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Do Dietary Laws Prove the Existence of God?


David Dvorkin

My essay "Why I Am Not a Jew" has prompted e-mails from a range of people, some friendly and some not. Occasionally, a current Jew will write with an argument that he seems convinced will bring me running back into the fold. This one argues that the wacky Jewish dietary laws prove the existence of God.


I just read your article entitled WHY I AM NOT A JEW... I respect your article and your beliefs... You are a very good writer, and I enjoyed reading your opinion. You said, "I defy anyone to provide a sound reason why, for example, meat and milk should not be mixed in the same meal - or, even more bizarre, why the utensils used to eat meat and milk dishes should not be interchanged!" Well, I feel I can offer evidence that might provide a sound reason. And after you read my response, I would really like you to respond back to me and tell me how you feel. I will tell you the real reason why Jews keep Kosher:

"Because G-d said so." That's the ONLY reason Jews keep kosher, just because G-d said so; not because of health reasons or any other reasons. JUST BECAUSE G-D SAID SO.

But here's where things get interesting. In the Torah, G-d (I know in your case, you don't believe in His existence, but just assume for arguments sake that He does) said that Jews are not allowed to eat any animal that doesn't chew its cud and that doesn't have split hooves. I know that sounds crazy...

The Torah also states that there are a certain number of animals who fits these descriptions: The Torah preceeds to name and number all of these animals. It names the animals who don't have split hooves and who don't chew their own cud. The Torah then precedes to say that there is 1 animal, and only 1 animal, in the world that both does not have split hooves and does not chew it's own cud, and that animal is the PIG.

Now David, for arguments sake, let's say the Torah was written by MAN only 100 years ago in the Middle East. So now we're talking only 100 years, not thousands of years ago. For a human being 100 years ago to make a claim that there are only a certain number of animals that don't have split hooves and that don't chew their own cud, to name all of them, and then to say again that there is only 1 animal who fits both the descriptions (don't chew it's own cud, don't have split hooves, the PIG), this human being better be banking on his chances that there aren't any other animals IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD that don't have split hooves and don't chew their own cud). After all, this namn 100 years ago who is writing the Torah can't put up misinformation, or else nobody would believe it.

Well David, just 40 years ago, the world has had the technology to travel to all areas of the world in all seven continents and to identify many animals. David, in the 1970s a group of scientists tried to prove the Torah wrong and they tried to find any animal not listed in the Torah that doesn't have split hooves or doesn't chew it's own cud. David, they found NO ANIMALS OF SUCH SORT. Even more surprisingly, there wasn't 1 other animal in the whole entire world to both not chew its own cud and to have split hooves, and that animal is the PIG!

So if the Torah was written by man only 100 years ago, these men must have investigated every single animal that is known in existence and better hoped that there would be no other animal in the world that wouldn't have split hooves or chew it's own cud, or be the only animal in the world to not chews its own cud and have split hooves.

So David, this isn't proof that the Kashrus rules are right, but it's pretty good evidence to support the idea that man did not come up with these arbitrary rules. The only way a man could have done this is if he banked all of his money on the hope that no other animals would ever come into existence that didn't fit the criteria that he wrote in the Torah!

So why don't I mix milk with meat? It's absurd! I would love to eat a cheeseburger... But I have quite amazing evidence that man did NOT write the Kashrus rules in the Torah. Do you agree that this is good evidence? To me, this is G-d's fingerprint on the Torah. Do you honestly believe that a group of men living thousands of years ago in a remote part in the middle east could have named and identified every animal that would ever be discovered, then to name and number these animals, say there will never be any other animals not to fit this description, and then proceed to say that there will only be ONE animal in existence that both has split hooves and chews its own cud? I would be really interested into hearing what you say.

take care, and much love and respect,


And here's my reply to this argument. It's a response that, with minor changes in wording, applies to many of the arguments made for the existence of God:


First of all, thanks for the friendly tone of your e-mail. That essay has prompted some religious Jews to send me e-mails that weren't friendly at all.

As for the study in the 1970s that found no animal other than the pig that doesn't chew the cud and have a cloven hoof that isn't already listed in the Torah, I suspect that someone has told you a tall tale. As with the existence of gods, I'd require very solid evidence of such an extraordinary claim. Who were the scientists, where and when were their results published, and was there any peer review?

But for the sake of argument, let's assume the study existed and was carefully done and the results were as you have heard. That still doesn't prove the existence of the god you believe in. You're making a mistake common to religious people, the same mistake made by Pascal when he formulated his wager. You think that there are only two alternatives -- what you believe or atheism. But in fact, one can come up with endless fairy tales to explain puzzling observations, and all fairy tales are equal. For example, here's one off the top of my head.

Suppose that on an isolated island in the Pacific, there's a small tribe that worships many idols. Now, these idols aren't inanimate stone. They are actually powerful, supernatural beings, just as the tribe believes. They are gods. They created the world and everything in it. They don't get along with each other, but their worshipers don't realize that because, since they carved themselves out of stone long before the world existed (gods can do things like that), the gods' expressions never change. Able to foresee the future, these gods knew long ago that there was a chance that some of their worshipers would eventually meet and intermarry with Jews. This revolted the gods, who knew that they wouldn't like Jews at all. So they set up the burning bush incident and all the rest of it, and they dictated the Torah -- in short, they created Judaism with all its strange rules, including its bizarre dietary laws. You see, they knew that their worshipers, once they did meet Jews, would consider Judaism crazy and would be so repelled that they would never intermarry with them. And that's why the study you mentioned found the results it did.

A silly story? Yes, deliberately so, but no sillier than the one you believe in. Here's the important point: it explains that study just as well as the fairy tale you believe in does. Your fairy tale seems real to you because it's the one you were brought up with and moreover it's one of the fairy tales the world takes seriously. But logically, all fairy tales are the same.

Now, further for the sake of argument, let's suppose that your god really does exist and created the Universe and so on. Should you obey the dietary laws because this creature ordained them? Many a schoolchild is forced to observe foolish rituals because a schoolyard bully has ordered him to do so. Better to do that than to be beaten up. But is this something to be proud of? The child dreams of escape, not of continued subjugation to a brute.

It's a good thing that all of this is just for the sake of argument and that neither your god nor those island gods exist. Self-respect is not possible while one squirms under the boot of a master.

Recently (July 2008), I received a supportive and informative e-mail from David A. Kirshner, who gave me permission to include his name and e-mail address. He was responding to the section in the letter above describing a supposed scientific investigation in the 1970s that tried -- and failed to prove the Torah wrong by finding an animal other than pig that fails the test of both having split hooves and chewing its on cud. David Kirshner wrote:

In your response you requested for some pretty reasonable evidence to support the existence of this supposed study such as: the names of the researchers' names, the name and date of the publication, and if there was a peer review. You were even gracious enough to go on to assume that the study happened before you continued with your response to M's letter. I am not sure if M ever wrote back to you again with any of the evidence you had requested, but I seriously doubt that he had.

I'm not sure what if any checking he did to back up his outrageous claim, but it did not sound too "kosher" to me (sorry, I just couldn't resist). I recalled hearing about a kosher pig back in the 80's and how fanfare died down not too long afterwards. So I searched the internet for kosher pig and within less than 5 minutes of research I found the babirusa.

"The babirusa is a rare, enigmatic tusked pig found only in Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes) and nowhere else in the world. Weighing up to 100 kilogrammes it is found only in rain forest and is seriously endangered as a result of the loss of its habitat. The babirusa is one of the earliest Sulawesi mammals to be known in Europe, described by Piso in 1658."

The following completely invalidates M's story about the supposed research report:

"Because it is split-hooved and has a three-chambered stomach (and was thus thought to be a ruminant for a long time), there was some dispute in Halakha (Jewish law) as to whether the babirusa pig is, in fact, kosher (permitted according to Jewish dietary laws). Eventually it was found that the animal is not a true ruminant, and thus remains 'trefe' like other pigs."

It is clear that M allowed his overzealousness to get the best of him. His response to you may have been quite polite, but his message lost credibility with this bogus story. This entire story reminds me of the story that NASA discovers a "missing" day that corresponds to Biblical accounts of the sun's standing still in the sky. My favorite debunking of this story is not from snopes.com or any atheist newsletter, but from a self-described "Christianity-defending" website.

"The only conclusion that one can draw, respecting the facts, is that this story is false. That being the case, it should not be repeated. We do a disservice to God's Word when we attempt to 'defend' it with stories such as these which, with a bit of common sense and the tiniest bit of in-depth research, are easily shown to be without any factual foundation whatsoever. The Word of God can, and must, be defended. But let us make sure we do not defend it with a 'broken sword.'"

I replied to David Kirshner:

No, he never did write back. Big suprise!

The NASA story is interesting. I first heard it from my wife's Southern Baptist grandparents, whom we were visiting in Baton Rouge. I was working at NASA in Houston at the time, and they handed me an issue of their church bulletin with that story in it, no doubt thinking that it would convert me. (They kept trying to convert us, every time we drove over.) It was clear to me that the story was bogus, and I tried to explain that to them, but I could tell I wasn't getting through.

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