Defend Your Faith When It Is Blasphemed

The Disputation

By David Klinghoffer

Published April 20, 2007, issue of April 20, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

While the Jewish community is energetic about replying to perceived slurs against Jews or the State of Israel, we are remarkably passive when it comes to answering insults against our religion or our God.

For example, best-selling atheist author Richard Dawkins mocks the God of the Hebrew Bible as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Dawkins’s book, “The God Delusion,” is devoted to excoriating Judaism no less than Christianity. An Oxford University biologist and celebrity evolutionist, Dawkins has now been on The New York Times best-seller list for 28 weeks.

Another aggressively atheist author, Sam Harris, joined Dawkins at the top of Publishers Weekly’s list of “religion best-sellers” last month with his crudely effective polemic “Letter to a Christian Nation.” Despite the title, the crudest caricature he draws is of the Hebrew Bible.

The title of another atheist tract, written by journalist Christopher Hitchens and due out next month, gives you a sense of what view the author will take of the God of Israel: “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” As the entertainingly acidic Hitchens writes, “monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.”

Interestingly, Harris and Hitchens are both Jewish by birth. But Jews are accustomed to confronting other Jews about their objectionable views.

In calling for confrontation, I most certainly do not have in mind demands for retractions or apologies. Instead, consider the popular Christian tradition of “apologetics.”

The term doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry. To be an “apologist” means to defend your faith before a general public in a sophisticated literary mode. C.S. Lewis, an Oxford scholar and author of “Mere Christianity,” is perhaps the most beloved modern Christian apologist.

Today, Jews do nothing remotely like that. We once did, however, with gusto. Maimonides’s “The Guide for the Perplexed” is a classic apologetic book, championing Torah against doubts raised by then-modern skeptics.

In fact, the Mishnah makes it every Jew’s obligation to be an effective apologist, an obligation that most of us ignore nowadays: “Know how to answer an unbeliever” (Pirke Avot 2:14) — with the word for unbeliever being apikorus, a follower of Epicurus, the Greek philosopher.

Epicurus is known as a primary exponent of materialism, the belief that material reality is all there is in the universe. And materialism happens to be one of the most serious challenges that religion is up against today.

There are other challenges, like the idea, taught in many university religion departments around the country, that the Torah is in effect a literary fraud. According to more than a few secular scholars, the Five Books of Moses weren’t authored by Moses, as the Torah claims, but rather were stitched together centuries later from works by other writers.

Richard Elliott Friedman’s book “Who Wrote the Bible?” gives a popular-level rendition of this theory. No one in academia that I’m aware of has been bold enough to directly call the Torah a fraud. But surely if we were talking about any nonsacred book, that is what the conclusions of modern biblical criticism would add up to.

The same academic viewpoint designates the Zohar, the Bible of Jewish mysticism, as a cynical medieval hoax masquerading as the more ancient work it purports to be.

That the Zohar was authored not in the second century by Shimon bar Yochai but instead in the 13th by Moses de Leon — who allegedly thought no one would buy his work if it appeared under his own name — is the accepted secular scholarly view and is approved by authorities in the field, such as Gershom Scholem and Isaiah Tishby. If you’ve got a kid in college, just check his Judaic studies syllabi; no class on Kabbalah would be complete without Scholem.

We hardly even consider that these opinions present our faith as nothing better than, to quote Hitchens, “a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents.”

Traditional Jews may see the problem, but they do virtually nothing to address it. The Orthodox community, to which I belong, invests generous resources in Torah for consumption by other Orthodox Jews. That’s wonderful. But we don’t see the need when it comes to defending Judaism’s honor before the world — as the future King David did in facing down Goliath, who had “disgraced the battalions of the living God” (I Samuel 17:36).

In the case of David, the other Jews were too timid to face down the blaspheming giant. But at least the young hero had the sponsorship of the king, Saul, and thus the blessing of his fellow citizens. We have no David and no Saul.

Liberal Jews may not initially see the problem. Judaism’s assailants aren’t born-again Christians, after all, and the Jewish community has been conditioned by an irrational prejudice that the primary domestic threat worth worrying about is from born-again Christians.

But the children of liberal and traditional Jews alike will grow up in a world where God is routinely dismissed in academic and media venues as a fiction and a fraud, and where these charges go unanswered in the wider public by any Jew.

We thus teach our children, implicitly, that their religion is either indefensible or not worth defending. For anyone concerned about the future of the Jews, that is an utter disaster.

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the author of the forthcoming “Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril” (Doubleday).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.