In late 1939, less than six months after its introduction, Australian cryptographer, Eric Nave, broke the Japanese naval code, JN-25, through which all Japanese wartime operational messages were sent. On the 25th of November, 1941, British and Australian intelligence officers intercepted and decoded a JN-25 message sent from Admiral Yamamoto in Tokyo to Admiral Nagumo reading: ‘The Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay] on the morning of the 26th of November and advance to the ready position on the afternoon of the 4th of December and speedily complete refueling.’ This message, as with all decrypts, was sent via Singapore to London where it’s believed Prime Minister Churchill, the former First Lord of the Admiralty, personally inspected each communiqué. On the 2nd of December, 1941, the signal Niitaka yama nobore [Climb Mount Niitaka] was sent by Admiral Yamamoto indicating the attack on Pearl Harbor was to proceed as planned. Neither this message, nor any others concerning the readying of the Japanese fleet in the Pacific, was apparently forwarded to the Americans.
Whether true or not*, did Churchill have an obligation to alert his American counterpart, Roosevelt, of Japanese preparations to attack the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor? Was it his duty to inform the Americans? Was he ethically and/or morally bound to divulge the information?
A version of this same question is facing Jews today. Do the senior figures in Judaism, the rabbis of the largest movements (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal and Humanistic denominations which account for 80 to 85% of all practicing Jews) have an ethical and/or moral obligation to tell Christians and Muslims that the foundation narrative upon which their faiths are built is a myth with no historical credibility? As the custodians of the bedrock stories that both anchor and give meaning to all Abrahamic faiths do rabbis, in good conscience, have a duty to step outside Judaism and publicly discuss that which is openly taught in all but Orthodox rabbinic seminaries today: that the Patriarchal stories are simple mythology, that Moses was a legendary motif not found in history, that the Jews were never in Egypt, that there was never an Exodus, and that there was never a military conquest of Canaan?
Now, granted, the JN-25 analogy is perhaps too harsh. The archaeological information is after all freely available, has been for decades, and the point that Christians and Muslims are broadly ignorant to the fact that their religions are built on a tremendous historical misunderstanding is more a failing of popular culture and their own limited curiosity than of rabbis keeping a secret. A better and perhaps more accurate analogy therefore might be that of a major vehicle recall where the manufacturer issues a notice informing owners of a fatal defect in their product. The question though remains the same: As heirs to, and stewards of the narrative, do Jews have a social responsibility to step outside of Judaism and lead a dialogue in which the truth is laid bare?
I recently posed this question to dozens of rabbis and all but two said, No; they didn’t think they bore any culpability for the on-going false historical impression fomenting in other Abrahamic religions, and despite admitting the Jewish foundation narrative detailed in the Hebrew Bible was little more than a geopolitical myth conceived of and promoted in the late 7th and early 6th Century BCE wouldn’t willingly initiate an interfaith dialogue. Rabbi Irwin Kula (President of The National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership), for example, expressed to me that “I am actually kind of simple about this. I don’t worry that much about how people misinterpret the bible or get the historicity wrong. I only worry about their actions. If they use the Bible – whether as fact or fiction, or history or myth – in ways that hurt people then it’s a problem, but if they use their misinterpretations and historical inaccuracies to help people and make the world a better place then I am okay and maybe fiction is better than fact for some things.”
For contrast I then posed the same question to some of the leading Israeli biblical archaeologists whose very work continues to further debunk the Torah and large sections of the Nevi’im. All, without exception, expressed the certain need for the archaeological findings to be made more transparent so as to “reduce popular ignorance and gullibility,” as stated by Professor Rafi Greenberg, but all stopped short of also accepting any responsibility to lead any public dialogue on the matter. Of particular note here was a brilliant young archaeologist, Dr Erez Ben-Yosef, who while confirming that he stands squarely within the consensus and that “archaeologists should make their knowledge accessible to the public and correct misinterpretations, especially when they appear to represent the scientific (or religion-neutral) understandings of things,” surprising went on to say that he did not “think it is the time for the public to know better or that a dialogue is relevant. It’s not,” he said, “belief is not meant to be based on facts – these are two disparate systems of thinking not compatible for mutual discourse.”
While I respect the good doctor’s position I however emphatically disagree. A belief system which claims to be true – which claims veracity based on alleged historical events – does not get a pass from historical accountability. Something is either true or its not; it’s either genuine or it’s illegitimate, factual or deceptive, and as Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe said: “A tradition cannot make an historical claim and then refuse to have it evaluated by history. It is not an historical claim that God created us and cares for us. That a certain number of people walked across a particular desert at a particular time in the past, after being enslaved and liberated, is an historical claim, and one cannot then cry “unfair” when historians evaluate it.”
Well, historians have evaluated it. They’ve been grading the historical credibility of the Torah and Nevi’im for over a century and the conclusions are in: the narrative is a historical fabrication; a dramatic dream sequence that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual early history of the Jewish people. The revealed religions are missing the supposed revelation. And so the question stands: If archaeology, as a scientific body unto itself, has no mandate to “impose” its findings on the larger public stage, then doesn’t the responsibility to correct the monumentally-proportioned historical mistake being practiced by Christians and Muslims fall to the modern-day custodians of the narrative itself: the Jewish Rabbis?
*British and US documents pertaining to this event are still classified so it’s impossible to say whether Churchill deliberately withheld information, or whether Roosevelt was in fact in possession of the decrypts and did not act on them, knowing the attack would galvanise the America population and hasten her entry into WW2.