A Defense of Simple Faith III

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I wrote:

A similar but crucially more moderate view is offered by the anonymous Sefer Ha-Hinukh. On the first mitzvah of Parashas Yisro, the mitzvah to believe in God, the Hinukh writes “And if he merits rising in wisdom, and his heart will understand and his eyes will see proofs that this faith in which he believed is true, clear, and necessary then he will fulfill this mitzvah in an extra fashion (mitzvah min ha-muvhar).” According to the Hinukh, proving faith is only a mitzvah min ha-muvhar. It is not an obligation.

R. Moshe Ben-Chaim responded to this:

Again you support the view that conviction surpasses faith.

I wrote in response:

[Y]ou will see why his response to me that “You just agreed that conviction does surpass faith” is irrelevant because he attempted to entirely delegitimize faith as “A disease which so called ‘religious’ Jews cleave to and spread… the Christian ethic of ‘blind faith.'” Once he grants simple faith legitimacy, even as a secondary and less-than-ideal position, he is recanting from his original condemnation of it as foreign to Judaism.

He then responded:

When “A” is said to surpass “B”, this may mean one of two things: “A” is quantitatively “better”, implying “B” is somewhat a good — OR — this may mean “A” is a good, and “B” is NOT a good at all. In either case, “A” may be said to “surpass” “B”.

Applying this to “Proof vs Faith” my words critiqued by Gil, proof is truly better than faith. For with faith that God exists, one’s mind is not engaged. Hence, to say that “A” surpasses “B”, or rather, “proof surpasses faith”, we may also mean that faith is not legitimized, unlike Gil suggests…

In other words, R. Ben-Chaim meant that faith is, in fact, worthless and only proof is sufficient. If that is the case, then we return to the words of the Hinukh above that: “And if he merits rising in wisdom, and his heart will understand and his eyes will see proofs that this faith in which he believed is true, clear, and necessary then he will fulfill this mitzvah in an extra fashion (mitzvah min ha-muvhar).” According to the Hinukh, proof is above and beyond the minimum of the mitzvah requirement. Yet according to R. Ben-Chaim, proof is required and anything less is worthless.

Judge for yourselves. Here are the Hinukh‘s own words:

וענין ההאמנה הוא, שיקבע בנפשו שהאמת כן. ושאי אפשר חילוף זה בשום פנים. ואם יושאל עליו ישיב לכל שואל שזה יאמין לבו, ולא יודה בחילוף זה אפילו יאמרו להרגו, שכל זה מחזיק וקובע האמנת הלב כשמוציא הדבר מן הכח אל הפועל, רצוני לומר כשמקיים בדברי פיו מה שלבו גומר. ואם יזכה לעלות במעלות החכמה, ולבבו יבין ובעיניו יראה במופת נחתך שהאמונה הזאת שהאמין אמת וברור אי אפשר להיות דבר בלתי זה, אז יקיים מצות עשה זו מצוה מן המובחר.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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