Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Great Example of Intellectual Honesty

Da'as Hedyot has a new "Better Know a Kofer" interview up, this time with blogger littlefoxling. Littlefoxling goes into much more depth about his intellectual journey out of Orthodoxy than previous interviewees, and I highly recommend it.

I'll add a glossary at the end for those unfamiliar with Orthodox jargon and Hebrew and Aramaic and Yiddish. :-)

Some excerpts (okay a lot of excerpts. It's a long interview:)
One day, Sorah brought up the issue of the Documentary Hypothesis. I had heard of DH before in chumash class. I knew all about it. DH was when you went through the Torah and you took every passuk with YHWH and said "This is J" and every passuk with Elohim and said "This is E" and then when you were done you looked back and said "Poof! All the YHWH’s are in J." my chumash teachers had made fun of it incessantly. Also, it was humanities, not sciences. And, I knew from college that the humanities were crap. I was very glad to have the discussion switch to an area I was on firmer ground in and so I started to make fun of the DH.

So many Orthodox people stop there. They've heard rabbis make fun of something and claim that it's untrue, so they make fun of it and claim it's untrue. But fortunately (or unfortunately, if you're Orthodox) littlefoxling was not that kind of Orthodox Jew:
As the conversation continued though, I realized that whether DH was true or not, I knew pathetically little about what it actually said and was really not in a position to talk about it. This bothered me and so I went to the library and got a few books out on DH.

What?! Where's the blind trust in the authority of the Rabbis? Once you start investigating for yourself, who knows where that might lead?

If littlefoxling wasn't one of those Jews who just accepts everything blindly, he also wasn't one to throw away his religion the first time he encountered opposing arguments. He brought a healthy skepticism to them as well:
The first one I read was Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?. It confirmed everything my rebbeim had said about DH. The book was basically a migdal poreach baavir. He had maybe 5 or 6 good contradictions and this YHWH/Elohim thing and from that he concocted this complex conspiracy theory of how the Torah was written. It was complete crap and I knew better. I got a few other books out of the library and they were all the same...

I continued along this path. I took book after book out of the library but found each one to be worst than the last. Each just asserted DH was true but none actually proved it.

Did he breathe a sigh of relief at this point and give up his research? He could have, if he didn't have that nasty habit of thinking too much:
One day, a thought occurred to me. REF and all the other authors I was reading generally had some kind of line about how the DH was already established and they weren’t going to spend time proving it since it was already unanimously accepted. I wondered if perhaps the problem was that these books just took it for granted and didn’t bother to present the evidence.

I had this idea. Maybe if I looked at some older books I would get more of the evidence. I stumbled upon S. R. Driver’s "Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament," which was published in 1913.

Oops, good point. I wonder what will happen:
I was mortified. The book was absolutely chock full of completely irrefutable proof for the DH. For weeks and weeks I struggled with him, Driver and I locked in epic battle. But I could not defeat him. Everything I threw at him, my best apologetics and sevorahs were no match for him.

Ah, that's a moment most of us OTDers recognize. The first time we realize that what we've been taught is really, really not true.

LF didn't go down without a fight, though:
I began to read the apologists. Cassuto, Hoffman, David Gottlieb, Breuer. I was mortified once again. They were all complete crap. Me, a freakin finance guy who was doing this all on the subway to and from work could see how stupid everything they wrote was.

As we all find out sooner or later, apologists are for believers who want to continue believing, and are willing to suspend their disbelief to do so. They're total crap to anyone with a halfway objective eye.

LH then threw himself into the real scholars who don't agree exactly with the DH, with similar results. Yeah, maybe they disagree with some of the details, but it's not exactly like they've determined that Moses wrote the thing.

Then he had the epiphany. This is the epiphany that I think all Orthodox Jews who go OTD for intellectual reasons must have at some point:
So, I started to think about what my options were. Of course, I was holding out to find the scholars that underminded DH. But, what if I couldn’t find them? What did that mean? I started to wonder if maybe I could reconcile DH with Yahadus. DH wasn’t too far off from Halivni’s continual revelation. Maybe I could believe in DH and still be a frum yid.

I had a number of options I was considering. This Halivni option was one. Breur's methodology seemed to be to adopt the DH but argue that it was one author writing from two point of views. Cassuto basically said that the whole DH was deceptive and faulty reasoning. And then there was Hoffman. Hoffman argued that one could use the DH's reasoning and come up with authors and divisions even the DH didn't hold of which showed even scholars didn't hold of the reasoning really.

But then something occurred to me. On my list of possibilities, the possibility of "The Torah is not divine" didn't even appear. But that seemed strange given that that possibility was winning soundly in my research.

And, then, it hit me. It hit me like a bag of bricks. The moment that would forever change my life. There was a realization. It wasn’t about it the DH, the mabul, or the Kuzari proof. It was about me. I looked in the mirror and said to myself "What am I doing?" I realized that I was not trying to find the truth. I wasn’t looking for the answers. I was looking to prove that OJ was true. I realized that in all my inquires, if it was DH, KP, mabul, Enuma Elish, I was always trying to figure out how to answer for OJ, not how to find the truth.

That's it. That's really all it takes. The instant you realize that you haven't been looking for the truth at all, but looking for a way to rationalize your prior beliefs, it's all over. Because if you really look for the truth, there's no way in hell you end up with Orthodox Judaism.


Passuk: verse, especially a verse from the Torah.
Chumash: Pentateuch
Rebbeim: Rabbis
Migdal poreach baavir: Building floating on air (i.e. an edifice built on top of nothing)
sevorahs: opinion? conjecture? tentative argument?
Yahadus: Judaism
Frum yid: Religious Jew
mabul: Flood
Kuzari proof: The common apologetic argument that the story of mass revelation at Sinai is so amazing and unusual that it must be true.
OTD: Off the derech = Off the way = a term for those of us who left Orthodox Judaism.


Mark said...

Coincidentally, the Deacon at our Orthodox (Eastern) parish two weeks ago recommended Friedman as an excellent book. I got it last week, read half of it and ended up lending it to someone else already.

robert said...

Why isn't there any mention of James Kugel's approach?

Orthoprax said...


"The instant you realize that you haven't been looking for the truth at all, but looking for a way to rationalize your prior beliefs, it's all over."

That's exactly right. When you suddenly question that basic assumption and all of those "difficulties" immediately vanish, it really is a kind of epiphany.


"Why isn't there any mention of James Kugel's approach?"

Because the book where he discusses that approach post-dates LF's essays.

Rabbi David S. Gruber said...

Fascinating! Indeed, I use "epiphany moment" when I describe my journey. The order of things for me is a little different, but the realization moment strikingly the same.

It goes back to your post a while back about single loop vs. double loop learning.

You spend years patiently hammering hundreds and thousands of square pegs into round holes. Then you step back, and say wait a minute, what if I just got some square pegs? What if rather than assuming that TMS is true, and plain menschlichkeit of western values is the way to go, and they must fit, you opened up to the idea that the former is not true?!

This goes to the minutae of the apologists work too. They lamely explain away (or at least try to explain away) some minor points of the DH/archeology/evolution/take your pick, and address each point individually, working up a real sweat, and not doing a very good job at it. At the same time honest study of any of the above explains everything, more or less, in one fell swoop, across hundreds, sometimes thousands of pints of data.

Garnel Ironheart said...

You want intellectual dishonesty?

Why is everyone who defends the integrity of the text automatically labelled an "apologist"? Could it be there's a sketpical bias - the conclusion, that DH is true, has already been determined. The proof, well if you really insist we'll give you some proofs but as long as you accept that DH is true and that all the contradictions, refutations, etc. are all ab initio false.

There is some evidence for DH. There is some evidence for the integrity of the text. There is no conclusive evidence for either which leaves one with faith, which is what the whole thing is suposed to be based on in the first place.

fakewood inc. said...


the ideal way is for faith but you are supposed to be able to prove it if you chose. that whats judaisms claim is on christianity.

fakewood inc. said...


jewish philosopher said...

I refuted DH, by the way.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Hey Fakewood,

Judaism refuting Islam or X-ianity is totally different than faith vs rationalism.

When two religions collide, the idea of faith on both sides is taken as a given. At that point, the debate becomes philsophical and possibly historical.

When religion collides with skepticism, then the idea of faith on both sides is not a given. Therefore the debate becomes much more difficult. I use faith as the basis of my belief. To someone without it, how can I establish common ground?

fakewood inc. said...

skeptistc have faith to look at the way otd follows dawkins. chusid and rebbe.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Well that's ultimately the hypocrisy of the atheist movement. They are as religious as those they denounce. They have their high priests, so-called thinkers, dogmas and rigid ideologies. They are exactly what they condemn, only they don't see it.

(BTW, I'm not Fakewood.)

Off the Derech said...

Garnel: If the worst thing you could say about atheists is that they're as bad as the religious, what does that say about the religious?

Shalmo said...

JP you know damm well I refuted all your attempts at so-called preservation of the Torah. Which is exactly why you stopped posting my additional comments in your "Biblical Criticism Refuted" thread.

I welcome people here to check out that thread you linked to and see my comments on it.

And while it sickens me to the bone, I have to agree with Garnel.

Atheists have everything a religion does:
-Prophets (the infallible Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Hitchens)
-Torah (The Origin of Species)
-Prophetic books (God Delusion, God is not Great, etc)
-evagelists (Rational Response Squad and others)

need I go on?

Personally I am happy about the end of Judaism, though the religious atheists are almost just as frightening

Off the Derech said...

Garnel, Shalmo: