subscribe to our mailing list:
A Review of Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb's "Living Up to the Truth"
By Ephraim Rubin
Posted October 30, 2000
An old joke tells of a young
man who was to have a date with a young lady he wanted to marry. Caring for her
child's success, his mother told him to speak of three issues: love, family, and
philosophy. When the couple met, the first question the young man asked was:
"Do you love chocolate?" Then he asked: "Do you have a brother?" to
which the answer was negative, and the third question was "If you did have a
brother, would he love chocolate?"
The joke does not tell us
about the couple's future, but it is always useful to know that if you are
reading a book written by somebody who claims he is a philosopher, this may be
the kind of philosophy you'll have to deal with. "Living up to the Truth,"
in particular, provides strong empirical evidence for the above principle.
The book, only 104 pages
long, opens with a six page discourse on the "relevance of Judaism," which
concludes "that the question is really no question, that it can't be asked,
and that it is really incoherent," because "to ask whether religion is
relevant is to measure religion against my goals and values. But, this
presupposes that I already have goals and values," while "the Torah itself
provides us a complete set of values. The Torah itself dictates what our goals
This point makes a lot of sense, and the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz was the
contemporary Jewish religious thinker who most emphasized it, so for a better
understanding of the principle one would be best advised to turn to his works.
Rabbi Gottlieb, however,
seems to misunderstand his own point, for the whole second chapter of his book
is dedicated to praising the importance of truth, the importance of searching
for the truth in general and for the true religion in particular. Now, if one
adopts the value of truth because it is established by the Torah, it follows
that he already accepts the Torah and trying to persuade him that he should
accept the Torah as true is preaching to the choir. But if one adopts the value
of truth because he considers it an important value in and of itself and he
tries to examine the truth of Judaism based on this value, it follows that he
must evaluate the relevance of the Torah (its being true) based on his
pre-established goals and values (the value of truth) – and this is exactly
what Rabbi Gottlieb claims, on page 17, is incoherent. R' Gottlieb's
approach seems to be philosophically self-contradictory.
Moreover, chapter II of
"Living Up" begins by establishing a dichotomy between what R' Gottlieb
calls the pragmatic and the realist attitudes towards religion:
"The pragmatic attitude starts with the
self. I am the person with goals, desires, hopes, fears, projects, scruples and
so on. There are various things I want to accomplish, and I look at the world as
a set of resources to accomplish my projects. All of human history and human
culture can be seen as resources to further my goals...
"The second is the realist attitude. The realist
wants truth. Every religion has some story to tell. Where did the universe come
from? What is its fundamental nature? What forces guide its development? What is
the nature of the human being? What will the future be? The realist wants the
religion whose story is true."
Rabbi Gottlieb, of course, urges his readers to adopt
what he calls the realist attitude. Yet two pages later he writes:
responsibility to seek the truth is of course only one responsibility among
many, and it may be overridden when it conflicts with a more pressing
responsibility. For example, suppose seeking the truth will cost my life! Also,
there is considerable discussion of the foundation of the responsibility to seek
the truth... This is a theoretical matter which does not touch its validity. In
the case of religion, since the utility of having the truth is eternal, the
responsibility to seek the truth obviously applies."
This "eternal" utility might mean eternal life in
the World to Come or something like that, but at its base this statement is a
justification for the search for the true religion from the pragmatic viewpoint.
But then the whole construct of a dichotomy between the pragmatic and the
realist attitudes, the praise for the morality of the latter and condemnation
for the immorality of the former in which R' Gottlieb is engaged for the first
three pages of Chapter II, is simply meaningless within the context of his book
–both attitudes would lead one to accept the religion whose factual truth is
The matter becomes even more peculiar when one notes
that the last argument is brought by R' Gottlieb as a "technical comment,"
of which he writes in the preface to the book, "These comments are designed
for those with a background in philosophy, mathematics, or science – and for
those with an intellectually adventuresome spirit. They can be skipped without
missing anything essential to the argument."
To say that a remark which makes a discourse occupying 3 of 104 pages
unnecessary and meaningless "can be skipped without missing anything essential
to the argument" is a very peculiar action for a person who happens to have
been a professor of mathematical logic in the Department of Philosophy at Johns
Hopkins University, as the back cover of the book claims.
Indeed, logic is not the strong point of "Living Up
to the Truth." On page 34 of the book R' Gottlieb describes evidence Islam
brings in support of its Divine nature:
claim that if you master Arabic and read the Koran you will see that such a book
could not have been written by a human being. Only G-d could have written it.
The problem with this 'evidence' is parallel to the problem with the
conquest [the rapid Moslem conquest of vast areas of the world in the 7th
century CE, which they, according to Gottlieb, claim to be an evidence of Divine
support for Islamic believers]. It is often very difficult to explain human
creativity. How did Aristotle produce so many new ideas, theories, whole new
disciplines? How did Beethoven compose the late quartets? How did Einstein think
of relativity? Our inability to answer those questions is not evidence that they
were all supernatural! They just highlight our lack of understanding how people
– especially geniuses – create."
A good and reasonable point – but how the reader is
amazed if he manages to get to Chapter VII, "Jewish Survival: the Fact and Its
Implications," and encounters there the following statement:
the supernatural element of Jewish survival must be squarely faced. Since there
is no reasonable naturalistic explanation, the unbiased investigator must at
least seriously entertain the possibility of a supernatural explanation..."
Is this the same Rabbi Gottlieb who 59 pages ago told
us that the fact we do not understand certain phenomena is by no means evidence
of the Divine nature of these phenomena? Continuing his line of reasoning on
page 34, one should say:
is often very difficult to explain specific qualities demonstrated by different
nations and societies. How did the Swiss manage to preserve their neutrality for
centuries, while other European countries were permanently engaged in wars,
including the murderous World Wars I and II? How did the godforsaken desert
tribe of Mongols manage to conquer vast areas from China to Hungary in a few
dozen years in the 13th century? How did the Chinese Han people
manage to preserve their cultural unity for millennia despite the fact they were
spread over territory which is almost as large as the whole of Europe, and how
it came to be that 'With more than 4,000 years of recorded history, China is
one of the few existing countries that also flourished economically and
culturally in the earliest stages of world civilization'? How did the people of India manage to achieve
their independence through non-violent protest against British colonization
policy – a very rare phenomenon in the world history? How did the ancient
Greeks manage to lay the philosophical and scientific foundations of the whole
Western civilization for the next 2000 years? How did the Gypsies, despite
centuries of worldwide migrations and harsh persecutions in the most countries
they came to, manage to survive as a nation, preserve their cultural unity, and
even their unique language – Romany – in which the most Gypsies speak until
this very day? (The last time most Jews spoke a single
language was about 2000 years ago). Our inability to answer those questions is
not evidence that they were all supernatural! They just highlight our lack of
understanding how societies – and in particular, nations – really
(It is noteworthy that the statement of page 34 is
also brought by R' Gottlieb as a "technical comment," which "can be
skipped without missing anything essential to the argument." This already
smells of hiding the contradictions when you are unable to resolve them.)
The destiny of each nation and society is unique in
its own way, but it is surely not an argument for the Divine nature of the
religion adopted by any particular nation or society. As for the specific
phenomenon of Jewish survival, it might be useful to note that for the last 150
years, the majority of Jewish people have not been adherent to Orthodox Judaism,
the truth of which R' Gottlieb tries to prove (though he, striving to remain
"politically correct," calls it "traditional Judaism"). These 150 years
have witnessed the growth of a secular Jewish culture, an unprecedented
worldwide spread of the Jewish population (from North America and South Africa
to the Russian Far East and Australia), the establishment of the State of Israel
and the revitalization of Jewish cultural and social life in Western Europe and
America after the massacres of the Holocaust. Most of those who took part in
these processes were non-Orthodox Jews. Nowadays, of 13,000,000 Jews living all
over the world, the vast majority are not the Orthodox. If there is a God in
Jewish survival, He evidently has no specific interest in Orthodox Judaism. Of
course, one may say that He is patient and merciful and waits for His children
to repent even if it takes them very long – but this seems a post-factum
excuse more than positive evidence for the Divine origin of Orthodox Judaism.
And since most of the Holocaust martyrs were strictly observant Orthodox Jews,
while the most of those who escaped the massacre were not Orthodox, it would be
much more reasonable to claim that God is really angry with those who continue
to adhere what R' Gottlieb calls "traditional Judaism." Again, searching
for "God's finger" in history is a just monkey business, but if Rabbi
Gottlieb wants to engage in it, he should be aware that he might find the
Or let us consider the following example. Arguing that
the lack of any mention of the Exodus from Egypt in ancient records is
insufficient to prove that the Exodus did not really take place, R' Gottlieb
is it that no ancient Egyptian records mention the Exodus? The answer is that
the Egyptians never recorded their defeats. Therefore, since the Exodus was a
massive defeat, you would not expect them to record it. So, its absence from
their records is not evidence against the Exodus."
Yet 13 pages later we find (again as a "technical
non-occurrence of the Holocaust (the second World War without the massacre of
6,000,000 Jews) is a possible event. If it had happened – if the second World
War had not included the massacre of 6,000,000 Jews – then there would be
enormous, easily available evidence of that event. The evidence would be in the
form of histories of the second World War making no mention of the Holocaust.
The absence of the event from the histories would surely be the compelling
evidence that the event did not take place."
One might think it is not a
contradiction, for the Egyptian histories, written by the Egyptians themselves,
may be suspected of silencing events unpleasant to Egypt, while the histories of
the Second World War were and are being written by many historians from
different countries and cultures and therefore it is impossible that they all
would gloss over German war crimes. But one who thinks that evidently has no
notion of ancient history. First of all, Egypt's history was not only written
by Egyptians. Even Rabbi Gottlieb seems to be aware of that:
"You read in the hieroglyphs that Pharaoh X
raised a great army and conquered a number of provinces, and his son Pharaoh X
Jr. raised even a larger army and conquered more provinces. Then, there is a
hundred year gap in the history. What happened during that 100 years? For that
you have to go to the Babylonian records. That is when the Babylonians were
kicking the stuffing out of the Egyptians."
approach here is true: the countries of the ancient Near and Middle East were
not isolated entities. They were continuously in competition, and very often at
war with one another. And at war, if side A loses side B wins – so if side A
wants to silence the events of a particular period, when it was soundly
defeated, we can find the description of these events in the records of side B,
which speaks loudly of its glorious victory. Under these conditions, were the
Ten Plagues and a total crush of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea waters to
happen, as we are told by the Torah, Egypt's ruthless neighbors – the
Babylonians and the Hittites – would immediately invade the powerless country,
conquer it, and glorify their victory in dozens of records, inscriptions, and
monuments. Yet nothing like this ever happened. More specifically, historical
records tell us that between 1320 and 1283 BCE Egypt and the Hittite empire were
at a state of permanent war; had the Ten Plagues and the Exodus happened in 1313
BCE, when Judaic tradition claims they did, they would have quickly led to a
Hittite invasion and conquest of the ruined Egypt – which, of course, did not
happen. Instead, after almost four decades of indecisive war, a peace treaty and
a mutual defense pact were signed between Egypt and the Hittite empire.
Moreover, if Rabbi Gottlieb
wants to remain true to the extra-Scriptural Judaic tradition (such as the one
he quotes on p. 62), this tradition states that when the waters of the Red Sea
were split, the waters throughout the world split.
Of course, were this to happen we would have dozens of historical records from
different countries mentioning such an outstanding phenomenon – yet we have
nothing of this sort.
Historical and archaeological
research tells us that the whole population of Egypt in the latter half of the
second millennium BCE was 2-3 million people.
The Torah tells us that 600,000 adult male Jews left Egypt, which means a total
Israelite population of about 2.5 million. Had this number of Jews escaped from
Egypt, the country would remain virtually devastated – which would be seen, of
course, in the archaeological record. Yet the archaeological record shows that
no major decrease of population happened in ancient Egypt throughout its
history. The 2,500,000 Israelites are said, in the book of Joshua, to enter the
land of Canaan and conquer it over the course of several years – yet the
archaeological record shows that such a massive conquest of Canaan did not take
place in end of the 2nd millennium BCE; archaeologists speak of only
tens of thousands Israelites in Canaan at that time.
There is also the obvious fact that, assuming a very modest amount of 0.5 liters
water and one pound bread a day per capita, the conquering Israelites would need
1.25 million liters or 1,250 tons water and 1,134 tons bread a day even before
they started the conquest, for according to the Bible
the manna ceased falling as soon as they entered the Land of Israel. According
to the Judaic tradition,
the conquest of Canaan took the Israelites as many as seven years. What did 2.5
million people eat all that time? Rabbi Gottlieb has all the answers...
All the above evidence is
more than sufficient to conclude that the Biblical narrative of Exodus–Sinai
Revelation–wandering in the desert–conquest of Canaan belongs to the realm
of mythology, not history. The problem is Rabbi Gottlieb seems to have too
little knowledge of history, even of the history of Biblical archaeology. He
goes so far as to tell the reader that
"What has happened in Biblical archaeology
in the last one hundred years is that is started with a completely negative mind
set: none of the Biblical narrative happened, it was all made up. Little by
little, piece by piece, that mind set had been refuted in a myriad of
One only need look through
works on Biblical archaeology, starting with William Foxwell Albright's "The
Archaeology of the Palestine and the Bible" (1925) and ending with "From
Nomadism to Monarchy" (ed. by Nadav Na'aman and Israel Finkelstein, 1990) to
understand that the picture is exactly the opposite. If in the beginning of the
20th century the historical account of the Bible was seen by
archaeologists as essentially true (though not in all its details), nowadays no
researcher credits any of the narratives preceding the Davidic monarchy with
historical veracity. To understand the current state of opinion, it would be
appropriate to quote a prominent archeologist whose views are considered by the
scientific community as quite pro-Scriptural – Professor William Dever of the
University of Arizona:
the Exodus and the conquest [of the
promised land] are a bad case... [the book of] Joshua has little to do with any
historical events. If you guys think I – or the Israeli archaeologists – am
looking for the Israelite conquest archaeologically, you're wrong. We've
given up. We've given up the patriarchs. That's a dead issue... I agree that
there is no connected history in Joshua..."
is Dever's attitude to the book of Judges:
"We archaeologists are not trying to prove
these early stories to be historical. We get accused of it, but we're not
history and archaeology are definitely not Rabbi Gottlieb's strong points.
After claiming on page 64 of his book that the Greeks got their letter names
(alpha, beta, gamma etc.) from the Jews, he writes:
"Perhaps indirectly the Philistines took
them to Greece and gave the letters to them, but it ultimately comes from the
the people who brought the alphabet to the Greeks were Phoenicians, not
Philistines. Renowned traders and merchants, they spread over the whole
Mediterranean area, including Greece, and they had an alphabet which could have
been borrowed – one quite similar to ancient Hebrew, but still distinct from
it (both developed out of the North Semitic alphabet). The Philistines, after
they first met the Jews (Israelites, actually) during their invasion from the
Aegean islands on the eastern and south-eastern Mediterranean coast in the 13th-12th
centuries BCE, had virtually no contact with the Greeks – so they definitely
could not pass anything from the Jews to the Greeks. Moreover, we have no clue
what the Philistine language was like and whether it had an alphabet at all.
And of course, the Greek alphabet has 25 letters, some of them vowels, while the
Hebrew has 22 letters, all consonants. Vowel letters are an exclusively Greek
innovation, and were it not for the Greeks, literacy would be much less
widespread in our world.
information can be easily found in any textbook on the history of the alphabet,
and anyway, the Phoenicians and the Philistines were completely different
nations, of different origin, culture, and history. Mixing them up reveals quite
well the degree of Rabbi Gottlieb's competence in ancient history.
One more argument by R'
Gottlieb in favor of the divinity of Judaism is what he calls "true
predictions." For reasons unknown, of all the vast amount of predictions in
the Bible, he chooses the verses of Deuteronomy 28:30:
"In Deuteronomy 28-30 there is a prediction
of what will happen to the Jewish people if they don't live up to the
standards of the Torah. It predicts conquest accompanied by wanton slaughter of
the population: man, woman, children, old, young, and so on. It predicts an
exile resulting in world-wide scatter, and that during this period of world-wide
scatter, Jews will have no independent government. One result of the exile is
that some Jews will be brought back by boat to Egypt to be sold as slaves, and
they will not be purchased. Nevertheless, the Jewish people will survive, will
never completely be destroyed, and will ultimately return to the land of Israel.
It also predicts that the conqueror will speak a language that the Jewish people
says Rabbi Gottlieb, the prediction came true.
"That being the case, this is what I called
earlier a unique prediction. It is a prediction whose truth no one else can
explain. Had anyone seen the prediction before it happened, the response should
have been that this is fantasy. Therefore, when it comes true, it contributes to
the truth of Judaism. It is a relevant piece of evidence."
needs only open the Bible to see that Rabbi Gottlieb is far from being right.
There is no prediction of a "wanton slaughter of the population: man, woman,
children, old, young, and so on." Instead it is written:
"You will betroth a wife, but another man
shall lie with her; you will build a house, but you will not dwell in it; you
will plant a vineyard, but you will not gather its grapes. Your ox will be slain
before your eyes, but you will not eat of it; your ass will be violently taken
away from you, and will not be restored to you; your sheep will be given to your
enemies, and nobody will rescue you. Your sons and your daughters shall be given
to another people, and your eyes will look, and fail with longing for them all
the day long; but there will be no might in your hand. The fruit of your land,
and all your labors, a nation unfamiliar to you will eat up, and you will always
be only oppressed and crushed."
"You will beget sons and daughters, but you
will not enjoy them, for they will go into captivity."
compare that to Rabbi Gottlieb's description of a typical conquest in the
ancient world: "You may take the young, fine, strong men off as slaves. You
may want to take the good looking, young woman for sexual purposes. But, you
don't wantonly slaughter the rest of the population because there is no point
in destroying your tax base!" This is exactly what the Bible predicts! Nothing
unusual! The prophecy is not unique, and since according to many Biblical
researchers these chapters of Deuteronomy were written after the Jews
experienced the Assyrian and the Babylonian conquests, there is nothing unusual
in the appearance of these verses in the Bible.
Bible does not say that "during this period of world-wide scatter, Jews will
have no independent government." No verse in Deuteronomy speaks of anything
relate the verses of Deuteronomy 28-30 to the Roman conquest of the Land of
Israel is, as an understatement, problematic. What does R' Gottlieb call
"the Roman conquest"? Under the treaty of 139 BCE, Rome became a patron of
Hasmonean Judea and issued an order to the kings of neighboring lands not to
attack Judea and to extradite to the Hasmoneans all those Jews who rebelled
against them and then fled Judea. In 63 BCE several Jewish parties who had
quarreled over the power in Judea sent ambassadors to the Roman general Pompey
the Great, who at that time stayed in Damascus, asking him to put an end to the
quarrel. Pompey did not miss the opportunity, and in a short time Roman legions
occupied the Land of Israel, destroyed the independent Hasmonean government, and
turned Judea into a vassal state of Rome. However, all this happened almost
without bloodshed. The only military campaign was in Jerusalem, and the main
fight was between the Jews who wanted to let Pompey enter the city without a war
and those who preferred to defend themselves. Finally the proponents of
surrender won, Pompey entered Jerusalem with no resistance, and the supporters
of the "defense party" encamped on the Temple Mount, trying to prevent the
Romans from entering the Temple. This, of course, was a hopeless venture, and
Pompey took the Temple Mount also, slaying most of its defenders and enslaving
the rest. The Land of Israel remained under the Roman rule – first indirect
and then direct – until 66 CE, when the Great Revolt of the Jews commenced.
The revolt was suppressed, Jerusalem was taken by the Romans, and the Second
Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, and the last stronghold of the rebels – Massada
– fell in 73 CE. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were slain in this war, tens of
thousands were sold as slaves. In 132 CE the revolt of Bar Kochba began – and
after it was crushed in 135 CE, Roman (and then Byzantine) rule returned to the
Land of Israel until its conquest by the Arabs in 638 CE. In the Bar Kochba
revolt more than 500,000 Jews were killed and multitudes were sold in the slave
markets of Gaza and Hebron. 500 fortresses and strongholds and more than 1000
villages in Judea were destroyed.
question is when, in R' Gottlieb's opinion, did the Roman conquest predicted
by the Torah occur. In 139 BCE there was no conquest, just a treaty between
Rome and the Hasmoneans, but the Jews, doubtless, learned about the Latin
language of the Romans – when somebody becomes your patron, you are
extensively introduced to his language, as modern Israelis' acquaintance with
American English can teach. Moreover, in the 2nd century BCE the Jews
already lived in the city of Rome, and even tried to convert its inhabitants to
Judaism, which led to their expulsion from the city in 139 BCE. The Latin
language was definitely familiar to them.
is the date accepted by the historians as that of the Roman conquest, but it was
accompanied by virtually no military action, let alone the "wanton slaughter
of the population" described by Rabbi Gottlieb or the mass robbery and
enslavement of the Jews described by the Bible. Moreover, as said above, by 63
BCE the Jews were already acquainted with the Latin language. Three Jewish
parties went to Pompey to ask for his patronage in their struggle for power over
Judea – at least someone in those parties must have known the language which
BCE there was no "exile resulting in world-wide scatter" and no Jewish
slaves were "brought back by boat to Egypt to be sold as slaves." In fact,
there was no deliberate exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel at any point
in the Roman era. Judea was almost totally deprived of its Jewish inhabitants
after the Bar Kochba revolt was suppressed, but that was due not to exile, but
to the massacre and enslavement of Jews by the Romans and to the massive flight
of Jewish survivors of the revolt to other lands, away from Roman anger. At that
same time, Jewish communities in Galilee which had remained aloof from the
revolt continued to develop and even became the spiritual center of world Jewry,
the center which produced the Mishnah, the first codification of Jewish Oral
Law. On the other hand, as early as in the 1st century BCE a wide
Jewish Diaspora existed in virtually all known corners of the civilized world
(India and China excluded), and the Roman geographer Strabo wrote in his works
that it was hard to find a place in the world free of the Jews.
A world-wide scattering of the Jews commenced long before anything which might
be called their exile from the Land of Israel. For those who insist that the
"world-wide scatter" means Jews reaching literally all the places on the
globe, it would be useful to note that through all history, to this very day,
there is no significant Jewish population in large areas of the world, such as
Central Africa, Japan, Greenland or Mongolia. If this is the definition of
"world-wide scatter," then the prophecy has most clearly failed.
Bible, read attentively, does not tell that somebody will sell Jews into slavery
on Egyptian slave markets after their conquest by "a distant nation."
Deuteronomy 28:68, which speaks of a return to Egypt by boats and sale into
slavery, uses the Hebrew verb vehitmakartem, in the grammatical form hitpael
which indicates a reflective action, i.e. something one does to himself. That
is, this verb means "you will sell yourselves" rather than "you will be
sold," which would be venimkartem. So the verse of Deuteronomy 28:68
says, "And the Lord will bring you back to Egypt by ships, by the way of which
I spoke to you, 'You shall see it no more again,' and there you will sell
yourselves to your enemies for male and female slaves, but nobody will buy
you." If this is a prediction, it is definitely wrong – the Jews never went
to Egypt in order to sell themselves into slavery. Moreover, the distinction
between vehitmakartem and venimkartem is not something new,
revealed by recent Biblical critics. It is mentioned explicitly, and the verse
is explained as referring to Jews selling themselves into slavery, by the
greatest of Rabbinic Scriptural commentators, Rashi and Ibn Ezra, in their
commentaries on Deuteronomy 28:68. As an advocate of Orthodox Judaism, R'
Gottlieb is surely not expected to nullify with one sweep the words of the most
authoritative Rabbinic commentators who based their words on the plain
Scriptural grammar. In this case, there are only two possibilities: either R'
Gottlieb does not know of these commentaries, familiar to every Orthodox
schoolboy, or he deliberately hides Orthodox Judaism's interpretation of these
verses from the reader for propagandist reasons. We'll leave open the question
of which actually represents Rabbi Gottlieb's reasons, though here, again, an
attentive reader is able to catch R' Gottlieb hiding things crucial to his
arguments in "technical comments," which, he says, "can be skipped without
missing anything essential to the argument."
56 we find Rabbi Gottlieb saying:
"Many details from Deuteronomy 28 have been
omitted. There are two reasons: either the language in which they are expressed
is poetical and cannot be precisely defined (and thus we cannot prove that the
text means specifically what in fact happened), or they are predictions which
are very likely to happen in the context of destruction and exile, so that they
would not significantly lower the probability [of the prediction coming true,
the "details" omitted by R' Gottlieb are the following verses: "And your
heaven that is over your head will be brass, and the earth that is under you
will be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from
heaven it will fall down on you, until you are destroyed." (Deut. 28:23-24),
"The Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt, and with the piles, and with
the scab, and with the itch, of which you will not be able to be healed"
(Deut. 28:27), "All your trees and the fruit of your land will the locust
consume" (Deut. 28:42) and the like. The language of these verses may be
called poetic, but it is quite easy to understand what they mean – drought,
skin diseases, and piles, and locusts consuming all the harvest of the land.
Needless to say, none of these happened during the Roman conquest of Palestine.
In neither 139 BCE, nor in 63 BCE, 70 CE, or 135 CE, was there drought, nor did
any major epidemics of piles and skin diseases occur, nor did the Land of Israel
experience any attack of locusts. It is impossible to conceive that these verses
are not familiar to Rabbi Gottlieb and they contain predictions that definitely
proved false – so they were gently omitted from a book aiming to show "that
there is sufficient evidence to warrant basing one's life on the truth of the
Is hiding the truth appropriate for a book called "Living Up to the Truth"?
R' Gottlieb does not seem to be worried about it.
general, his approach to the truth is quite peculiar. Claiming that Judaism was
a religion totally unique in the ancient world, he relies on the work of the
renowned Bible scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann, "The Religion of Israel."
Among other claims, R' Gottlieb brings monotheism as a unique feature of
Judaism and relies on Kaufmann,
claiming that the "solar monotheism" of Akhenaton in ancient Egypt cannot be
considered a parallel to Biblical monotheism. Leaving aside discussion of
Biblical monotheism (which is very far from what we understand by monotheism
today), it would be useful to quote an explicit statement by Yehezkel Kaufmann
on that same page of "The Religion of Israel":
"We have repeatedly affirmed that Israelite
religion incorporated a legacy from paganism, materials into which it breathed a
new spirit. It is of utmost importance to bear in mind that the general level of
Israel's culture derives from its environment."
course, as a researcher Kaufmann not only states his position, but also brings a
lot of evidence supporting it. According to Kaufmann, Judaism was not altogether
different from the rest of the ancient religions, and even derived its
"general level of culture" from its pagan environment. Rabbi Gottlieb, most
surely, does not share this view – his argument claims exactly the opposite.
Of course, R' Gottlieb may disagree with Kaufmann (though it would be
interesting to know his reasons for such disagreement), but to bring
Kaufmann's view as supporting his argument is extremely far from "living up
to the truth."
Gottlieb goes so far as giving each prediction of Deuteronomy 28-30 a
"probability" (i.e. a mathematical value representing the chance for the
prediction coming true in a natural way, without "God's finger"), and
after multiplying all the probabilities (for a sequence of events described by
the Bible) he comes to a probability of 1/16000 for the predictions of
Deuteronomy coming true in a natural way.
This is how it goes:
"Total destruction and exile, let's say
that this occurred in 10% of all ancient wars. Then a non-Jewish observer would
give it a probability of 1/10. How often did the conqueror speak an unknown
language? We don't know. Neighbors did fight, and the languages of great
empires were widely known. Let's say generously that it happened a quarter of
the time giving us a probability of 1/4... To take a nation that is scattered
all over the world and thus be unable to organize itself into an independent
society, again, I don't know what the probability of that would be, so I'll
give it a probability of 1/4..."
can give a probability to an event the probability of which is unknown is a
complete mystery. It is also unclear what background in mathematics and logics
is needed to understand why an unknown probability is always estimated as 1/4.
But such a hogwash of the Bible would definitely shock anyone familiar with it.
Rabbi Gottlieb's main
argument in proving the truth of Judaism seems to be what he calls "the Kuzari
Principle." R' Gottlieb formulates it as follows:
"Let E be a possible event which, had it
really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easy available evidence of its
occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E
So, according to Rabbi
Gottlieb, the fact that the Jews believed in the miracles described in the Bible
– manna falling from the sky, the Exodus from Egypt, the Sinai Revelation et
al. – is proof that these miracles really did happen, according to "the
R' Gottlieb claims this
principle belongs to the field of "empirical psychology," but it is plain
old "chocolate philosophy." It is not based on something that happens and is
observed, but on theorizing what would happen were some other theoretical thing
to happen. Empirical evidence most definitely shows that large masses of people
can well believe in things refuted by easily available evidence. Rabbi Gottlieb
himself admits some pages later:
"The assumption is this: Whatever can be
seen to be true by available evidence and simple logic should be recognized as
true by a great majority of the mankind. But this assumption is clearly false.
anti-semitism as an example. There are (at least) hundreds of millions of anti-semites.
They believe that Jews are evil, dirty, subhuman, etc. etc.. And yet many of
them live among Jews. They have no evidence whatsoever for their beliefs. If
they took the time, they could gather enormous evidence against what they
believe. Still they persist in their folly.
Consider the shape of the earth. More than two
thousand years ago considerable evidence existed that the earth is round.
(Indeed, a few in the intelligentsia believed it.) The sightings of stars by
sailors, the difference in shadows at noon in different locations, the
disappearance of the bottom of the ship before the sails – this evidence was
available to many. Yet almost no one questioned the 'obvious truth' that the
earth is flat."
We have already seen that
logical consistency is not Rabbi Gottlieb's strong point. But continuing his
argument in the last citation, we may well say: "At certain times, many Jews
believed that their ancestors went en masse out of Egypt, received the Torah on
Mt. Sinai, and ate the manna for 40 years in the desert. They had no evidence
whatsoever for their beliefs. If they took the time, they could gather enormous
evidence against what they believed. Still they persisted in their folly (and
some of their descendants still persist in it)."
But human folly can go even
further than Rabbi Gottlieb admits. In one of the most beautiful places of the
City of Rome (Piazza di Porta S. Paolo) there is a pyramid-shaped building, the
sepulcher of a Roman official named Caius Cestius. On the east and west sides of
the pyramid, about halfway up, there is an inscription recording the names and
titles of Cestius, and below, on the east side only, there is another
inscription which describes the circumstances of the erection of the monument.
So the best possible evidence for the true origin of the pyramid is available
– it is written on the pyramid itself! But despite this fact, popular Middle
Ages tradition described this monument as the sepulcher of Romulus, the mythical
founder of Rome, or Remus, his mythological brother.
Why? It seems to be an essential characteristic of human nature to strive to
find "facts" supporting their favorite myths and beliefs, even if these
"facts" are refuted by evidence easily drawn from factual reality. Rabbi
Gottlieb's book is a good illustration of this principle.
"Living Up to
the Truth," p. 17.
 Ibid., pp. 24-25.
 Ibid., p. 27; emphasis
 Ibid. p. 7.
 Ibid., p. 93.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, China.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Gypsy.
 "Living Up to the
Truth," p. 59.
 Ibid., p. 72, spelling
 Ibid., p. 58.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica,
 Midrash Mechilta
DeRabbi Yishmael, portion of Beshalach, section 4.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Egypt, history of.
 I. Finkelstein. "The
Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement," Israel Exploration Society,
1988, p. 334.
 Joshua 5.
 Midrash Seder Olam Rabba
(Milikowski edition), chapter 11.
 "Living Up to the
Truth," p. 63.
Review, July/August 1997, p. 29. The parenthetical comments by the BAR
Ibid., p. 32.
"Living Up to the
Truth," pp. 53-54.
Ibid., p. 56.
All the above information
is taken from Encyclopedia Hebraica, v. 6 (Eretz Israel), pp. 344-404.
Encyclopedia Hebraica, v.
26, p. 893 (entry 'Am Israel').
"Living Up to the
Truth," back cover.
Ibid., p. 85.
"The Religion of
Israel" (University of Chicago Press, 19600, pp. 226-227.
"Living Up to the
Truth," p. 56.
preserved, emphasis added.
Ibid., p. 67.
Ibid., pp. 101-102;
See Samuel B.
Platner, Thomas Ashby. "A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome"
(Oxford University Press, 1929), p. 478.
A rebuttal to this article was published by Rabbi Dr. Gottlieb. An answer is being prepared.