I met a man recently whom I thought to be a secular Israeli, and he thought this of himself as well. After our talk I think we were both convinced that we were men of faith. He had overheard me discussing religious history with a friend. When my friend departed for other business this man asked me if I could answer some questions for him. As we began to talk I realized that he was caught in the fundamental ultimatum that most people face when the question of faith comes up: either you believe and do whatever the prevailing religious community asks of you, or you do not believe. He had debated with Orthodox Jews and was frustrated that if he did not believe in their magical, mystical, g-d(s) [Kabbalah involves several deities] and practice according to their rules that he could not be considered a believer.
He had found comfort only in the secular society which ignores religion and focuses on culture and the pursuit of “fun.” Why can’t the pursuit of YHVH and His laws be fun? After a while he realized that I am a rationalist and was even more intrigued. So I began to discuss with him what I call the three arguments for the Israelite/Karaite faith.
1. The Greatest Prohpet – Moshe (Moses) is the greatest prophet among all of the world’s prophets. If we take his story prima facie (at face value), he was raised as an Egyptian Prince, discovered his true ancestry and fled into the desert. He lived among the Midianites as a shepherd for many years. He then returned to Egypt and informed Pharaoh that he should free the Israelites. As plagues from seismic phenomena (YHVH controls all of the forces of nature) began to occur, Moshe used the Egyptian faith against them convincing them that their own deities were punishing them and that his G-d was more powerful. He led the Israelites to freedom and gave them the tablets with the ten commandments. He helped them become a powerful nation, leading them to several military victories that brought them to the Jordan River ready to enter a new land.
What other prophet even comes close to this story? Yeshua (Jesus) influenced a lot of people but his efforts to reestablish a Jewish kingdom failed and he was executed. It took Paul and other followers to spread a message (some of it vaguely from his teachings). Mohammed conquered the Arabs with force and then died. Neither of these men would have been able to accomplish any of this without Moshe. I do not say this to offend anyone, simply to point out that no prophet or founder of a faith can ever compare with Moshe. If you are going to choose a faith why not choose one based on a really good (not to mention plausible) story.
2. Wisdom – Even if one does not consider the Torah to be divinely inspired, it contains many ancient wisdoms worthy of study today. Little by little science has slowly discovered this wisdom. Vitamin K is important for blood coagulation, a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to excessive bleeding. Babies are born with very low levels of vitamin K. On the eighth day after their birth the vitamin K levels spike. The Torah commands us to circumcise our sons on the eighth day.
Washing in clean water, not standing water, has been proven to be the best way for a person to clean themselves. Add a little soap and you can get more dirt off, but when it comes to germs washing in clean water is the best. The laws of ritual purity in the Torah command us to wash frequently after every kind of unclean act or contact with an unclean object. Touch a dead animal and you have to wash yourself, put on clean clothes, and wait until sunset to be clean. The Torah includes valuable insights on sociology, political science, behavior, psychology, and many other wisdoms. Consider that in the Torah religious and political institutions are separate from one another. The Shofet (Chieftain) or Melech (King) has their powers limited by the Sanhedrin (supreme court) by the leaders of the tribes and such; a form of checks and balances. The Torah is the source of many of the ideas behind the European Enlightenment that led to the establishment of the United States and of later democratic governments.
3. 4,000 Years – Avraham lived about 4,000 years ago and Moshe about 3500 years ago. Today there still exists a people dedicated to the remembrance of these men and the laws and beliefs they set forward. Clearly the people who have been so dedicated to these men have done something right. Name another nation of people who exist today who have survived 4,000 years of history?
He seemed moved by these rational arguments for faith. He still clung to his rejection of a magical deity, though and was still convinced that G-d could not be described rationally.
I pointed out that Baruch Spinoza had already done this for us. Spinoza drew upon studies of the Torah in a time when he had the freedom to entertain a rational approach to G-d and faith. By reading the Torah, Spinoza could see that YHVH is described as having control over nature. Traditional pantheism describes G-d as being everything that exists but lacking a personality or involvement in worldly affairs. Through his description of panENtheism Spinoza showed rationally that while everything that exists is part of YHVH, He is more that just that which exists and He is involved in worldly affairs in ways that we do not always understand. I like to call it mathematical determinism, each time we make a choice there are limited options to choose from, and limited outcomes that can result. Who establishes these options and the corresponding outcomes? YHVH.
He speaks to us and guides us everyday in ways most of us do not understand. We can interpret his messages if we try to and can try to act according to the direction He is sending us. As an example, last year I could not find employment in my home state of California no matter what I did. Suddenly, I saw an ad on a website to study in Israel for a year in English at a major university. I began to pursue that course and all of the doors opened showing me a clear path. One by one obstacles disappeared. Some might call this coincidence or determination. I call it divine intervention. I could have resisted His will, but it would only have resulted in more failure until I chose the correct path. His other motives I cannot even begin to understand and, as the Torah teaches us, it is not necessary that I understand, but simply that I obey to the best of my ability.
We were both forced away from other religious traditions because of their irrationality. YHVH is the supreme rationalist from whom all rational thought is derived. May we have His blessings!