By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I continue with last week’s column and the questions sent to me by the student Aryeh L. from New Jersey:
“ … Over the past year I read all the books I could on this topic (of Judaism vs. other religions) … It did not take long to decide Christianity is illogical. I don’t find it bothers me that it is the largest religion because they “just believe.” They are no different than the vast majority of my friends who “just believe” what they hear without putting much thought into it … ”
We need to draw a vital distinction between the fact that Christians “just believe” and that many of your friends in Yeshiva “just believe.” It is true that when you compare actual people — the people of the masses who accept things at face value without thought and do things by rote — you may not find much difference between them other than they buy into different belief systems by rote.
If many of them happened to have been brought up by a family of the opposite beliefs, they would probably fall right in with whatever is being taught to them. That does not show a similarity in the belief systems, rather a similarity in some of the people following them.
When it comes to the actual systems of belief, however, they could not be more diametrically opposed in their outlooks, especially with regards to taking their beliefs for granted. In Christianity, for the most part, to “just believe” is meritorious.
On numerous occasions, former Christians have approached me to discuss conversion to Judaism because they were forbidden to ask questions. When they would approach their religious leaders with difficulties about their religion (contradictions in teachings and the like), they were dealt with like heretics or told they need to “just believe” and not ask questions.
For some reason, otherwise inquisitive people, people of science who are rigorous in their criticisms of scientific theories and in their peer reviews of the ideas and postulates of their colleagues, see fit to have a double standard with regards to religion. They have been brought up to “just believe” since their youth. With regards to much of Christianity, to “just believe” is not a lack of effort by the masses, rather it points to the heart of its belief system.
The Torah and Judaism, however, could not be more opposed to that outlook. The first thing a child is taught at the Pesach seder is to ask questions. We have an entire, vast Talmud which consists largely of rigorous challenges to anything and everything stated, whether in pesukim (verses), Mishnah, rabbinical statements, even acts of the Al-mighty. Our greatest teacher of all time, Moshe, strongly challenged God on some of His actions, and God accepted his challenges; not only without rebuke, but changed many of His decrees due to Moshe’s challenge. We also point out the mistakes and misdeeds of our greatest leaders: those of Abraham, Moshe and others.
With regards to our essential belief system, the esteemed sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzatto writes in his monumental work “Daas Tevunos” that we have an obligation to not take our beliefs at face value, rather to delve deeply into them, challenge them and come to a deeper understanding — an understanding that sits well in our hearts and satisfies the inquisitive, intellectual part of our soul.
Most people, many of the friends you mention, may not be so intellectually inclined and are satisfied, perhaps, with what we call emunah peshuta, or simple belief. I’m not out to judge them, but that reflects on the people, not the religion. Anyone who has an intellectual side to them needs to work on achieving a profound understanding of everything Jewish.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.