Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5766 - August 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Torah Judaism Embraces Both Faith and Reason

In Judaism faith and reason are partners. In Christianity they are opponents. Ignorance of — or failure to fully appreciate — this truth, has led to very upsetting analogies.

In the Western, non-Jewish tradition, the use of reason is traced back to the ancient Greeks. ". . . it was the ancient Ionians who first . . . breathed the bracing air of reason" (The Enlightenment, by Peter Gay, p. 72). Religion — Christianity for them — is the source of faith. It does not need to be argued that pagan Greek rationalism is deeply opposed to Christianity — it was evident to all from the early Church leaders to the modern Church opponents. Hence faith and reason are seen by Christians, and the secular West which forms its idea of religion from Christianity, as deeply different ways of approaching the world.

Thus, in describing his purpose in presenting a series of television programs (on PBS, entitled "Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason," which we read about), Bill Moyers describes "the tug of war between reason and faith."

A critic in the New York Times (June 26, 2006) understands exactly what he means and even complains that the series does not explore "how Greek notions of reason and Judeo-Christian notions of faith struggled against each other as they shaped the mainstream of Western culture."

As a description of the development of "the mainstream of Western culture" this is accurate and very familiar. However the Jewish Torah tradition is not now, has never been, nor seeks to be part of "the mainstream of Western culture."

The Jewish tradition has a completely independent tradition of critical thinking that has been opposed to both Christian faith and Greek pagan thinking from the start of both.

Our readers know well how thoroughly suffused a Torah education is with critical thinking from the earliest years and from the time of the first development of such abilities in our developing youth. (This applies mainly to boys, whose education follows a tradition that is thousands of years old.) Studying works that are part and derivative of a tradition that traces its origin to Sinai and is universally acknowledged to be fully independent of all non-Jewish thought — by explicit programmatic design — the modern yeshiva bochur can boast of critical abilities that are second to none — although he would never do so out of modesty and lack of interest in doing so.

In Torah Judaism, both faith and reason are embraced and they function as part of an integrated approach to life and learning. They temper each other, and both extremes — a Christian faith that insists on irrational beliefs, and a Greek reason that has contempt for anything not subservient to it — are not present.

Although we do believe in one G-d like other Western faiths, beyond that our differences are greater than our similarities. Thus it is not proper to lump us together with either fundamentalist Christians or with Islam, as is all too often done. In the Moyers series, for example, the position of Orthodox Judaism in Israel is compared to the Christian Right in the United States. Perhaps this is a useful way of speaking for some, but to us it is woefully superficial.

Our approach is not to pit faith against reason, but to develop our capacities for both to their utmost. We find that they work very well together.

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