Daniel Jackson on Belief and Rationality in Judaism

Although the challenges presented by the natural sciences have receded, fresh challenges have taken their place and seem to pose much harder and more far-reaching questions. The field of biblical criticism has unearthed a mass of evidence that the Torah is a composite document that reflects the prevailing ideas of other cultures contemporaneous with ancient Israel. How, in the light of such claims, can one adhere to the belief, required by Maimonides in his eighth principle of faith, that the Torah we have in our hands today is the very same Torah that was handed down by Moses, and that it is all of divine origin?

Torah min haShamayim: Conflicts Between Religious Belief and Scientific Thinking”
Dr. Daniel Jackson

TheTorah.com

The erudite polymath Daniel Jackson, whose day job is professor of computer science at MIT, delves into the heart of the Jewish struggle between the belief in Torah as the faithfully transcribed word of Hashem and the rational challenges posed by biblical criticism.

I read the article hoping that Jackson had discovered a Rambam-like balancing point, but that is as yet too much to ask for. Judaism has made its peace with science thanks to Maimonides, and more recently with Darwin. But while he offers no guide to the textually perplexed, he does end with a subtle reminder that there is a difference between doctrine and the mitzvot, and that while must observe the latter, our greatest danger is to base the edifice of our belief on the infallibility of every bit of our received doctrine.

I couldn’t agree more. I think it is possible to believe that Torah is the divine essence transcribed through the poor tools of human language, and that the very reason the Oral Law and the Rabbinic Writings are so important is that, in toto, they represent a quest for perfection of our understanding of the essence of Torah. The Pentateuch in our Seferim Torah is the heart, but the Oral Law and the Writings are the body, and neither can live without the other.

Standards

Another person, a Christian, said to me, later, “I’m sick of churches these days. Everything is geared towards ‘meeting your needs.’ They have so many ministries and programs for every possible group, and don’t get me wrong, a lot of them do real good. But the overall effect is to train us to expect to be catered to. If somebody isn’t meeting our needs, then somebody is failing us. That’s the mindset. But that’s not Christianity. It’s supposed to be hard! It’s the Cross!”

Source: ‘You Can See It All Over. It’s Unwinding’ | The American Conservative

This from Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher.

A question for my fellow Jews:

Raise your hand if you see this same sort of tendency in your synagogue, yeshiva, or shul.

Yep.

A religious leader should not pander. A religious institution should not lower itself.

A religious leader should lead. And a religious institution must aspire to the highest standards while offering help to everyone to reach those standards.

Evangelicals, Interfaith Dialogue, and Literalism

Evangelicals Are Losing the Battle for the Bible. And They’re Just Fine with That”
Jim Hinch

The Los Angeles Review of Books
February 15, 2016

While I recognize that this may represent to some of my more frum friends and mentors something of a heresy, I do read religious texts from other faiths. I find doing so essential for two reasons.

First, because any other faith contains an implicit – or in some cases, an explicit – rejection of Jewish belief, I see in those texts an opportunity to hold up a mirror and examine the edifice of Jewish belief and thought. We are our own harshest critics, but we are not the only ones, and being the stiff-necked but self-critical faith that we are, outside perspectives can be essential guides to understanding our own issues.

The second reason is that it helps us to explain Judaism to others in a way that they will understand. For those of us who do not live our lives in the warm embrace of a Torah-based community, interaction with the goyim is a fact of life. When a Jew of even moderate observance comes into contact with a curious atheist or member of another faith, we are often called to explain – or defend – Judaism, and often to explain how and why our beliefs cannot be lumped willy-nilly together with those of other religions. We can only do this when we know those differences.

The question of Biblical literalism is a matter that affects us all. Many fellow Jews whom I admire deeply, not least great modern poseks like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, hold fast to the idea that the only history of the world before the arrival of the Tribes in the Promised Land is the one in Torah. I know of other sincere and observant scholars who hold the view that Torah is the moral history of the universe rather than a natural history. Both the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Ramban (Nahmanides) support a non-literalist view of Torah. Nonetheless, the debate continues, and I believe that we are better for it, just as Judaism was strengthened by the constant to-and-from between the schools of Shammai and Hillel.

it is, therefore, fascinating to watch Evangelical Christian thinkers move beyond the theological cul-de-sac of Intelligent Design as a means of reconciling science and faith. Any Jew who struggles with these questions and who lives among the goyim would do well to read Jim Hinch’s fascinating article.