A middle aged woman entered the Jewish Center. Feeling a little unsure, she approached a young man with a beard: "I need to speak to somebody in Russian" she said with an accent.
can I help you?" answered the man in Russian. "He must be around 25
and he speaks almost without an accent" she thought. "I wonder if he
was born in
Woman: I came from
Rabbi: We can surely help you. Just out of curiosity - how did you make this decision?
Woman: My son is now fifteen. We wanted to
circumcise him back in
Rabbi: I also came here with my parents when I was fourteen, and the next year my mother persuaded me to be circumcised. I was becoming more and more religious since then. I was always a curious boy, reading many books about Judaism, looking to find answers to an infinite number of questions. Eventually I started putting on Tefillin every weekday. At last, when I was eighteen I started keeping Shabbos. I went to college and while I was receiving a Bachelors degree in math, I continued to progress religiously. After college I worked for a year as an actuary, but I felt I could be more useful if I became a rabbi. So I pursued rabbinical studies and four months ago started working here in the Jewish Center.
The woman was getting more and more surprised as she was listening. She was quite amazed by the frankness of young rabbi. She had a lot of questions but did not know where to start. He looked quite friendly and seemed to be sincere.
Woman: Did you ever regret abandoning a promising career in actuarial science?
Rabbi: Not at all. For the last four months as I was working for a Jewish Center I met a lot of people. The majority of them speak very little English and I am the only one here who speaks Russian, so I felt very useful. Interestingly, a lot of people come here with exactly the same question as you. Over three hundred men were circumcised since I began working here. Our sages predict that the Jewish people would always be careful about the commandment of circumcision, since our ancestors were willing to die for it.
I have heard of people coming from
At first my mother did not like the fact that I was becoming religious. She
tried to offer me arguments she was taught in
I understand you very well. You have always been taught that there is no
Creator and that the world runs by itself. You had to take subjects like
'Scientific Atheism' when you were in college, and without taking them you
would not graduate. But consider the fact that you were also taught from
childhood how great Communism was. Your father was a communist. He sincerely
believed that the salvation of all people including the Jews depended on the
bright future promised by the communists. He considered
She told me that she was much too advanced to believe the primitive religious ideas. “All these notions are just childish illusions of archaic people who don’t belong in our modern society” – she said. "As the civilization progresses, it gets more and more sophisticated slowly discarding the old ideas and accepting the progressive new ones instead."
"But this is exactly how people of all societies thought throughout centuries," I replied. "The ancient Greeks, for example, also looked at Jews as being old fashioned. There were some 'progressive' Jews who wanted to become like Greeks. Over two thousand years passed, those Hellenistic Jews are long ago gone, but religious Jews stayed. Consider what Mark Twain wrote about Jews:
'The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities old age, not weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, ... All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?'
Every culture looks at Jews as being outdated, yet that culture goes away and the Jews remain."
"It's impossible for me to accept that the ancient Jewish religion is right", my mother answered. "In the old times people could not explain many physical phenomena, so, whatever they could not explain, they attributed to a Supernatural Power. Today, with the advance of science we understand how the world works a lot better. There is no more need to put G-d into the picture."
"If so, would you expect the number of scientists among religious Jews to be large or small?" - I asked.
"Small", she replied.
"Actually, the opposite is true. Not only is there a large number of Orthodox Jewish scientists, but moreover many mathematicians, physicists, chemists and biologists who were atheists in Russia became religious within the last three decades. Some became orthodox Jews while being in Russia, and others, after they moved to America, the land of Israel or to other places. In fact, I happen to personally know one such person. He is a professor of mathematics at Harvard University. Maybe you would like to speak to him?"
My mother agreed, and I gave her his telephone number. I did not hear their conversation, but my mother later mentioned a few of the things they talked about. The Harvard professor told her that with developments in science, not only no contradictions with Torah are found, but more and more evidence for Judaism is being discovered. Many people became religious after examining the facts. Since then, my mother was no longer antagonistic to my religiosity, and even asked me to teach her how to start keeping some of the commandments. At present, she keeps Shabbos and kashrus and I am hoping there will come a day when she will be keeping all commandments.
Woman: While you were speaking a few questions entered my mind. To begin with, let me ask two of them:
1. Do you really have to keep all commandments to be a good Jew? I am a good person; I help others when they are in need. Some of the things I heard about the commandments that Judaism requires seem strange. Even keeping one of the commandments fully is difficult. Take Shabbos for example. I could maybe light the candles on Friday, but keeping all the detailed laws of Shabbos seems impossible.
2. You mentioned that a lot of people became religious through scientific proofs that show the validity of the Torah. Is it true that everybody who becomes religious does so because it was "proven" to them that Judaism is true?
Rabbi: Your questions can't be answered on one foot. I want to invite your entire family for a Shabbos meal to our home, and then we could discuss these doubts. Know that as long you will be interested in finding out more about our religion, there will always be people who are willing to help. Our heritage is over 3,300 years old, and it's certainly worthwhile to learn about it rather then discard it as many do.
The Rabbi and the woman (whose name was Rosa) exchanged telephone numbers, and set up the time to meet at the Shabbos table.
On Shabbos, at eleven o'clock the Rabbi came from the synagogue and asked his wife if Rosa had come with her family. Before she had a chance to answer, he saw them outside approaching his house. After entering, Rosa introduced her husband Alexander, her father Naum, and her children Dmitry and Yulia. The rabbi made Kiddush, everyone washed hands in traditional manner and they sat down to eat the festive meal. The guests seemed shy, while the rabbi and his wife kept trying to break the ice.
Rabbi: Naum, where do you come from?
Naum: I grew up in a small village in Latvia, and at that time, everybody used to go to the synagogue every day. When I was nine, World War II started and after it was finished, it turned out that very few Jews from our village survived. All the synagogues were destroyed, but even if there were synagogues, there were almost no Jewish families in our village that could attend them. I moved to the capital city of Riga. Since then and until I came to America I did not see Jews who look like you, Jews who are proud of their religion. When I look at you and others like you, I feel both pain and pride - pain for the great number of Jews who were killed during the war and the great spiritual centers that were destroyed, and, at the same time pride that there are still Jews who keep commandments. One question that is always on my mind is why did G-d, if He really exists, punish us. So many righteous Jews were murdered during the war. I saw fields full of Jewish corpses. I will never forget this. After all I have been through it is hard for me to believe in a Merciful, All-Knowing G-d who "does good to all."
Rabbi: Believe me, you are not the first person who asked this question. Your daughter asked me some questions also, and I told her that these questions need time to be answered. I will try to answer your question as well.
Naum: One thing I do know, is that if G-d exists, He certainly made a miracle without which I would not survive the Holocaust. When the Germans occupied our village, they gathered all Jews together to kill them. People understood this was there last hour on Earth. It is hard to describe the state they were in. The Nazis were coming in, taking groups of twenty people, killing them and then coming for the next group. Many people actually wanted this to be finished as soon as possible. Waiting to be executed was too hard, so people tried to be taken for destruction sooner. It was time for afternoon prayer - Mincha - and my father said that meanwhile we have an obligation to gather a minion and pray.
I asked him: "Do we still have a chance to survive?"
"Everything depends on G-d" - he answered.
He was able to gather a minion of men and they prayed. By that time, about twenty people were left. Suddenly, an officer came and said that the government of this district was changed, and the new government made a decision to move the Jews to labor camps. They just received an official notice about this. So, it seems that because these people prayed Mincha, they were saved.
Naum finished his story and it became quite. For a while everyone was looking down without daring to break the silence.
Rabbi: It gives me tremendous pleasure to see Jews who are sincerely interested to find out more about Judaism. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not even interested in learning about their religion. They think the religious ideas are definitely wrong, so why waste time even inquiring about them? Even when such people see somebody intelligent, who became religious, they think he just went crazy.
However, anybody who is honestly searching will be convinced that Judaism is true. For there is more evidence for revelation at Mount Sinai than there is for any other "historical" fact. The fact that we got Torah at mount Sinai is more real than the fact that George Washington existed, since Washington was seen by only a few thousand people, whereas the revelation at mount Sinai was witnessed by millions of Jews, and was passed down from generation to generation, from parents to children, with a few million witnesses in every generation.
Alexander: I don't agree, Rabbi. Washington lived only about three hundred years ago, whereas revelation at Sinai is claimed to have occurred thousands of years back. Why could not somebody invent rumors about Sinai, a long time ago, and later these rumors became accepted by more and more people, until millions started believing this? From that generation on, these people would tell their children what they heard, who, in turn, would relate to their children what they heard from their parents.
Rabbi: It would be impossible to invent "rumors about Sinai" in some generation because people would never believe somebody who claims that all these miracles happened to their ancestors. They would say: "If what you are saying is true, how come we never heard about it from our own parents or from anybody else." Imagine somebody coming to Ireland today, and telling the Irish people that in truth they all descend from a nation that was taken out of Egypt with wonders and miracles, and who received Torah in a desert through Divine revelation. Indeed the Torah itself testifies that there will never be another nation that will even claim a revelation similar to ours. The Torah thus commands Jewish parents to teach their children about what they saw at Sinai, therefore guaranteeing that the number of witnesses of these events will always be large.
Alexander. To tell the truth, I never heard an argument similar to yours and I need time to think about it. But, on the other hand, you certainly know that the general archeological and historical evidence does not confirm that Jews ever lived in Egypt and later left it and conquered Israel.
Rabbi. First, even if there would be no independent evidence of our stay in Egypt and the later conquest of the Land of Israel, it would be impossible to deny it and contradict the Torah. It is difficult to rely on ways used by archeologists in an attempt to reconstruct history. The ancient nations when defeated almost never wrote down about their losses and failures. Why should we search for examples from antiquity? Just look at how easy right before our eyes the history of the Second World War is changing. Soon all "developed" European countries will teach history to the young generation using textbooks that do not mention the destruction of the Jews. The work of "Holocaust Revisionists" is enormously successful. Even now any book that makes a mention of a purposeful destruction of the Jews is considered very controversial and at times even extreme.
But in reality there are some historians and archeologists, including secular ones that consider that the events described in a Torah – a historical reality. The basic subject of dispute is connected with chronology of ancient Egypt based on which the chronology of neighboring countries is built. There are many proofs in favor of alternative chronology which has been not accepted by the majority of historians and according to which there are tens of corroborations to the events described in the Torah. So, for example, according to alternative chronology the events described in the book of Bereishis coincide: a dream of the pharaoh, seven years of famine and rescue of the country by a wise vizier. Similarly the events of the book of Shemos are then well supported: the Egyptian punishments and the total devastation of the country which never returned to its’ former status. According to alternative chronology, the details of the conquest of the Land of Israel coincide what is described in the book of Yehoshua. By the way the carbon isotope analysis also supports alternative chronology.
Alexander: What about the other religions? How did they convince their followers that many miracles were performed when these religions started? Every religion claims miracles.
Rabbi: Every religion certainly claims miracles, but no religion claims that at the time of its beginning a great multitude of people witnessed the miracles. All other religions started with one person or a small group of people. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other world religions all started with a person who convinced his followers that he had a divine revelation. As time went on, these religions spread, until many people, who themselves did not see any miracles, would become followers of the new religion. No religion claims that it started through a revelation to the entire nation.
Not so are the glorious beginnings of Judaism. Torah tells us that G-d took the Jewish people from slavery of Egypt which was the most powerful empire at the time. Many miracles were performed during the Exodus culminating in the passing between the waters of the Sea of Reeds, and the drowning of the entire Egyptian army. We were fed in the dessert with manna that fell from the sky. Many miracles were performed with this manna, including the fact that a double portion would be gathered on Friday, and on Saturday none would fall. The Jews would then rest on Shabbos, eating what they gathered the day before. On all other days manna could not be kept till next day and it would spoil, but Friday’s manna stayed fresh on Shabbos. The Torah makes sure to record the details of the miracle to be remembered by our whole nation. To commemorate this, as well as for other reasons, we were commanded to observe Shabbos and not to do any work on it. Throughout our wanderings in the desert, every Jewish man, woman, or child rose to a level close to prophetic. Our entire nation witnessed revelation at Sinai and other miracles in the desert, as well as the glorious entry into the Land of Israel.
Many miracles occurred when we entered the land, I will describe just one of them. During one of the battles at Givon, the time was close to Shabbos, and our leader Yehoshua prayed that the sun will stop so that the battle could be finished before Shabbos starts. His prayer was answered and the sun stayed in the middle of the sky for a whole day. Many used to make fun of this until The New York Times printed an article describing that American Indians have an ancient holiday, celebrating the day, over three thousand years ago, when the sun did not rise. Of course, when the sun was above the Land of Israel, it did not rise in America.
Alexander: I wonder why the other nations could not invent stories similar to these.
Rabbi: You wonder because you are sure Torah was written by people and its’ stories are an invention. However, the truth is that these stories could not possibly be invented. In fact, no other nation could make its’ people believe similar stories. Early Christians and Muslims tried to convert the Jews, and our ancestors were telling them that they received a revelation at Mount Sinai and are not planning to change the way they had kept the commandments for fifteen hundred years.
Certainly the Christians and Muslims would want to claim that they also experienced a revelation to the entire nation; this would make their religion look a lot more credible. However, they could not claim such a thing. Therefore, they tried to "prove" that in reality they are just a continuation of Judaism. Both Christians and Muslims believe that Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai, but Christians claim that later this Torah was changed and a new covenant was given, and Muslims claim that still later a new set of laws was given by G-d through "the final prophet - Mohammed".
The reason those two world religions had to perceive themselves as continuation of Judaism, not as independent religions, is that indeed only Judaism offers clear proofs that G-d has contact with people, and that the purpose of humanity is to do the will of G-d. As for the argument of Christians and Muslims, that the Torah was changed - the Torah itself reiterates many times that all its’ laws are eternal.
Yulia: I am sorry to interrupt, but I go to college and we also have a Rabbi there. He does not look like you at all; he has no sideburns, and does not cover his head. He says that even though the Jews did receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, these laws were not at all eternal. He says that the majority of the ancient laws are not applicable today.
For example, in the old times it was difficult to make fire. Therefore G-d forbade making it on Shabbos. Today, turning on electric light is very easy, so it is permitted on Shabbos. This will even add to our Shabbos rest. The same applies to driving a car on Shabbos. He was making fun of Orthodox Jews who do not drive on Shabbos and at times walk for half an hour to the synagogue. And this they call Shabbos rest?!
He also says that even the Orthodox Jews do not keep the 613 commandments given at Sinai. After all, some of these commandments include service in the Temple, appointment of the king and of the High Priest etc. "If we are really obligated to keep the commandments," he says "then why don't we build a temple and start offering sacrifices?"
Rabbi: It is very good that you brought this up for we need to ask ourselves first, what is Judaism? Since the time we received Torah at Mount Sinai, there were general principles of faith accepted by all traditional Jews. From time to time there would emerge different groups of Jews that rejected some of these principles, and, with time, these groups would disappear. They would assimilate among the nations while the traditional Jews remained. The reason for this is that G-d made a covenant with the Jewish people, stating that the Jewish nation can not be destroyed, but only Jews who are true to Judaism are a part of the covenant. A great miracle that was performed for us: despite the exile among the nations we survived, but this miracle was not performed for any diverging group of Jews. One of the reasons we are an eternal nation is because we have an eternal message, but those who reject part of that message, quickly lose their identity, disappearing among the nations that surround us.
Now, Reform and Conservative Jews in reality do not practice Judaism. They do not believe in many of the fundamental principles of our faith, and therefore, their religion is anything but Judaism. They may call their leaders – “rabbis” and their places of worship – “Synagogues”, but their religion is still not Judaism. Among the principles of our faith that these groups reject is the fact that the Torah is eternal. Some of the people in these groups do not believe that G-d gave us the Torah altogether, whereas others believe that G-d gave us the Torah, but the laws were not meant to be kept forever.
Apparently the "rabbi" that you mentioned belongs to the second group. Now, Torah itself tells us that all its laws are eternal, as I mentioned earlier. The laws of Torah can't possibly change. Our sages teach us that Torah was created by G-d even before the world. G-d created the world based on the Torah as an arena, a place where the laws of Torah could be kept. To be sure, there is a spiritual Torah "black fire on white fire" which consists entirely of different names of G-d, and a physical projection of the Torah, which consists of stories that happened to people and of different physical commandments that a Jew should keep.
However, even the physical Torah, written in ink on a parchment, hints to the mystical secrets contained in the spiritual Torah. This is one of the reasons why the Torah that has an extra letter or is missing a letter is invalid, and has to be either corrected, or buried. Such Torah would not be a perfect projection of the spiritual Torah.
In general, there are four levels of interpretation of Torah: simple meaning, hint, exposition, and secret Kabalistic meaning. For example one passage talks about certain kings that ruled over the land of Edom. The simple meaning is that eight particular kings, who were descendants of Esau, ruled in that land, to show the fulfillment of the blessing with which Yitzchak blessed his son Esau. The hints and expositions of these verses describe different details about the lives of these kings, sometimes through an extra letter used by the Torah in the narrative, or by similar words used in a different place in the Torah. On the level of secrets of Kabala the entire passage speaks about certain spiritual entities that G-d created and then destroyed during his process of creation of spiritual worlds. After these entities were destroyed and went down many levels, their remainders became intermixed with much lower spiritual entities. One of the effects of our keeping commandments now, is to choose out the sparks of these "eight kings" from the lower spiritual worlds where they fell.
When this selection process will finish, Moshiach, the new king of Israel, will come, and later the future world will start. In that future world, those who deserved their share in it through keeping the commandments in this world will be rewarded greatly, and the reward in that world is better than anything this world has to offer. Moreover, the reward in the future world will be eternal, as opposed to this world, which is temporary.
Yulia: So, what about Reform and Conservative rabbis ?
Rabbi: You already saw that these people are very far from Judaism. But unfortunately they are more interested in what they want than what G-d wants. A story is told about one of the Reform leaders who had regrets on his death bed. He said to his colleagues:
"I am afraid I will be punished for breaking Shabbos and eating non-kosher food all my life."
They told him: "But we had a conference on which we decided that G-d no longer expects us to keep those ancient laws".
"Yes, indeed we decided that G-d no longer wants us to keep the laws of Torah,” he replied, “but G-d was not at our conference. I am afraid that He may have a different opinion".
The truth is, G-d certainly has a different opinion. He already revealed in His Torah that all the laws will never change. The Reform movement started when people were beginning to leave the path of Torah. More and more people were not keeping Shabbos, kashrus, and other commandments. When these people used to go to a synagogue, they constantly heard criticism from the rabbis, who would talk about the punishments awaiting those who do not keep the commandments. What the Reform movement did was to organize “synagogues” where the “rabbi” did not criticize anybody, and moreover, he did not keep most of the commandments himself.
Yulia: Then why don't you keep 613 commandments?
Rabbi: I do, and so do millions of religious Jews throughout the world. No matter what group they belong to, Chassidim or Litaim (general term for non - Chassidim), Ashkenasim (Jews from Europe) or Sefardim (Jews from Asia), all of us keep 613 commandments of the Torah. This does not mean that every Jew keeps all 613 commandments every day. Some commandments are applicable only to a kohen (a male Jew, descendent of Aaron, brother of Moses); some commandments are only applicable to a king. Even the commandments that could be applicable to every Jew have particular rules regarding when they become applicable.
For example, if the first-born child is male, we have a commandment to redeem him with five silver coins from a kohen. However, if the first-born child is a female, then, even if later a boy is born to this woman, he does not have to be redeemed. Thus, no more than half of all the families get a chance to fulfill the commandment of redeeming the first-born.
There are even some commandments that it's better never to have to keep. For instance, a person who wants to divorce his wife has to do so by writing a “Get” - a Jewish divorce. If he goes to secular court and divorces her there, his divorce is not valid. However, it's better never to divorce one's wife, and if one does, the Talmud says that even the altar in the Temple cries for him. Similarly, there is a commandment for a person who stole, to return what he stole to the owner. Obviously, it would be better not to steal in the first place.
Yulia: So what about sacrifices?
Rabbi: The truth is, we are waiting for them to return. But first let me point out that even the very word “Sacrifice” in the English language is incorrect besides carrying negative connotations. I prefer the English word “offerings” but even that word does not suffice. At any rate the root of the word in the Holy Tongue comes from the word “closeness”. By offerings we were getting close to G-d.
However these offerings could only be brought only on the territory of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When Moshiach will come, the Temple will be built again and the offerings will start. Our present situation was already foretold by the prophets who wrote almost three thousand years ago that there will be a long period of time when the Jews will be without a king, without the Temple and without the offerings.
Alexander: Tell me then, what was the purpose of the sacrifices in the first place? Why does G-d need us to kill animals and burn them on the altar?
Rabbi: The concept of offerings is very deep, and to understand it even partially, you have to study Kabbala for a long time. However, I will make a few comments that just scratch the surface. First, I'd like to ask you a general question: why do we need commandments that G-d gave us?
Rosa: I think a lot of Jewish rituals are very inspiring. I remember how my grandmother used to light candles before Shabbos. Her face shined with inner light that I can't describe. She looked illuminated by happiness, coming from a different world.
Alexander: I'd like to add that a lot of commandments help a person stay healthy. For example, religious Jews do not eat meat together with milk. The scientists discovered that the enzymes used by our bodies for milk are different from the ones used for meat. So, the practice of eating milk and meat separately is very healthy.
Rabbi: That could at best explain some of the commandments, but by far not all. Actually, there are commandments that human reason can't comprehend altogether. However, even those commandments that our logic can grasp have infinitely many reasons that we can't understand, for each commandment is infinitely deep.
But this, I may tell you: besides the physical world, G-d also created many spiritual worlds. The presence of G-d is everywhere, but in the spiritual worlds His presence is more open than in the physical. This is why the word for “world” in Hebrew, comes from the word "hidden." The physical world with its laws hides the presence of G-d to such a degree that His presence can be known only through the effects He has on the world. The fact that G-d exists can be proven, but only through an indirect proof.
Thus, for example, we could show that the Torah contains information that only the Creator of the world who controls human history could have known. Similarly, for example this room is full of radio waves. Even though nobody can see or hear them, we can prove their existence indirectly, by turning on a radio.
In spiritual worlds, the presence of G-d is more open, with each "higher" world being closer to Him, and hiding His presence less. The angels, for example, who have a constant sense of G-d's presence, are always in a state of awe and love before Him. Now, G-d's desire is only to do good, and He created various creatures to receive His Goodness. But the greatest pleasure comes when a creature receives its reward not as a present, but after hard work. Therefore, G-d gave people freedom of choice.
In this world, where presence of G-d is not obvious, a person can bind all his actions to do the will of G-d, and his reward for keeping the commandments will be very great. Nothing compares to the feeling of a person who finished his job well. Moreover, the Creator actually made the worlds incomplete and gave people the power to complete them. G-d linked the physical world with spiritual worlds, so that by keeping 613 commandments, mostly involving physical action, a person can rectify spiritual. Each and every commandment performed does a particular rectification, and earns a person eternal reward. This is true both with respect to commandments that we can understand and with respect to the ones we can't. Some commandments have to be performed every day, while others only on specific occasions, but each commandment ultimately repairs the spiritual worlds and will bring the future world closer.
The commandment regarding the offerings, like any other commandment, performs its rectification. Among other things, it rectifies the animals, the plants, and the spiritual roots associated with them. Through bringing one sheep in the morning and one in the afternoon, as well as certain portions of flour, a particular rectification was completed by our entire nation. After our Temple was destroyed, we pray every day that it will be built again. We also read the passages from the Torah that deal with offerings, and G-d accepts it for now as if we offered them. There was also a category of offerings that were brought by individuals. Some were brought for certain inadvertent sins. If a person sinned on purpose, however, no offering would be brought and a much greater rectification was needed. It certainly included sincere repentance and steadfast decision not to repeat the transgression. Even in the case of inadvertent sins, the offering had to be accompanied by repentance. Since the act of sin is committed by "the animal within a person" an animal was killed. The person would meanwhile think about the fact that he himself deserved to be punished, and only G-d's mercy spared him. In truth, the concept of offerings is very high and holy. At the present state we are not even worthy of having a Temple, since today people descended many levels, and do not merit bringing offerings.
Alexander: You mentioned that we are an eternal nation. I also read some amazing things about it. Among the most ancient nations are the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Jews. It is easy to explain why the Chinese and the Japanese survived for so long - they are so large in number and they live on their own land. But how did the Jews survive, few in number and dispersed throughout the nations. How could they maintain their identity?
Yulia: But it seems that now this is coming to the end. The Harvard University made a study and their prediction is that American Jews would disappear in a few generations. American Jews have a very high rate of intermarriage and they have, on average, fewer than two children per family.
Rabbi: Yulia, I already mentioned that G-d only keeps his covenant with religious Jews. The truth is that Reform and Conservative Jews have a very high rate of assimilation and have very few children. However, Orthodox Jews do not intermarry and they have many children, so our numbers are increasing. If Harvard studies were right, they should conclude that in a few generations, all those people who will consider themselves Jewish will be Orthodox. My sincere hope is that Moshiach will come soon, and then all Jews will become religious.
With regards to your question, Alexander, it is even more amazing that all of this was predicted by the Torah. The Torah tells us that we will be dispersed among the nations, few in number, always wandering from land to land, yet we will survive until the time that G-d will bring us back into the Land of Israel. Whoever wrote the Torah must have been in complete control of history, since such predictions are totally without parallel. There is only one nation throughout history that was exiled from its land, yet retained its identity and its religion. Many explanations of Jewish survival were offered by historians, but none are satisfying. There could be only one explanation: G-d wanted the Jewish people to survive.
Alexander: I think the Jews survived because the rituals of Torah made them different.
Rabbi: There were many nations that had specific rituals that the rest of the world did not have. The Ammonites, the Moabites, the Philistines, the Midianites all had specific religions, languages, laws, but they are all gone. In any case, nobody can explain how Torah could predict that these things would happen to us.
Alexander: What if Torah was written after these events already started to occur?
Rabbi: All historians agree that Torah was written more than 2,500 years ago. More than two thousand years ago, it was translated into Greek, and even then it was called the Ancient Jewish Book. Since that time, the Greek translation was preserved by non-Jewish nations. Our world wide dispersion, however, only started about two thousand years ago.
Rosa: You mentioned that Jews are supposed to always go from country to country in their exile. This is certainly true about European Jews, but a lot of Asian Jews stayed in one place. In Russia, we had Bukharian Jews who claimed that they lived in Uzbekistan for the last 2,500 years.
Rabbi: This is a very good question, Rosa. The truth is, there are two primary places in the Bible where we are told that we will be exiled from our land. At the end of the third book of Moses, our first exile is foretold. This prediction was fulfilled when the Babylonians conquered our land over 2,500 years ago, destroyed the first Temple and exiled the Jews. After seventy years, under the reign of Persian king Cyrus, we were permitted to return to our land and rebuild the second Temple.
However, less than half of all Jews returned, the majority remained in Babylon, Persia, Media (the present Iraq and Iran) and other countries. The Bukharian Jews are precisely the descendants of those people who remained in exile. The first exile was not supposed to be to a distant land, and the Torah does not say that we will have to go from country to country without rest.
The second prediction of exile is in the end of the last book of Moses. The Torah tells us that a nation from far away, whose language we won't know, will come and exile us. Jews will be scattered from one end of the world to the other and go from place to place without rest. This was fulfilled when the Romans came, destroyed the second Temple, and exiled our ancestors. We, Ashkenasic Jews are descendants of these people and indeed all the predictions of the Torah were fulfilled through us. At the end of this exile, we are supposed to return to G-d in complete repentance, as the Torah (Deuteronomy 30) describes:
There shall come a time when you shall experience all the words of blessing and curse that I presented to you. There, among the nations where G-d will scatter you, you will reflect on the situation. You will then return to G-d your L-rd, and you will obey Him, doing everything that I am commanding you today. You and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul. G-d will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. G-d your L-rd will once again gather you from among all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you are scattered to the ends of heavens, G-d your L-rd will gather you up from there and He will take you back. G-d your L-rd will then bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. G-d will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors. G-d will remove the barriers from your hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love G-d your L-rd with all your heart and soul. Thus you will survive. ...
Note that this is speaking of our generation, for in the previous generations, when there were some people who left traditional Judaism, their descendants usually assimilated even more. The cases of people who are born in non-religious families and became religious were virtually unknown.
In our day this is quite common. Many people come back to Orthodox Judaism, people who were born into families with totally non-religious background. Not only that, but they often succeed in bringing their parents along. The Torah continues:
You will repent and obey G-d, keeping all His commandments, as I prescribe them to you today. G-d will then grant you a good surplus in all the work of your hands, in the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your livestock, and the fruit of your land. G-d will once again rejoice in you for good, just as He rejoiced in your fathers. All this will happen when you obey G-d your L-rd, keeping all His commandments and decrees, as they are written in this book of Torah, and when you return to G-d your L-rd with all your heart and soul. For this commandment that I am prescribing to you today is not too difficult or remote from you. It is not in heaven, so that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?" It is not over the sea so that you should say, "Who will cross the sea and get it for us, so that we will be able to hear it and keep it?" It is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can keep it. See! Today I have set before you a free choice between life and good, and death and evil. I have commanded you today to love G-d your L-rd, to walk in His paths, and to keep His commandments, decrees and laws. You will then survive and flourish, and G-d your L-rd will bless you in the land that you are about to occupy.
Dmitry. And what if predicting the future is possible without the spirit of prophecy? Look, for example, at predictions Nostradamus.
Rabbi. The predictions of Nostradamus are so vague and obscure, that it is possible to adjust many historical events to fit them, and even then the events of history are only similar to his predictions but do not coincide. Even in dreams we often see some details of will occur. On the other hand, look at the predictions of the Torah. How much precision, even small details of our exile are described correctly. For example, the fact that during the second destruction Jews will be sent to Egypt on ships and sold on slave markets, but there will be so many of them that there will be nobody to buy. And that’s precisely what happened: Emperor Titus filled whole ships with Jews and sent them to Egypt for sale. There were so many Jewish slaves that their cost was less than food for a horse. Notice that Titus could send Jews to any other countries of the world or bring them to Egypt by land, but it happened like the Torah had predicted. Egypt in general could even not exist by time of fulfillment of this prophecy as many neighboring nations like Amon, Moav, Edom had ceased to exist But Egypt was still an important country in that region and had the world slaves market, and that’s where Titus sent the conquered Jews.
Moreover, in our books sometimes the exact dates of events are predicted. For example, in the book of Zohar it is predicted, that in year 5600 there will be an enormous splash in scientific knowledge, that finally will prepare for the world for arrival of Mashiach. Year 5600 in the Jewish calendar corresponds to 1840 in secular calendar. Notice the scientific progress in the last 168 years that had changed our life. If Mashiach had come 200 years ago, he would have to send his message through couriers on horses, but presently he will have mass media at his disposal. When all radio stations will broadcast lessons of Torah and righteousness as well as the Seven Laws of Noach for non-Jews, we will see with our eyes the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: "All Earth will be full knowledge of G-D as waters fill the seas".
Naum. When you read the prophecy that in the end of days Jews will return to the observance of precepts, I thought, that the Torah seems to constantly emphasize action. Is not belief the most important thing? I have been through a lot, but I always tried to believe that maybe G-d exists. I was also always a good person, and I tried to be good to others. Russia was a very difficult place to live. You can't even imagine what I have been through. Yet, I always helped others, shared what I have with those who needed it.
Rabbi: Rosa already asked me a similar question during our first meeting.
Rosa: Yes, I did. It seems that Torah overemphasizes certain details of commandments, but is not being a good person a lot more important. Does G-d really care if I turn on the light on Shabbos. I have seen a certain "religious Jew" who keeps Shabbos, but he was rude to me. I have also heard stories from other Russian Jews, about how they were mistreated by the "Orthodox."
Rabbi: All the commandments of the Torah are either commandments between G-d and people, or commandments between different people. If somebody sins by breaking a commandment, he has to repent, ask G-d for forgiveness and resolve not to repeat this sin again. However, if the commandment involved other people, he also has to ask these people whom he wronged for forgiveness, and make whatever monetary or other type of restitution that is needed.
Torah does not "overemphasize" commandments between G-d and men or commandments between different people. Both are equally important. However, somebody who keeps his obligations towards G-d and is not careful about his duties towards other people causes a very great damage. People look at him and do not want to keep any commandments. Since every religious Jew is a representative of Judaism, we must be extra careful to be nice and to keep our obligations to others. I need to add however, that not every story you hear about religious Jews is true. Many of the stories are greatly exaggerated, and some are totally made up. Unfortunately many people do not want to keep the commandments and they, often subconsciously, want to see religious Jews in bad light so that they could say: "What good is keeping the commandments when such and such keeps commandments and he is a terrible person?"
However, even if you are sure that certain Orthodox Jews misbehaved, you still have no right to stop keeping the commandments for that reason. Everybody is responsible for himself, and after you die, when you will be asked why you did not keep commandments you can't answer: "I met Orthodox Jews who were not nice to me."
Rosa: So what is the need for the specific details of commandments? Why is it important that I do not turn on the light on Shabbos?
Rabbi: We already discussed, Rosa, that there are many spiritual worlds that G-d created and they are in direct correspondence to the physical world. Our relatively simple actions can cause great rectification or great destruction in spiritual worlds. Some people say that many commandments are not applicable today, but imagine somebody went around saying: "The commandment not to kill does not apply in our day. In the old times, in order to kill a person you had to take a big stone and hit his head, but today all you need is to fire from a gun." The one who makes such statements would be considered crazy.
Nevertheless, the same applies to keeping Shabbos. Even though making light today is a lot easier than it was three thousand years ago, this action is classified as creative and is forbidden on Shabbos. A Jew who turns on the light on Shabbos or does any other work that is forbidden by Jewish law, causes a great destruction in spiritual worlds.
Moreover, there are plenty of things that even in the old times were very easy to do, but were still forbidden. For example, one can't carry a key outside on Shabbos and this law always existed since the time Torah was given. The truth is that the categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbos do not depend on how hard it is to do this work. There are 39 general types of work that were done to build the Tabernacle in the desert and all of them are forbidden to be done on Shabbos. The Torah thus tells us that on Shabbos the Jews were not permitted to continue with the building of the Tabernacle.
Dmitry: There was no electricity when the Torah was given. How do you know it is forbidden to use it?
Yulia: If it is really forbidden to turn the light on, why do Orthodox Jews set up a timer on Friday, which turns the light on and off on Shabbos? Is not this self deceit?
Rabbi: First, you should understand that I am not trying to argue with you simply for the sake of argument. I am not trying to prove that I am right or that you are wrong. So too, our rabbis are just trying to forbid us what Torah forbids and to permit what Torah permits. Jewish law is always decided using the Talmud - the law that Moses received at Mount Sinai and was transmitted orally from generation to generation until it was written down about fifteen hundred years ago. The rabbis can't change anything. When a new question is posed, the rabbis answer it using the Talmud. In particular, our sages learn from the Talmud that heating metal till it becomes red is prohibited on Shabbos. Thus, turning on incandescent light on Shabbos is prohibited by the Torah. Concerning switching on fluorescent light, the nature of prohibition is Rabbinical and this is also learned from the Talmud.
With regards to your question, Yulia, the Talmud teaches us that an action done on Friday is permitted even if it causes work to be done on Shabbos. Thus, for example, people always lit candles Friday night before sundown, even though the candle will continue burning through part of Shabbos, and later will get extinguished. This is permitted despite the fact that extinguishing a candle by hands is forbidden on Shabbos.
Alexander: What exactly are “Rabbinical prohibitions?”
Rabbi: The written Torah gives authority to the rabbis to make “fences” around the commandments. One of the reasons for these fences is so that if a person accidentally breaks a commandment, he would be breaking a “fence” rather than breaking a Torah prohibition. For instance, Torah prohibits eating meat and milk that was cooked together. The rabbis prohibited eating milk and meat together even if they were cooked separately. They also required us to wait between eating meat and milk products.
Another reason for Rabbinical commandments, is the following: when the Torah told us that certain things are forbidden, it basically revealed that these things can’t be “elevated.” As the book of Tania explains, the word “asur” (forbidden) comes from the root meaning tied up, whereas the word “mutar” (permitted) comes from the word loose. The purpose of a Jew is to elevate the material, and Torah tells us those objects that can be elevated, and those that can not.
Looking back at the example of meat and milk, these two substances have different spiritual roots that should not be mixed together. Thus, the rabbis went further than Torah does, and prohibited eating mixtures containing meat and dairy products.
Imagine a son who does the will of his beloved father. If only the father hints that he likes certain things and hates others, the son would try to eliminate all the things his father despises, and search for the things his father likes. So too, our Torah tells us what G-d likes, and what He does not, and we go further than Torah requires in order to do the will of our Heavenly Father more fully. Note however, that the Talmud is very careful to distinguish those commandments that were given at Sinai from those that were instituted by the rabbis .
Alexander: What if the rabbis made a mistake?
Rabbi: The Torah tells us that we should always listen to the sages of our generation. G-d wanted that when new questions in Jewish law arise, we would ask the leading rabbis who are well versed in the law, and follow their decision. In a situation where there is a conflict of opinions, most of the time we listen to the majority.
Alexander: What if a mistake was made long ago? According to your words, about two thousand years passed between the time of Moses and the time the Talmud was written. Maybe the Talmud does not contain the same laws that were given to Moses.
Rabbi: For one thing, G-d promised us in the written Torah that we will always be able to keep the law. If the Talmud has "mistakes", then there are no Jews today who still keep the law correctly, and G-d would not let this happen. Note how the sect of Karaim almost completely disappeared from our midst. For many generations these Jews who rejected the Talmud kept keeping the commandments of the Torah according to their interpretation, yet Hashem did not keep his covenant with them!
Also, a great amount of archaeological evidence was discovered to support the fact that the commandments we keep are very ancient. Take for example the commandment of Tefillin: two boxes that Jewish men put on every weekday. Thousands of details surround the laws of how to make kosher Tefillin. Very old pairs of Tefillin, from times long before Talmud was written, were discovered by archeologists and they correspond in all details to the Tefillin we have today. Same applies to ancient mikvas – pools for ritual immersion, and other articles.
At last, there is scientific evidence for the validity of the Talmud, for it contains a lot of information that was unknown to people until recently. Whole books are written about it, see for instance “Science in the Torah” by Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Levi.
Alexander: Does it mean the scientific statements in the Talmud are always in agreement with contemporary science?
Rabbi: No. In general all statements of the Talmud that seem to deal with nature can be divided into two categories: statements of Agada and true scientific statements. The Agada is the part of the Talmud that deals with secrets of Torah that are transferred in unassuming form of stories. Many books were written on esoteric explanations of Agadas of the Talmud. Some of the most famous are writings of Arizal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, writings of Chasidic masters and writings of the Vilna Gaon and his students. One is often amazed at how much meaning is contained in Agada which at first seemed so unassuming. Yet if one would try to take the Agadas of Talmud at face value, many of them would seem to be making exaggerated statements that don’t fit into any “scientific” explanation.
Regarding the “scientific” statements of the non-Agadic parts of the Talmud, many of them support the fact that either our sages had traditions coming from Mount Sinai or they possessed something similar to prophetic spirit with secrets of nature revealed to them. There are tens of examples of Talmudic statements on various areas of science whose truth is only revealed in our day through latest scientific discoveries.
At the same time there are a number of statements in the Talmud that seem to contradict contemporary science. This may be due to the fact that we don’t fully understand what our Rabbi meant. It is also possible that science itself will one day discover an error. There have been many cases in last century that scientists thought a particular statement of our sages in incorrect but later changed their mind. The general tendency of the last 100 years is that more and more scientific statements of the Talmud are proven to be true.
Alexander: So at any rate you can never accept a possibility that the sages of the Talmud were wrong in something?
Rabbi: I did not finish. I wanted to add that the sages were great people and if any statement of theirs does not make sense to us, we should not hurry to assume they were wrong. However they can certainly make mistakes and there are a number of cases in the Talmud when a sage was first incorrect because he forgot or did not hear a statement made by his Rebbe. We therefore find statements like: “what I told you was wrong, and this is really what the law is…” Certainly if the sage could forget a particular law of Torah, why can’t he forget or be mistaken about some physical law?
However this does not make any practical difference for us. We have to follow the final conclusion of the Talmud no matter what. These are the conditions under which the Hashem gave us the Torah. This applies to even decision on Jewish law, how much more so it makes no difference to us if a particular scientific statement of the sages was possible made under incorrect assertions.
Note that even the great Sanhedrin could make a mistake and if it is discovered later, in some cases they had to bring an offering. A whole tractate of Talmud deals primarily with this law. However it’s certainly not up to us to know whether there is a mistake in a particular tradition or not. I can also add that in general the laws of Torah depend on the understanding of the greatest living rabbis. So by the very fact they “permitted” something, it becomes permitted spiritually as well. After all, it’s not only the physical piece of meat that determines of it is permitted or forbidden, but the spiritual root of it.
Alexander. Could you explain this idea of spiritual roots?
Rabbi. Look, the law of Torah depends not only on molecules and atoms. For example, the piece of not kosher meat can become kosher while not changing physically.
Rabbi. If the piece of not kosher meat accidentally got mixed up with two kosher ones, three people can eat all three pieces. Though one of them will certainly eat a piece which was considered not kosher before, the Torah permits it. It turns out, that the spiritual root of meat has exchanged, when it was mixed though physically it had not changed.
Yulia: What about the other religions? If only Orthodox Judaism is true, does it mean that all non-Jews will be punished after they die.
Rabbi: Not at all. The Talmud tells us that righteous non-Jews have a share in the world to come. Torah was given only to Jews and its 613 commandments are applicable to the Jewish nation alone. There are, however, seven universal commandments that are applicable to all people. After the world's flood, G-d made a covenant with Noah and gave him the so called "Seven Noachite Laws." A non-Jew who keeps these laws will be rewarded after death. There are, however, non-Jews who want to become Jewish. Such opportunity exists. The conversion requires circumcision (for males), immersion in the mikva, and accepting 613 commandments. After the conversion, a person becomes Jewish and has to keep all 613 commandments.
Yulia: What about those Jews who grew up among non-Jews and do not know about the Torah laws?
Rabbi: I do not know exactly how G-d will judge them. We do know, however, that G-d's judgment is truthful and fair. One thing I may suppose is that a person who never had a chance to learn about the laws of Torah might be given another chance on Earth. Kabala teaches us that certain souls come to Earth more than once, to rectify what applies to them. Possibly, these people are among those given another chance.
Naum: So what about the question of Jewish suffering? Why do the righteous suffer?
Rabbi: A lot of books were written on this subject. If you really want to study this in depth, read, for example, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber's: "Darkness Before Dawn." In general, you should keep in mind that the main judgment is after death. Suffering in this world atones for misdeeds, and it is better for the righteous to suffer in this world, so that their reward in the world to come is multiplied. Certain wicked people, on the other hand, prosper in this world for the few good deeds they possibly did. Still, how G-d judges each particular individual is not within our power to understand. We do, however, know that after death each person is shown his entire life on Earth, and he himself seals the verdict, saying to G-d: "You judged me justly."
With regards to the Holocaust in particular, the Talmud tells us that in the end of days, if Jews will not be righteous to merit the coming of Mashiach, then G-d will put a king over them whose decrees will be as hard as Haman's and this will cause us to return to G-d. Now, close to two hundred years ago, the Reform movement started in Germany, and slowly millions of Jews left the flock of Orthodoxy. And indeed, the new Haman - Hitler, rose to power and wanted to annihilate all Jews, just as Haman wanted to thousands of years before.
The result of the Holocaust was not that people lost faith. On the contrary, the majority of people who were religious before the Holocaust only became stronger believers after witnessing the miracles G-d performed to ensure their survival. You already related your own story, about a miracle which saved you from a sure death. There are hundreds of such stories told by eye-witnesses. Those Jews who came out of the Holocaust as non-believers, generally, were not religious before the Holocaust either, but those who had strong faith before became even greater believers after.
In any case, our entire history after exile is filled with Jewish suffering. For example, during the Crusades, or during the Chmelnitsky massacres, whole cities of Jews - men, women and children were murdered. The main difference between the Holocaust and the other catastrophes is that in the old times it was not surprising that barbaric anti-Semitic nations killed Jews, but the fact that "civilized" Germans would kill us, was surprising. But everything is part of G-d's plan. The very country where Jews abandoned Judaism first, "recognizing" the German culture as superior to the Jewish, that country showed the greatest barbarism. Long before the war, our sages were already writing that because of those who call Berlin their "Jerusalem," destructive fire will come out. Only when the masses of our people ignored the warning of the sages, the decree was sealed.
Naum: If so, why were so many righteous people destroyed?
Rabbi: This is exactly why you should read the book of Rabbi Tauber. I can only tell you now that G-d did not promise any particular person that by keeping the commandments he will be spared punishment in this world. Many righteous people lived their lives in poverty and suffering. But the main thing is the world to come, where a record of all achievement and suffering of a person is made. If a person suffered in this world and did not complain against G-d's judgment, his reward in the world to come is multiplied. If G-d compensated us for keeping the commandments in this world, our freedom of choice would be take away.
Now, even though we do not, generally, get rewarded in this world for keeping the commandments, G-d did promise us that if Jews as a group will be righteous, then we will live in our land and will be able to perform Torah's commandments undisturbed. Jews share communal responsibility in this world. Thus, every Jew that becomes religious does not only help himself, but he helps his fellow Jews as well. The Talmud tells us that each person should view the world as having as many sins as merits. Thus, if he performs a single commandment he tips the scale of the entire world towards merits, if he commits a single transgression, he tips the world’s scale towards sins.
Now, in the time before World War II, the Jews as a group were leaving the laws of Torah and were judged as wicked, so the destruction reached everybody - the righteous and the wicked. The righteous were happy they were given an opportunity to perform the commandment of sanctification of G-d's name by dying martyrs’ deaths; they went to the gas chambers with blessing, prayers and confessions. It is impossible to imagine the great reward G-d prepared for them in the world to come, but the result of their death is being felt in this world also. Rabbi Tauber explains that massive return to Judaism that we witness around the world today is a direct result of Holocaust. The momentum has shifted. Even though there are still many non-religious Jews, more and more people are coming back to religion, and we hope that G-d will not punish us by another Holocaust.
Alexander: You often speak about the reward in the next world, but nobody ever died and came back to tell us.
Rabbi: Actually, there are a lot of people who had revelations from the souls of those who died. One of the great books in Russian to read on this subject is Sheina Katz's "There was a voice to me". In it, she describes how a soul came to her in Russia over thirty five years ago in order to teach her to keep the commandments of the Torah. The soul predicted a number of things, including the exact date, about ten years later, when Sheina would leave Russia for the land of Israel. From an atheist, Sheina became a religious Jew, and abandoning everything she had, immigrated to the land of Israel at the age of fifty five. Sheina is an honest person, (as testified by those who know her), and we have no reason to suspect she is lying.
Note that precisely in the country of atheism, the few people who continued to keep the commandments deserved special Divine Providence with many hidden miracles. Today many books are written about them. However, since their stories can not be verified "scientifically,” I can't convince you to believe them. This is the reason I only used objective evidence for Judaism. Note that many of the scientific proofs we have today were discovered quite recently. This must certainly be part of G-d's plan, since in the old times, Jews were religious anyway. Only now, when the majority of Jews are not religious, all this evidence was discovered to ensure their return to Torah. We also live in an age of almost "open miracles." It is enough to look at the Gulf War to be convinced that G-d protects us. Thirty nine missiles fell on densely populated areas of the land of Israel, and even though they caused great monetary damage, only one Jew died from the explosions. Stories of miracles that protected people from the Scud missiles were even published in the newspapers. In contrast, the Scuds that fell on Saudi Arabia cost hundreds of lives.
Alexander: So what would be the best “scientific proof” that Torah is true?
Rabbi: I can’t judge which of the proofs is “the best,” but I can offer you one of the proofs I personally like. You may have heard the words “Torah Codes?”
Alexander: Yes. People tried to select equidistant letter sequences from Torah, i.e. they read sequences of equally spaced letters in the text. For example, you can read every fiftieth letter of the Torah, or every tenth etc. Sometimes, a meaningful word or a phrase would come out, so they concluded that there are hidden messages in the Torah, and therefore Torah was written by G-d. I could never believe this “proof” since every long text, if read this way, would sometimes produce meaningful words and phrases. Just recently I heard that a number of mathematicians signed a proclamation that they are not convinced by these “codes”.
Rabbi: Actually, “Torah codes” can prove that Torah was given by G-d, and no codes of the same kind could be found in another book. You are certainly correct that a long enough text is statistically expected to have many “codes”. This is especially true in regards to relatively short words. But the whole point is that the Torah Codes research tries to check those codes that have low enough probability to prove the existence of this phenomenon.
First, you should know that this research was conducted by the scientists of world renown. It is shown again and again that Torah predicts events that are happening in every generation up to today. The research is carried out in a priory manner. For example, in one of recent experiments the scientists searched for codes of the destruction of "the World Trade Center". Keywords were taken directly from newspaper articles and all information on this act of terrorism was found in one place of Torah, in the Book of Numbers. In another experiment, they searched for the name "Bin Laden" and a completely intelligent phrase came out: “I will call you an outcast, cursed is Bin Laden and the revenge is [left] for Moshiach”. I personally challenged the opponents of the Torah codes some time ago if they can find even one meaningful phrase of 20 letters in any book other than Torah. So far the challenge is left unanswered.
An earlier experiment conducted by professor Ilya Rips and Rabbi Doron Witztum proved that the dates of birth and death of the rabbis occur in the Torah in close proximity to their names. Names of rabbis were taken directly from the encyclopedia, and all of them lived in last one thousand years, long after the writing of the Torah. In addition an American mathematician Dr. Harold Gans had shown that the codes of cities where these rabbis lived also appear near to their names.
The exact nature of the experiment is too technical to discuss at Shabbos table. However, if you have a desire and you know math well, it is easy to get in touch with professor Rips and to verify the logic of the proof. He often visits New York, and you can also contact him by e-mail.
Many people became religious because of Torah Codes. For example, Daniel Michelson, was a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and when he got acquainted with these materials, he became an orthodox Jew. Most scientists who try to "disprove the codes", do it for ideological reasons. They have accused the authors of the research of being dishonest with the data. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by professor Ilya Rips as an answer to their allegation:
What in the world could have been my motive in attempting a hoax, knowing that sufficient experimentation would certainly falsify it? Surely I would have to have become deeply and sincerely convinced of the reality of so extraordinary a phenomenon to be willing to present it to such eminent critics of such high qualification and skill; especially knowing how utterly at odds our claim is with their world-view. Anyone who understands how science works, knows that any real scientific recognition of an important new phenomenon occurs only after many independent observers confirm its reality through independent investigation. This is even more true when the claims are of an extraordinary nature. Even if no defect were ever found in our original paper, the mere absence of independent confirmation would consign it to oblivion. What is not real is not real and never will be confirmed. One who understands this, has no slightest reason in the world to try to produce false evidence for non-existing phenomena.
In case of with Torah Codes, the research was checked many times by independent researchers. Recently at a conference of Images Recognition in Hong Kong seven reports on Codes of Torah were presented, and they were met with huge interest. Yet some scientists still oppose the codes, primarily due to the fact that they don’t believe such a phenomenon is possible.
Alexander. The point is not why there are opponents of codes. The question is, whether their arguments are strong to place this research in doubt?
Rabbi. In my honest opinion the research of the opponents is the best proof in favor of codes.
Alexander. Surely you are joking ...
Rabbi. No, I am serious. In fact if not for the research of the opponents, it would be possible to think that codes have refutations but the mathematicians are not even trying to disclaim them since the codes simply do not interest anybody. But when the Codes of Torah have caused such tumult and nevertheless the opponents did not manage to deny them except by means of deceits, now we can be assured that the codes really work! It reminds me of a story of one friend of ours who became religious after studying "Bible Criticism" at a university. Having seen how illogical the arguments against the Torah are she began to realize that the Torah could not be written by people...
Alexander. So what is the deceit of the opponents of Torah Codes?
Rabbi. I see this topic interests you a lot! It’s too long to tell all the details but I will describe the situation in brief. An Australian mathematician Brendan McKey and some of his Israeli colleagues tried to deny codes of a Torah for many years. Actually they claimed that if we select the spelling of the names of rabbis in the experiment it is possible to find such combinations that will appear in close proximity in the Torah. But it is possible to pick up other spellings of names and dates so that they will come close in any book like the translation of book "War and Peace" into a Hebrew. The McKey and company went through the list of rabbis, asking questions like: "Why did you spell like this and not like that"? But they concealed the fact that in many cases writing in another way will still make the experiment successful and at times with even improve the results. This alone shows the honesty of Rips and Witztum who already said in the very beginning that they used the spelling given by an independent linguist.
Subsequently professor Rips checked up the names of fathers of rabbis and they also appeared in the Torah in close proximity to their names. McKey could not find any convincing objections regarding that experiment since spelling of fathers’ names followed the known rules and did not leave opportunities for manipulation.
McKey also falsely stated that Harold Gans "had changed his mind" and does not support the codes any longer. Actually it took Gans two years to carefully check the spelling of the cities given to him for his experiment, and had found them to be correct after receiving many letters from independent expert rabbis from three different countries. Notice that the public pressure against anyone who supports the codes is so great that even the editor of "Statistical Science" journal had refused to publish an answer of professor Rips to McKey’s accusations.
Alexander. Have you yourself tried to check the research of the Torah Codes?
Rabbi. Yes, this topic got me interested from the very beginning. When the first publication on the codes came out, I was already religious and studied on mathematical faculty of the Princeton University. I went to the library and made copies of the journal, I still have them today. On one of Shabboses I delivered a lecture on Torah Codes during the morning prayers and heard from a visitor – a religious mathematician from Australia, that in his country there are opponents of codes. This is how I first heard about McKey ...
Some time ago I sent e-mails to various opponents of the Torah Codes. I asked them whether there is even one intelligent phrase of 20 letters, in codes from other books. In fact from the point of view of statistics, the more letters in a phrase, the lower is the probability of its random occurrence. With each extra letter, the probability goes down by a about factor of 20. Thus for instance a phrase of 20 letters has extremely low probabilities. For this reason, even billion monkeys typing randomly for a thousand years will never write even short paragraph that makes sense.
The majority of those to whom I have written, did not answer, and one answer I received was clearly hostile. Two referred me to look at McKey’s papers, and we already know his intellectual honesty. At any rate nobody so far answered this challenge. In the Torah however there are a number of codes that have more than 20 letters, some describing events of modern history.
One of the foremost codes critic, Dr. Maya Bar-Hillel commenced her recent anti-codes presentation to academics and scientists at the Hebrew University with the following remarks: "Regardless of the evidence, the Codes phenomenon obviously cannot be valid because that would mean that G-d wrote the Torah."
We could call this phenomenon “dogmatic atheism,” - people want to remain atheists regardless of the evidence to the Truth of Torah. In effect they are saying “don’t confuse me with facts, I made up my mind already” (a quote from “Days are Coming” by Rabbi Tauber.) In fact, the majority of those scientists who are against the codes say that “no evidence in the world would convince them.” This is where our freedom of choice comes in - to recognize the fact that Abraham recognized almost four thousand years ago - there exists G-d who is in control.
Rosa: I just have one more question, which I asked you last time we met.
Rabbi: I remember, I remember. You said: "Is it true that everybody who becomes religious, does so simply because they were 'proven' that Judaism is true?" The answer is "No." Even though there are some people who became religious primarily as a result of proofs, there are many various reasons why people become religious. The majority simply try it and they like it. The Creator wants us to return to him, just to open our hearts even slightly. Any person who returned to observance will tell you that as soon as they tried to return they experienced tremendous help from Above.
When a non-religious Jew asks himself a question "why do I live?" - he has no answer. If not for G-d and his Torah, our existence would be totally pointless, and life - devoid of any meaning and hope. A Torah-true Jew never has a problem with "how to kill time." For him, life is an opportunity to do the will of G-d. He may be a doctor or a carpenter, an engineer or a shoe maker, a programmer or a teacher, but whatever he does, his primary purpose is to demonstrate that the real power belongs to G-d.
Thus, his entire job can be elevated and considered a "Kiddush Hashem" - sanctification of G-d's name. Our lives are filled with opportunities to keep commandments, and nothing compares to the feeling of having the job "well done." You already described your grandmother's face when she used to light the candles. The truth is, all commandments make our faces shine. It is well known to psychologists that religious Jews are the happiest group of people living on Earth. To the outsider, our commandments seem to be to hard to keep. The truth is, the commandments are easy for those who keep them. All you have to do is try. As we already read in the Torah:
For this commandment that I am prescribing to you today is not too difficult or remote from you. It is not in heaven, so that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?" It is not over the sea so that you should say, "Who will cross the sea and get it for us, so that we will be able to hear it and keep it?" It is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can keep it.
The choice of coming back remains in our hands. It is a very simple choice and at the same time it’s extremely difficult. It’s easy for some but for others it remains a barrier they can’t pass their entire life. And this crucial decision is where we create for ourselves “the ways that we choose”.