Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Challenge You to a Debate!

In this guest post on Rabbi Harry Maryles's Emes Ve-Emunah blog, R' Motty Finkel makes the case that "by and large" those who reject Judaism do so because they do not understand "who Hashem is and what he represents." I agree with R' Harry that this and other views of R' Finkel are "shared by the majority of professionals in the field as well;" where R' Harry and I part ways is thinking that they are correct.

I am here issuing a challenge to anybody* who would like to debate me with regards to the validity of Orthodox Judaism. I would be debating that core claims of Orthodox Judaism are incorrect. The debate would be either over separate videos (that is, you would make a video of yourself making an argument and I would respond with my own video) or written-out arguments. Either way (e.g. through the video or text format), I would post both of our opinions on my blog unedited. We'll work out the details, such as the exact nature of the proposition we will debate as well as the time span (e.g. it could be every day for 2 or 3 days, once a week for a month, etc.), together. Please comment here or (if you prefer) email me at baruch.pelta@gmail.com if you have the courage of your convictions and would like to take me up on my offer.

*Because the Internet is a very large place and I may receive more than one offer, I reserve the right to reject offers.

38 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to say this for a while, but have held back. Erev Rosh Hashana may be wrong day to say it (although that's probably not a concern of yours), but your post compels me, so I finally will:

    You're what, 22? It's good to know you've got it all figured out.

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  2. Nachum:
    That's an irrational statement; I didn't imply that I've "got it all figured out." It's easier to figure out that some belief systems are wrong (as you've made clear you believe vis-a-vis the haredim, Christianity, and Left-wingism) than to figure out which one's right.

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  3. Then it's not an "irrational" statement, it's an incorrect one.

    In any event, as you well know (or should), "got it all figured out" is a well-known expression said to someone young in years who is convinced that he knows a lot more than he does.

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  5. Re Nachum:
    I don't want the post to be derailed (the point is to find a debating partner), but I'd appreciate it if you email me informing me as to specifics of what I do not know.

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  6. I like the idea of debating you, but I suspect that our positions might not be far enough apart to be much fun.

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  7. Fascinating response by Nachum. Instead of debate it's debase. Having said that, nothing really gets solved or determined by debate, it just demonstrates, well, who debates better. The best thing to be said for debate is that it opens up the mind to possibilites, which is why I think, public debate ensues in creating more skecptics. Which is why some believers stay away from it.

    Shanah Tova.

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  8. Re Baal Habos:
    I agree with the gist of that.

    Izgad:
    Sounds intriguing. I suppose we would require a very specific proposition to debate.

    (But I'm still open to other comers, please comment here or email me if you want to debate!)

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  9. Baal Habos, You are correct, public debates usually create more skeptics, but it is not because of anything other than the anti-god position is usually being debated by a person who is more eloquent and verbose.

    Baruch, what are you trying to accomplish?

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  10. E-Man, can you back up that assertion that the most eloquent debaters are on the anti-theist position? It's kind of naive to think so, because if it's simply a a matter of rhetoric, I can't imagine why believers would simply not better spokesman.

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  11. Baal Habos, the reasons that the most eloquent debaters are on the anti-theist position are:
    1) anti-theist speakers have generally gone to fine universities and spent years in the academic environment needed to understand how to properly debate.
    2) the best theist speakers are generally too busy learning, growing spiritually and teaching to waste time debating anti-theists which leaves the more eager but less experience and knowledgeable to pick up the task.
    3) Folks like Chris Hitchen have no hesitation to use derogatory and demeaning language against their opponents while responding to similar attacks by decrying religious hypocrisy. We have to be nice but they don't.

    In addition, the outcome of any debate depends on the relative levels of the debaters. For example, Baruch could debate another youngling with similar background and experience and do quite well. And then I could bring in someone with extensive Torah and secular education like Rav Adin Steinsaltz and watch things go quite differently.
    Let's use a sports analogy - the B level team will beat the C level team 9 times out of ten but who would buy tickets to such a meaningless game? And does whipping the C level team mean anything when the B level would get beaten just as easily by the A level team?

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  12. Baruch,
    What would we debate? it's like 2 people who start off with different axioms "proving" the other's conclusions wrong.
    KVCT (I do hope you find your way back home one day - and I don't mean that to be condescending)
    Joel Rich

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  13. What Izgad said. also, i don't believe in "Orthodoxy" either, though I'm glad it exists as the closest major Jewish movement with critical mass (cause UTJ is just a few academics and the internet lol) that's largely on the right track. But I'd be willing to do this regarding specific propositions, like the value of following "halakha" however loosely defined.

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  14. Joel:
    How about the validity of the belief in the God who gave the Oral Tradition and the Pentateuch at Sinai?

    Alex:
    I appreciate the offer but I'm not prepared to debate halacha a la Judith Shulevitz or Mordechai Kaplan. Here, I'm talking Chumash, gemara, Torah LiMoshe at Sinai, that sort of thing.

    Rabbosai, the offer will be standing after Rosh Hashanah. I await a taker.

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  15. Baruch,
    Same comment :-)
    KVCT
    Joel Rich

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  16. "nothing really gets solved or determined by debate"

    Exactly. That's why I'd suggest that any debate begin with a declaration by each side as to:

    1. What their position is.
    2. What the other side would have to present to sway them from their position.

    Most people are so identified with their beliefs that they won't change even when presented with a preponderance of evidence or logical proof. A declaration of what evidence/proofs are required not only helps to focus the debate but "ups the ante" as both sides publicly accept upon themselves the willingness to change if the other side can deliver.

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  17. Garnel, firstly, I was referring to these web debates, not the pro speakers. No one is necessarilly better polished. And the same is really true for the pro debaates. And finally it's silly to say that those with the the best theistic knowledge are busy growing spiritually. Using OJ as an example, most of the knowledge possesed by thise who are 'growing spiritually' center around the intricasies of of some halacha minutae. Having Rav Elyashiv join the debate isn't going to exactly help your side. Believers like to make believe that there's an answer out there - "if we could only get R. XYZ to join the fray then we'll show those kofrim!".

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  18. Baal Habos raises some great points.
    1. How many times have I confided to a friend some issue I had with Judaism, just to hear, "Well, but you know who's REALLY convincing? Rabbi so-and-so! Until you've read/listened to the necessary teachings of Rav So-and-So, you haven't REALLY looked into the issues. He's so philosophical, he's so up your alley!" R' Gottlieb, R' Chaim Zimmerman, R' Nachman Bulman, R' Avigdor Miller....for some reason, these talmidim are never ever to independently give over a cogent retelling of their teachers' lessons.

    2. Incidentally, "how do you know the Torah is true" is a darn important question for a kiruv/kiruv kruvim rabbi to have a polished answer to. If he can't answer that question in the face of the best of challenges, he probably shouldn't be teaching. Incidentally, I heard R' Orlofsky give a speech once about how if any ideology could be shown to be more rational than frumkeit, for sure he'd jump on board; it's just that Judaism is the most rational worldview there is. I recently found that I agreed with him on the former proposition, but not the latter.

    3. Theists have some darn intelligent and articulate people. Who could be more well-educated than double doctorates like Allister Mcgrath or Keith Ward?

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  19. >1. How many times have I confided to a friend some issue I had with Judaism, just to hear, "Well, but you know who's REALLY convincing? Rabbi so-and-so! Until you've read/listened to the necessary teachings of Rav So-and-So, you haven't REALLY looked into the issues. He's so philosophical, he's so up your alley!" R' Gottlieb, R' Chaim Zimmerman, R' Nachman Bulman, R' Avigdor Miller....for some reason, these talmidim are never ever to independently give over a cogent retelling of their teachers' lessons.

    Baruch, many people do not feel the need to memorize every answer to every question that they have ever had. Some might have never cared to ask the question. That doesn't really mean anything.

    >2. Incidentally, "how do you know the Torah is true" is a darn important question for a kiruv/kiruv kruvim rabbi to have a polished answer to. If he can't answer that question in the face of the best of challenges, he probably shouldn't be teaching. Incidentally, I heard R' Orlofsky give a speech once about how if any ideology could be shown to be more rational than frumkeit, for sure he'd jump on board; it's just that Judaism is the most rational worldview there is. I recently found that I agreed with him on the former proposition, but not the latter.

    Agreed, they should know how to convince people if they are going to try and convince people.

    >3. Theists have some darn intelligent and articulate people. Who could be more well-educated than double doctorates like Allister Mcgrath or Keith Ward?

    What does this have to do with what is being talked about? Apparently, Baal Habos was talking about internet bloggers. If this is the case than I change my statement. There is not more convincing one way or the other on the internet. There are fools on each side that sound ridiculous and there are intelligent people on each side that make their arguments convincingly (to the same extent). However, the believer will agree with one side and the skeptic will agree with the other.

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  20. E-man, RE 1, the problem is that the rabbis they're referring to don't have "the answers," they just sound cogent and convincing. RE 3, the conversation obviously shifted to include pro-debates with Garnel's comment and Baal Habos continued that discussion.

    I've received one debate offer here from somebody on the proposition of following halacha defined as broadly as possible and one offer via email regarding the propriety of deism. Neither covers Orthodox Jewish theism, which is what I want to debate. I await an offer..

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  21. Personally, I would have deleted that first comment...

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  22. I don't believe Alex was referring to a totally amorphous or reinterpreted notion of halacha. He just isn't going to defend Orthodoxy and Halachic Judaism with the same rigidity as you'll widespread in "Orthodox" Judaism today.

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  23. Also, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I'm a murky, and accept that about myself.

    My beliefs about subjects which I can never truly master will by definition be a patchwork of information and ideas that seemed reliable and rational at the time--or much of the time, but never all of it. My beliefs will also, try as I might, never be an exercise in absolute, concrete rationality, if only because they involved questions that can never be free of bias in either direction, and because rationality itself lacks a consistent definition that is both rigorous and flexible enough for real life.

    This is not an appeal to ignorance or to an escape from responsibility, but simply an honest assessment of my struggle with faith.

    That said, it would seem counterproductive to engage in a debate over whether belief in Torah MiSinai is a valid opinion. A correspondence could always be educational, as long as it avoided harsh polemics. But then of course it might not be as interesting...

    As for other "claims of Orthodox Judaism," I feel obligated to be the guy to mention how those claims are not monolithic, etc, even though I know you mean a certain set of generally held beliefs espoused by kiruvniks. I don't think I believe half, or even most of those anyway--at least not quite the way they would. Plus, my beliefs are changing all the time.

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  25. Dovid:

    I assume you still are using your old email address, fkmaniac@gmail.com . I sent you an email.

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  26. Why is Dovid Kornreich an exception?

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  27. Sam:
    This thread is not going to turn into a conversation about Dovid. If somebody's actually interested in debating me and wants to know why I'm rejecting Dovid's offer (in accordance with my original disclaimer), he can email me at baruch.pelta@gmail.com .

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  28. (but regular debate offers can still be made here)

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  30. Baruch, as per my Email, I can't blame you, I feel the same way about. However, two points. I don't see your disclaimer as being applicable to FKM. Also, deleting "tough comments, as from Sam, does not seem to be taking the high road.

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  31. Baal Habos:

    I've emailed you as to how the disclaimer is applicable.

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  32. Re Sam:
    I felt Sam's comment was condescending and implied intellectual dishonesty on my part. That being said, if Sam would like to debate me on any of the propositions mentioned thus far (e.g. Torah miSinai), as long as he provides his real name, I'm game. FTR I'd also be willing to debate the man R' Kornreich once mentioned he thinks is the best man he knows of to argue for frumkeit: R' Gottlieb. Or R' Meiselman. Or R' Marcus. Etc.

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  33. IOW, anyone but the person who offered to actually debate you...

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  34. Chaim:

    I think I learned more about your religious worldview from that comment than you'll ever understand...

    Anyways, I responded to you and Sam here:
    http://bpelta.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-im-not-debating-dovid-kornreich.html

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  35. add comment moderation to your BS

    you will not have a PUBLIC FORUM


    NEW GAME WITH YOU LITTLE F*CKERS - SPEAK N DIE. Come see the latest DM videos for your viewing pleasure!


    the WORLD TRADE CENTER PROPHECY - THE DANCE OF DEATH

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0Hez25fFrg


    http://media.depechemode.com/micro_sites/remasters/gr/wallpaper/violator_8_640.jpg

    _______________
    And the Pope is 100% correct: The Nazis and the atheists both wish to ABOLISH FAITH....

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11332515


    ________________________

    hawking is WRONG

    science cannot explain NOTHING!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMRJJcfEXls&



    FAIR AND BALANCED!

    ________________

    http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

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  36. Actually, although I don't beleive in orthodoxy, this may be barely possible to do. You'll get a wonked out perspective of halacha, torah, and god though

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  37. Ask BZ if you want to know who I am

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