Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Leap of Faith

Jay Lefkowitz (Wikipedia)
I have been extremely reluctant to discuss matters of faith here. The reason for that is that it breeds more skepticism than it does faith. Those times I have dared to have these conversations - invariably it has led to the standard challenges to faith from a variety of sources.

All of which come pouring out of the minds of serious people. Many of these challenges are made by observant Jews from diverse backgrounds ranging from Modern Orthodox to Charedi. In most cases they have not received satisfactory responses to those challenges.

I fully admit that the rational mind does not – and perhaps cannot – always provide answers to all challenges. I also admit to having many of my own questions along those lines. I cannot fully explain those challenges. And yet I maintain complete faith in my beliefs despite them.

That’s because I understand the limitations of rational thought. Not everything can be explained via the scientific method. There are many reasons to believe. Even when there are challenges that cannot be resolved by rational thought.

Which brings me to an oped in the New York Times by Jay Lefkowitz.  This is not the first time I have referenced him.  Jay is a scrupulously observant Jew whose doubts have led him to actually question the existence of God –  or at least question or even doubt God that actively participates in the affairs of man. Which undermines one of the basic tenets of Judaism. Not to mention the fact that if one believes that God does not participate in the affairs of man – there is no purpose to prayer. Nor is there any reason for observance. There was no revelation at Sinai, and the Torah is a just a piece of fiction written by man.

Jay has once again written about this subject. All while asserting his scrupulous – almost dogged determination to make sure he can actually continue praying to a God he very likely believes doesn’t listen to prayers. He is currently saying Kaddish (commonly known as the mourner’s prayer) for his father and goes well out of his way to make sure he can find a Minyan (a minimum of 10 men) 3 times a day in order to do so.

Why does Jay do this? His answer here is the same as it was the last time he discussed it. It gives him a sense of belonging to a people that has survived all manner of persecution and attempts at destruction. Belief is not his reason for doing so.

As an aside - I have to question just how much of a skeptic he really is. It is one thing to be generally observant and thereby be an integral part of the Jewish people. But the lengths to which he goes to do that are far beyond his need to feel he belongs. It is not easy finding a Minyan everyday for every Kaddish. If he was not that determined, he would not lose membership in the ‘club’. He would still be a member n good standing. I think that there is something driving him beyond just wanting to be a member. Deep down, I think he may actually entertain the thought that God does hear the prayers  of man despite so much of the ‘evidence’ he cites to the contrary.

Be that as it may, I want to impress upon all those that believe that rational thought is ultimate arbiter of truth - that this is not so.

Although I am a firm believer in the importance of rational thought, and use it for much of my own belief system, it is not enough. Rational thought will get you only so far. You might be able to explain many of the contradictions between belief and - say - science. But I doubt that anyone can fully resolve all of those contradictions. Questions will remain. That should not however deter someone from having complete faith in his belief system. There is more than one reason to believe. 

There is also a flaw in relying on challenges of today that may disappear in the future. Staying with science as one of the disciplines that challenges belief - by definition science is not static. What one knows to be fact today, may be disproved by newly discovered facts of the future.

But even leaving that aside, belief will always require a leap of faith. Even though I am a strong proponent of rational thought and believe it is a valuable tool in promoting faith - there will have to be some point where Emunah Peshuta  - simple faith comes in. A point that requires the rational mind to ignore reason and simply believe. Using rational thought may reduce the gap. Which is a good thing. But there will always a need for leaping it. That is the very nature of belief.

Why should someone ever do that? …one may ask. Because there are other reasons to believe that may not by themselves be enough – but if taken in the aggregate can lead to no other conclusion in my view. 

This does not mean that one shouldn’t try to make sense of contradictions. I try to do that all the time. What it does mean however is that as long as you don’t come to a conclusion that rejects faith despite some apparent  contradictions – you have not done anything wrong. You can have questions. It is when you have answers based on those questions that rejects belief that makes one an Apikores. Concluding that God doesn’t exist or doesn’t interact with man because you never see it (as Jay seems to do) doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist or interact.

I think this is key. One cannot just be observant for social reasons as Jay Lefkowitz seems to be. That is not what sustained us of over the millennia. It is also the belief that God actually exists, and interacts with man that underlies that observance that matters. One of these components alone will not work. 

I think if Jay actually thought about why Judaism has survived into the 21st century and thrives today he might come to realize that belief is as important a factor as is observance. And rethink his total reliance on rational thought.

As always, Emes Ve-Emunah assumes the truth of the principles of the Jewish faith as transmitted by our sages throughout the generations - codified in Maimonides 13 principles. I will not entertain any discussion or debate about it. I present this post as food for thought in an effort to support belief. Not to undermine it.