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Chukat(Numbers 19:1-22:1)

Is the Torah Anti-Semitic?

The authorship of the Torah has one of two possibilities: either God wrote it, or a human being wrote it. Let's take for argument's sake the side that a human being wrote it. If so, we discover a very strange phenomenon.

This human being could not have been a Jew! Can we actually believe that a Jew would write such negative, detrimental, and destructive descriptions of his ancestors?

Listen to what the author of the Torah describes: That his patriarch, Jacob was a liar and tricked his father, Isaac; that the sons of Jacob kidnapped and sold their brother Joseph into slavery; that the Jews of the Desert preferred slavery in Egypt rather than freedom; that the Jews are a stiff-necked people; that Moshe, the true prophet of God, complains to Him and does not want to be the leader of what he describes as such a rebellious nation; that the Jews of the Desert worshiped a golden calf; that they showed a lack of trust in God by believing the spies' evil reports concerning Israel.

The list goes on and on.

Included in this list is the event in Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar 20:7-13) that tells the story of Moshe and Aharon's failure in hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, in order to draw water to quench the people's thirst. Moshe and Aharon are punished and not permitted to enter the Land of Israel.

Of course, the real meaning and interpretation of these difficult passages are explained by all the commentaries and they are not as negative as they seem. Sometimes the verses are simply misunderstood at the surface level and not meant negatively at all (as is the case with Jacob seeming to trick Isaac). But no Jew would ever risk the tarnishing of his ancestors' reputations even if only at the superficial level of understanding.

Why would a Jew write such terrible things about his ancestors? No other nation records an unfavorable history of their ancestors. One cannot read of a single defeat of Egypt in Egyptian history books. One must turn to the Assyrian texts to read of Egyptian failures, and vice versa. Even today, there are major distinctions between British and American history books in their accounts as to what happened in the American Revolutionary War. But somehow the fact that descendants generally look at their ancestors with reverence in their historical writings is not true when it comes to the Jews and the Torah.

So which human wrote the Torah? It could not have been a Jew! The only possibility then is that an anti-Semite wrote it! But then we are left perplexed as to how this anti-Semite could have persuaded the Jews to accept it!

To suggest that a human wrote the Torah is not a realistic possibility.

If God wrote it, then we understand how the Jewish people accepted it. They knew what God writes is true and they trusted that He, at times, writes negative and critical descriptions only in order to teach important lessons. God, in writing such fact, does so to engage in constructive criticism.

This unique aspect of revealing negative-sounding ancestral history makes us stop and realize that God must have written the Torah. But there are other distinct facets described in the Torah that also lead to the conclusion of its Divine authorship.

The Torah makes prophecies that have come true. Now, there are many books that have made prophecies of the future such as Nostradamus, that some claim to have been true. But a close examination of these prophecies reveals them to be ambiguous and it is virtually impossible to prove their accuracy. Any 'prophecy' that can only be understood after an event has already taken place cannot be accepted as prophecy.

True prophecy is clearly comprehended before an event takes place and then we can see for ourselves whether the prophecy came to fruition or not. We find exactly such prophecies in the Torah. These prophecies are impossible for a human being to have predicted.

The fate of the Jewish nation, if they are to abandon God, is specifically described in horrid detail (See Vayikra 26, Devarim 28:15-68, 29:17-28, 30:1-10, 31:16-21, much of Yeshaya and Yechezekel). Sure enough, all of the details have indeed occurred throughout history. The Torah writes that the Jews will be thrown out of their land, return, and then thrown out again. It then foretells that the Jews will come back to Israel much later. The Jews held on to their faith in the Torah's promises of their return to Israel for 2,000 years. And now in modern times, the Jews have come back. It is surely not coincidental that there have been no other nations who have not assimilated into their occupying or host nation after hundreds of years of exile and destruction. Moreover, not only did the Jews survive 2,000 years of exile, but they did so despite being scattered among various nations without a common language or culture.

This was all stated way in advance! The Torah, written over 3,000 years ago, teaches that the Jews will be dispersed to all the corners of the earth but would maintain their distinct identity. What human being would write such nonsense? How could he expect the Jews to accept it and live with faith in it?

But if God wrote it, it is obviously understandable. He can know that the Jews would never assimilate into the nations of the world. And if the Jews knew God wrote it by their witnessing God speak to them at Sinai, their faith in their eventual return to Israel is comprehended.

(There are more points to ponder concerning the veracity of the Torah's claim that it was written by God. See Kol Yaakov V'etchanan and Behar)

If one takes the time to stop and think about the unique aspects of the Torah, one is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that the Torah could not have been written by a human being. It must have been authored by God.

Published: July 5, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Steve, July 1, 2009 12:07 PM

Self-effacement is a key to success

Why is that a failing congregation does not take responsibility for itself? Look at this parsha.

(4) Anonymous, June 22, 2007 12:51 AM

I really like this!

(3) John Landau, July 9, 2005 12:00 AM

Jews can be anti-Semites

Dear Rabbi Leff--Your assumption that Jews could never have written harsh criticisms of their own ancestors and even heroes, or have believed these criticsms, unless they came from God, is proved incorrect every day. Look at the thousands of Jewish "intellectuals" who slander Israel and the Jews in our own day. Look at the Israeli "new historians" who slander their own parents and grandparents, blaming them rather than the Arab aggressors for Israel's conflict with the Arab nations.
And look how many Jews, even Israelis, believe these "post-Zionist" lies! There is therefore no reason to assume that those passages of Torah that are critical of the Jewish people and their leaders were not written by Jews. And since the Jews of our day can be so easily persuaded to believe malicious and defamatory lies about their own ancestors, why should not the Jews of ancient times have recorded and believed the truth, both good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, about their own ancestors, patriarchs, prophets, kings and sages? We have always been a self-critical people, not sparing ourselves when we do not live up to our own highest ideals. And yes, these self-criticisms have always provided the anti-Semites with lots of ammunition.

adina, June 29, 2012 3:42 AM

what your saying makes sense, except here we are talking about a person writing a torah. If you want people to believe your book that your writing for a new religion you wouldn't be bashing your religion and downplaying your people, rather you'd be praising them or leaving out the negative parts-- or else who would follow it? His point is the article is that the Torah was written by G-d not people. Its a very different situation

(2) Anna, July 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Obvious, really...or it should have been !!!

I had never thought of this in quite that way. If the Torah was invented by a human being, it would almost certainly have down-played the less edifying stories or not been accepted as a modus vivendi by the people thus described.

I hadn't thought of proving its veracity in this way, which is why Rabbi Leff is a famous theologian and I'm not.

I agree with Brad Hedrick; fascinatingly simple indeed, like all the great ideas of the world !

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