Thursday, February 05, 2009

Aish antics

A friend of mine makes the point that Rabbi Yaakov Salomon's new video at Aish Hata'ut[*] employs "such convoluted logic, it almost sounds like stand up comedy. " This is true. His attempted arguments against atheism can be summarized as follows:

"Wow! A lot of weird things sure do happen in the world! Octuplets! That plane that landed on the Hudson! Also, we have technology! Boy, non-belivers sure are stupid. And blind."
As a proud believer I'm deeply offended that someone would try to justify belief and represent believers with such lousy reasoning, but as pathetic as it is, this isn't Rabbi Salamon's most serious offence.

According to Rabbi Salomon disbelief has a long history. As he puts it (paraphrased from memory) "The Torah says 4/5 of the Jewish people died in Egypt. Why? Non believers. They didn't really fully believe in God. Isn't that strange? Seeing so many miracles and not believing in God enough to warrant leaving Egypt?"

Why, yes, Rabbi Salomon, that does seem strange. And do you know why it seems strange? BECAUSE IT ISN'T WHAT THE TORAH SAYS! If you're going to attempt to frighten people into belief, could you at least check your sources?

The Torah (by which Rabbi Salamon, of course, means "one particular midrash which I find appealing, to the exclusion of those I do not find appealing.") doesn't say 4/5 "died" because they lacked belief in god. It says they were killed because they didn't want to leave Egypt. Here is the source Rabbi Salamon is likely misremembering:
Now why did He bring [two phases of] darkness upon [the Egyptians]? Because there were among the Israelites in that generation wicked people who did not want to leave [Egypt]. They died during the three days of darkness, so that the Egyptians would not see their downfall and say, “They too are being smitten like us.” [Rashi on Exodus 10:22]
Or as the Mechilta has it: There were many of the B'nei Yisrael who had no desire to leave Egypt and, so that the Egyptians not witness their demise, they died during the plague of darkness.

Moreover, according to the midrashim even idol worshippers left Egypt.

If Rabbi Salamon was aware of the what the sources actually say, he might have made the exact same point, simply by saying that, per Midrash Raba, Israelite idol worshippers were among those who left Egypt. I agree that's strange given all that the Torah says they witnessed, but the idea that God included idol worshippers in the Exodus is a little inconvinient to the good Rabbi's point, as it undermines his rather obvious appeal to fear.

[*] Deliberate misspelling

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