The Proof of Sinai, or Kuzari Principle, has also come under serious attack within the blogosphere, even at the hands of people who are, for all intents and purposes, 'believers'. Thinkers on both sides of the issue have adopted an all-or-nothing approach; with one side claiming that Sinai offers decisive proof of the Torah's divinity and the other claiming that it offers no evidence whatsoever.
I believe that many of the objections raised against the Sinai proof are themselves deeply flawed and rooted in basic misunderstandings. At the same time, though, overestimation of the value of the "proof" in the eyes of some of its proponents is partially responsible for the backlash against it. I would like to take the liberty of reproducing a segment of an email I wrote to David Guttmann, author of the Believing is Knowing blog, last week:
My understanding of the so-called Kuzari argument, even as presented by Rabbi Chait, is not as a demonstration, strictly speaking. I believe the thrust of his article can be summarized and reworded less hyperbolically as follows:
"Most religions stake their validity on the 'honesty' of a prophet or small group of leaders who claim to have received revelation. Judaism is unique in that it bases its authenticity upon the collective experience, by the Jewish people as a whole, of key events in their history. The nature of the events in question - i.e., their public character and profound significance - is such that accounts of their occurence are no more or less suspect than the essential elements of any other record of a nation's history. No nation has ever been accused of fabricating the accounts of the formative events in its collective historical experience. As a matter of course, we accept such reports as authentic until proven otherwise. The accounts of the Torah thus deserve the same respect. To question their validity is to necessarily introduce a conspiracy theory the magnitude of which has never been observed in human history."
In other words, I submit that the argument succeeds in demonstrating that the accounts of the Exodus and Maamad Har Sinai are a part of the national history of Israel, not the personal claims of a particular prophet or priest. As such, they should be considered empirically factual until evidence is adduced to the contrary.
( If these events were not a part of the collective memory of klal yisrael, then we will be hard pressed to explain the fact that the prophets constantly make reference to them in their polemics against the Jews. Does it make any sense to remind people of the implications of something that they deny ever happened?)
The fact that records of these events constituted the formative history of a nation gives the accounts of those events a qualitatively superior kind of reliability. This is the "evidence" that our mesora provides as to its authenticity.
Despite the fact that history is far from an exact science, we possess a fairly consistent and coherent model of the past. Only revisionist historians who are willing to consider the possibility of intricate conspiracy theories, etc., present us with radically different versions of the historical record. Legitimate historians - though they may differ on details of interpretation and other nuances - usually operate within a common framework of empirical knowledge that shapes the direction of their research.
Now, let us examine the facts. There is no alternative account of Israel's history that has even a shred of empirical data to support it. Yet, archaelogists and so-called Biblical scholars will accept the wildest conjecture and the most unfounded and groundless speculation as long as it contradicts and supplants the traditional viewpoint.
It is important to keep in mind the paucity of the archaeological evidence we have in our possession, relative to the number of hypotheses and interpretations that have been built upon it. Most experts estimate that only .5%-2% of the archaeological material in existence has actually been unearthed and studied. This is a modest amount of data on which to base a complete rewriting of ancient history. We must also consider the fact that many archaeological discoveries have confirmed Biblical accounts, and that not a single archaelogical finding has ever decisively contradicted them (of course, in some instances, this is a matter of interpretation - but the presence of disagreement about the implications of a finding renders that finding "indecisive").
In summary, when we approach the subject of history and the verification of historical records, we must clarify the standard of proof we will be employing. There is no question that the character of the events in Egypt and at Sinai is such that the Torah's account deserves to be accepted as a reliable national history.
If we choose to deny that the events that the Torah describes actually occurred, then we are forced to work out an alternative explanation for Jewish religious and political life that will have no evidence to back it up and will involve conspiracy theories galore. This will lead us down the path of purely speculative historical revisionism and far away from any rational assessment of the data at hand. We would not take this kind of fanciful reconstruction seriously in any other area of historical study; thus, we should be equally unwilling to accept it with regard to the Torah's accounts.
This is the essence of the "Proof of Sinai" as I understand it.