Religious systems are often, if not always, associated with dogmatic, unchanging claims of absolute truths. If God revealed it, it must be a permanent verity, fixed in the eternal universe. Change is associated with human uncertainty, while divinity, the very stuff of conviction, is characterized by the unchanging. This explains why people do not want to get involved in debates about religion. Believers will never change their minds in the face of even the most persuasive evidence. So what is the point of critically discussing with them anything that touches on their religious convictions?

The intractability of Jewish law is succinctly expressed in the phrase, “The new is forbidden by Torah” (chadash assur min haTorah), according to which view, “authentic Jewish continuity would be maintained only to the extent that Jewish society continued to cloister itself from external influences.” The most famous...

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