Doubtful Belief II

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In this post (link), we discussed R. Norman Lamm’s theory that doubt is not considered disbelief, even if it obviously is not ideal. I was informed that a similar approach can be found in R. Avraham Weidenfeld, Lev Avraham (1:142:4), who also quotes the Chazon Ish (Emunah U-Vitachon, ch. 2) who says that those “of little faith” are still considered to have faith. I also found that R. Yehuda Amital adopts this approach.

R. Yehuda Amital, Jewish Values In A Changing World, pp. 178-179:

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook also struggled with this issue. He maintains (Iggerot Ha-Ra’aya, I, letter 20, pp. 20-21) that, rationally speaking, it is impossible to deny God with absolute certainty; at most, one can cast doubts. A heretic is one who denies God with certainty, and he indeed acts out of evil:

Even though it is absolutely forbidden and an evil sickness even to doubt or question matters of [our] perfect faith, we nevertheless find that Chazal judged as a heretic only one who denies outright, i.e., one who reaches the opposite determination. This antithetical determination cannot possibly be found in Israel in any individual who is not an absolutely wicked man and intentional liar. For even the greatest wickedness can cast doubts only among the weak-minded. He who dares to say that he denies with certainty must be an absolutely wicked man, who is rightfully judged with all the punishments explicitly assigned to him.

In light of Rabbi Kook’s words, it may be argued that the majority of non-religious people today do not fall into the category of “heretics,” for that classification applies only to those who deny God with certainty.[5]

This having been said, we remain with the question of what attitude we should adopt towards those who deny God with certainty.

[5] The distinction between disbelief based on uncertainty and that based on certainty can be derived from another source as well. The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) brings the famous story of the gentile who came before Hillel in order that he convert him to Judaism. Although the gentile insisted that he was ready to accept the Written Law but not the Oral Law, Hillel agreed to covert him. Rashi struggles with the problem of how this gentile could have been converted. Surely, “If a gentile comes to accept the Torah except for one thing, we do not accept him” (Bekhorot 30b). Rashi, therefore, writes: [Hillel] relied on his wisdom that in the end he would habituate him to accept [the Oral Law], for it is not the same as saying, ‘except for one thmg, for he did not deny the Oral Law; rather, he did not believe that it comes from God, and Hillel was sure that, following his instruction, [the gentile] would rely on him.” Rashash explains what Rashi says as follows: “The term ‘heretic’ only applies after exhaustive investigation, but this [gentile] did not investigate nor was he convinced of anything. He simply did not believe. [Hillel] was therefore sure that after he clarified the truth of the matter for him, he would believe.”

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.

One comment

  1. llennhoff 05/13/2010 10:12 PM
    This antithetical determination cannot possibly be found in Israel in any individual who is not an absolutely wicked man and intentional liar. For even the greatest wickedness can cast doubts only among the weak-minded. He who dares to say that he denies with certainty must be an absolutely wicked man, who is rightfully judged with all the punishments explicitly assigned to him.

    This can be read to state that if someone is plainly not an absolute rasha, his claim that he denies with certainty is false/cannot be believed.
    ———
    Judah 05/13/2010 11:08 PM
    It’s reassuring to know that R’ Kook and company are making it as difficult to qualify as a heretic as it is to be a Ben Sorer Umoreh, since any sane disbeliever – while convinced “with certainty” that every one of the traditional reasons given in support of belief fails miserably – will remain open to the possibility of being persuaded by some as-yet-undiscovered evidence.
    ———
    Charlie Hall 05/13/2010 11:18 PM in reply to llennhoff
    I think that is correct. I remember the first words of alleged atheist Mikhail Gorbachev when he was rescued from the attempted coup in 1991: “Thank God!” No true atheist would say such a thing.
    ———
    S. 05/14/2010 12:30 AM
    >In light of Rabbi Kook’s words, it may be argued that the majority of non-religious people today do not fall into the category of “heretics,”

    Are you using “religious” as a synonym for Orthodox?
    ———
    Nachum 05/14/2010 02:20 AM in reply to Charlie Hall
    When Gorbachev first met the (previous) Pope, he said, almost casually, “My mother had me baptized in the Orthodox Church.” There’s a world of meaning behind that.
    ———
    Religious Skeptic 05/14/2010 04:48 AM
    1 person liked this.
    “In light of Rabbi Kook’s words, it may be argued that the majority of non-religious people today do not fall into the category of “heretics,”

    Also religious skeptics.
    ———
    Tzurah 05/14/2010 11:36 AM
    “Chazal judged as a heretic only one who denies outright, i.e., one who reaches the opposite determination. This antithetical determination cannot possibly be found in Israel in any individual who is not an absolutely wicked man and intentional liar. ”

    I’m left with a question with this quote. How about the people who mistakenly *think* they have thought through all the issues and have thus reached a very confident determination about the falseness of the Torah and its God?

    I’ve come across some people who are *pretty* sure in their denial of God. And they don’t have to be atheists. More than a few individuals (especially Jews) involved in new age/Eastern religions believe in some kind of spirituality, but are also quite certain that the God of the Torah is definitely false (or at least destructive abomination of true spirituality). According to R’ Kook, does their ignorance, which leads them to their assured denial, get them off the hook or not?
    ———
    A DC Wonk 05/14/2010 02:31 PM
    No audio links this week?
    ———
    hirhurim 05/14/2010 02:46 PM in reply to A DC Wonk
    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/05/audio-roundup-xciii.html
    ———
    Steve Brizel 05/18/2010 12:35 PM in reply to Tzurah
    Aside from RAYHK’s formulation, one should always consider the views of the CI , which is based on the Bin Tzion in defining a Tinok Shenishba. I tend to think that most of the persons who claim to be “pretty sure” in their denial of God know less than the average MO or Charedi trained and observant individual on the many approaches to spirituality within the Mesorah of Torah.

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