Moses tells the Israelites that the Torah will be RECOGNIZABLY good, to outsiders, because “the peoples, … when they hear all these statutes, will say ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’” (Deuteronomy 4:6)

That is, the Torah will recommend itself.

woman dressed in peasant garb reading a large book with a pencil in hand
Deuteronomy 4:4-8 is in the daily lectionary for March 25

In context, this self-recommendation seems to depend on the practice of the Torah:

See, just as YHWH my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what great nation has a god so near to it as YHWH our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

But is the Torah self-recommending? Empirically? Today? That doesn’t seem obvious, in any of its versions – as presented in any flavor of Judaism, or Christianity. Why not?

Was it empirically self-recommending in the past? Again, that doesn’t seem obvious. Certainly not universally. On the other hand, it always seems to have attracted some people. E.g., Ruth.

But if “people really lived their religion” would it be more universally self-recommending? Thinking of students, here, who perennially ask various versions of the question “If religion is supposed to make people better, why doesn’t it?”

Or would it still depend on what people had come to like and dislike about their own way of life? Thinking of people who object to this or that aspect of Torah: not enough personal autonomy, too much ritual, etc.

Are there conditions for a way of life being self-recommending?

What are they?


still life from Old Woman Praying Maes