Hello Rabbi! How is everything? I really hope everything is going well with you and your family. I am emailing you regarding a few questions that have come up.
The Kuzari principle has probably been the strongest intellectual reason for me to believe anything the Torah says, but I have been revisiting it. I have also been reading up on the many kashas that are brought against it. I was wondering if you could elaborate on a few points I have found that seem to seriously challenge the principle, especially since I am heading back to America for the first time since I have become religious, and I think I’ll really need an intellectual approach to fall back on when things get difficult. Here [is a] few question:
1. The statement in Nechamia 8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:
2. The statement in Nechamia: 8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths:for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim?
Have an amazing week Rabbi!
Below I try to answer your question. It has been posed to me many times over the years, but your letter prompted me to analyze it in detail. As usual, the problem stems from reading without sufficient care and scholarship. I would be interested in hearing from you how the answer strikes you.
In context, those verses read:
8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: 8:15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
8:16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
I suggest that the word “so” refers to the passages above in bold - it refers to the universality of performance, not the mere fact that it was performed. If that is even a possibly correct understanding, then there is no reason to say the text implies that the institution was forgotten.
Furthermore, the phraseology “since the days of ...” is found earlier, in the book of Kings:
2 Kings Chapter 23
1 And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. 3 And the king stood on the platform, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people stood to the covenant. 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Beth-el. 5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to offer in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that offered unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beer-sheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand as he entered the gate of the city. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brethren. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. 11 And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nethan-melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars that were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, did the king break down, and beat them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the detestation of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men. 15 Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and stamped it small to powder, and burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount; and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said: ‘What monument is that which I see?’ And the men of the city told him: ‘It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Beth-el.’ 18 And he said: ‘Let him be; let no man move his bones.’ So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria. 19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke [the LORD], Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el. 20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there, upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them; and he returned to Jerusalem. 21 And the king commanded all the people, saying: ‘Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.’ 22 For there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; 23 but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. 24 Moreover them that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the detestable things that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.
And here too only a limited comparison is meant, words in bold. That is: the text does not say “there was no other Passover at all” but only “there was no other Passover like this one”. [The explanation may be, as the Malbim writes, that the destruction of idol worship accompanying the Pesach was unlike the previous generations - that is what v. 24 is explaining.] So too, in Nechemiah, only a limited comparison is meant.
Furthermore, Yeravam pretty clearly moves Succos from the seventh month to the eighth:
1 Kings Chapter 12
32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah,
which means that at least at his time Succos was celebrated.
It remains only to explain the words And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses - it sounds as if these words [and their content] are newly discovered. But let us compare that phrase with the similar phrase in the book of Esther:
Esther - Chapter 6
1. On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. א.
2. And it was found written that Mordecai had reported about Bigthana and Teresh, two chamberlains of the king, of the guards of the threshold, who had sought to lay a hand on King Ahasuerus. ב.
3. And the king said, “What honor and greatness was done to Mordecai on that account?” And the king’s servants who minister before him said, “Nothing was done for him.”
Now since Mordechai’s report took place only four years before, this could not be the discovery of an unknown event. It seems that it was unexpected that it should be found now. Similarly in Nechemiah, “found” should mean “found unexpectedly in this context’, not “found when utterly unknown”.
Furthermore, it is very unclear exactly what they were reading when the text of Succos [which must be Vayikra 23 since that is the only place where the Torah prescribes living in booths. How did they get to that passage on the second day of Rosh Hashanna? [And what did they read on the first day - for half the day?] [And notice that it is the people who initiate the reading - they ask for the scroll to be brought and read.] So I do not understand the reading at all [nor does the critic understand it], and within that event I do not fully understand the “finding” of Succos. But a passage we do not understand does not provide a proof of anything.
Finally, I have trouble understanding the critic’s reading of the event. So the rabbis of the time invented Succos on the spot? But then what could it mean to say that there never was a performance of that holiday over the last 1200 years? That in the generation immediately following Moses the entire people stopped keeping the mitzva? That would be impossible to prove to their audience, and impossible to explain to them. And the prophets, who inveighed against all sorts of infractions, never mentioned it? It is a very peculiar reading of the event, I think.
“Do these statements not suggest a lack of awareness of the tradition of the exodus, plus an enormous power the rabbis had enabling them to institute such laws, that might have not come from Sinai? Wouldn’t this make the faith on my part have to rely on a much smaller number of people, the rabbis, instead of an entire nation’s claim? “
I hope you can see from the above that this conclusion does not follow.