Are you going to start alphabetically, he asks? By the time you went from Anabaptist to Buddhism to Christianity (and its 2000 variations) to Judaism, you'd either be in the loony bin, or very confused or dead. Here are his five reasons for why one should start with Judaism:
- If you have eliminated polytheism and are a monotheist "because Occam's Razor is the most simple, elegant solution to the conundrum of why there is a world, how it's fine tuned, how it seems to be designed, why there are laws, etc., so I'll say, OK, there seems to be one God, one infinite God, it precludes the possibility of other gods." Once you get to monotheism, it makes sense to start with Judaism which is the oldest, preceding Islam and Christianity by thousands of years. Both of these later religions believe in the Jewish Bible. A Christian will say the Jewish Bible is true, the Koran similarly (although they have "some issues with the precise manuscripts"). In terms of the 2-1/2 billion monotheists of the world, virtually the only thing they do agree on is the Torah.
- Judaism is very accessible with thousands of books published in every language, including Klingon, explaining itself. It's not a secret religion and it can explain itself. You don't have to be a priest or an imam.
- It doesn't ask anyone to "give up their mind". There are religions that have "holy mysteries", there is the statement "I believe because it is absurd". Judaism doesn't ask for that. It asks for a reasonable faith. It is based on reason and logic. If you are investigating something, there is the assumption that you are relying to a great degree on your own intellect. Universal literacy is one of the goals of Judaism and one of the greatest commandments is to study. We are not about secrets and the limiting of information.
- If you are Jewish, Judaism is a great place to start. One may accept that there are sparks of truth in other cultures and religions. But the soul is composed of a spiritual identity that is an accumulation of the history and experiences of the people that came before you and who contributed to your soul. Thus, the religion that is most fine-tuned to your soul is Judaism. You are a product of your ancestors and their history, like it or not.
- There are many religions out there that don't even make a claim to truth! Some say we are just a convenient way of getting to nirvana or we are a pleasant life-style. Judaism makes a claim to absolute truth and if you are concerned with truth and not just "this is comfortable, this is nice", then it would be nice to start with Judaism. And, among those religions that make a claim to absolute truth, Judaism is the oldest and the mother of them all.
I do, however, take exception to a number of R. Becher's assertions. His six minute compendium of talking points contains numerous falsehoods and examples of sloppy thinking.
Point 3: A typical Aish party line is "you don't have to give up your mind". But ultimately one will encounter major roadblocks to a rational acceptance of certain claims of Judaism (the Mabul as described in the Torah, 600,000 adult males leaving Egypt, etc.) and will be fed either kvetchy answers or told that science is flawed and one has to have emunah in the words of the Torah. And certainly the masses of Orthodox fundamentalists do give up their mind to the "Daas Torah" of their rebbaim.
Point 4: Becher conflates historical/cultural experiences with mystical notions of the soul. How do you know if you weren't a gentile in a previous life?? According to Chaim Vital and others who are fond of weaving - frankly very fascinating - reincarnation connections, the 24,000 Shechemites who were killed by Shimon and Levi became the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva as merit for circumcising themselves! Dina bas Yaakov became Cozbi bas Tzur who became the wife of Turnus Rufus who eventually converted and married Rabbi Akiva! (OK, I'm quibbling on this point but Becher should have simply stated the cultural convenience of adopting Judaism. Besides, I wanted to throw out some interesting esoteric tidbits for you.)
Point 5: Which religion doesn't make a claim to truth? I can't think of a one. Becher shows his ethnocentricity and ignorance by presuming that only the Big 3 western religions make any claim to truth. See, for example, my post here which is basically a quote from the Dalai Lama and his explanation regarding the need for verification of religious doctrine via "reasoned examination and personal experiment."
I saved the best for last. Point 1. Forget the simple fact that Becher creates a classical "false dilemma" (stating that the choice is between monotheism or polytheism, where in fact there are also non-theistic religions, henotheism, etc.), then quickly moves to the only choices being Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (he should read up on Sikhism, Bahai, even Hinduism which some understand as non-polytheistic), and finally to claiming that everyone agrees on the Torah (a glib oversimplification. Besides, even if they "agree" it doesn't mean it's true.) No, it's how he arrives at monotheism by invoking Occam's Razor. This principle states "one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything". Becher is reducing entities from multiple gods to a single God to explain the world. "God did it", is the simplest explanation in his view, while prepping the seeker with some classic Intelligent Design claims ("fine tuned", "it seems to be designed", "why there are laws"). Now it is interesting that Occam's Razor is more often used to as an argument against the existence of God (ironic because Occam was a theist), but I really don't want to get into that debate. (Besides, I do believe in "some sorta God".) No, it is what I presume would be his exclusive use of Occam's Razor in claiming that it argues for monotheism. Would he also claim that "a miracle" is the simplest postulate for the miracles of the 10 plagues? For the splitting of the Reed Sea? Manna for 40 years feeding millions of people? The sun and moon standing still for Joshua? Resurrections performed by Elisha and by Eliahu? The most simple explanations, of course, are that these were not miracles but natural phenomena that were recorded as miracles by pre-scientific minds.
I think that Rabbi Becher is confusing simple with simplistic.