Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You Even Allowed To Question?

Back in my post where I severely disagreed with Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs," an anonymous* commentator made the following comment:


I've been reading your post and gave it quite a bit of thought. My conclusion is that your arguments don't truly hold up and that challenging such a torah scholar (who has done an immense amount of good) is actually a chillul hashem (given that non-jews read your blog). A chillul hashem is actually the worst thing that a jew can do but i'm sure you knew that..

The commentator makes two statements here about me:

1. My arguments against Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs" don't hold water.
2. My challenging his "proofs" is a Chillul Hashem, since non-Jews read my blog.

Implicit in his second statement is that one is not even allowed to question the "proofs" Rabbi Mizrachi (or anyone else, I guess) presents. After all, we all know that it is forbidden to make a Chillul HaShem** -- indeed, my anonymous commentator points out (correctly) that making a Chillul HaShem is one of the worst things*** a Jew can do. If pointing out flaws in the proofs is a Chillul HaShem, then it should be fairly simple to logically conclude that one is not allowed to question Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs."

Of course, as I'm sure you've guessed, I don't agree with that position. I do not think that pointing out bad logic and flawed science is a Chillul HaShem. If someone were to say that Judaism is the "one true religion" because 2+2=5, then how is it a Chillul HaShem to point out that 2 plus 2 does not, in fact, equal five? Likewise, if someone tries to show that the Zohar is divine based on "scientific information" contained therein and the information is, in fact wrong****, then how is it a Chillul HaShem to point it out? On the contrary, I think that it's far closer to a Chillul HaShem to assert that Judaism is true because 2+2=5 when it is clearly demonstrable that it is not so.

We are described in Parshas V'EsChannan as an Am Chacham V'Navon... a wise and knowlegable nation. It makes us look extremely foolish to bring a proof that our religion is divine based on facts that any high-school student knows are false. On that basis, I feel that not only is one allowed to question a bad "proof," but one is *required* to point out its flaws.

The Wolf

* The commentator may or may not be "Champ."

** I'll ignore the fact that the commentator is wrong about the nature of Chillul HaShem in that it primarily applies to a desecration of God's name that is made in the eyes of other Jews, and only secondarily (if at all) in the eyes of non-Jews.

*** I don't know if it is the "worst" thing, but that's another argument for another day.

**** Such as Rabbi Mizrachi's claim that the Zohar states that the North Pole is always bathed in sunlight except for one hour in the day.


micha said...

Reb Wolf,

Your title is off. The commentor didn't object to your questioning R' Mizrahi, but your choice of venue and the resulting audience. Presumably if it weren't "given that non-Jews read your blog", it wouldn't be a chillul Hashem.

Personally, I would think that raising such questions in front of non-observant Jews who are looking for excuses to remain estranged from the mesorah would be a stronger argument.

That said, I think that them thinking we do not have such dialog and debate within the Torah-following community would be more problematic.


Off the Derech said...

>Personally, I would think that raising such questions in front of non-observant Jews who are looking for excuses to remain estranged from the mesorah would be a stronger argument.<

I would say raising such questions in front of observant Jews who are looking for excuses to remain in the mesorah would be a stronger argument.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I read the two steps as being connected. Since your rebuttals to his arguments are flawed, then making your rebuttals in front of people who might mistakenly believe them is the chillul hashem. Indeed, you might fall into the category of 'those who have gone astray and led others astray.'

I happen to agree that your rebuttals are correct, so I believe no chillul hashem occurred even by the logic above.

Kelly said...

As a non-Jew who reads your blog, I don't think you are desecrating God's name at all. In fact, I think quite the opposite.

David said...

I think you're spot on. Having attended a Discovery seminar around the time I was becoming more observant, I was very taken with the glitzy package and clever arguments. The "proofs" were persuasive in large part because I was looking for some answers in faith-- alas, when things get tough from a faith perspective, if the faith is built on a flawed set of arguments, when the arguments go down, so does the faith.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I'm a perfect example of the problem you were talking about.

Joshua said...

Some Christian thinkers realized a very long time ago that they were hurting their attempts at getting converts by using bad logic and incorrect claims about science. There's an old quote by Augustine about this

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?"

It is unfortunate that Jews only now seem to be realizing this. If people are interested in successful, long-term kiruv, they can't base it on lies and poor understanding of science. So if anything this is the exact opposite of a chillul hashem. If there is a chilul hashem it is being done by people like Rabbi Mizrachi.

Kylopod said...

If someone were to say that Judaism is the "one true religion" because 2+2=5

Slightly off-topic, but when I took integral calc, my textbook mentioned a medieval philosopher who "proved" the existence of God using a mathematical proof that showed (allegedly) that 0 = 1.

Here was how he formed the proof. He used infinite series:

Step 1) 0 = 0 + 0 + 0 + ...
(and on infinitely)

Step 2) 0 = (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + ...

(now, following the associative property of basic arithmetic)

Step 3) 0 = 1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + ...

Step 4) 0 = 1 + (0) + (0) + (0) + ...

Step 5) 0 = 1

Modern calculus can explain simply why this proof is flawed.

Jewish Atheist said...

I sincerely believe that going to a Discovery seminar was one of the turning points for me in going OTD. It wasn't just that I was hearing the most transparently false arguments passed off by people who were somewhat respected among Orthodox Jews, but that I saw so many of my fellow students just nodding along and eating up every word like it made sense. It makes you wonder why people believe anything, and once you start down that road, there's a good chance you end up like me. :-)

Anonymous said...

"Step 2) 0 = (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + (1 + -1) + ...

(now, following the associative property of basic arithmetic)

Step 3) 0 = 1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + ..."

Shouldn't step 3 be

0 = 1(-1+1) + etc..

and then you have 0 = 1(0) ?

Kylopod said...

Not at all. There's no multiplication in this problem, just simple addition.

Joshua said...

Kylopod, I'm not aware of any medieval philosopher who used this proof to prove the existence of God although there certainly have been some silly math based arguments for God's existence or non-existence (some from otherwise talented mathematicians).

More directly on topic, it is interesting to see how much the charedi world seems to have moved Judaism from what it once was. The religion that produced great thinkers like the Ramabam and produced the great debates of the Talmud is now reduced to believing that any questioning at all is akin to the worst form of sin.

Kylopod said...

According to my calc textbook, Guido Ubaldus thought this problem proved the existence of God because "something has been created out of nothing." (He was actually post-medieval.)

BrooklynWolf said...


It should be pointed out that if someone presents a flawed proof to a premise it does not necessarily follow that the premise is flawed.

The Wolf

Joshua said...

Kylo, interesting. Some google searches seem to give that claim also but nothing that looks very reliable. Do you know if the textbook is talking about Guidobaldo del Monte or Luigi Guido Grandi? Both were mathematicians who went by the name Guido Ubaldus.

Kylopod said...

The textbook simply says Guido Ubaldus. I wanted to link to a Wikipedia entry, but, like you, I couldn't determine which Guido Ubaldus it was referring to, as both were Catholic mathematicians who lived in the early modern period. I can't vouch for the story's accuracy simply because it appears in a college text. Google Books preview isn't much more help, for all I find is mentions of the story, without any more sources or details than in my textbook.