Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Is Judaism A Religion Of Faith Or Reason?

(Picture by Dinu Mendrea)

Question: Is Judaism a Religion of Faith or Reason?

Answer: To attempt to answer this question even superficially would go far beyond the limits of a blog. What I would like to do here is simply present some sources to show that emunah pshutah / simple faith is central to Judaism, and not a distortion perpetrated by the Chassidim. In a second posting, G-d willing, I will respond to the contention that a faith-centered Judaism is a "turn-off" when compared to an approach that affirms intellectual values. I'll also try to add something to the discussion about the old quarrel between the Chassidim and at least one school of thought among the so-called Misnagdim on this point. Please give me a couple of days to write something for this second installment. Then I would like to comment on Rabbi Nachman of Breslev's position in a third posting.

A Few Mekoros on Emunah / Faith (translations are mine):

"Jerusalem was not destroyed until it was bereft of men of faith." (Shabbos 119b)


"Chavakuk came and established them on one principle: 'The tzaddik shall live by his faith'" (Chavakuk 2:4). (Kesubos 19b)


"The Children of Israel were not privileged to recite the Song of the Sea except in the merit of faith; as it states, 'And they believed in
G-d…' (Exodus 4:31)." (Shemos Rabbah 22)

This Ma'amar Chazal is discussed by Rav Eliyahu de Vidas in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Ahavah 12:14, along with a number of related quotes from primary sources.


"Whoever has faith in the Holy One, blessed be He, divine blessings are brought about through him." (Shemos Rabbah 51)


" 'The testimony of G-d is faithful…' This refers to Seder Zera'im (the section of the Mishnah addressing the laws of agriculture), for one believes, and therefore plants seeds." (Yalkut Tehillim 674)

A similar drush on Isaiah 33:6 appears in Shabbos 31a. Rav Eliyahu de Vidas discusses this in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Ahavah 12:2.


"Our father Abraham did not earn both This World and the World to Come except in the merit of faith; as it is written, 'And he believed in G-d…' (Genesis 15:6)."

This Ma'amar Chazal is discussed by Rav Eliyahu de Vidas in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Masa u-Matan 1:1.


"The rain only falls in the merit of men of faith." (Ta'anis 8a)

This Ma'amar Chazal is discussed by Rav Eliyahu de Vidas in Reishis Chokhmah, Sha'ar Ma'asah u-Matan 34.


One of the towering figures of the Kabbalah, whose influence extends to Chassidim, Misnagdim, and Sefardim alike, is Rav Chaim Vital (sixteenth century C.E.), the leading disciple of the holy ARI. He states:

The testimony of God is faithful, enlightening the fool (Psalms 19:8).

"There are two ways to come to know G-d: through intellectual investigation until one attains lucid knowledge, or through simple faith. Intellectual inquiry and effort makes a person clever and insightful. This is not the case with faith, which does not sharpen one's reason. Nevertheless, the verse assures him: "The testimony of God," even when it is "faithful" -- that is, through reliance on faith alone -- also "enlightens the fool." (Sha'ar ha-Pesukim 48:2)

Critics of philosophy:

Sota 49b / Menachos 64b: "Cursed is he who teaches his son Greek wisdom."

Chagigah 15b: "What of Elisha ben Avuyah ('Acher,' the 'Other')? Greek melodies never ceased from his lips; and when he arose to leave the House of Study, many heretical books [i.e. works of Greek philosophy] fell from his lap."

Rabbi Moshe Alshich, Mishlei 7:3, where he writes at length about avoiduing philosophical works; also see ibid. 31:10, where he interprets the "Woman of Valor" to symbolize the Torah, whereas the "Strange Woman" symbolizes chokhmos chitzoniyos, wisdom outside the realm of the sacred.

Teshuvos Chavos Yair no. 210

Teshuvos HaRosh, no. 25

Teshuvos HaRivash no. 45

Teshuvos HaRashba no. 419

Rabbenu Tam, Sefer HaYashar 6:13: "There are 'wisdoms' that destroy faith, such as Greek wisdom and philosophy. One need not engage in them; rather, one should distance oneself from them with all one's might, because before one has found any benefit in them, one's faith will have been destroyed."

Rav Hai Gaon, cited in "HaKosev" on Chagigah 14b, Eyn Yaakov (Vol. 2, p. 66)

Shevilei Emunah p. 100

Shiltei HaGibborim, Avodah Zora: RIF, #1 (5b)

Bartinuro on Sanhedrin 10:1

Maharshal, Yam Shel Shlomo, Introduction to tractate Bava Metzia.

GRA on Yoreh De'ah 179:6, hagahah 13, after criticizing the rationalist views of Maimonides: "I do not believe in them [i.e. the philosophers] at all, G-d forbid, neither them nor any of their commotion. Rather, everything in the Talmud is as the Sages state, but possesses a deeper meaning; not the 'depth' of the philosophers, which is mere superficiality, but that of the men of truth."

Shnei Luchos HaBris, tractate Shavuos, Vol. 3, sec. 29-32, in Jerusalem 1993 five vol. edition. The SheLaH brings many of the sources listed above.

I have also seen critical remarks about the study of philosophy in the Sefer HaBris, although I don't remember the exact source. The above list does not include Chassidic sources, which are numerous.

However, all this does not mean that Rabbi Nachman or those authorities who took a similar position against the study of philosophy advocated that we simply turn off our minds and make no attempt to explore the "great questions" within the parameters of faith. In fact, Rabbi Nachman saw the kabbalistic tradition as an antidote to philosophy, as stated in Chayei Moharan 407. More later!


At February 13, 2007 at 10:56:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, great post from Rabbi Sears. ASJ - I love your posts, but would love to see more from Rabbi Sears also.

At February 13, 2007 at 11:18:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is not faith or Philosophy. The "Philosophy" in the days of the Rambam consisted of intellectual attempts to prove the existence of God from earthly observations and human imaginative speculations. (See Moreh Nevuchim). Today, we know how useless this effort is.

On the other had "faith" in its simplistic meaning in the English language is actually a christian concept, not a Jewish one.

Judaism is neither. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that for us, the key is Maamad Har Sinai. I know Judaism is true because my father, or my Rabbi, told me so. How does he know? His father told him so. And, how does he know? ...keep going up the chain until we get to 600000 men plus an equal number of women who personally saw and heard Hashem reveal himself on Har Sinai.

For me, this is testimony given by more than a million people who all saw and experienced the same thing. Then, they passed it on to their children.

In court, two witnesses are sufficient. 100 witnesses are so much better. Now imagine 1,000,000 witnesses. I don't need anything stronger than that.

At February 13, 2007 at 11:23:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, no disrespect to the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT"L, but that position dates back a couple thousand years before the Rebbe. And many "rationalist" Rishon (The Kuzari for example) make that statement as well.

At February 13, 2007 at 12:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I see it, there are three issues here:

1) History-- there was a debate in Jewish history between emunah al pi chakirah versus emunah peshutah. This is a fact which no one disputes.

2) Practically-- L'maseh, what should people do? The emunah chakirah/peshutah question has recently been discovered by bloggers, but is an age-old one. The answer is just as by halacha: follow your rav. In general, the charedi world(chassisim and litvish) has eschewed chakirah, and argues that historically, peshutah has worked. Generally speaking, therefore, a person should follow the group he belongs to: Breslov, Lubavitch, Ponovhich.

3) Presentation of the Issue- This depends on the audience, but it should be fair and balanced. For example, in R. Yisrael Reismann's article on Metzizah B'feh in the Jewish Observer, he noted that there is a fair/balanced way and unfair/imbalanced way to present the different sources. However, since the goal is to strengthen people's faith, the presentation depends on the audience.

Emunah peshutah has been attacked on the internet. Some people benefit from just seeing sources that this is a Jewish concept and is favored by Gedolim. They do not need a full presentation. This is the "peshutah way" to present emunah peshutah.

Others, such as myself, personally, favor a strong basis of emunah peshutah as well. However, I feel that when *presenting* the issue, it is only fair to cite the great rishonim on both sides, even if you conclude in favor of peshutah. That is intellectually rigorous and balanced in my opinion.

Some Rishonim have made very strong statements requring *specifically* emunah al pi chakirah. I believe that in any intellectully rigorous discussion, such rishonim should be cited, with their strong language. The peshutah side of the argument is strong enough to withstand such quotes. Anyone who is exposed to the internet should be able to read the quotes with out losing his faith in the superiority of emunah peshutah(otherwise they don't belong on the internet!).

When asking "Is Judaism a Religion of Faith or Reason", the emunah al pi chakirah statements should be cited with all their sharpness. I understand that there is an issue of space consideration, but I think that a fair and balanced discussion should not ignore those shittos and their strong expressions, even if one doesn't follow them l'maseh.

At February 13, 2007 at 1:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Chaim B. said...

B'mechilas kvodcha, most of this does not address the central point raised. Those rishonim who were rationalists used reason as a vehicle to arrive at faith. You cite tzadik b'emunaso yichyeh, but who told you that the tzadik's faith was arrived at mystically or through simple belief and not through rational chakirah? Most of the gemara proofs you cite suffer this same failing - they applaud faith, but have nothing to do with the question of how faith is arrived at.
The issur of studying Greek wisdom is a halacha pesuka, but has nothing to do with studying secular philosophy according to many rishonim.
Ascribing a rationalism-only position to misnagdim is not correct either. R' Chaim Brisker never opened a Moreh Nevuchim; the Nefesh haChaim is filled with as much mysticism as the greatest sifrei chassidus.

At February 13, 2007 at 1:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nefesh haChaim - is written as a substitute of Chasidus, and even quotes numerous Chasidic sources (without names though).

At February 13, 2007 at 3:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A note on the subject of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosophy is an exercise in logical and semantic manipulations of physical observations and theories. It has a very strong basis in "imagination". This is why it is prohibited. It is not the philosophy that is prohibited, but the imagination component of it. We try to stay away from imaginative theories, albeit, not very successfully. The Gmara is full of imaginative theories about the physical world. The Rambam is very much in favor of Chakirah - investigative research. This is what science is all about. The knowledge we acquire through Chakirah becomes part of the Torah.

At February 13, 2007 at 3:57:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A response to "Anonymous". The Lubavitcher Rebbe rarely said things of his own. Almost everything he said is based on earlier sources. He just followed the Rambam's style of not complicating his teachings with an endless list of sources.

At February 13, 2007 at 5:51:00 PM EST, Blogger haKiruv said...

Faith is greater than reason, because faith is required for logic to work. Faith does not require logic for it to work: it just is. This is so, because in logic, one must accept premises before one can then use logic (deduction and such). And it's the acceptance of the premises that require nothing else but pure faith.
For instance:
a = b (accepted as true)
b = c (accepted as true)
therefore, a=c

The premises are:
that a=b is true
that b=c is true

These premises can't be proven. They are just assumed to be so. Much like "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal". So, one asserts his faith first, which allows him to then apply reason/logic. Reason/logic is merely a process we apply to premises.

Since nothing can come before G-d, then G-d is the ultimate premise, and everything is derived from him.


Post a Comment

<< Home