The Torah Says It Is OK To Ask Questions

From Dennis Prager’s eleventh lecture on Deuteronomy (2003):

Dennis: “When people say ‘Jews’, nobody yawns.”

Deut: 6:20: “If your child asks you tomorrow, saying, ‘What are the testimonies and the decrees and the ordinances that HaShem, our God, commanded you?”

Asking questions is a Jewish mentality. “At yeshiva we were taught to ask questions. Often the rabbis didn’t have answers. I have friends who grew up in other faiths and they were not encouraged to ask questions.”

“Moses is instructing every Jewish generation that will ever live how to answer your child – how come we keep kosher? How come we keep Shabbos? Because God took us out of Egypt.”

Reading aloud different translations of the Torah, Dennis says: “The Jewish commentators don’t like the word ‘fear’. The Orthodox can live with it. The non-Orthodox don’t like it. The Christians are OK with it. But the Hebrew word is ‘fear.’ It doesn’t mean scared. If God created the world and judges everything, He is worth fearing.”

“It’s OK for children to ask questions. The Torah assumes your child will ask you questions. Notice it doesn’t say, keep quiet and do them. This sets a tone. Parents, you owe your children explanations. So many parents think you just tell your kids to do it. It says to give a reason.”

“Judaism forgot to give rational answers over thousands of years. When people do something over and over, it becomes tradition. The Hebrew word for tradition, ‘minhag’ spelled backwards is ‘Gahnim’ (hell).”

“If you keep the commandments, have you achieved righteousness? The Jew says yes, the Christian says no. You achieve righteousness and then you do what God wants.

“The Jewish way is that you do what is right and then you’re good with God. The Christian view is that that’s nonsense. You get good with God and then you do what’s right.”

“The Jew is right that you have to keep these commandments. The Christian is right that that is not enough. That’s a means, not an ends. The ends is to fear and love God properly. The law is a vehicle, not an end.”

“Law becoming an end in itself is becoming a problem in modern society outside of Judaism. I had a big international law professor hang up on me on the radio right before the law in Iraq. He was inveighing how terrible it is, how it is against international law.

“I asked, if the UN security council voted for it, would it then be illegal?

“And he hung up. He realized what I was implying — law is just what people vote on. There’s got to be something more important than law — morality. It was legal to kill Jews in Germany. Legal is just what people vote on. Legal may be moral or it may not be moral.”

“It was never anywhere in the Torah that God commanded kill the men and women of Midian. It was Moses speaking.

“Whenever God speaks about what happens to the Canaanites, it is about chasing them out. Never about destroying them. It is repeated several times in the book of Exodus.”

“This is Moses angrily talking. He’s using language at his disposal. He’s so angry at the practices of those people.”

But the Bible itself says this genocide was never carried out against the Canaanites. It’s a theoretical command from Moses.

“The Torah never has people killed for crappy belief. At least not non-Jews.”

God prescribes expulsion, not annihilation. “Moses saw that the sexy Midianite women were getting the Jews into idolatry and this is what he is worried about.”

This action is defensive and nothing is prescribed against idolaters outside of Israel.

“There is much more warning that the Jews will be destroyed than that the Canaanites will be destroyed in the book of Deuteronomy or any other book of the Torah.”

Deuteronomy prescribes the same treatment for any Israelite cities that lapse into idolatry.

“If you hear that the Hebrew Bible recommends genocide, it is not true. It is Moses being angry in his talk. It didn’t happen [genocide of the Canaanites]. If it happened, it wasn’t God’s instructions. It happened only once in the Torah and that was with the Midianites.”

12th lecture: “Remember when the pagan women [of Baal-peor] seduced the [Israelite] men with their beauty into worshiping other gods? It was Pinchas who acted while Moses sat there like a retired leader.

“I think Moses is over-reacting when he keeps telling them to destroy them, to devour them, to show them no pity.”

Question: This is Moses retelling the story but isn’t it all the word of God?

Dennis: “That is an enormous question. The text doesn’t tell me it is the word of God, it says it is the word of Moses. I have to be guided by what the text tells me.

“When Abraham spoke to the king and said, this is my sister, is that the word of God? That’s the word of Abraham. It’s in a book I believe to be divine but it doesn’t mean that what Abraham says is divine words. Abraham does not look like a hero in the text.

“If Moses says, this is what God said to me, then we’re much closer, but it’s not God. I don’t know why that’s not orthodox. It’s something I’d need to ask my Orthodox friends. Do they believe it is identical to God speaking?

“God handed down the text in the Orthodox view, but the text has non-divine utterances.”

“In all the studying I did in traditional places of learning, Deuteronomy was never distinguished between what Moses said and what God said. The Torah tells me these are Moses’s words and I have to understand the distinction.

“Moses hits the rock and says, look at the rock and the water Aaron and I are getting out for you? Are those God’s words? Obviously those are not God’s words. God says you can’t get into the Holy Land because you said that.

“You have to understand that this is a human speaking here. The divine seal of approval is on the authenticity of what he said but not necessarily on the correctness of what he said.”

Rabbi Rabbs posts: Prager is dead wrong, and what he wrote smacks of ignorance and heresy.

Judaism is a Talmudic and not a Biblical religion. To read the Bible without the commentaries, and without the Oral Torah is a fast way to apikorsis, and Prager demonstrates why one should never do so. He saw something in Dvarim and created … See Morehis own original story as to how Moshe said something that Prager mistakenly thought G-d never stated. But, Prager’s stupid explanation doesn’t match Judaism’s explanation.

Before he opened his mouth, Prager should have learned the Rambam. In Sefer HaMitzvahs, the Rambam lists as one of the 613 Mitzvahs from G-d that we are to wipe out all seven nations of Canaanim. Rambam says we learn that from Dvarim 7:1. Thus, it is not Moses’ own initiative, but when Moses says it in Deutoronomy, he is merely quoting G-d.

To say otherwise would not only show ignorance but complete kefirah, heresy, because doing so would deny that the Torah which we have today comes from G-d. Saying Moses concocted it himself would be saying the Torah is man-made and that Moses was not a true prophet. All of that would go against the Rambam’s principles of faith, and thus, would be considered apikorsis.

Prager’s whole approach falls down anyway, because I already stated during the Torah Talk that G-d commands us to practice genocide against Amalek. Not only that, but the commandment to wipe out the Canaanim continued throughout each and every generation, and we see that King David had wars with them, and destroyed them completely, with the survivors being scattered and assimilated among the nations until they disappeared.

Thus, that is what we follow, not because Moses said it, but because G-d told it to Moses.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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