by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg


Faith and Love:  True Relationships Versus False Gods

	We have previously suggested that love is an ideal model 
for the religious experience.  A person discovering 
spirituality is comparable to a person discovering love for 
the first time.  He is faced with an entirely new phenomenon, 
radically different in every respect from his former childish 
games at marbles, dolls or basketball.  A new world unfolds 
before his eyes, a world in which all of his unique potential 
may be realized.  This new world has the capacity to grant him 
joy and gladness, or to plunge him into misery and despair.  
True love exists alongside illusory, idolatrous love.  In the 
religious sphere as well, true spirituality exists alongside 

	This fact compels us to alter our perspective.  Until 
this point we have discussed the existential problems 
experienced by all of mankind.  Now we begin to uncover the 
Jew inside of us.

	The appearance of the dream to the Kuzari, a gentile, 
obliges us to open the discussion of a general problem, which 
we will address in greater depth at a later stage.  The angel 
speaks to man in general, not to the Jew.  This paradox must 
accompany us throughout our analysis, for this most "national" 
of all works of Jewish philosophy begins with a call to 
Everyman.  The message, too, is a surprising one:  their 
intentions are acceptable to God, while their actions remain 
unacceptable to Him.

	To make sense of this paradox, we must examine both 
humankind and each individual from a dual perspective: ours, 
and God's.  We will thus be faced with two distinctly 
different pictures.  Let us look through the heavenly 
perspective, for example, at the natives of an island in the 
Pacific, who worship idols and have no inkling of our Torah.  
In the heavenly court they will be judged innocent, since they 
knew no better.  Many idol worshippers actually intend to 
worship God; however, they are misled by their lack of 
religious knowledge.  Their actions are not acceptable to God, 
but their intentions certainly are laudable.  Allow me to 
explain this idea with a parable.  A man mails a letter, 
incorrectly addressed.  If the mail service is sophisticated 
enough, the letter will reach its intended destination despite 
the mistake.  So, too, we can be certain that the prayers of 
the island natives will indeed reach God.  And this is true 
not only of the inhabitants of an isolated island.  It is 
equally true of a religiously lost person dwelling in the 
largest teeming metropolis.

	Nonetheless, there are moments when the prisoner of 
ignorance does hear a knock upon his door.  The Kuzari's dream 
represents the divine knock upon the door of mankind.  The 
Lord of the Universe presents man with a challenge.  One who 
has never heard the knock will be judged according to his 
subjective intentions.  Whoever has not yet been faced with 
the challenge, whoever has not experienced the dream, cannot 
be judged objectively.  But the moment a knock is heard, 
responsibility begins.  Each of us hears the Godly call at 
some point in our lives.  Whether the call is experienced in a 
dream or in daily life is of no consequence.  Whether we are 
awakened by a stunning sunrise or sunset, after reading a new 
book, in moments of tragedy, joy or fear - no matter.  God 
communicates with man in numerous ways.  This is in fact one 
of the central tenets of the Hasidic movement.  Perhaps, to 
our rationalistic taste, it seems that the Hasidim go too far, 
when they state that God speaks to man constantly, at every 
moment.  However, it is certainly true that the history of 
mankind can be described as an ongoing dialogue with God.  The 
question God asked of Adam in the garden of Eden - "Where art 
thou," echoes throughout the ages.

	If you have not heard the question, you cannot be 
accountable to answer it.  Yet once the question has been 
asked of you, even as you attempt to determine whether you 
have indeed heard the heavenly call, the process of response 
has already begun.

	The Divine call constitutes the essence and soul of 
Judaism.  The meeting point between the youth and the 
tradition of his forefathers, is one of these calls.  This 
encounter, too, is a knock upon the door.

In Defense of the Despised Religion:  The Universal Role of 

	Rav Yehuda Halevi gave his book an expanded title:  "The 
book of proofs in defense of the degraded and despised 
religion."  Rihal [the author's acronym] explains that his 
book was written in response to a request.  "I have been 
asked," he writes, "for the explanations and responses that I 
possess against the claims of those who disagree with our 
religion, both the philosophers and those of other religious 

	These facts suggest that the book was written within a 
historical context, which immediately displays the beginning 
of the book in a new light.  As Jews, one of the problems that 
motivates our spiritual quest is the issue of our Jewish 
identity.  The very fact that we are Jews arouses questions 
within us.  Rav Soloveitchik expresses this idea using two 
simple words: "fate" and "mission."  Our actions are propelled 
by our given situation; and our situation in life is often 
constructed of many components which lie out of our control.  
Our situation is defined by our national history.  This is our 
fate.  However, our behavior is also motivated by our 
aspirations, our plans and our goals.  This is our mission.  
Daily we confront myriad existential questions.  We are 
expected to respond to those questions not through a sense of 
fate, but rather with a sense of mission.

	This is true of the individual, and even more so 
regarding the community.  Each Jew is expected to reach an 
understanding of his destination in life even as he grapples 
with the questions along his journey.  Thus he will come to 
understand that his status as a Jew was not decided by a blind 
fate which appears at times to be meaningless and cruel.  The 
Jew must comprehend that his life has meaning as an element of 
a divine plan.  The Jewish people are no less than God's 
messengers on earth.  We are God's witnesses.  Thus we see 
that the beginning of the book actually has a double meaning.  
The message is a universal one, and therefore the protagonist 
is a gentile.  Yet at the same time, the beginning of the book 
possesses a unique meaning for the Jews.  This is a book 
written "in defense of the despised religion".  In actuality, 
however, as we shall see, it is a book written in defense of 
the chosen religion.  For the Jew, this battle of defense is 
ultimately won through the exercise of free choice.

	We will not enter here into a discussion of the concept 
of free choice.  We will only preface by saying that the 
literary structure of the book coupled with the reference to 
the "despised religion," fully expresses the challenge of this 
idea.  We have often played the part of the persecuted people 
upon the stage of history.  Here, however, the scope of the 
problem is much larger.  The term "despised" conjures up an 
infinitely more pejorative image than the word "persecuted."  
Persecution is a political, social, material state.  To be 
despised is a much lower level.  Therefore, as we shall see, 
the king does not initially consider asking the Jew about his 
religion, for he asks himself the obvious question:  How is it 
possible that the truth be hiding within a tiny, despised 
nation, a nation which persists, against all logic and in the 
face of degradation, in considering itself the chosen people?

	Like the Kuzari king, we all tend to follow the masses.  
We are convinced to buy a particular product simply because 
other people have purchased it before us.  We must develop an 
awareness of the dangers of social consensus.  As Jews, as 
believers, as ethical human beings, we constantly find 
ourselves in the minority.  And as a result we are often 
criticized by society, criticism that seems at times too 
difficult to bear.  Constant effort is necessary to hold fast 
against the tremendous social pressure of the majority.  To be 
chosen means, in effect, to swim against the stream.

	Our protagonist is faced with a similar social pressure.  
The philosopher presents himself to the Kuzari surrounded by 
the mystical aura of science.  Before the division of the 
sciences into the various faculties, the philosopher was 
considered the universal and ideal man of science.  Beside the 
man of science, the Kuzari is presented with the two central 
world religions:  Christianity and Islam.

	And at this point Rihal surprises us.  He could easily 
have attempted to convince us to ignore mere numbers.  He 
could have taught us to close our eyes to the social pressure 
to conform.  He does not.  In fact, he does the opposite.  He 
begins with the popular religions, Christianity and Islam, and 
through them he indisputably proves that a tiny, despised 
nation, who lived virtually unknown for hundreds of years in 
the Judean hills, changed the face of the entire world.  It is 
impossible to understand either Christianity or Islam, or 
indeed any of the modern world, without the basis of Judaism.  
All the world leans upon the pillar constructed by this tiny, 
despised nation.  Paradoxically, this same tiny nation covers 
the front pages of newspapers the world over.  Christianity 
and Islam, for all their great numbers, must define themselves 
through Judaism.

	The Jewish inferiority complex is therefore unjustified.  
However, neither is undue pride an appropriate response.  
There are those who speak with satisfaction of a "Judeo-
Christian culture."  We must recognize the failure within our 
success.  On the one hand, the effects of Judaism and its 
contribution to the world are constantly felt.  On the other 
hand, Judaism has largely failed in its efforts to affect the 
world, since it has not succeeded in transforming the world 
into an ideal place.  The world remains unredeemed and 
incomplete.  The monotheistic religions have grasped the 
Jewish message and tinted it various shades, watering down the 
belief in one God with idolatrous traditions and thus 
transforming the waters of Torah to dry and barren riverbeds, 
to religions which have betrayed their source.  Hearing the 
representatives of Christianity and Islam can fill the Jew 
with a fraternal pride, but this pride is weakened by a keen 
sense of disappointment both because these religions have 
deserted true monotheism and because of their negative 
attitudes toward Judaism.  Perhaps their attitudes can be 
described as a type of Oedipal complex: children who rise up 
against their father to the last degree, murder.

	God has assured us " is not for your great numbers 
that God has desired you of all the nations."  Our very 
existence proves that there is nothing to fear in mere 

	We must search for answers to our existential questions, 
answers built upon our national mission.  The Kuzari was 
written in order to help us find those answers to the 
questions that stem from our Jewish identity.

The Need for Perspective:  Jewish Pride

	The discussion of Judaism's place in the world compels us 
to address an additional problem.  Two opposite viewpoints 
exist among men.  Both are natural, and yet man must attempt 
to free himself of both.  The first is the standpoint of the 
child, who judges everything from his own personal perspective 
and is incapable of observing himself objectively.  The 
detachment from this perception of reality is one of the 
central goals of the educational process.  We attempt to teach 
the child to depart from the egocentric closed circuit and 
reach out toward others.  Let us assume that man has achieved 
this goal and has moved beyond the self-centered primitive 
stage.  He is capable of objective thought and can judge new 
situations with a perspective beyond his subjective viewpoint.  
The educational process has proved successful.  However, at 
this point the opposite problem arises.  We see the 
development of extremely sophisticated individuals who have 
become so far removed from their subjective perception that 
they find it impossible to rediscover that initial subjective 
response.  They are overly suspicious of subjectivity, often 
unjustifiably so.  This is the illness that man suffers from 
when he is so enamored of objectivity that he defends 
everyone's subjective responses save his own.  His own 
subjective response, he feels, could not possibly be 
justified.  He mistrusts it simply because it is his own.  
Indeed, there are times when self-criticism results from 
internalizing one's opponent's opinions.  This attitude can 
cause one to despise himself, and in such a case self-defense 
is more difficult even than Rihal's defense of "the despised 

	Oftentimes, this destructive response is true of our 
attitude toward Judaism.  The process of  outgrowing 
provincialism is an important one.  However, at times this 
developing sophistication is expressed through self-
deprecation and deliberate blindness to the greatness and 
beauty inherent in one's own position.

	The comparison between Judaism and the other central 
religions comes to teach us that the Jews, despite their small 
numbers, are not an insignificant tribe or a "statistical 
error" among the populations of the world.  The Jews possess a 
message of universal import.  We will elaborate upon this 
message at a later stage.  At this point, the Jew is called 
upon to stop mistrusting himself and to evaluate himself in a 
truer light.  This is the beginning of the defense of the 
despised religion.

	Clearly, the structure of the book is a literary tool.  
However, we must ask ourselves why Rihal chose this particular 
device.  Through his book we become acquainted with Rihal as a 
man who delves into the eternal questions, with his eyes wide 
open to a harsh reality.  In the real world a terrible battle 
is constantly waged between the knights of Christianity and 
the cavalry of Islam.  Judaism exists on the periphery, 
almost, but not quite, off the stage.  Yet, Rihal does not 
deal with his current historical reality.  The Kuzari 
constitutes a vision and a prophecy regarding the future of 
the entire human race.  The book is constructed around the 
struggle for the conversion of the nation of Khazars, but the 
story represents all humanity in the messianic era.  Can we 
indeed hope and expect that the messianic prophecies of the 
Bible will come true?  The book wishes to restore that hope.  
It reminds us that one honest and upright man, the king of the 
Khazars, searched for God and reached the truth.  That man is 
all of humankind.  The hope of redemption, therefore, is 
present from the very beginning.

This lecture was translated by Gila Weinberg.

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Copyright (c)1995 Prof. Shalom Rosenberg, Yeshivat Har Etzion.  
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