Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Real Kuzari Argument, and Why Rabbi Gottlieb Needs It

I think Gottlieb recognizes an important point, and much of his bad argumentation is to try to make that point work. While The Kuzari is now most famous for its mass revelation argument, that idea is actually not the central one of the book. Rather, the main theme R' Yehuda HaLevi develops is that to a large extent, apologetics don't matter if you have a revelation. For example, HaLevi will discuss a commandment that seems to make no sense by saying: "First of all, it doesn't need to make sense. We have the brute fact of revelation, and even if we don't know why God told us this, the fact is that he did. An experience of God telling us something overrides our questions about why. Nonetheless, we can try to offer some reasons just for its own sake." Then he suggests some possible apologetics.

I think it's a great strategy in a lot of ways, and I think Rabbi Gottlieb gets this. In his web page on the age of the universe (I'll deal specifically with that page another time), he responds to the question of why God would plant misleading evidence in the world. While he offers a possible rationalization, he begins by noting: It doesn't matter, because the brute fact is that He did*. In Gottlieb's web page on Biblical Criticism, he says that any linguistic analysis of the Torah is irrelevant, because it's not written by humans and so the brute fact is that God wrote it however God wrote it. He just notes that he thinks there is reason to accept that the revelation happened, and then he moves on.

What does all of this depend on, though? Certain knowledge that the revelation actually happened, of course. That's the trick of it. I think Rabbi Gottlieb is on the right track with the apologetics to some extent: if the revelation actually happened, then the reasoning becomes less important, as R' Yehuda HaLevi points out--though arguably not entirely. The problem is, you need a good reason to believe in the revelation to begin with, which then has to serve as the foundation of everything else. That's the reason the "Kuzari Principle" about mass revelation is so important to Gottlieb. Without it, he lacks that bedrock of revelation to support the apologetics, and suddenly you have a lot of bizarre things to explain away.

*This is a poorer example since it also depends on the belief that the Torah is to be taken literally--one could believe in revelation but still trust the evidences of their senses over a literal interpretation of scripture. It gets the point across, though.

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