The Kuzari Proof — Three Million Witnesses Can Be Wrong
The Kuzari Proof is a famous "proof" of the validity of Judaism and is commonly used in outreach programs to convince estranged Jews to return to the fold of observance. It was developed originally by the 11th century poet Yehuda Halevi as a response to the loss of Judaism's monopoly on monotheism. It was designed specifically to prove that the Jews had a unique theological gift: the direct and public revelation of God to all the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai. In recent years, "the proof" has been offered as a proof of many things. Most commonly it attempts to prove the existence of God, His revelation to the ancient Israelites at Sinai, His authorship of the Torah, and the resulting inerrancy of the Torah. My purpose is not to argue for or against the veracity of any of the above claims, but instead to show why the Kuzari proof is not a proof of any of them. Part of the search for truth entails the culling out of implausible options. It is my hope that the de-legitimization of the Kuzari proof will lead the observant and the secular alike to come closer to the truth.
The Kuzari Proof has been proffered in several forms and incarnations but the gist is as follows:
- Three million Jews witnessed the revelation of God at Sinai.
- Starting with the witnessing generation, one generation has told the story to the next, leading us, in the current generation, to be inductive witnesses to this event.
- It is impossible to fake a large public event and its subsequent intergenerational transmission (with inferred acceptance) as described in steps 1 and 2, thus the original event must have happened.
It would seem to be common sense that events with many witnesses cannot be faked. However, history has taught us that many who have invoked "common sense" have been frustrated by how rare indeed a sense it is. Needless to say, I find many problems with this "proof." I will take each in sequential order.
First, I address the "three million Jews witnessed the revelation" claim. In logical discourse, one cannot assume what one is trying to prove. You cannot assume that the Torah is inerrant in order to prove that it is inerrant. The three million figure (or 600,000 adult males to be more precise) comes from the Torah. One cannot use this figure, then, to prove that there were three million witnesses to an event which then makes the Torah inerrant. To do so is to construct a tautological proof, or in lay terms. a self-validating statement. The statement "if it rains, it will be raining" is syntactically valid, but is semantically meaningless in that it is tautological. The proof of the inerrancy of the Torah cannot be made by using statements that require the Torah to be inerrant. In short, we do not know, independent of the Torah claim, that there were three million witnesses at Sinai, hence the proof falls apart right there.
Next we look at the "witnessed the revelation of God at Sinai" part of the first statement. As I can recall from my Hebrew school days, the voice of God at Sinai was so powerful it could "tear the soul from your body." I also remember descriptions of smoke and fire similar to the poor Technicolor animations of the DeMille classic depicting the same. Now Joan Rivers has a voice that in my mind can tear the soul out of my body as she as she squawks and screeches about the stars' fashions at the Oscars. I am in no particular hurry to worship Joan Rivers nor Cecil B. DeMille. What I mean to get across comedically is that special effects capable of being produced cheaply these days by Industrial Light and Magic and the good folks over at Lucasfilm hardly proves God for me. A simple retort might be "but no one believes the fantastic stories and special effects of today to be true." Tell that to the people who suffered mass panic and hysteria at the radio transmission of Welles' "The War of The Worlds" in the 1938. In summation, as we build here, for statement 1 we have three million unproved witnesses witnessing something they say was fiery, scary and spoke with a loud voice. If one were to tell a Kuzari adherent of UFO sightings, they would likely start to ask questions as to what other explanations could explain this phenomenon: why not here too?
Now we look at statement 2, specifically at the part which says: "starting with the witnessing generation, we have an unbroken chain of transmission." The "starting with the witnessing generation" part is key. It says that it is impossible to get a generation (a large group of people) to accept anything as an accurate account of history which was not known to be an accurate account of history. Yet when you poke a Kuzari adherent for proof of the Israelites' slavery in Egypt you quickly get this response: "The Egyptians did not record their defeats." Well hang on a second here, does not that suggest that the Egyptians published a history and the greater than three million Egyptians that read it accepted it as true even though they knew it was untrue? So can you cause multitudes to accept a false history or not? Which is it? The answer cannot be, if we are to have a sensible conversation, "yes" in the case of the Egyptians and "no" in the case of the Israelites. It also cannot be the answer that the Egyptians were embarrassed by defeat and thus motivated to accept the faked history because we cannot know if the Israelites also were not embarrassed by some historical event and thus were motivated to accept a revised history of unique divine revelation. Recall, we cannot assume the Torah as an accurate account of history to prove that the Torah is an accurate account of history. Keeping our eye on the ball, it is not the issue here whether or not there were slaves in Egypt, nor is it the issue as to what the actual history of the region was. The issue is that you cannot, at once, claim that you both can and cannot cause a large number of people to accept a false history. The Kuzari proof and discussions of the Kuzari proof are fraught with these sorts of asymmetric applications of explanatory logic. You cannot suck and blow from the same explanatory pipe at the same time.
Next we address statement 3, the inerrancy and incorruptibility of generational transmission of this revelation. Note: This statement is really just a summation of points 1 and 2 where the true Kuzari argument rests. Many people have accused the Torah of suffering from "broken telephone" transmission. The orthodox authorities have correctly retorted that they have proof, archaeological no less, that the Torah has shifted perhaps two or three letters at most during all of its transmission. Parenthetically, for those keeping score and who just noted an asymmetrical application of explanatory logic, a gold star to you. You correctly noted that all of the sudden archaeology is an acceptable proof that the Torah has not changed through the generations, yet archaeology is not acceptable as proof that there were not Israelites in Egypt.
If the Torah did not significantly change over the centuries, which is a statement I will accept due to archaeological supporting evidence, the question becomes this: Why would any people accept the Torah as history, as the ancient Israelites seemed to, if its contents (the description of the revelation at Sinai) were not known to be true? In typical rabbinic style, let me answer a question with a question: Why would the multitudes that accepted the Gospels as gospel, accept them unless they knew somehow that Jesus had indeed miraculously fed the multitudes fish and loaves of bread as the gospels describe? "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.'"(John 6:14) The problem here exists in yet another asymmetrical application of explanatory logic. If you cannot pervert a generational transmission of a miraculous event, then adherents to the Kuzari proof must by definition, accept that Jesus fed the multitudes by miracle. To be clear, I am not saying whether Jesus fed the multitudes or not, nor am I proving or disproving a revelation at Sinai, I am simply saying that the evidence of cultural widespread acceptance of an event as a miracle cannot be the proof of Judaism because it proves antithetical Jewish and Christian miracles at the same time.
In summation we see that the Kuzari proof is a failed proof because of fundamental flaws in logic. The two main fundamental flaws are assuming that which is trying to be proved and asymmetrical uses of explanatory logic at the convenience of the argument. The Kuzari proof is an attempt to prove the divine revelation at Sinai which, in turn, is a cornerstone of Jewish faith. For the orthodox that appear vexed at the decline of Judaism, the message is clear: The rest of us will accept what you have to say when you provide cogent proof. The Kuzari proof is not cogent and the burden of proof is on you.
 "Revelation and Miracles - The Kuzari Principle"
 "The Kuzari - The Principle and the Formalism"
 (Numbers 1:46) There were 600,000 adult males, generally leading us to conclude a total population of three million.
 "The Revelation at Sinai"
 "The Radio Broadcast That Panicked America"
 "Meteor showers may account for UFO sightings"
 "... the Egyptians never recorded their defeats."
 The number of Egyptians must have been greater than three million if the biblical account is true because it would be impossible to subdue and enslave a population of three million Israelites with an equal or smaller number of Egyptians.
 "Jesus Feeds the Multitude"
 John 6:1-15
 "Rediscovering the Revelation"
For further reading, see "Kuzari" at Wikipedia.
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