Sunday, July 21, 2013

Internet undermines faith of Mormons by providing historical facts

NY Times   In the small but cohesive Mormon community where he grew up, Hans Mattsson was a solid believer and a pillar of the church. He followed his father and grandfather into church leadership and finally became an “area authority” overseeing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout Europe.

When fellow believers in Sweden first began coming to him with information from the Internet that contradicted the church’s history and teachings, he dismissed it as “anti-Mormon propaganda,” the whisperings of Lucifer. He asked his superiors for help in responding to the members’ doubts, and when they seemed to only sidestep the questions, Mr. Mattsson began his own investigation. 

But when he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist and that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures were rife with historical anomalies, Mr. Mattsson said he felt that the foundation on which he had built his life began to crumble. 

Around the world and in the United States, where the faith was founded, the Mormon Church is grappling with a wave of doubt and disillusionment among members who encountered information on the Internet that sabotaged what they were taught about their faith, according to interviews with dozens of Mormons and those who study the church.


  1. And why does this interest us? Really?

  2. Can't take it when a rag like "The New York Crimes" gets to break this story.

    Life isn't fair.

  3. What is the comparison to Yiddishkeit which is not built on phony facts? There is plenty of disinformation about Judaism which might confuse those that believe the nonsense or the lie of evolution which could cause confusion but what is the point?

    1. When you say dis information could you provide specifics? Also why is the assertion of evolution a lie and why does it threaten Torah belief?

  4. to state the obvious that is why there was an asifa in a huge stadium against the internet so that the truth about rasbbinic corruption can be covered up. however if I put down specifics I will be banned - rather ironic especially if its against Rabbi herschel Schachter.

  5. stan,

    While I obviously have different feelings about the asifa, do you truly believe that none of the Rabbonim at the asifa were concerned about anything but rabbinic corruption?

  6. There are Jewish comparisons. Claims that only the Jews knew the average month length in ancient times, that Chazal had a good approximation of the number of stars in the heavens, that the rabbit and hare are the only non-hooved animals that chew the cud, can be examined via internet and found to be unsatisfactory. People curious to know more about the huge discrepancy between historical and Jewish dating can check it up on the net. People interested in evaluating the strength of the Kuzari argument can find arguments pro and against.

  7. Avraham1 Who else knew the exact length of the month in ancient times?

  8. Also most of the online arguments against the kuzari argument found on atheist sites misunderstand the argument in the first place.

    1. The Kuzari argument is deeply flawed. And even sadder -- R Yehudah haLevi, the author of the Kuzari, himself would have disapproved of it. His whole thesis in the first section which is being misinterpreted as said argument is that philosophical arguments aren't worth much! See Kuzari 1:13 and 1:63. Anyway, it doesn't take into account the possibility of a bed time story becoming a myth becoming accepted history over the course of generations. The first generation to hear the story wouldn't claim it's true, and the first generations to increasingly insist it's true all had ancestors who heard it already. It also is based on the mistaken notion that listing Xian and Muslim myths exhausts the whole universe of them. There are counterexamples -- people with origin myths of their nation no smaller in population and no less miraculous than ours.

      I think our continued survival is a better argument to the uniqueness of our claims than our origins. But I really think that anyone who succeeds in doing a mitzvah or learning as G-d intended would experience its truth first-hand, and not really be motivated to bother with proofs, beyond pure curiosity.

      Second, our molad is the same as the Babylonian value for the average month. HOWEVER, the earliest record among Babylonians is after Daniel. For a couple of generations, their court sages were our prophets. So who gave it to who?

      But more interesting... The molad was too short back in the days of the Babylonian exile. Even in Rabban Gamliel's grandfather's day they new the molad would be "no less than" 29 days, 12 hours, 793 chalaqim. (RH 25a) Slightly too long, but close. The month has been getting longer as tidal forces slow the moon down., but those 29 days has been getting longer as well and that's more of a factor. (Tidal forces slow down the earth's spin, too.) And in fact, the molad was most accurate around the 5th cent CE, just when the Sanhedrin standardized the calendar. So, we have a value recorded over a millennium before we really needed it that was most accurate when actually we did need it. I find it intriguing.

    2. I don't understand how anyone can believe that the Torah is of Divine origin without believing the Kuzari Argument.

    3. How do you know that two lines with the same slope never meet? (In a flat or hyperbolic space.) Because you can create the scenario in your mind, and you can experience its truth directly.

      Sinilarly, the Jew who found his way in observant life has data points that the academic does not. We will differ therefore on which theory explains more of the data more plausibly. The notion that the Torah was not dictated word-for-word, and thus derashos were simply a game and much of Torah sheBe'al Peh a human construction flies in the face of personal experience. The way a piece of lomdus can find a consistent pattern from monetary law explaining an issue in Pesach. Or the way a Shabbos built on nit-picky details about how to make a cup of tea can provide a more rejuvenating experience than a more straightforward day of rest. Or...

      The outsider would think this is "faith" (which is a misleading word, given how many forms of Xianity developed the idea and colored its connotations). Or that it's an argument from what one wants to be true, from liking Shabbos or whatever.

      There is just an elegance to Torah in all its complexity of the sort one finds in a "beautiful" math proof, and not in human-created systems. I can't articulate it to someone who hasn't experienced it. It's not an argument from the beauty of Shabbos, but from that within Shabbos that is there to find beautiful. And because it itself is a data point, not an argument build from the data points (givens / postulates), it can't be articulated to those who haven't experienced it themselves.

      Your question is therefore akin to asking how someone can know the sun is yellow without having some proof for it. (In fact, you are even limiting them one particular proof.) I know the sun is yellow because I've been outside on a clear day. Someone who only manages to get out at sunset might insist it's really orange, but that's his problem. All his missionary tracts or academic journals aren't going to sway me from what I know firsthand.

      And actually, this is closer to what the Kuzari actually says (although far from the same) than the so-called "Kuzari Argument"!

    4. Kuzari argument - by that you mean what R ' Halevi wrote, or its adaptation by R' Gottlieb?
      They are 2 different arguments. Halevi is talking about miracles having occurred. The problem is, Muslims believe that their guys did miracles too. So is this even stronger proof? Since 1.5Bn muslims believe compared to a puny handful of Jews, does that prove Islam to be stronger?

      And Betzalel, do u think people didn't believe before Kuzari was written?

    5. The Sun is white.:-)

      It does look red at times.

    6. Eddie,

      I think the people believed the Kuzari argument even before it was written. The Kuzari just put what was obvious for observant Jews into writing for a Gentile king.

      Micha Berger,

      Muslims will say the same thing you said, that there is an elegance to the Quran such that if one reads it (in Arabic I assume), one knows that it is of Divine origin. There has to be an objective argument which separates the two religions, so that anyone can know which one is correct; otherwise, how could Hashem hold us accountable for our actions? The Kuzari argument is such an argument.

  9. tsoorba, the naive ones had been convinced by those with an agenda how dangerous the internet was. the threat is empowerment, knowledge is empowerment and very dangerous. please don't give me the baloney that they are so concerned about their fellow jew. YP calimed Kolko was a flatbush problem and he lived in Borrow Park.That's their concern for their fellow jew from the top honcho himself.

    if they were so concerned about yiddishkeit why have they done nothing to set up erliche botei din in NYC?

  10. kman -- re the length of the month, how about Ptolemy of Alexandria, the leading authority for medieval astronomy and a contemporary of the later Tannaim, ca. 90 CE–ca. 168 CE? And he didn't claim to be the first. I am not a scholar of Greek astronomy, and I invite correction by those who are.

    As for arguments against the "Kuzari argument," (whether onine or otherwise is obviously irrelevant), how do they "misunderstand the argument in the first place"?

    1. Kevin - How do you know Ptolemy knew the exact length of a month?

    2. Well obviously, we know because he wrote it down! It's in the Amalgest. And he got it from Hipparcus who quotes the Babylonians. I think it's most likely they got it from us, during Galus Bavel. But again, that's because it was inaccurate then, but just perfect to the nearest cheileq for our later use when the Sanhedrin ended.

      Similarly your bit about claims of national revelation is an argument from ignorance. Not every religion is revelation based, but many have stories of miracles that happened to the entire population of ancestors when they numbered in the millions. Like the Theban origin myth. Even stories of the entire nation encountering a god or two -- the Mexica followed a god in their origin myth. Do you know every myth that you can accept a proof based on what doesn't exist?

    3. Mexica - it is very unclear whether they had a mass revelation at all:

      I am unfamiliar with the Thebes origin. As far as I read, it was a creation story, not a mass revelation of people who passed it down to their children.

      The point is, is that if it were easy to fake a mass revelation claim, said claims should be common - yet they aren't.

      The Kuzari principle, is not intended as the only piece of evidence in belief of Torah Misinai. It is a piece among 10 - 20 pieces of evidence. Each piece of evidence alone is not proof, but together, they are compelling.

    4. I laid out how such a myth could get started. "[I]it doesn't take into account the possibility of a bed time story becoming a myth becoming accepted history over the course of generations. The first generation to hear the story wouldn't claim it's true, and the first generations to increasingly insist it's true all had ancestors who heard it already." One wouldn't expect that to be easy or common, but still, possible. Enough that you can not make a proof out of it not occurring.

      Second, the distinction between miracle and revelation is irrelevant to the argument. The argument is based on the idea that one couldn't successfully float a lie about many people who are also all of a nation's ancestry about an event that was too fantastic for them to have forgotten it had it really happened. Nothing in there is unique to revelations vs other miracles. No two stories will be alike. If you allow distinguishing characteristics that have nothing to do with your point, every people's myths are unique. You can't argue the Torah's truth from the uniqueness of its claims.

      Third, R Yehuda haLevi turned out to be right about the fallibility of philosophical proofs of the sort you're trying. That ends up being one of the points at the core of the Kantian revolution. (Not that Kant gave Rihal any credit...)

      And frankly, the willingness to discuss the flaws of its heros is far harder to find in myths, and yet common in Tanakh, anyway.

      Again, I would point to "vehi she'amedah", the miracle of Jewish survival, I would point to the experience of mitzvos and Torah study and what they reveal about the corpus of Torah to those who are willing to encounter it. After all, my job isn't to convince the world, but to find an explanation for the events in my own life. And I've lived al pi haTorah often enough to have those moments I'm as sure of as those parallel lines that don't meet.

    5. R' Micha, while I agree that the miracle of Jewish survival, the beauty and depth of Torah study, etc are more powerful arguments for Torah Misinai than the Kuzari principle, the fact remains that the KP is a good piece of evidence (not proof - as you keep writing).
      The fact that the Sinai revelation could have started as a bedtime story is irrelevant. The fact remains that a mass revelation story is the most powerful way to start a religion and nobody else starts their religion that way - only with a convincing leader or two. Why is that?
      Now, is this proof? Of course not - it is evidence of absence. But still, it is a powerful question and a good (and not the only) piece of evidence.

      The distinction between miracle and revelation is very relevant to the argument - as I stated in the comments I made below this one.

  11. The strength of the Kuzari argument (whether it really was the Kuzari himself who argued this or what we assumed based on his writings) is based on the fact that we need to ask, why did no other religion create a similar mass revelation story? This point is crucial. We would all admit that it is more convincing to start a religion stating to a nation that they all witnessed G-d’s revelation to them, than to say that G-d revealed Himself to one or two leaders who then had to convince others. Yet no other religion does that. Other religions start with a dynamic leader who convinces people to follow him because he is a prophet and G-d revealed Himself to him. No mass revelation to all the followers - that is too difficult to fake and convince people. This is the most important point. Why does nobody else have a mass revelation story to the original followers themselves other than the Jewish people? Is this 100% conclusive proof that the Torah is true? Of course not. It is possible that the Jews were smarter, etc. But that is a small possibility. The more likely choice is that this is evidence to the divine origin of Torah, that G-d revealed Himself to the Jews at Sinai.

    1. >>>> The more likely choice is that this is evidence to the divine origin of Torah, that G-d revealed Himself to the Jews at Sinai.

      First off, the fact of revelation does not even come close to proving the contents of revelation.

      The reason no religion starts with a claim of mass revelation is obvious. It’s nearly impossible to work.

      However, a religion already in existence for many centuries, and then having a charismatic and trusted leader (like maybe Jeremiah) “finding” a book and telling the people that its contents are true, is a lot more plausible.

    2. So then why haven't other religions in existence for centuries used the same tactic? You aren't addressing the issue.

    3. because, for the religions that were succeeding, nobody saw a need for such a claim. and maybe there were religions, long in the dustbin of history that did make such claims.
      It's possible that Jer & Jos were unique in that they were trying to resurrect or at least strengthen an existing religion and someone thought of mass revelation as good "mussar", maybe even based on some tradition that they had that the escaping slaves experienced something in the desert. the possibilities are endless.

    4. Again, that begs the question. For the religions who succeeded, surely they wanted to convince more people and make a better claim. Why didn't they?
      For those that didn't succeed - may they did make a mass revelation claim and maybe they didn't. That's why KP is evidence of truth of Judaism but not proof. Because, of all the religions we know about, only Judaism makes a mass revelation claim. But it is possible that some religion also did - though isn't it a coincidence that of all the ones that succeeded, only Judaism is the only one with guts enough to make the best claim.

      So again, KP isn't absolute proof, but it is still evidence.

    5. At the most its "evidence'" that something took place.
      You have convinced yourself that KP is “proof” of the truth of Judaism. Most who bother to give it some thought, don’t agree. But OK, lets say it is. But going from “proof” that a revelation took place, to gamut of its contents, let alone to all the myriad beliefs within Judaism, is a light-year stretch.

      On what rational basis do you believe that the Torah as we have today goes back to Moshe and was dictated by God?

  12. There are other claims of mass miracles which other religions make.
    What makes the Jewish national revelation better than the other ones listed?
    Answer: Firstly, many of the miracles did not occur to, nor were claimed to have happened to, a mass of people. The Aztec national revelation was relayed to the people by a few priests: The recording of the miracle itself never specifies how many people witnessed the miracle. The Fatima Miracle only had three followers who claimed to have seen Jesus.
    Secondly, Judaism has no problem with other religions performing miracles. In fact, Deuteronomy 13 tells the Jews that there will be false prophets with the ability to perform miracles. What Deut. 4:32 - 36 does state is that no other nation will have a true national revelation.
    Thirdly, the miracle claims of Jesus and Islam were recorded way after the miracle occurred to a group of people that were not necessarily the descendants of the people to whom the miracle supposedly occurred. Thus there is good reason why they never would have denied having heard of the miracle, because it did not happen to their forefathers, rather to another group of people.
    Fourth, if there is one constant in biblical Jewish history, it is that the Jews rebelled against their leaders in almost every generation. They were skeptics. An invention of Judaism or development over time thereof, likely would have led to skepticism about the Sinai event itself, since that is the source of the law that they were rebelling against. Yet nowhere do we find that the Jews doubted the Sinai story. They rebel against G-d, doubt Moses, but never Sinai. Why not? Furthermore, Judaism was a radical departure from the accepted religions and cultures of the time. Numerous inter personal laws, laws that govern agriculture, monotheism, sexual restrictions, etc, were radical ideas at that time. (The notion that the Torah was based on Hammurabi has been discredited. See They had every reason to deny Sinai. As opposed to the Aztec revelation or similar Native American miracle stories, or the Fatima Miracle of the Sun, where there was no challenge to the preexisting notions of the listeners. With the Fatima Miracles, some believed that the sun’s movements looked like an apparition, while some believed it was a natural solar episode. No one’s way of life was challenged. With the Aztecs, suppose the entire story was made up by a priest and he then told everyone about it. Why would they deny it or rebel against him? What was he making them do any different than what they did before? Perhaps they knew at the time that it was a myth but they chose not to challenge it because that served no purpose.
    Fifth, the bottom line and crucial point remains, that if it were so easy to start a religion with a mass revelation story and get people to eventually believe it over time through myth formation, then why does no other religion start that way? Why does every other religion start with one or two charismatic leaders convincing everyone else?

    1. If I was going to start a new religion I would do it to get more money and prestige NOW. I have no interest in starting a religion through bed-time stories tuning into accepted truth in a few hundred years' time.

    2. Most of the religions you know the myths of leveraged off /our/ Mass Revelation story.

      But in any case, the very situation the Kuzari Argument says wouldn't work may have happened twice in Tanakh. It seems that knowledge of Yetzias Mitzrayim and that there even was a Torah was lost under the rule of Menasheh (see the description of Yoshiah's restoration in Melakhim II 22-3 - 23:22). And from Nechemiah 8 one gets the impression that Galus Bavel was as bad. Recall that Chazal describe it as Ezra re-giving the Torah. In both cases, it would seem that knowledge of the Torah was limited to a small cadre of the same size that would hatch a plot.

      But it's not my job to shake someone's emunah. My real pet peeve against the Kuzari Proof (or Argument, as you more accurately put it) is my agreement with the Kuzari's /real/ point about Torah not resting on that kind of justification. I'm sorry for getting distracted and chasing this tangent.

      See also Sanhedrin 100a:
      הא שמיע לך כי הא דיתיב רבי יוחנן וקא דריש עתיד הקב"ה להביא אבנים טובות ומרגליות שהן שלשים על שלשים אמות וחוקק בהם עשר ברום עשרים ומעמידן בשערי ירושלים שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) ושמתי כדכוד שמשותיך ושעריך לאבני אקדח וגו' לגלג עליו אותו תלמיד אמר השתא כביעתא דצילצלא לא משכחינן כולי האי משכחינן לימים הפליגה ספינתו בים חזינהו למלאכי השרת דקא מנסרי אבנים טובות ומרגליות אמר להו הני למאן אמרי עתיד הקב"ה להעמידן בשערי ירושלים כי הדר אשכחיה לר' יוחנן דיתיב וקא דריש א"ל רבי דרוש ולך נאה לדרוש כשם שאמרת כך ראיתי אמר לו ריקה אם לא ראית לא האמנת מלגלג על דברי חכמים אתה יהב ביה עיניה ועשאו גל של עצמות

      ... It implies to you what Rabbi Yochanan was sitting and teaching: HQBH, will bring jewels and precious stones, each 50 ammos across, and 30 ammos high, and engrave them 10 x 20 amos, and set them up as the gates of Y-m. As is written... One student scoffed at him saying, ‘We do not find a jewel even as large as a dove's egg, yet such huge ones allegedly exist?!’ Some time later he took a sea journey and saw the mal'akhim cutting precious stones and pearls. He said unto them: ‘What are these for?’ They replied: ‘HQBH will set them up as the gates of Y-m.’ When he returned he found R' Yochanan sitting and darshening. He said to him: ‘Rebbe, darshen! It is indeed appropriate for you to darshen, for exactly what you said, I saw!’ R' Yochanan said to him, "Emptiness! And had you not seen, you would not have believed?! You denegrade the words of the Sages!’ He set his eyes upon him, and he turned into a pile of bones.

      The fellow who only believes prophecy because it was proven scientifically is no better in R' Yochanan's eyes than when he didn't believe. I do not know how that shtims (dovetails) with the Rambam's philosophy, but we're talking R' Yehudah haLevi's perspective right now anyway.


      Moshe Laymore: The Kuzari Proof tries to rule out not only a conspiracy, but also an accidentally picked up belief.

    3. Your point from Josiah is another common knock against the KP which isn't completely accurate. See Furthermore, II Chronicles 33, states that Menashe repented and got rid of idolatry, during his reign. It is clear that there were not 57 consecutive years of idol worship and rejection of Torah.
      Furthermore, II Kings 22 first states that an eight year old Josiah did what was proper in the eyes of G-d and only 18 years later does the story of the Torah scroll occur. To prove this point, II Chronicles 34 recounts the story of Josiah, yet the first 14 verses discuss Josiah and the Jewish people’s repentance to G-d and only afterwards does the story of the Torah scroll occur.

      Furthermore, Ezra only took up the 42,600 mostly amharatzim. Most of the rest of Jewry were in Babylon or other places in Asia, Europe and Africa.

    4. But Yoshiah convinced a disbelieving masses, and Ezra convinced those amei ha'aretz that something happened to all their millions of ancestors that they never heard of before. (Obviously I wasn't claiming they made it up, I'm a maamin after all. I'm arguing against relying on trying to make scholastic or empirical proofs, particular specious ones. Not about the thing being proven!)

      You also don't address the gemara I quote. I am arguing that the level of attachment you have for this argument is itself against the mesorah.

      The only real proof, both in terms of effectiveness (as per the actual point the Kuzari makes, as well as the general thrust of most of the field of philosophy since Kant) and in terms of having the right, mesoretically approved, attitude toward what we believe, is "ta'amu ure'u ki tov Hashem -- taste and see how Good Hashem is"! Experiencing the Torah for yourself is the groundwork. It's why you have such a love for the so-called Kuzari Principle. Not the principle itself. Our givens are dictated by what fits the world we experience, so that the "objective" proofs we find convincing end up being more subjective than relying on experience directly! And it's the difference between knowing /about/ the RBSO, and knowing and having a relationship with Him and His Torah.

    5. Where did you see that the masses disbelieved in G-d or that Yoshia convinced anyone? All it says is that they did teshuva for idol worship. The Jews who worshiped idols also believed in Torah, they did both. The chain of mesorah was not broken, nor are there any historically fuzzy periods in Tanach, as there should be if a mass revelation period was sold to the people after the fact. Furthermore, as Divrei Hayamim 2 shows us, Yoshia discovers the Torah years after doing teshuva. It wasn't the only Torah around, it was "Hatorah" - the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu.

      Your argument from Ezra is incorrect. Jews lived in Europe (Worms, etc), Asia (Iraq, Yemen, etc) Africa (Tunisia, Egypt) since bayis rishon and they believed and didn't listen to Ezra to return. Obviously, Ezra couldn't convince them of much and he certainly couldn't create a mass revelation story that they would pass down to their children.

      Your understanding of the Gemara contradicts Rishonim such as Rambam and Chovos Halevavos, who found it necessary to use evidence to help us be maaminim. As does Igros Moshe YD 3:71 and Steipler in Chayei Olam.

      Finally, I agree that someone can only be a maamin if they taste and experience Torah for themselves and that is the primary way to be a maamin (which is one reason why scientists don't believe in G-d despite the statistically tiny possibility of this intricate world happening by accident). But many people feel that Muslims and Christians also taste and experience their religion, so they need a logical basis for belief in Judaism in addition to taamu ure'u. There are many pieces of evidence to divinity of Torah which help provide that logical basis. Each piece of evidence isn't convincing in itself, but the totality of evidence is.

  13. The fact that we're often skeptical works in our favor, since it makes it harder for a charlatan to win us all (as opposed to some of us) over.

    1. Which may be what Moshe meant when he pleas with HQBH, "לֶךְ-נָא אֲ-דֹנָי בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ, כִּי עַם קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף הוּא... -- please go, my L-rd, in our midst, because it is a stiff-necked people...." (Shemos 34:9) Moshe phrases it such that our stubbornness is a reason in favor of forgiving us after the Golden Calf. Not merely an excuse to explain the sin and make it less extreme, but a reason why HQBH should stick with us!


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