Different Problems Require Different Solutions

Upwards of a decade ago, a mother called me and asked what I might advise concerning her son, who was at risk of going “Off the Derech.” There were two problems. First of all, I never experienced the challenges of a frum teenager, and at that time had not yet been the parent of one. And second, my Kiruv work has always surrounded giving people a taste of Torah, a bit of inspiration. But even Kiruv must involve not merely teaching, but showing people a Torah life — developing an emotional attachment to Torah rather than simply whetting the intellect. I suspected even then that someone who grew up in a frum environment wasn’t going to be drawn back by intellectual discussions. I knew that I wasn’t the right person to advise her.

In a piece published on Torah Musings, Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman, professor of Tanakh at Bar-Ilan University, addresses the topic of young people leaving religion. He reviews a book describing the reduced attachment to religion of “millenials,” today’s young adults, and Rabbi Berman infers that “the struggles in our communities are part of a larger trend challenging traditional religious life in western culture” and are “not because of bad parents, or bad schools.”

Rabbi Berman is both a good friend from years past and a respected thinker, and his article is an excellent starting point for discussing this topic. Perhaps, too, there are differences between charedim and Modern Orthodox at play here. But I believe that by focusing upon intriguing similarities, he missed crucial differences between other communities and our own. Those differences show that both families and schools are making a very positive difference in our community — and also that there is more that both could be doing.

The most critical and revealing difference is that we are not facing similar losses. I say this from a Charedi perspective — I have heard from campus Kiruv professionals that there is a very high attrition rate for Orthodox students at four-year secular colleges, perhaps higher than 25%. I don’t know if this is correct, or what the numbers might be for the larger Modern Orthodox community, but contrary to what a Washington Post writer claims to have heard at a Tikvah seminar, the number of Charedim leaving a Torah lifestyle is nowhere near that high. Even the Pew Survey’s figure — that 17 percent of young adults raised Orthodox no longer are — seems outlandishly high where the Charedi community is concerned.

We may be so (justifiably) concerned about each individual who goes “OTD” that we imagine the numbers to be larger than they are. A recent article in Time magazine compared dating problems for women among the college-educated, the Mormons, and the “Yeshivish” charedim. What all three share in common is an oversupply of women. Women are now more likely to seek a college education than are men, apparently by a margin of 4:3. The Mormon Church is affected by the national drop-off in religious enthusiasm, which disproportionately affects men, to the point that one survey estimated there are now 60 Mormon women for every 40 men.

According to demographers, however, the cause of the Yeshivish “Shidduch crisis” is a combination of a rapidly growing population and boys marrying girls a few years their junior. There are reported to be 112 19-year-olds per 100 22-year-olds in our community — and since 22 and 19 seem to be the preferred ages to “enter the market” for boys and girls respectively, this creates a problem.

Why is this relevant? Because it is apparently true in our community, as outside it, that men are more likely to leave religion. According to Footsteps, an organization catering to Charedim (primarily Chasidim) turning secular, only one-third of their clients are women; by their accounting it seems men are twice as likely to leave. This being the case, I previously thought — and believe I wrote — that this, plus anecdotal evidence that women are marginally more likely to become Baalos Teshuvah, could be a factor in the “Shidduch crisis.” Yet there is no parallel issue among Chasidim, simply because they tend to marry people their own age — the fact that more boys than girls leave seems to have no demographic impact. And no one quoted by the author believed that the greater numbers of boys going OTD was a significant factor in the Yeshivish community either.

The second difference, which begins to explain our greater retention rate, is in the area of education. In this country, the two largest groups offering parochial schooling are the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jews; previous history suggests that the reason why we are now retaining such a high percentage of young adults is because our schools are by and large doing their job. The Mormons deliberately do not provide parochial alternatives “where there are adequate public schools available,” and the Southern Baptist Convention seems to provide far fewer parochial schools for their sixteen million SBC members than there are chadorim and day schools. The exposure to foreign ideas and lifestyles to which Rabbi Berman points comes at a later age for our children, and after a much more solid grounding in religious thought.

And finally, there is a significant difference in philosophy. Christianity is about faith, it is something they agree (and state proudly) cannot be proven. Judaism is, on the other hand, about things we know — beginning with the testimony of our collective ancestors. Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l told a chabura of Yeshiva students that each person should have five proofs why he knows that H’ created the world, and five proofs that H’ gave Moshe the Torah. He didn’t talk about belief, but about proof.

All of this being the case, I will both agree and disagree with Rabbi Berman concerning parents and schools. I agree with him that we don’t have a problem of bad parents or bad schools. But I do feel there is more that we could be doing, and would offer two of my own suggestions, one for parents and community that concurs with two of his, the other an addition for the schools:

1. Keep the Door Open — A student at Stern College, herself a Ba’alas Teshuvah, made the following insightful comment in an online forum:

I have never seen a memoir or heard of a case of someone going OTD from the Charedi world that didn’t involve some familial or personal abnormality, including being raised by grandparents because parents were unfit, having a parent die young, having parents who were BTs and therefore less family support, mental illness, etc. If the families were secular these would be seen as things that could make life difficult, but since they’re not, frumkeit is presented as the “causative” difficulty.

When challenged about other cases, she clarified that she meant the ones who had written or thought about writing memoirs, not those who simply “fall off” from observance. But one can say more generally that the great majority of those who leave the Torah community — including those who grew up in warm, loving, completely “normal” families, and had excellent relationships with their schools and teachers — do so primarily for emotional rather than intellectual reasons. It no longer makes sense (if it ever did) to cut off contact with errant family members in order to both reprimand them for bad decisions and deter further losses. On the contrary, maintaining an emotional bond is the best way to bring someone back.

The very title of Shulem Deen’s memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return,” is indicative. He is not stating a rule that when one leaves, one never returns. On the contrary, he writes that not everyone who goes, returns — correctly implying that many of them do. Many consider Teshuvah after leaving our community for a time, and return is most likely to happen when our community keeps the door open and the lights on. Those “exploring” outside the realm of observance should feel confident that they will be respected for rejoining us, rather than mocked for their departure, whenever they reappear in our shuls and communities.

2. Teach Emunah and Face Questions — The Internet is a problem because it can easily be a vehicle for the Yetzer HaRa. It should not, however, be an intellectual obstacle. Certainly we should not have a situation where a formerly Chassidic man claims that the sight of dinosaur bones started his outward journey. Even if we agree that this is ultimately an excuse rather than a real issue, why should he even be able to say such a thing?

Rabbi Berman writes that we must “legitimate the expression of doubt.” But “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — knowing that our youth will face intellectual challenges and questions, we should be teaching the answers. The Haggadah gives the same posuk from the Chumash (verse from the Torah) to the child who does not know how to ask, as to the rasha. In other words, don’t wait for problems, teach the child the answers before he even knows how to ask hard questions. This is especially true in those communities and schools where children routinely go on to four-year secular colleges, but today almost everyone can expect exposure to foreign ideas and influences.

Parents and schools need to be part of addressing today’s challenges, rather than hiding from them. A local parent told me of a recent summer camp interaction between girls from Baltimore and New York. The New York girls were amazed to learn that in Baltimore schools they have open conversations about fundamentals of Emunah. As it turns out, an educator at the school attended by one of the New York girls is himself a well-known lecturer about these topics. But he can’t teach about them in his own school, because the parents won’t stand for it.

Similarly, the Rosh Yeshiva of a high school (outside New York) nixed a talk about Torah and science because it might “raise more questions than it answers.” Rav Wolbe zt”l said the opposite: “In a world where ‘הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד-אֵ-ל; וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ’ (‘The heavens declare the honor of Hashem, and the sky tells the works of His Hands,’ Teh. 19:1), it is impossible that we will not find proofs of Emunah.” Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a similarly said it is a davar pashut that we don’t need to be concerned that honest talk about Emunah will be harmful to those who started without questions — it will only benefit. [For more on this, see “Where is the Passion?” by Rabbi Dovid Sapirman, Dialogue, Fall 5775/2014.]

Besides the importance of good parenting generally — and I would recommend again Rabbi Gordimer’s article on parenting — I would add one point about Shabbos guests, especially if they are not observant: they offer a good opportunity to discuss Emunah in front of your children without lecturing them about it.

Our community is by and large doing an excellent job, as the Pew Report shows. While others may be floundering for solutions to problems of diminishing affiliation, we are growing both in numbers and commitment. Yet there is always more that we could be doing, and it is in that spirit that I have offered these suggestions. May every child appreciate the tremendous gift that is his or her Jewish heritage.

You may also like...

31 Responses

  1. Dovid says:

    As far as the title of Shulem Deen’s memoir, in English you would seem to be right; however, the Hebrew, IMHO, means that none will return (and that is the same way Shulem explained the passuk in his book).

  2. Yehoshua D. says:

    You are wrong about the title of Shulem Deen’s book. It is a translation of what is stated about about Avoda Zara, כל באיה לא ישיובון, which does not mean, as you have, that not all of those who go don’t return, but all who go do not return.

  3. Allan Katz says:

    It will be interesting to see when the playing field is more levelled as men need to go to university and earning a living.

  4. tzippi says:

    Besides not having questions of emunah paid attention to, and the “family abnormality” etc. case made by the BT Stern girl quoted above, there is what I suspect may be the primary cause for going OTD in some demographics and that is cynicism bred by seeing hypocrisy and abuse, whether one witnesses it or experiences, Rachmana litzlan. I guess that falls under the catchall “emotional” causes, but please, we need to spell it out. (Apologies if I missed it.)

    And there is attrition among the Chassidim and that is because the bubble has burst. Most people are insulating their children more than they themselves were insulated; I would be surprised to hear even from those who are more liberal in their exposure to media that they’re not editing carefully. And yet, access to the outside is so easy to obtain and I’m sure there are already sociological studies about the fallout in the Chassidic world.

  5. Meir Goldberg says:

    I asked 2 OTD professionals in Lakewood (where there is ostensibly a big problem of OTD kids) how many of the approx 10,000 + kids over 11 (usually when otd starts) are off the derech in town. They said around 200 – 300 total. Another OTD pro told me that the vast majority eventually return – though obviously much tipul is needed.
    Even 1 otd child is too much and the pain of the family is all too real. But the rate of otd in the Yeshiva world is not quite what people think it is.

  6. Pinchas says:

    IMHO, the chinuch in Yeshivos ketanos have caused increased the OTD phenomenon. Most Yeshivos around only accept the bright students, do not teach English and secular subjects and do not have appropriate professional dealing with learning and emotional problems.

  7. DF says:

    To Yaakov Menken – why don’t you – or any baal teshuvah, really – ask yourself what steps your parents could have taken to prevent you from becoming orthodox, and then apply those same lessons to the OTD issue? The answer might be because there was nothing they could have done. Anyone outside of NY (and probably even in NY) knows countless people from non-orthodox backgrounds, including converts, and they, just like the orthodox, come from many different backgrounds. Most of the ones I personally know came from very loving families with whom they are still close. Others didn’t. They all found their way to orthodox Judaism by some combination of luck and happenstance (mazal and hashgacha, if one’s sensitivities prefer) but primarily by personal curiosity and character. There was nothing their parents did or did not do that caused them to become orthodox Jews. You can’t stop fate.

    So — what makes anyone think that the process doesn’t work exactly the same way in the other direction?

  8. DF says:

    You write that teachers should teach emunah and face questions. The intentions are good, but already the mishna taught us that some questions should not be asked, the reason being that there are no good answers. Some people, who have grown up in the milieu of “ask the rabbi” programs or kiruv seminars, are confident that there is an answer to everything. But others are not so certain. There are already countless millions of people, in Judaism and in other religions, who are not satisfied with the answers they receive. Its just another case of the fundamental two prototypes of Man underlying the fabric of the universe – some are more questioning, some are more accepting. That, I assure you, will never change. So why exacerbate things by deliberately provoking those students with the questioning mind?

    It is perfectly OK to live with questions and contradictions. It is also perfectly acceptable to establish boundaries to which we do NOT encourage exploration, and yes, it is precisely for fear of what might be discovered. [That’s precisely why it is forbidden to research differences between the sexes or the races, or to research cures for homosexuality. Society is too afraid to confront what real independent research might show.] Is there some degree of intellectual dishonesty attached to this? Of course. But experience teaches us its better to go down that path and hope that people not equipped to deal with challenges never face them, rather than to deliberately expose people/children to them, and brazenly and blithely assume our answers will be sufficient.

  9. dr. bill says:

    I believe you are correct differentiating between chareidi and MO communities, particularly if chareidim adhere to what “Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l told a chabura of Yeshiva students that each person should have five proofs why he knows that H’ created the world, and five proofs that H’ gave Moshe the Torah. He didn’t talk about belief, but about proof.” I would shudder if I believed my adult children or grandchildren based emunah on “proof.” In fact, while i value a deep faith in and sense of the Divine, I honestly do not even fathom what proof might mean in the context of revelation. BTW, I tend to believe that my community has a great risk when our young adults attend college and graduate schools, a risk chareidim avoid, albeit with other consequences..

  10. Yaakov Menken says:

    Dr. Bill, I don’t know why something as straightforward as “proof” in the context of “revelation” should make you shudder. The Rambam, who says clearly that the Revelation is proven to have happened (based upon the testimony of “the best possible witnesses”), should not make you shudder. The risks to which you refer seem to be associated almost exclusively with residency on campus, and not at all with the pursuit of a secular degree. A very high percentage of Charedim in Baltimore go to college and beyond — including Ner Yisrael students who use their BTL to acquire Master’s and PhD’s — without any significant risk as a result. This would appear to prove that it is not the academics, but the social environment, that is the problem. [And given that it is possible to attain a secular degree without those risks, what message does it send when parents willingly risk a young neshamah for the sake of a “better name” on the diploma?]

    DF, I’m afraid that although you have the best of intentions, you also have it quite backwards. Your approach is flatly contradicted by both Rav Wolbe zt”l and yblctv”a Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a. They both say you can teach Emunah and not worry about “deliberately provoking those students.” If a person has full intellectual honesty, it is clear that the world had a Creator. This has nothing in common with attempting to understand HaShem’s actual process of Creation, much less “researching” ta’avos! [The Mishnah doesn’t say not to ask, it says we don’t expound/teach these things (a) in public or (b) to those not ready to understand.]

    And, of course, I know enough about the phenomenon of becoming a BT to know how little it shares in common with going in the opposite direction. If we assume you are indeed a shomer Torah u’Mitzvos, then you already know that one is true and one is not. Trying to stop a stable, normal individual from discovering the truth is an entirely different exercise than trying to ensure that a young person remains committed to it.

    It should not surprise us, then, that it is an entirely different sociological phenomenon as well. Most BT’s have comparatively uninteresting stories — nothing to write memoirs about. Most come from stable backgrounds and were flourishing in their secular lives — they were “at the top of their game.” When I was at Princeton, there were about 10 of us that became Orthodox. It would be as if 10 of the top guys at Lakewood decided to give up their Yiddishkeit. You know that’s exactly what is not happening. The process doesn’t work at all the same way, because it isn’t at all the same process.

    • mycroft says:

      It is my assumption that the common denominator of posters and commentators of cross-currents believe in a God and that our Torah is mishamayim. It is certainly, my belief.
      IMO Rabbi Menken’s article is a very important one and thus did not want to take away from a general agreement by picking on ome small paragraph. However, once it became a major part of the discussion I will indicate my disagreement.
      “And finally, there is a significant difference in philosophy. Christianity is about faith, it is something they agree (and state proudly) cannot be proven. Judaism is, on the other hand, about things we know”
      Our fundamentals we know but we know them on faith. They can’t be proven-neither revelation on Sinai, nor the existence of God can be proven in an academic sense.
      To the best of my knowledge-I don’t know Dr. Bill but having read his comments and who he has quoted-I can think of at least a couple of his teachers at Yeshiva who were maaminim-the nature of things is sadly “were” only because of over the years the couple of Rabeeiim/teachers who were musmachim are in the Yeshiva shel maaleh. It is my belief that his writings agree with them and what I learnt in Yeshiva more that what R Menken wrote in this general area.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        I agree this is a distraction, but it seems unlikely at best that any teacher would contradict the Rambam without a source. At the beginning of the Yad the Rambam says the same concept, requiring knowledge that G-d exists as the foundation of all wisdom. And leis man d’palig, no one claims this cannot be known, it’s all “faith.”

        One more time I would ask that you read my previous essay on the topic. We know that Sinai happened using the same academic/intellectual tools that we use to determine that we know anything at all. By questioning this, you prove my point that we need to be giving classes in Emunah!

      • Eli Blum says:

        Rabbi Menken, when you discuss “faith” vs. “proof”, one has to consider the strength of the “proof” needed to “prove” the “fact” (all in quotations). For a hypothetical, if one needed to prove of Hashem’s existence in Bais Din, one would not be able to use the “proof” of what our parents have told us due to “eid Mipi eid”. For all real purposes we treat Hashem’s existence as an axiom (what others might call “faith”), and build our belief system from that point.

        In secular court, there is “preponderance of evidence” and “beyond reasonable doubt”. In Mathematics, you have “proofs” that start with needed Axioms to build the system. While the existence of the RBSO (the way we understand Him) may (and I believe can) be proven beyond reasonable doubt, it can not be proven the way a Mathematical proof is proven.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        The Rambam says: “הדבר הגדול הזה שנראה במציאות שהעיד עליו מבחר כל העדים שלא היה מקודם כמוהו וכן לא יהיה אחריו כמוהו”

        Neither of the standards which you mention govern how we make real life decisions. In Beis Din, a second pair of Eidim are believed, and M’zamem the first pair — logically there is no reason to believe one pair more than the other. Moshe V’Aharon could not be Eidim together. Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech were both posul, as kings. Our knowledge of historical events is exclusively eid mipi eid — if someone found a “Declaration of Independence” yet we were living in British colonies, we would conclude the document was fiction or, at most, wishful thinking. We know it is true because previous and current generations testify to its historicity.

        Similarly, mathematical proofs exist only in the world of the theoretical. By that standard, we have no “proof” that cigarettes cause cancer, that China exists, or that you can safely turn on your computer tomorrow morning and it won’t explode. By any empirical standard, we have dozens of counterproofs for anyone who believes the story of Revelation at Sinai could be believed had it never happened.

        We corrected the link color in comments so that it would be more obvious and I don’t have to say “click here,” but still: click here to read my article explaining this in more detail, and Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb’s chapter on the topic.

      • Eli Blum says:

        Rabbi Menken – I believe your points are mine as well. For any situation which one has to make a real-life decision, and will lean on “arguments” (to use Rabbi Adlerstein’s term) to make the appropriate decision for themselves. However, if one is to convince others they should not tell themselves that they have absolute “proof”, but rather try to show the truth (what you call “knowledge”) beyond reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence.

        P.S. Your point regarding smoking and cancer is absolutely true. Without knowing the mechanism on how smoking directly affects the cells and showing cause-and-effect, there are only statistical probabilities. It is possible (though extremely unlikely) that there is a statistical anomaly or concurrent cause (for those who want to defend the Peni Yehoshua with “Nishtane HaTeva”!). This would fall under “knowledge”, but not “proof”.

      • dr.bill says:

        I would never tell adults that the bible story is “provably” not as the vast majority of academics hypothesize. In my mind it could have the same consequence as Eve’s warning not to touch.

        I believe that RAL’s ztl sichot mussar, were a very valuable part of what I learned in his class almost half a century ago. They had much to say about religious experience and nothing about proving its correctness. He often talked about the very different intellectual challenges to emunah that we face, versus those faced in different times.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        There is a great chasm between “provably not” and “not provably” — but the point is that both are mistaken, using the same empirical logic we use about everything we know.

  11. YbhM says:

    Judaism is, on the other hand, about things we know — beginning with the testimony of our collective ancestors. Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l told a chabura of Yeshiva students that each person should have five proofs why he knows that H’ created the world, and five proofs that H’ gave Moshe the Torah. He didn’t talk about belief, but about proof.

    R. Wolbe’s statement is puzzling. Surely there are many interlocutors who (like the Hakham in the Maaseh Hakham v’Tam of Reb Nachman of Breslov) can out-debate many yeshiva students. Should the yeshiva students then consider becoming apikorsim until they manage to parry the arguments of some sophistic undergraduate? Of course not. But this just illustrates how we are basing ourselves on something other than proofs, as the Kuzari, R. Kook, and others have noted.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      The Kuzari, of course, is the one who so clearly laid out the Revelation at Sinai as a major element of his proof that Judaism is correct, rather than other philosophies and religions. So to use him as a source for the notion that “we are basing ourselves on something other than proofs” could explain why the anonymous writer is puzzled! I’m not knowledgeable in Rav Kook’s writings and don’t know to what the writer might be referring, but it seems likely this is a misunderstanding as well.

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    “The Internet is a problem because it can easily be a vehicle for the Yetzer HaRa. It should not, however, be an intellectual obstacle”

    R. Yaakov Horowitz wrote in Mishpacha, December, 2007(Issue 186 – Walmart is Coming):

    “Many look at the immoral content of the Internet as the primary adversary as today’s version of Yakov Avinu’s battle with the angel of Eisav. I beg to differ. From my vantage point, our generation’s challenge is to prepare our children (and ourselves as adults) to maintain our Torah values and hashkafos, fundamental beliefs, in the open arena of ideas that technology provides nowadays.

    I think of the Internet not in terms of a mobile red-light district, but rather like the Haskalah on steroids.”

    (I wonder if RYH would think its gotten better or worse in the years since 2007)

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    Regarding “proofs”, I think some are helped by them, and some are not.

    Some video, audio, and blog references:

    — In a 2013 video by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon on Aish.Com, R. Salomon starts off quoting R. Jonathan Sacks that one should *not* prove Torah, and proceeds to disagree with him. (” Proving the Torah , It can and should be done”).

    –R. Moshe Benovitz, recently appointed managing director of NCSY, wrote an article last week, “Conquering Disbelief in Our Students and Teenagers” on the OU website(“what is needed is giving reasons to believe rather than absolute proof of the veracity of belief.”).

    Earlier in 2012, R. Benovitz said in an interview with the OU’s Steve Savitsky:

    “…In the kiruv community, for example, they are coming to grips with the fact that some of the arguments– historical arguments, philosophical arguments– that like I said a charismatic educator could tell a person off the street and who would know better, is checked instantly on a hand held device that’s pulled out of a pocket. If those arguments do not hold water, then we’ve done more damage than good. We need to adjust to that, and we should adjust to that.” (Savitsky Talks, “Technology and Social Media: How Are They Affecting the Post-High School Year in Israel?”, 8/1/12, 14:00 in mp3).

    R. Adlerstein can weigh in himself, but to save him time, he’s written previously on Cross Currents about proofs:

    “…I am genuinely mystified as to how this takes place, unless you are one of those who believes in “proofs.” Belief in Torah – in HKBH Himself – ultimately takes faith…” (“Is Heresy Horrible?”, Comments, 7/13)

    “As a point of fact, I agree with Rabbi Wolpe that proofs don’t work…I try to show my familiarity with the counterarguments, rather than trying to refute them, and invoke the Edward O. Wilson’s notion of consilience…One of the strongest arguments (the word I prefer to proofs) in that series is the collective experience of Klal Yisrael with HKBH.” (“Debating G-d: The “Must-Have” Tool”, 2/09)

    ”There are kiruv personnel who preach that all important principles of Judaism are self-evident… I cannot even imagine HKBH reducing emunah (belief) to a tautology, embraced by anyone who can think properly, and rejected only by those whose self-need gets in the way.”(“I Don’t Know”, 1/07)

  14. Ben Bradley says:

    I find the posters denying the importance of being able to proove essentials of emuna to be little short of bizarre, given the importance of such proofs in Rambam and other Rishonim. Intellecual ratification of these axioms is an essential part of the mitzva of belief in Hashem according to major, if not all, Rishonim. So why all the defensiveness about this?

    It’s all very well to say that R. Lichtensteins’s mussar sichot didn’t enter this territory, nor did those of of R Wolbe who explcitly stated the need to know such proofs. That’s because mussar sichot are not the medium for such discussion. They are intended to be for those who already accept such axioms in order to further develop intellecutal and emotional connection to core values of Torah – yirah, ahavah etc.

    It is perhaps noteworthy that R Soloveitchik’s voluminous Torah does not much deal with ratification of ikkarei emuna as far as I know. Although I stand to be corrected. He presumably did not deem this subject central to what he was trying to achieve. This may explain the resistance to the subject amongst those from his camp.

    I seems obvious that the basic tools for intellectual ratification of our fundamental beliefs are essential in reaching out both to the non-observant and frum kids(and adults) heading away from observance, although of course that’s only part of the picture. Unless there’s a far stronger connection between MO and Breslov than I’d suspected.

    Or, could it be, that the personal emuna of some is well below of their commitment to ‘the system’? Quasi orthopraxy, perhaps? Which may be a small elephant in the room in discussions about differences between MO and ‘the right wing’?

    • dr.bill says:

      I think “shades of gray’s” list of lectures does an admirable job quoting others who maintain similar “bizaare” views about proof. Wrt Rambam it should be noted that his formulation of ikkarim and his notions of logic/proof bear non-trivial relationship to Greek/Arabic thinking and modes of expression. For example, Rambam’s assertions are often about belief “that;” the more typical Jewish formulation is belief “in” – Vayaminu Ba… Interestingly, modern philosophy also tends to speak of belief “in.”

      I do take exception to raising the orthopraxy label even hypothetically; it describes those who practice, but do not believe. Applying the label to those who believe differently maligns their sincerity. If you like, feel free to label them non-orthodox because of their beliefs, but not orthoprax.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        So it’s not ok to imply that anonymous commenters who challenge basic Hashkafos found in the Rambam, Kuzari and others might have a scent of Orthopraxy about them, but it is ok to imply that the Rambam’s ikkarim were formulated under Greek and Arab influence. Thanks for clarifying.

      • dr. bill says:

        please read more carefully; as i wrote it, i feared/assumed someone would read without care and jump to an erroneous conclusion. you did. I did not say his ikkarim but his “formulation of ikkarim” bears resemblance to greek thinking and modes of expression. In addition, the example talks about a use of one preposition versus another, i.e. the method of formulation of the ikkar, not the ikkar itself. I defined my use of the term orthopraxy. Apply to those who believe differently as you wish, but i maintain it maligns their sincerity.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        Actually I read your comment a few times before replying — as if asserting that his “formulation” or word choice was somehow misleading to the reader of Lashon HaKodesh / Rabbinic Hebrew were not bad enough, you said quite specifically that his notions or concept of logic is related to Greek thinking. Given that the Greeks were always highly regarded as logicians, this is in almost any academic context a compliment. But in this case it’s inappropriate. Logic is logic, and an empirical proof is based upon reality, in any language. And the Rambam is hardly alone in mentioning that Revelation at Sinai is based upon firm evidence and is well-proven. Hundreds of cults base themselves upon Judaism, not one of them proposes that G-d Revealed Himself to them — and the Torah itself told us, quite impossibly, that this would be so.

    • YbhM says:

      Regarding Rav Soloveitchik’s views on “ratification of ikkarei emuna” …

      In the Halakhic Mind footnote 58, R. Soloveitchik writes “Yet the problem of evidence in religion will never be solved. The believer does not miss philosophic legitimation; the skeptic will never be satisfied with any cognitive demonstration”.

      See the full context for the broader argument that the appropriate role for reason (specifically philosophy) is to interpret reality in accordance with religion rather than provide the foundation for religion.

  15. Pusilanimity says:

    Rabbi Menken:

    I don’t understand the proof in your article that you linked. It seems to me that the the proof is that the Revelation must have occurred because the previous generations all believed it occurred. Now the question under discussion is whether there was a Revelation to hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people. The Torah clearly claims that there was. But on what basis should one trust the Torah? Well, the answer to that is that all the previous generations trusted it, going all the way back, and it would have been impossible for someone to invent such a story and convince people that it happened. But would it really be so impossible? After all, we accept the argument that the earlier generations believed it, without confirming the event ourselves. So perhaps the first generation that was told the story also believed it because they were told that the earlier generations had believed it.

    Your comparison to Brazilian traditional stories is unfair, I think. First of all, a flood is not a miraculous occurrence so there is no specific reason to disbelieve it. As opposed to a story replete with miracles galore, where a person who has never witnessed or seen proof of any miraculous occurrence, ever, should have a natural reason to suspect it. Additionally, there are some 4200 religions in the world (according to http://www.adherents.com/ ) which means that anyone who believes that there is only one correct religion believes that 4199 of them are false. This would be all the more reason to be suspicious of any given religious tale.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      “Pusilanimity,” you missed the fact that the 4200 religions are themselves part of the proof — not its rebuttal. The human mind is intensely biased against accepting this story — as you said, in this case, there is a specific “reason” to disbelieve it — an urgent desire to not believe in miracles that he or she hasn’t seen for him or herself. It is exactly for this reason, I believe, that you have failed to follow the argument from its beginning to its logical and compelling conclusion. Your mind simply doesn’t wish to go there.

      The fact is that, of course, someone has to be right — the beliefs of the atheist, who believes none of them are right, are simply option #4201. They are no more logical a priori than any others. [For this purpose, the beliefs of an agnostic, or one who rejects the tenets of all the 4200 religions yet believe in some loose Divine concept, could simply be enumerated as yet more options. So we’re up to 4203, at least.]

      As of now, according to your source itself, over 50% of the world — including hundreds if not thousands among those 4200 — subscribes to a religion that says the Revelation happened. All those religions also say that at some point, the Jews got it wrong.

      Now I’m repeating myself: in this instance, it is obvious that a new “revelation myth” would be the most compelling possible way to redirect the faithful onto the new path. Otherwise you have a situation in which every Jew knows that his or her own ancestors believed that they themselves witnessed G-d’s Presence — and yet when He came back, He supposedly hid Himself from all but a few people. That makes the story of His return vastly less believable. There is a profound and undeniable psychological / anthropological motivation to say that He Himself came back to correct the record, simply to create a story that people will more readily believe.

      Yet despite all these other religions claiming to be based upon Judaism, not one of them so much as hints to a repeat of the Revelation.

      Not only this, but as Maimonides mentions, the Torah itself in Deuteronomy tells us that it will be so: that there has never been such a story told again, nor shall it ever be told again. So at the very same moment that the stubborn, recalcitrant, challenging Jews were all being duped to believe this ridiculous story, the charlatans also made them believe that the story would never be told again.

      In addition, in a study of the world’s religions, there is only one — observed by roughly 1/10th of the 0.22% of the world’s population that are part of the Jewish nation, or 2/100ths of one percent — that is the basis for the religious faith of over 50% of the world. The beliefs of that minute fraction include the belief, written thousands of years ago, that they would be (a) few in number, (b) pursued and hated, and (c) a light unto the nations. And again, despite the desire of literally billions of people to supersede the beliefs of this tiny subset, no one has even attempted to duplicate the moment that the adherents of this one religion claim created their belief system.

      And you believe, apparently, that this was all mere coincidence, a simply lucky roll of the dice. It seems that this requires belief in a miracle a good deal less likely than the Revelation itself!

      • dr, bill says:

        Years ago, in Jewish History, a professor at YU, whose name I cannot recall with certainty, discussed the so-called missing 150 years in the early centuries of the Second commonwealth. We read rishonim and achronim who supported either Seder Olam’s version or that of secular historians. He mentioned, I believe to elicit a smile, the view of Rabbi Schwab, who asserted, so we were told, that were the 150 years known, we would then have proof of an unbroken mesorah. However, God wanted us to believe without the benefit of proof. Hence, Rabbi Schwab asserted, God obscured those 150 years, in which apikorsim (conservative/reform professors, I believe he said) claimed that what we now call traditional Judaism developed. While I recall the class discussion, in the intervening half-century, I never thought of quoting any part of Rav Schwab’s position to support my POV; now, I do. He recognized the importance of belief.

        From my point of view, I can even posit for a moment that no such gap exists. We have learned a great deal about how various societies stretching back to ancient times treated history and tradition; gap or no gap, I must still rely on belief. As a traditional Jew I cherish/maintain a set of beliefs; IMHO, attempts to prove them are unnecessary, unconvincing and often counter-productive.

  16. AS says:

    R’ Menken, kudos on the high level of sensitivity in this post.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This