Debunking orthodox Judaism

I’m guessing my inflammatory subject line will garner quite a few hits, but there’s a reason for it. My story is a bit complicated, but I’ll try to simplify this as much as possible because I am looking for some specific information.

I am Jewish, but am much more interested in scientific findings (i.e. theory of evolution, etc.) than in what the Old Testament has to say about things. My mother has always been a bit on the religious side, and we attended an Orthodox synagogue when I was a kid, but we were never especially observant (didn’t keep kosher, not drive on the Sabbath, etc.) A few years ago, my sister married in to an extremely observant family, and my parents became very close with his parents. They’re nice people, but they’re constantly talking about all the ‘proof’ that shows how accurate the Torah is. My mother pretty much takes their word at face value, and her Rabbi certainly agrees with their statements, helping to solidify my mother’s belief in all of this.

The problem I’m having is that I’m getting married soon to a woman who is converting to Judaism. It’s very important for my mother that the kids be borne to a Jewish woman, and I don’t really have any problem with this. However, my girlfriend’s found a Conservative cantor who was certified (not sure by whom) to do conversions. I don’t care if this guy or some other rabbi does the conversion, but I don’t agree with some Orthodox views, and don’t want to point my girlfriend toward an Orthodox Rabbi. I’m not interested in shattering anyone’s faith, and am fine to let people believe whatever they want, but my mother has said that if I can show her concrete proof that what she’s being taught is not scientifically proven, than she’d possibly be ok w/ a conservative.

I understand that people have their different faiths, but my sister’s family insists that Judaism is NOT built strictly on faith, and that their claims can be PROVEN. They’ve even suggested that I attend some seminar that will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they say is true. I’m not talking about a burning bush that talks, I’m talking about the various different accounts in the Torah that may or may not have some historical basis, including the Great Flood, etc. I’m certain that the proof given at these seminars would not quite be the smoking gun that they claim it is.

What I’m looking for are some of the most outrageous beliefs of Orthodox Judaism. I need a preponderance of evidence that I can overwhelm my mother with, that she can take back to her rabbi, and that he will be forced to give some explanation that can be dismissed with even another windfall of evidence. It needs to be as clear and easy to understand as possible, and as indisputable as possible. Not only that, but I’m looking for the unethical parts that we ignore (slavery, stonings…things that are taught in the Torah possibly, but rabbis would have a hard time explaining)

As a side note, I’m really not looking to start a flame war, nor am I really interested in people’s opinions as to whether or not I SHOULD try to convince my mother, etc. I respect people’s different beliefs, and I have no interest in trying to argue with people about religious tolerance, etc, but I’d have to go on another 10 pages to explain the entire story. I assure you that I love the fact that people have different beliefs and faiths. This really isn’t about that. I’m not trying to prove there’s no G-d or anything, just that some of the claims are so bizarre that you can’t just accept people who I consider fanatics’ statements without question.

I can’t help you with the truth or falsity of the Torah, but I am interested in why you feel a need to challenge your mother’s beliefs when the issue is really between you and your prospective wife. Surely it is more important that the belief-systems of you and your fiance be compatible? Surely it is up to your fiance to choose who she is ‘converted’ by?

Why does your mum have a dog in this race?

This is simply a matter of making my life easier. If I can show my mother that my fiance’s conversion is acceptable, than she’ll believe that her prospective grandchildren will be Jewish. I know how absurd this all sounds, but I just need to show her that Orthodox Jews don’t have a monopoly on Judaism. If I can show her flaws in what the people she looks up to claim as proof, she will be more willing to allow this…any Talmudic (spl?) experts out there?

I wonder how much traction you’re going to get out of an OP posted on this topic after 3 p.m. (EST) on a Friday afternoon. :rolleyes:

Uhmmm…yes…I see your point…Do’h!

Still, I’m guessing I’ll find some knowledgable people who don’t follow the Sabbath (perhaps because of their knowledge on the matter…?)

The ones who know best about the sabbath and a faith are, I’d wager, those who keep the sabbath and a faith. It tends to work that way.

In any case, you’re asking for people to provide you with evidence so that you can prove your mother’s beliefs to be wrong so that someone else – your girlfriend – can convert within the structure that you find falls within your area of okay-ness.

Think about this, what you’re asking for is help to impact at least two other people’s observance and belief, perhaps in a very negative way. You say that you respect and tolerate other people’s beliefs, but you clearly don’t. If you respected your mother’s beliefs, you wouldn’t want to try to find ways to tear them apart. The fact that you’ve attempt to pre-empt any argument about the appropriateness of what you’ve asked for shows that you’re already aware that there are significant ethical and moral problems with what you’ve got planned.

Your issues here are clearly a whole lot bigger than the way that your mother wants your girlfriend to convert to insure Jewish grandkids. And I think sufficiently personal that you shouldn’t be asking other people to do your dirty work for you.

:::The ones who know best about the sabbath and a faith are, I’d wager, those who keep the sabbath and a faith. It tends to work that way.:::

There are plenty of people who know the ins and outs of the Torah who aren’t Orthodox Jews.

:::In any case, you’re asking for people to provide you with evidence so that you can prove your mother’s beliefs to be wrong so that someone else – your girlfriend – can convert within the structure that you find falls within your area of okay-ness.

Think about this, what you’re asking for is help to impact at least two other people’s observance and belief, perhaps in a very negative way. You say that you respect and tolerate other people’s beliefs, but you clearly don’t. If you respected your mother’s beliefs, you wouldn’t want to try to find ways to tear them apart. The fact that you’ve attempt to pre-empt any argument about the appropriateness of what you’ve asked for shows that you’re already aware that there are significant ethical and moral problems with what you’ve got planned.:::

Whether you think I respect other people’s beliefs or not…well, I’m not really concerned about what you think. I have NO ethical or moral problems with this. If you’re offended by the line of questioning, move on…

:::Your issues here are clearly a whole lot bigger than the way that your mother wants your girlfriend to convert to insure Jewish grandkids. And I think sufficiently personal that you shouldn’t be asking other people to do your dirty work for you:::

No, my issue isn’t any bigger than the Jewish grandkids thing. Read in to it whatever you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re wrong. As for this being “dirty work”, that’s just laughable. This message board is a fantastic resource for gathering information. Again, if you’re offended, go somewhere else.

As a Jew and a scientist, I have run into this stuff (at least about the biology) a bunch of times.

The observant Jewish viewpoint on evolution is usually that of old Earth creationism. I was given a book by a very observant Jew that I know that explained everything from a Jewish perspective – it was the typical OEC “a day wasn’t really a day” and “the seven days of creation mimic the progression of the fossil record.” When it got to evolution, though, it said that evolution was wrong. That was my cue to put the book down.

Most observant Jews see some allegory in Genesis and the rest of the Torah; they are not as vigilant as the biblical literalist YECs (most of the time). If you are particularly interested in the science aspect of things, here are a few articles about it from, an Orthodox Jewish website:

Most of these fall into the typical creationism traps and can be easily debunked by stuff on Of particular note to me is that the order of Genesis creation is scientifically wrong; the plants are created before the sun. I have never met an Orthodox Jew who will debate this point intelligently.

Other non-science points – there are some great articles on (although the religious will point out that it is a biased site) here about Judaism. Of particular note is the article on the Sinai Argument. Some will attempt to say that the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai was an event witnessed by a whole nation, and that proves logically that it happened. Sure, one person can make a story up, or maybe a group can get convinced. But never has an entire nation witnessed an event. This article tries to refute this line of debate.

I have been around this block countless times with my Orthodox friend. He is very close to getting a PhD in Neuroscience; he should know what is scientific logic and what is faith. Each time, it eventually comes down to illogical leaps and assumed irrefutability of the Torah. Perhaps your sources will be more skilled than my friend. I very much doubt it.

My guess is that you would be better off finding an Orthodox Jewish group that acknowledges that the science of Neo-Darwinian Evolution is not incompatible with their view of Scripture. (Whether there are such groups, I do not know.)

The problem with “debunking” any belief is that it is, at some basic point, belief. I know a very small number of Fundamentalist Christians who, while maintaining their belief regarding the message of the bible, have moved far enough away from the literalist position that they can accept both the science and the faith. (Of course, they are subject to a certain amount of dismissal from some other Fundamentalist Christians.) However, the vast majority of YEC Christians are simply not able to reconcile their perspective of the word of God with their perspective of science and they wind up paying attention to the Institute for Creation Research or similar outfits. Debunking literalist beliefs is not likely to move your mother, while finding an Orthodox person who recognizes both the science and the legitimacy of the Conservative approach to Judaism may actually give her some peace of mind.

It is really quite moot. You’d be unlikely to find an Orthodox rebbe who’d convert someone who is not committing to living an Orthodox life. Better a rightous gentile than a sinning Jew. Or something like that.

Now the seperate question is whether an Orthodox rebbe will recognize a Conservative conversion as being kosher.

Aaah! My post was eaten for the second time today.

#1 While generally an observant Jew, I am not shomer shabbas. I tried it for a few months. I always ended up falling asleep while reading, and not waking up until dark. Instead of spending a day in contemplation and praise, I just lost half the weekend. Eventually, I turned to G-d for advice. He told me that the sabath was meant to be a day of joy, not sorrow and that He’d be happier if I praised him and celebrated the sabbath while watching tv and posting to the SDMB. However, Zev, Chaim and the other industrial strength Jews of the SDMB don’t use their computers from sundown friday night until sundown saturday night.

#2 Proof will get you nowhere. The majority of creationist have already seen the proof and decided to ignore it. For every fossil, geological proof, or bit of mitochonrial evidence, the creationists have some (deeply flawed) refutation.

#3 Why do you assume all Orthodox are creationists and that Conservatives are not? There are very few generalizations you can make on these things.

#4 There are plenty of other differences between your average Orthodox rabbi and your average Conservative one. Regardless of their views on Genesis, these may make a Conservative rabbi unnacceptable to your mother.

#5 Dseid is absolutely right. Many rabbis will not convert somebody simply because they are marrying a Jew. Conversion to Judaism involves making promises to G-d. Breaking those promises is a sin. A Christian can eat a bacon cheeseburger without a problem. But conversion to Judaism involves a promise to keep kosher, any treif food eaten after conversion is a violation of that promise and thus a sin. Better your wife should be a good Christian than a bad Jew.

JAPrufrock, I have to agree with much of what DSeid and DocCathode said. There are a lot of issues tied up in your OP and I don’t know that your approach – attempting to convince your mother that the traditional Jewish views on creation and evolution are untenable – will help your situation re: persuading her to accept your girlfriend’s Conservative conversion.

Just to add a couple of points to what others have said: I find that in general, in the Jewish world, people get very hung up on labels – “Orthodox”, “Conservative” and such. In practice, it doesn’t matter much, except in instances like yours where conversion and “who is a Jew” issues are involved. There is a whole spectrum of observance in the Jewish world, and it stretches all the way from ultra-Orthodox to completely unaffiliated. Synagogues are only a part of the story – I know several very observant Jews who attend Reform synagogues. Of course, at different points on the spectrum, you’ll find people who have different beliefs about the scientific validity of the Creation story. I would venture to say, though, that the specifics of creation have little to do with the day-to-day of Judaism and leading a Jewish life and would advise you not to get hung up on this issue.

At the same time, as others have pointed out, the conversion process is long and complicated and most rabbis, Orthodox or not, will not convert someone who is not willing to make a commitment to living a Jewish life. This is something you will have to talk over with your girlfriend – there aren’t any easy answers.


So far, I think most of the postings are missing the point. I’m looking for information provided in the Jewish sacred texts that are either completely contradictory to modern morality (i.e. slavery) or modern science (i.e. creationism)

No offense, but I think I have a bit more insight as to what may or may not convince my own mother (especially considering she asked me for this information to prove my point) than any poster is going to have.

Well, slavery is in the Bible and the laws of slavery are still in the Talmud and if one lives in a place where slavery is legal, a Jew could technically own a slave. No Orthodox Jew will dispute that those laws are still “on the books” (even if slave owning is forbidden in countries where slavery is outlawed under the law of dina d’malchusa dina [the law of the land is the law]).

But what, exactly, are you looking for. Modern morality changes as times come and go and in different places. In many places where Jews lived over the years, circumcision was considered immoral, but yet the Jews practiced it despite the “modern morality” of it. In later times and in other places, circumcision was perfectly acceptable. Do you want us to justify our practices to you based on “modern morality?” Or do you think we should change the Jewish thinking on practices such as circumcision, kashrus, etc. depending on the “morality” of the place where we live?

As for scientific proofs, I’ve seen many different “scientific proofs” to the authenticity of the Torah account of creation and the Biblical record. I’ve generally found those “proofs” to, for the most part, be wanting. However, my opinion (for whatever it’s worth) is that when there is a disagreement between the two, then it is simply a matter of the fact that either (a) the Biblical account is not to be taken absolutely literally (I, for one, am not a YEC), (b) the scientific evidence is wrong, (c) there is some, as yet unknown, method of reconciling the two seemingly contradictory accounts. However, I accept it simply as a matter of faith that the Torah account is true; much as I accept the fact that God exists as true, even though I cannot prove the matter empirically.

It may sound to some like I’m deliberately ignoring the evidence of evolution (which I’m not willing to dismiss out of hand), modern cosmology (which I’m not ready to toss out either), geology, etc; in fact I’m not ignoring it. I’m simply accepting the findings but holding the matter in abayance until a solution is arrived at. And how do I know that such a solution exists? Again, it’s a matter of faith.

So, to make a long story short; can Orthodox Judaism be debunked. To some extent it probably can. You can certainly point to Genesis and say “how could the plants be created before the sun?” You can certainly look at the story of the Tower of Babel and ask where the evidence for this great tower was? You can look at Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and ask where are the memorials to these unique individuals? Where is the extra-biblical evidence of their existence. And the answer is that there is none. Even the proof that I accept for the validity of the Torah (that it was handed down generation to generation) is one that will not stand up in any seventh-grader’s science experiment, or any court of law. But it’s proof enough for me, because I believe it to be true.

But, OTOH, I don’t ask anyone else to believe it is true because I do.

Zev Steinhardt

I think this is arse-about. I can’t imagine that a conversion process will care one way or another whether you “believe” in gravitational forces or biochemical processes or any other scientific explanations of the universe. Nor will the person be questioned as to details of biblical accounts, like whether they actually believe that Joshua stopped the sun from going around the earth. Or that the earth has four corners. Or that wicked people exist from chlorophyll (“the wicked spring up like the grass.”)

One can accept the truth and validity of the Hebrew Bible without having to accept every metaphor, poetical statement, or dramatic exaggeration as representing literal truth.

But I agree with what the other posters have said here – “debunking” orthodox Judaism is not going to change your mother’s point of view, and is more likely to cause a rift. For the sake of “shalom bayit” (peace in the house), I humbly suggest that you find some way to reconcile what you want with what your mother wants… rather than try to confront. An I-win-you-lose outcome is NOT going to be good in the long term, regardless of which one wins and which one loses.

In the United States, I think it would hard to find something most rabbis agree on. Remember, Reform is the biggest branch and they will often be willing to treat someone as a Jew essentially on request.

In answer to the OP, I would say that the most debunkable thing about orthodoxy is the tendency to see one’s own little subgroup (modern Orthodox, Yeshiva world, Chabad) as the ideal type for all Orthodoxy, if not all Judaism. However, as bad religious ideas go, this isn’t hardly bad at all.

I agree with the tendency of the other posters to say that overcoming the need to debunk would be appealing, but I appreciate the original poster’s honesty.

In the cold light of morning, I had another thought.

I don’t think you CAN debunk orthodox Judaism. Nor could you debunk Catholicism or Mormonism or Lutheranism or Islam or…

By debunking, I mean pointing out internal inconsistencies, or inconsistencies between the religious beliefs and the real world. Thus, one can debunk the notion that toilets flush clockwise in the southern hemisphere by simply looking at a few toilets. This would be evidence that any reasonable person would accept as “debunking.”

When dealing with a religion, you might find an argument that debunks it for you, but will not be accepted by reasonable people who believe in that religion.

Two major problems with debunking a religion or belief system (regardless of which religion it may be):

(1) Any religion that has lasted for a couple of centuries, and through the modern era, is not going to be easily debunked in a way that the adherents will accept. There is no “internal inconsistency” that you can come up with that hasn’t been addressed centuries ago. Wiser minds than yours have come up with the counter-arguments. Thus, reasonable people will have logical answers to your debunking arguments.

(2) Religions and belief systems are based on, well, belief. Facts or evidence or inconsistencies are not going to have any impact. Hey, let’s face it, you’ve got people who honestly believe that there was no moon landing, despite the preponderance of evidence. If they’re willing to buy into “it’s all a conspiracy” then all evidence can be brushed away as faked. That’s not different from attitudes towards evolution, frankly. I personally don’t find such attitudes “reasonable”, but there’s no argument I can make that will get these people to change their minds.

So, you can argue yourself blue in the face. YOU might be convinced, but you won’t convince an adherent of the religion. I repeat, I think you are better off trying to find some common ground of compromise that you can all live with. You’ll never win.

What you & your fiance’ & your rebbe/cantor decide should settle it.

I’m a Christian. If I had a non-Ctian fiance who was converting, this would be the minimum I’d expect- professing faith in JC as Lord & Savior, baptism & communion, regular church attendance, basic adherence to C’tian moral teaching, & raising the kids Christian.

It seems the basic minimum of Judaic conversion should be- confession of One God, covenanting with Him and the Jewish people, keeping kosher, Shabbos & holy days, regular synagogue attendance, & raising the kids Jewish. Discuss with your Mom if that would make her happy. If not, she’ll have to deal with it. Of course, would you be willing to handle that level of observance?

I’m an atheist but even I am disappointed at the level of commitment you show here. Is Jewish belief really this shallow? Everyone I talk to about their religous believes has an emotional and spiritual involvement that seems lees superficial.

Apologies if I have misconstrued something.


There is a famous mishna in Avos which admonishes against picking and choosing which mitzvos to keep, since one does not know the reward for the mitzvos. Why are the ones you listed above important but not taharas hamishpacha (family purity)? Why are the above mentioned mitzvos important but not the recitation of the shema every day? Why the above but not any of the other 600+ mitzvos that are kept by Jews? And, in short, (and please forgive me for being blunt) why are you (a Christian) deciding what Jews should accept as the minimum standards for conversion?

Zev Steinhardt