Of Questions, Answers, and Questions

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10 Responses

  1. JosephW says:

    An excellent and thoughtful piece.

    One is reminded of a story with a Rav (I think Rav Chaim Volozhiner?) who met a former talmid who had strayed from shmiras hamitzvos. After being asked “mai hai”, the student explained that he had many kashyos (questions, or difficulties). The Rav responded, “You don’t have kashyos, you have teirutzim”. (Teirutzim are answers, but can also mean excuses).

    The Rambam also makes the “Kuzari argument”; see Yesodei Hatorah Chapter 8. And the Ramban mentions it in his comments on the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos in his “Shikchas HaLavin LaDaas HaRamban”, Mitzvah Beis.

  2. Max says:

    JosephW: Many bloggers who have doubts about the truth of the Torah (most of whom sound very sincere) have quoted that well-known story as exemplifying the condescending attitude taken by frum society towards those who have intellectual difficulties with Judaism. Indeed, if one looks at the struggles these people have it seems absurd to say that they are looking for “teirutzim” to leave Judaism. On the contrary, they usually start out trying to desperately find answers which will allow them to remain religious.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Joseph W-there are variations of that story with the Chafetz Chaim and R Chaim Brisker as well. As far as Hitchens is concerned, his writings are IMO devoid of any understanding of Torah Shebicsav and TSBP. Arguments such as Hitchens’s illustrate why we should be leary about who is considered a “intellectual” or “thinker” by the secular world.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    One thing people must remember is that there is a difference between Science and Scientism. Science is a body of knowledge. It is not a moral or ethical force, just a lot of facts about how things work. Scientism is a godless religion which poses as an ethical and moral force. And it doesn’t do a very good job.

    For example, science can study climate patterns and examine the hypothesis that the globe is getting warmer. Scientism concludes that that a warmer globe is happening and that it is a bad thing based on a particular value set and then condemns anybody who doesn’t agree with that, even if that person has adequate science behind him to dispute their contention.

    This is the model Chris Hitchens and his ilk fit into. With nothing more than their own personal opinions, they pose as modern day philosophers come to liberate us from our primitive superstitions. Yet the only reason Hitchens ever wins a debate is because he applies the rule “He who screams loudest has the floor” and he can scream quite loud.

    One only has to look at the holes in his theories to see how empty a thinker he is. For example, he condemns religion as the source of all evil but when confronted with the fact that two atheistic philosophies, Communism and fascism murdered tens of millions of people (if not more) during the 20th century he answers by saying “Yes, but that’s because they strayed from their roots and started acting like religions!”

    Science can tell me there was a Big Bang. It cannot tell me where the material involved came from or why it happened in the first place. Only Torah can give me the true answer to that question. But if I accept that God created the universe and me as well, then I must accept there is an authority in my life that I must answer to. I am not my own master. This is something an egotistical (I can’t use the word on this blog) like Hitchens can never accept.

  5. Charles B. Hall says:

    I have not read Christopher Hitchens’ work, but the quoted excerpt shows understanding of neither religion nor science. Science is limited to addressing matters that are amenable to empirical verification, and thus is a potential threat to religion only to the extent that a religion’s basic precepts are empirically verifiable. Science is therefore no threat to Judaism as only one of the Rambam’s 13 principles — the eighth — is even theoretically subject to empirical verification, and a practical verification of even that one is impossible. Judaism also has a long tradition of non-literal interpretation of its sacred texts so even an actual disproof of the most straightforward literal meaning, which of course has happened for parts of Sefer Bereshit, is no challenge to our tradition. As a scientist I have no difficult in reciting, “Ani maamim….” My understanding is that today the Catholic Church and most Protestant churches also find no inherent conflict between science and religion.

    It also goes without saying that while far too many humans have died in the name of religion, atheists like Stalin and Mao have done their best to catch up with the numbers in less than a century. The argument that overthrow of religion avoids totalitarianism is proven false by those two examples alone.

  6. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Max,
    I don’t think JosephW ever suggested that every question is really an an excuse. Of course an honest seeker will have many questions. But a DISHONEST one will have many “teirutzim”. I imagine that Rav Chaim Volozhiner knew his talmid, and knew that he wasn’t an honest seeker. [Actuallly, the way I heard the story, Rav Chaim Volozhiner pronounced his talmid’s questions “teirutzim” after he heard them.] The point is, Hitchens is not an honest seeker either, as Rabbi Adlerstein implies and as all the commenters seem to agree.

  7. michoel halberstam says:

    These are old discussions which are not rendered unimportant for that reason, but which most do not really understand. As ytou correctly point out the Kuzari makes clear that the essential aspects of are fauith are accepted because of tradition. These include tha foreknowledge of G-d, the fact that He is the source of all morality, that he knows each and every one of us personally and cares about what we doe, etc. As in the case of all ideas that cannot be expressed in a meaningful way to the scientific mind, it is true if you believe it, and inexpressible ( which for many is the same thing as non-existent) if you don’t. Therefore the debate it self may lead nowhere. However,the idea of Pesach is to see ourselves as having been part of the exodus. Those who partici[pated did see, and for them proof was irrelevant. Maybe that’s what we need to do as well.

  8. Sholom says:

    The Kuzari argument is more rational than depicted in this article. I have no recollection of standing at Sinai. None the less I believe that it is highly implausible that a detailed national history, incorporating the various events of the exodus, could be falsely introduced into ancient Israel’s “history books.”

  9. One Christian's perspective says:

    My understanding is that today the Catholic Church and most Protestant churches also find no inherent conflict between science and religion. – Charles B. Hall

    Both science and religion can be corrupted by man and out of that corruption conflict arises. The Reformation that birthed Protestantism came about because G-d’s own words became twisted by man’s goals and desires to seek salvation outside of G-d and charging others for it. True church growth comes from seeking the wisdom and knowledge of G-d and the ability to understand both in humility and in sincerity. In science, I would argue that evolution is but an unproven theory spouted by those who refuse to see the magnificence of G-d in creating something so wonderfully complex that man is still gaining new knowledge of it…..and, if we allow ourselves to get beyond our own pride of intelligence and acomplishments,….. we can be swept off of our feet by the knowledge, wisdom, understanding, creation and skill of G-d who mercifully allows us a glimpse of a snippet of His work. When both science and religion become idols of man, man loses the ability and desire to eagerly seek the greatness of G-d’s work in all things. That G-d would gift us with intelligence, skill and desire in order to seek, search and discover how awesome is He……is hard to comprehend but even more amazing is to realize that G-d wants us to know Him intimatedly and be drawn to His side….so we can glorify His Name. When it is all about G-d, there is no inherent conflict in science and in religion.

  10. Raymond Blum says:

    I have a bit of trivia that probably nobody here will believe, but you can look it up and see that it is true, and that is, that Christopher Hitchens is Jewish. Christopher is the quintessential gentile name, but think about it. Even if you could not prove that Hitchens is Jewish, doesn’t he think like a Jew? He defies political categorization, he thinks for himself, he is a super intelligent man, he bucks authority, he hates human cruelty and recognizes the need to fight terrorism…if that is not Jewish, what is?

    I happen to think that these atheist books being put out by Hitchens, Sam Harris (also a Jew), and even to some extent Richard Dawkins (although he is too disrespectful to the Torah for me to like him), is a healthy thing for our society. Think about those societies where their certainty of G-d’s existence and their other religious beliefs are so iron-clad, that they experience no inner turmoil whatsoever when carrying out the most barbaric acts of evil, all in the name of their G-d. Then think about how different things would be if these terrorists had just enough theological doubt, to not go through with their terrorist attacks. A whole lot more Jews and other innocent people would still be alive today.

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