims to bring "scientific proofs" that the Torah is of Divine origin. Sad to say, very few of his "proofs" stand up to serious scrutiny. He goes through a lot of material in his presentation, and for me to debunk everything he says would simply take too much time. However, I don't actually have to debunk everything he says. Right at the beginning of the lecture, he presents his cardinal rule for debunking religions -- if a mistake can be found in the "holy book" of a religion, then it is a proof that the book is not Divine and the religion that it supports is bunk. So, the net result is that, according to him, if I can show that any one of his premises regarding the Torah is false, and that the Torah has a flaw, then Judaism itself is bunk. That's a rather high bar to set and, if I apply to Judaism the same conditions that he applies to other religions, then it's easy to show that Judaism is false.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: I *do* believe in Judaism. Just because a person shows that a "proof" to Judaism is flawed and invalid doesn't make the religion itself flawed and invalid. I *do* believe that the Torah is of Divine origin and if a real proof to it is discovered one day, I will wholeheartedly embrace it. But I will not embrace flawed proofs, shoddy logic or emotional claptrap.
Biblical Errors And Consistent Standards
As I mentioned earlier, Rabbi Mizrachi begins with his cardinal rule; that if an error can be found in a "Divine book," then that error serves proof that the book is, in fact, not Divine, and that the religion that it supports is false. As an example, he brings up the verse in Acts 7:14 which states that Jacob went down to Egypt with 75 people. Of course, we know from Beraishis (46:27) and Shemos (1:5) that the number of people that went down to Egypt was only seventy. Did God forget how many people went down? Of course not, hence, it is argued that Acts (and, by extension, the rest of the Christian Bible) is a flawed document and not Divine.
On the surface, it's a sound argument. However, one has to wonder if Rabbi Mizrachi actually gave the Christians and honest and sincere hearing on the matter. Assuming that most of the Christian clergy are not total idiots, I'm fairly certain that some of them must have noticed this contradiction. Has he asked any of them for an explanation? Somehow, I doubt it. A simple Google serach turned up two possible answers that Christians can use to reconcile the 70/75 count; and, truth to tell, those answers are entirely plausible -- or at least certainly as plausible as the answer given to explain why the total given in Beraishis 46 is 70 while only 69 names are mentioned.
In other words, I can support the basic premise that Rabbi Mizrachi puts forward -- i.e. that if you find a flaw in a book claiming to be Divine then the book is not Divine. What I do object to, however, is the fallacy of holding Christians accountable for contradictions in the text itself, without giving them a chance to reconcile the contradictions, while allowing Chazal, the Rishonim and Achronim to engage in explanations that, to an outsider, would sound far-fetched and forced. In other words, if you're going to call out Christian books because they contradict themselves (or other established sources), then you have to allow the adherents to explain the contradictions; much as you wold allow yourself to explain the apparent contradictions in Tanach. I'm not saying, of course, that you have to accept the explanations offered, but, in the name of honesty, you have to give them the chance and to accept the possibility of an explainable if it sounds plausible. Somehow, my gut tells me that Rabbi Mizrachi would not accept *any* explanation from a Christian of the 70/75 discrepancy, but would entertain almost any effort to explain an apparent error in the Torah.
Rabbi Mizrachi also brings up the argument of mass revelation. In short, the argument is that Judaism is unique because it has, at its origin, a mass revelation. Millions of people (he says between six and fifteen million, but that's quite a stretch, even accepting the 600,000 number as literally true) stood at Mt. Sinai and literally heard God speak. Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the only proof that this happened is because it says it in the very book you're trying to prove, it's a fair argument. Most religions, begin with a single individual who makes an unverifiable claim (Mohammed receiving the Koran from the angel Gabriel, Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates from the angel Moroni, etc.). The fact that Judaism makes a claim of mass revelation is a striking point in its favor. However, Rabbi Mizrachi is not content with that. He says that if *any* religion can claim that they had an origin even involving one other eyewitness, then that proves the Torah is false, since (and I don't know his source for this) he says that Torah says that no other religion will be able to make the claim of a plural origin.
Sadly, his claims do not stand up to scrutiny. The Aztecs, for example, had a mass revelation story. They believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, led them (in person) to the site of present-day Mexico City. Based on Rabbi Mizrachi's assertion, the very fact that another group even claims a mass revelation shows that the Torah is not true. I suppose it's a good thing that I don't agree with Rabbi Mizrachi's underlying assertion. :)
Textual Variations and Consistent Standards
The next claim he makes is that if a "holy book" has multiple versions, then it cannot be divine. After all, how would you know which version is the correct one? He makes the point that there are over 150,000 textual variations of the New Testament (I don't know if this is correct or not... it's really beside the point) and therefore, it's impossible to determine which is the "correct" version that would have been Divinely given. R. Mizrachi makes the point that no matter where you go in the world, the Torah is the same. Since it's the same everywhere in the world, it must be divine. Well, I don't know if Rabbi Mizrachi has ever been to Yemen, but there are Jews there that have a different Torah than ours. In fact, there are nine differences. But even if we dismiss the Yemenite Torahs, we even have differences here in the United States. There are two different versions of the word "daka" in Devarim 23:2; some Torahs have an aleph as the last letter while some have a heh. So, which Torah is the correct one? The Yemenite? The daka-aleph? The daka-heh? Does this mean that the Torah is not divine? If Rabbi Mizrachi were to apply the same standard that he does to the Christians to the Torah, he'd have to say no, but I don't think he's going to do that.
Faulty "Scientific" Proofs And Dubious Claims
In his lecture, Rabbi Mizrachi attempts to give "scientific proof" to the divinity of the Torah, but all that happens is that he comes off sounding incredibly uneducated about science. He trots out various "proofs," however, very often the underlying assumption of the proof is simply wrong.
For example, he tries to prove that the Jews knew, through the Torah (specifically, a verse in Isaiah), that the world was round before anyone else. He mentions that before Columbus, no one knew that the world was round. The spherical nature of the earth was discovered when Columbus sailed off to the west and returned from the east. Of course, that's not true. In order to do that, you have to go around the world, something that Columbus never did. It was not until Magellan's voyage, in 1521, that anyone actually went around the world. However, even that's not important, because people *did* know that the world is round many years before Columbus. The ancient Greeks knew the world was round because they observed that the earth casts a circular shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse.
He also tries to show that the Zohar, written in the days of the Tanaim (itself a very dubious claim) revealed many secrets of the world, that could not have been known before the advent of modern science. However, for two of the proofs that he brings, it's very clear that the Zohar was *not* written by a Divine Being. A Divine Being would not have peddled such incorrect information.
One proof from the Zohar that he mentions is a passage that descibes that there is one place in the world where it is always light and only dark for one hour a day -- the North Pole. However, that statement is simply not true. The North Pole is not always bathed in light except for one hour. The fact is that the sun is above the horizon at the North Pole for six months in the summer and below the horizon for six months in the winter. In other words, it is daytime for six months straight and night (to various degrees) for six months. In other words, the Zohar is completely wrong in the way it describes the North Pole.
Another "proof" from the Zohar is the fact that different people in the world look differently. According to the Zohar (at least according to Rabbi Mizrachi -- I haven't actually checked the source material), the climate affects the appearance of people. Or, to put it in Rabbi Mizrachi's words: "In Africa, everyone is black, almost the same face. Same hair, same face, same shape in the face. You go to China -- copy machine. Two billion copies." Rabbi Mizrachi clearly doesn't know what he's talking about here -- Africa is the most genetically diverse place on Earth. To say that everyone in Africa has the "same hair, same face, same shape in the face," simply shows that Rabbi Mizrachi hasn't done a great deal of reading about genetics or geography. In any event, to get to the point, the fact that different people in different regions look different is hardly a surprising discovery, even in the days when the Zohar is said to have been written. Anyone who had traveled would have known that.
As another proof to the idea that only God could have written the Torah, he mentions the Gemara in Megillah which purports to give the exact number of stars. Rabbi Mizrachi states that the number given is 1019 , although the true number mentioned in the Gemara is approximately 1018. However, we can forgive him the math error. What's harder to overlook is the simple logical mistake of using the Gemara's figure to prove the actual number of stars. In other words, the Gemara gives a really number, so it *must* be right. The fact is that the only way to prove that it's right is to compare it to another counting. The current estimate to the number of stars is actually 7x1022.
There are other "proofs" that he brings in his speech, which are equally easy to discredit (the four animals proof, the fins/scales proof and the calendar proof stand out most prominently), but this post has already gone on for quite a while.
Where R. Mizrachi Completely Disproves His Own Point
There is, however, a deeper, more fundamental problem with Rabbi Mizrachi's argument. He attempts to prove that the Torah (and by extension, the Oral Torah) is Divine because it's an error-free document and contains information that only a Divine Being could have possessed. However, by allowing supporting proof from the Gemara and the Zohar, he also leaves them open to refutation. In other words, if you're going to claim that the Pentateuch is divine, then you can only find fault with items in the Pentateuch. But by stating that the Gemara and Zohar are also divine, Rabbi Mizrachi is asserting that they, too, are error-proof. He's also asserting that they, too, must be free of textual variations (since a divine document must have only one version). The fact of the matter is that there is no one today who will say that the Gemara doesn't have textual variations. So, according to Rabbi Mizrachi's definition, the Gemara is not Divine; and if the Gemara is not divine, then the religion it supports, Judaism, must be false.
Far More Harm Than Help
At the beginning of his speech, Rabbi Mizrachi states that over 100,000 people are religious today because of this lecture (whether delivered by him or someone else). All I can say is that I find that *extremely* hard to believe. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and yet, I was able to pick apart most of his arguments pretty easily. If this is the "proof" of Judaism, I'm left to wonder if his lectures don't do far more harm to the kiruv movement than help.