Teiku on Faith

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A few years ago, R. Matisyahu Salomon stated that sometimes the best response to a theological challenge is that we don’t yet know — “teiku.” Some bloggers and other commentators harshly criticized him for advocating this non-answer. However, sometimes this is the best answer. Intellectual trends take time settle and tides come in and out. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that the problem is our own limitations. Rambam’s answer in Moreh Nevukhim to some of the most difficult philosophical problems of his age was that man’s intellect is incapable of understanding.

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik adopted this approach as well, as recorded in R. Aaron Rakeffet ed., The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, vol. 1 p. 62:

I remember that once I was studying Talmud with my father. I asked him why the Talmud did not resolve the problem under discussion in so many cases. Instead the Talmud concludes with the phrase teiku [“stalemate”]. Why was no conclusion reached by the talmudic sages? My father explained to me that a Jew must apprehend that he cannot understand and comprehend everything. When a Jew learns that there are halakhot which are ambiguous, then he will also come to the realization that there are other areas that are also not clear-cut. In matters of faith, teiku will also be encountered. The greatness of Abraham, our forefather, was that he knew how to say “Here I am” [Genesis 22:1] even though he did not understand the request that God made of him. The basis of faith is teiku. If a Jew does not master the concept of teiku, then he cannot be a true believer. It would not hurt if the rabbi possessed the courage and resoluteness to admit to teiku. The rabbi must not be ashamed to declare that he must refer the question to greater experts on the topic.

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 of New Jersey, 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 recently served on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and 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.

60 comments

  1. > Some bloggers and other commentators harshly criticized him for advocating this non-answer.

    Context is everything. He was polemicizing against Slifkin in front of 20,000 Jews.

    Also, sometimes there are answers. It just so happens that they don’t work with yeshivish hashkafah. But there often are answers besides teyku.

  2. I agree but the essential idea is correct when applied properly.

  3. There is nothing controversial in what R. Salomon said. Every religious Jew accepts that there are certain things we can’t know. Why are you making this into a big deal that he said this?

    On the other hand, there are times where we do have the answers, and saying we can’t understand is a cop-out. When someone says that the world is 6000 years old and therefore there were no dinoaaurs and the cave art must be forgeries and so on, saying Teiku is bogus.

    Similarly, when Rabbi Slifkin shows that Chazal’s science was not infallible, and the rabbi says that it is infallible and we have to say teiku about things which appear to show Slifkin is correct, that too is bogus. The problem is that R. Salomon starts with false assumptions (the world has to be 6000 years old and the rabbis are infallible when it comes to science). Because he starts with false assumptions, his teikus are sometimes also false.

  4. An excerpt from a Yahrzeit shiur adds more detail into the Rav’s approach to this question:

    “Often when a difficult question is posed in the Gemara, the response is teiku, the answer is unknown. Yet, if God gave us an oral law, shouldn’t it encompass all answers? How can the Gemara be so inconclusive? The Rav remembered that his own father asked this question, and he answered that the Gemara’s teiku must reflect the teikus within every individual. If a Jew has no teikus, and all life’s questions are answered, he is nothing more than a fool. At the same time, a teiku should not change one’s guiding principles or stymie further study. One must take note of the difficulty and then move on.”

    As Gil points out, this idea precisely fits R. Matisyahu’s approach. Obviously, the more fundamental question is: must R. Slifkin’s thesis necessarily end in a teiku?

  5. >I agree but the essential idea is correct when applied properly.

    Why should that be controversial? Yes, when we don’t know the answer and don’t have enough information to form a conclusion, teyku (“Who created Hashem, Daddy?”) Who disputed that?

  6. can someone explain something to me. I thought that we believe that only God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. How can the charedim believe that Chazal were infallible? Isn’t that a form of avodah zarah, since only God is infallible?

  7. william gewirtz

    teiku on Hilbert’ tenth problem is not the same as teiku on solving 2 linear equations with 2 variables. if one adds unnecessarily to the set of beliefs and then has no answers when confronted with physical reality, it is inappropriate to equate such an appeal to “all is not knowable” with the rav ztl’s statement. Anon’s comments above are correct.

  8. You realize, of course, that RMS and RYBS mean completely different things when they say “teiku.” RMS is describing things that are knowable but that we can’t know – things that we may know at some future date, but not now.
    RYBS is talking about those things that are fundamentally unresolvable and unknowable.
    Therein lies all the difference.
    Of course, as one of the criticizing bloggers from back then, I already made precisely this point:
    http://adderabbi.blogspot.com/2005/03/lesson-in-basic-talmudic-vocabulary.html

  9. Always amusing to be contrarian.

    Of course, as nearly everyone else has pointed out, context is everything. And whereas it’s tempting to say that while context does matter, the principle is the same, the fact of the matter is that this is absolutely wrong. The principle is not the same. In fact, there’s no ‘general principle’ that saying “I don’t know” is good. In certain contexts this response is mature and proper. In other contexts it is wrongheaded and dangerous.

  10. Also note that in this instance RYBS is paraphrasing Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.

  11. The problem is that R. Mattisyahu, and the charedi world more generally, argues that teiku is the best first response to theological challenges, whereas teiku was classically a last resort response. To put it more crudely, the charedi approach eschews critical thought and advocates authority-based theology, whereas R. Slifkin (for example) advocates trying to use one’s brain as a first option. Even those who considered R. Mattisyahu’s remarks problematic agree that teiku is sometimes the best reponse.

  12. >I agree but the essential idea is correct when applied properly.

    Sure, if it is applied after a sincere and rigorous, and critical analysis of an issue, then I think everyone would agree that this is the most correct approach. However, it is not appropriate to use it as a fig leaf for the inability to defend dogmas against arguments and evidence. It should also not be used as balm for cognitive discomfort.

    Of course, when R’ Mattisyahu said teiku, he was saying regarding an issue which is fairly clear-cut for anyone with a knowledge of science and midieval Jewish philosophy – teiku in such a case is a horrible response that betrays a shallow approach to Jewish (and general) thought.

  13. I just posted on this topic at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/05/attack-of-nazi-midgets.html, including a transcript of the relevant parts of Rav Mattisyahu’s speech, and some info about the surrounding events.

  14. Someone who is intellectually mature and modest will admit that there are some things he doesn’t know, and that there are some problems that can never be entirely resolved to our satisfaction.

    Someone who is intellectually immoral will forbid others from asking questions, and use his authority to excommunicate them and ban their books.

    These two different things have absolutely nothing to do with one another, and it is astounding that this blog post was written. I have been reading this blog for years, but as time goes on I find that Rabbi Student’s posts reflect intellectual morality and maturity ever less, and have become far less worth reading or discussing.

  15. just to build on R’ Eli- R’YBS would frequently use the koy and bein hashmashot as examples of items that are essentially unknowable (i.e. it’s not that day turns into night at a split second, but we can’t identify it but rather there is a time period which has elements of both)
    KT

  16. The problem really is, which R Slifkin fails to address and that is, although he quotes maharal and rishonim like the moreh nevuchim and others is that these are very difficult seforim to understand. Therefore he puts his own explanation into them. The same as the Rambam in halacha, one will find many poskim having a different understanding of it, so it is with regarding emuna. Its not for nothing that achronim dont touch these subjects. We dont have ‘mesorah’ for them and they are best left alone. Even the tanoim who went into the ‘pardes’ did not come out unscathed (except RA). Similar to kabala today. We dont find the greatest achronim of our times and prewar times touching them. We should stick to what we understand, like halacha, and leave everything else. We do find that rishonim are fallible, for example in geography, but not in sevoro. The gemoro is not meant to teach us ‘secular’ subjects but how to adapt them to the halacha. Even what could be considered superstitions like the eagle stone which has its basis in pliny one is allowed to carry on shabbos. On his blog as well he will never print a comment like this which shows that it is not the truth he is looking for and is only interested in giving his own opinion without hearing any other.

  17. I am not sure why one need cite the authority of the Rav or even the Rambam for the proposition that there are some things beyond out ken. One can cite Tanach in the form of Job.

    However, that really has nothing to do with R. Solomon’s point, which is that we should prefer to be handed authoritative answers rather than struggle to find answers. Or really, that we shouldn’t even ask certain questions. As he said: Shas is faith-based knowledge. When faced with the most difficult questions, we don’t take the easy way out. We would rather wait for Eliyahu to come! Why settle for a makeshift answer, if we will be handed the reliable solution at a later date? Teyku is the answer! From the graves of these giants of wisdom and purity, Abaya and Rava, emerges the truth that can never be repudiated by the midgets of our generation.

    This first ignores that in the end it is Job, rather than his friends, who wins God’s approval because he struggles to maintain his relationship with God through that which he cannot understand and struggles to understand as best he can rather than rely on smug dogma. Second, it ignores that God chose to reveal Torah directly, but place the physical world in front of us for us to comprehend by our best efforts. Faced with scientific data we do not fully comprehend we are to collect more data (and, no, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle doesn’t contradict this–despite the way it is usually presented in popularization what it really says is the small systems cannot have simultaneously well defined momenta and positions, not that we can’t know what they are.) Third, as someone pointed out, even in Torah teiku is our last resort, not our preference. Fourth, as R. Slifkin has pointed out many times, R. Solomon’s approach is against most of the Rishonim. Fifth, it has the tendency to undermine Torah by suggesting that Torah cannot survive confrontation with modern science. Sixth, it tends to infantalize Talmidei Chachamim who are reduced to repeating the pilpulof prior generations rather than addressing the religious issues of our time.

  18. Elli F:  RYBS is talking about those things that are fundamentally unresolvable and unknowable.
    Therein lies all the difference.

    I don’t think RYBS’ language allows for that interpretation. Why would he suggest taking the question to an expert if the issue is fundamentally unresolvable?

    HaDardai:  The problem is that R. Mattisyahu, and the charedi world more generally, argues that teiku is the best first response to theological challenges

    I don’t think this is correct. The first response is to quote a Maharal or similar text.

    In general, I would have much more sympathy for R. Salomon’s attitude if not for the ban on R. Slifkin’s books. Even if I think he is operating within too limited a hashkafic system, I can respect the “teiku” response as an honest answer. But given the ugliness of the ban and it’s defense, I have trouble sympathizing.

  19. Gil.
    this is the second time in recent days that you have attempted to place in a positive light the attacks of Slifkins most prominent and vicious opponents. What gives?

  20. Moshe: Nothing gives. I was flipipng through the book and stumbled onto this passage. It was too important to ignore. I can’t think of the second post you have in mind.

  21. Gil – I addressed the last line in today’s post on the topic. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the Rav thought deferral to a greater authority to be a situation of teiku. Here’s today’s post:
    http://adderabbi.blogspot.com/2011/05/stalemates-and-doubts.html

  22. Hirhurim: “I don’t think RYBS’ language allows for that interpretation. Why would he suggest taking the question to an expert if the issue is fundamentally unresolvable?”

    Your interpretation doesn’t fit either because if a greater expert can answer, then the answer isn’t “teiku.”

    Perhaps you mean to say that the Rav seems simply to be expressing the idea that sometimes it’s important for an individual to admit his own limitations. This fits well with the ‘expert’ clause.

    …But this is not AT ALL what Rabbi Salomon is saying. And it is not what you wrote either. You throw in a line about “our own limitations,” but then relate this to the long-term perspective of “intellectual trends,” and intellectual tides. You also throw in a bit about the Rambam: “Rambam’s answer in Moreh Nevukhim to some of the most difficult philosophical problems of his age was that man’s intellect is incapable of understanding.”

    This is pretty far from where the Rav set up camp.

  23. “I agree but the essential idea is correct when applied properly.”

    It very much applies to science.

    “we should prefer to be handed authoritative answers rather than struggle to find answers”

    The excessive yearning for a false sense of certainty when there is no certainty is one of the things that has IMNSHO brought great damage to our religion. Sometimes, we just don’t know, but we still have to make decisions.

    “From the graves of these giants of wisdom and purity, Abaya and Rava, emerges the truth that can never be repudiated by the midgets of our generation.”

    Except that at times rishonim and acharonim will overrule definitive rulings in the gemara.

  24. Teiku doesn’t necessarily mean stalemate.” Tishbi Yitaretz Kushiot” implies that there are truths that will only be revealed in mashiachtzeit. This is in no way a copout as some commenters implied.

    aaron-I disagree that the Acharonim “refused to touch the unknowable” What about masters of torat hanistar like the Alter Rebbe, Sfat Emet and Rav Kook? to name just a few.

  25. David – I was wondering when that might come up.
    Teiku doesn’t mean “Tishbi yetaretz.” That’s a recent acronym that actually fundamentally skews the original meaning of the word and its implications.
    See: http://www.balashon.com/2006/07/teiku.html
    as well as the post I linked in my first comment from 1:01am.
    How to understand the word “teiku” is the very bone of contention here. If it means “stalemate” (which it DOES), then it means something entirely different from “Tishbi yetaretz.”

  26. Elli, while you are correct, it accurately portrays yeshivish hashkafah as espoused by R. Salomon. Yes, in reality the Talmud never says that one day Eliyahu will answer challenging questions which the Gemara let rest, but yeshivishe hashkafah does say that. (I was surprised that Balashon didn’t suggest a source for it. It seems that Tosfos Yom Tov at the end of Eduyos 8 mentions it and since he gives it as a popular notarikon, that’s about as early and as authoritative a source for it.)

    On the other hand it raises the issue of whether or not folksy sayings ought to become authoritative responses for people with questions. Given its origin, it is a really good question if in the future Eliyahu actually will come and answer these questions, or if he will say that sayings don’t define his role. And of course “One day Eliyahu will tell us the answer” sounds a little bit like a pungent traditional way of saying “When hell freezes over.” I hope that’s not too cynical.

  27. I thiought that RYBS and RMS, but for his comments on the ban of RNS’s works, were empahsizing the fact gthan we must recognize the limits of our minds.Given that fact, it should be no Chidush to anyone that Teiku and Tiyuvta represent two vastly different approaches-with Teiku meaning that there is an answer, but we don’t have the same and that we must await for the arrival of Eliyahu HaNavi for a possible answer, and Tiyuvta stating and rejecting emphatically, bolded and underscored, that a suggested answer, whether that of a Tanna or Amora, is simply not with the realm of possible answers. Far too many of us confuse the two terms.

  28. S. – reading the comments on this thread, it seems that the “Eliyahu HaNavi will answer our questions” meme is not merely Chareidi.
    My point is not about etymology, though of course the pseudo-etymology of “Tishbi yetaretz” plays a role. The issue is the meaning of the situation we call teiku. Assuming that there’s an answer that we’re unqualified to give is very different from saying that there’s a deadlock. The latter interpretation is more affirmative of human intelligence.

  29. Elli, I don’t think R. Salomon was saying that when Eliyahu comes he can tell us that the universe is 14 billion years old and we will all breathe a sigh of relief, just in the meantime we can’t say it or think it ourselves. (IOW he has the authority to say an answer we may already have thought of, but we have no authority to accept it yet.) I think he meant that Eliyahu is going to say “42!” or some other amazingly enlightening answer that we never could have dreamed of because we’re pygmies (I am pretty sure that is what he said, and not midgets). I was there, by the way, when he said it. It’s been awhile, but that was immediately how it seemed to me, and upon reflection I see it the same way.

    Of course you are correct that applying “teiku” leads to two completely different results depending upon how you understand it. You’re right, I don’t think he has a lot of confidence in human intelligence.

  30. There’s a different form of teiku in emunah” proposed here – see the fantasy scenario involving Moshe and the science historian…

  31. but of course eliyahu will only clarify factual issues, not halachic ones (except that teiku doesn’t always seem to be consistent with this definition – but that’s life)

    i wonder if this parallel’s the machloket as to what Moshe got and the definition of eilu v’eilu?
    KT

  32. However, sometimes this is the best answer.

    This post did not advance setting forth when those “sometimes” are.

  33. Great idea but of course, Maimonides and any rationalist would disagree. So would Spinoza or any naturalist or monist. So just realize and articulate your commitments when you say there is non explicable stuff!

  34. “It would not hurt if the rabbi possessed the courage and resoluteness to admit to teiku.”

    Thus just because a Rishon says something doesn’t make it automatically correct-eg Rambam and his Ikkarim many differ with his Ikkarim-as I believe Rabbi Weiders formulation-we don’t necessarily pasken like the Rambam and even if we did it doesn’t mean HKBH paskens that way.

  35. form of avodah zarah, since only God is infallible?

    Have you managed to answer this question? (hint: A navi would be infallible, such as in the Tenach. Thinking someone saying something true is not avodah zarah. perhaps if you read some books that define avodah zarah some clarity could be gained. Afterwards you can then tackle the question as to whether chazal were or were not infallible.

  36. Shades of Gray

    “Isn’t that a form of avodah zarah, since only God is infallible?”

    “Let it be clear: ‘daas’ in not infallible. This question of infallibility has often been the straw man in the argument against what I call ‘rational daas Torah’, which is what I am trying to project this evening. Daas Torah is the foundation for powerful convictions, but nothing is infallible (except the Ribbono Shel Olam, of course)…”

    (R. Michael Rozensweig , “Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding: The Guidance of Daas Torah”, April 30, 2006″, Torah Web, 51:15 on audio–see link below)

    http://www.torahweb.org/audioFrameset.html#audio=rros_043006

  37. Shades of Gray

    By the way, looking at the big picture, RMS’ main criticism at the Siyum Hashas was against those who ask “mocking and arrogant questions” and “zeidim helitzuni”, ie, a reference to an organized effort to mock Torah.

    Rabbi Slifkin tried to give answers(RSK’s 2002 haskamah to Mysterious Creatures made reference to this(“u’bfrat sh’yeish elu.”.–see link; R. Belsky’s and R. Salomon’s haskamos in 2000 on the Project Chazon website also seem to reference a similar phenomenon), but RMS felt the answers were “makeshift”.

    http://www.zootorah.com/books/RavShmuel.pdf

    (R. Student also responded, though hopefully his answers aren’t “makeshift”–see link)

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol08/v08n033.shtml#01

  38. Nevermind what “teiqu” does mean or ought-to-mean, how is it being used?

    I can see the following possibilities, just to show the variety of possible nuances:

    1- There are things you don’t know, don’t let it stop you.

    2- There are things we can’t know, have trust that they make sense to Someone brighter than us mortals.

    3- There are things you shouldn’t bother trying to know.

    I’m not sure Elli F is correct about RYBS’s usage, but I agree that the assumption that the buzzword is being used identically is demonstrably wrong.

  39. re A navi would be infallible

    Maybe for Moshe

    re if you read some books that define avodah zarah some clarity could be gained. Afterwards you can then tackle the question as to whether chazal were or were not infallible.

    I dont want to repeat your rudeness and say open a book on the subject or open a bible.

  40. Shades of Gray

    Two other phrases from the world of lomdus(speaking of the Siyum HaShas), perhaps more relevant than “teiku”:

    “The Orthodox graduate student or young scholar… must be prepared… to conclude zarikh ‘iyyun gadol, or the equivalent and to step back spiritually whole(pg 24/25)”

    On page 27: “questions… are rarely fatal” [ “fuhn a kashe shtarbt mehn nisht”].

    http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/TU3_Bernstein.pdf

  41. According to Halakhah, the comment of R’ Anonymous from May 29, at 10:54 p.m., must be deleted. I am sure R’ Anonymous is a tzaddik gammur. At the same time, there is no room for his comment within Orthodox Judaism. HKB”H is eternal. One does not ask the question that R’ Anonymous asked. Period full stop.

  42. Shalom Spira,

    Please go away.

  43. > One does not ask the question that R’ Anonymous asked.

    Children do not ask such questions?

  44. R’ Jerry,
    Thank you for your kind response. I will express the principles in which I believe. You are welcome to challenge me, and if you refute me, I am refuted.

    R’ S.,
    Thank you for your important rejoinder. A child is not responsible for what he says. We commentors on this website who – B”H – are all bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah, are responsible for what we say. And thus what we say should be tailored to the norms of Orthodox Judaism.

  45. Shalom Spira
    So it is forbidden for someone to say that a child asked him a question “Who created God?”

  46. S. and Shlomie: I implore you, please, PLEASE do not encourage another thread-hijacking by Shalom Spira. I can already see this thread taking the exit to Crazytown…

  47. Out of honour and reverence to R’ Jerry, I will not say anything further. A person’s wish is his honour, as per Tosafot to Kiddushin 31b. [Thank you, R’ Shlomie, for the important inquiry. Indeed, I would not repeat the child’s question.]

  48. Shades of Gray

    “[Thank you, R’ Shlomie, for the important inquiry. Indeed, I would not repeat the child’s question.]”

    FWIW, a while ago, I heard on a tape from R. Avroham Pam his addressing just this question: how educators should respond to the question of “who created Hashem?”.

    Unfortunately, I do not recall his response in full(perhaps others have heard of his answer); either way it shows that one *can* repeat the child’s question in public… 🙂

  49. lawrence kaplan

    I certainly disagree with anonymous 10:46Pm that there is no answer to the question “Who created Hashem?” A proper understanding of the nature of God’s existence shows that the question is not in place. To smplify: God’s existence is necessary and therefore self-caused, that is, His essence necessitates His existence. This is to be contrasted to the existence everything else which is contingent. See Yesodei ha-Torah 1:1-4. The child’s question can thus serve as a springboard to clarify our own understanding. Now how to explain this to children is something else.

  50. lawrence kaplan

    Jerry: I understand your concern, but your response of 2:23PM to R. Spira should have been phrased less crudely and rudely.

  51. “To smplify: God’s existence is necessary and therefore self-caused, that is, His essence necessitates His existence. This is to be contrasted to the existence everything else which is contingent.”
    That’s positing there must be a sentient (and even more specifically, Godly) termination to the infinite regress. IMHO that termination is a philosophical construct, one which raises many more problems than it solves. Hume’s objection — “who designed the designer,” to paraphrase — stands and with evolution, is even more poignant (hence, Dawkins’ Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit).

    Dr. Kaplan, of course, is aware of all of the above objections. I’m tired of Aish and Ohr Somayach arguments for frumkeit; I would be more interested in hearing what more sophisticated frum people like Dr. Kaplan have to say. I’d bet a lot of my fellow youth in the 21st century would also like some more sophisticated defenses of God, than the kiruv drek we’re all familiar with.

  52. Baruch — I sympathize with your last comment, but one must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The problem is not with what Rambam said, it is with people selectively quoting him out of its philosophical context.

    I started to type a response to Prof. Kaplan’s comment a number of times and held back. What I objected most to was the last line: “Now how to explain this to children is something else.” to which I was thinking that to explain it to adults is even more challenging.

  53. Lawrence Kaplan

    Baruch: The question of an infinite regress is a serious one. My point is that putting to the side proofs for God’s existence , believers believe that God’s existence is necesary, while all existence other than God is contingent and dependent on God’s necessary existence. Given that, the question of who created God does not arise. To state it another way, once one maintains that there cannot be an infinite regress of contingent causes and the series must terminate in God as a necessary cause, again the question of who created God cannot arise.

    IH: I see that, despite your intentions, you did not hold back. I really don’t think that the first four paragraphs in Yesodei ha-Torah 1 are that esoteric.

  54. Baruch Pelta-all arguments and “answers” are good only until they are refuted. I think that Larry Kaplan’s suggestion re Hilcos Yesodei HaTorah is an excellent one.

  55. Baruch Pelta wrote:

    “I’d bet a lot of my fellow youth in the 21st century would also like some more sophisticated defenses of God, than the kiruv drek we’re all familiar with.

    Baruch-I am in complete sympathy with you, and can tell you or anyone else interested that what you called “kiruv drek” neither interests me nor has a place in my book shelves. I always have found RYBS’s writings , shiurim and drashos the best approach to these issues, together with a committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim that reinforces my conclusion that such a system could not have been designed by mere mortals. FWIW, I highly recommend the review of R D D Berger in Tradition on R D M Kellner’s book, in which R D Berger opens his heart, mind and soul to the reader about he resolved the issue, at least for himself, years ago.

  56. Shades of Gray

    From The Commentator(see link):

    “What are the benefits and/or risks of academic inquiry in the field of Academic Jewish Studies? In the case of the latter, how should a religious Jew approach such studies? Can you describe a case where you yourself discovered something religiously troubling in your research and explain how you dealt with it?”

    “We have already discussed the benefits to a certain degree and have cited some examples. Academic Jewish Studies not only allow a person to examine parts of the Jewish tradition that are otherwise not studied, but also enable him to apply academic methods to some of the most important questions Jews today have to deal with. Overall, they grant us a better and more nuanced understanding of Judaism than we would have without studying them.

    However, there are some risks and difficulties associated with this field. Reading scholarly literature that subjects texts we hold to be sacred to critical scrutiny can sometimes engender religious doubts. In a review of Menachem Kellner’s Must a Jew Believe Anything, I told of an experience that addresses the personal part of this question. Here is what I wrote:

    “We have an obligation to maintain the boundaries of the faith bequeathed us by our ancestors, and we cannot do this by describing even fundamental deviations as points on a continuum. Let me illustrate this point in a very personal way. In my mid-teens, I experienced periods of perplexity and inner struggle while reading works of biblical criticism. While I generally resisted arguments for the documentary hypothesis with a comfortable margin of safety, there were moments of deep turmoil. I have a vivid recollection of standing at an outdoor kabbalat Shabbat in camp overwhelmed with doubts and hoping that God would give me the strength to remain an Orthodox Jew. What saved me was a combination of two factors: works that provided reasoned arguments in favor of traditional belief and the knowledge that to embrace the position that the Torah consists of discrete, often contradictory documents was to embrace not merely error but apikorsut. If I had been told by a credible authority that there is nothing a Jew really must believe and that the only danger was that I would move to a different point on a continuum [as Kellner maintains], I am afraid to face the question of what might have happened”

    http://www.yucommentator.com/2.2486/an-interview-with-dr-david-berger-1.995721?pagereq=5

    “[On] Menachem Kellner, ‘Must a Jew Believe Anything?’ (1999),” Tradition 33,4 (1999): 81-89.

  57. “I really don’t think that the first four paragraphs in Yesodei ha-Torah 1 are that esoteric.”

    To anyone with a grounding in Aristotelian philosophy they are not that esoteric. But, anyone who thinks they understand it without that grounding is fooling themselves.

  58. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: I beg to differ. The Aristotelianism begins in 1:5. In the first four paragraphs Maimonides uses non-technical langauge. Of course, there are different levels of understanding.

  59. “…believers believe that God’s existence is necesary, while all existence other than God is contingent and dependent on God’s necessary existence”

    I understand if God is to be seen for some overarching reason(s) as a necessary construct, even with all the problems his existence raises. If God is to be seen as a necessary construct, all kashes against him can be dropped, as the Rav dropped the kashe of theodicy in Kol Dodi Dofek.

    If He per se isn’t a necessary explanatory mechanism and the kashes are overwhelming, then lchora we have a problem. We’re using a Watchmaker to explain something which isn’t really as perfectly designed as a watch. And I’d expect a Watchmaker to be much more complex than what He’s being used to explain. And if He’s complex, then He had to come from somewhere.

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