Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m curious if you can help clarify the concepts of personal (little “t”) truth and Torah (big “T”) Truth.
Within Judaism, we allow enough wiggle room to claim, for example, that both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions can be True. Similar examples touch all aspects of life and law, where multiple contradictory truths are considered True. Thus, the concept of Torah Truth seems to be more of a spectrum than a definitive (view-)point. It seems that as long as one’s approach to Torah study is genuine, then groups or even individuals can bring down different Truths.
How does this concept hold up outside of Judaism? If someone of another religion is also living a moral life, and is toiling genuinely in their religious texts, they will surely also report a genuine relationship with God, and access to Truth. From the Jewish perspective, can a non-Jew access (a piece of) the Truth?
All the best,
It is true that there is a spectrum of observance within the scope of Judaism and Torah, such as Sephardic, Chasidic, German, Hungarian and Lithuanian customs. These are not different versions of Truth, as you suggest, rather different approaches of how to approach the same Truth.
Let us look at an example of this. Imagine three people standing next to a large lake, discussing its beauty. One says that the water is blue, reflecting the sky; another feels it looks green, like its lily pads, and the third sees it as gray, like the clouds. Which one is correct? The answer is, all of them! There’s probably a smattering of all three colors in that lake and each feels more connected, from his or her perspective, to one of those hues. As long as all three agree upon the key axiomatic makeup of the lake that it is H2O, then there is a “gray area” which is up for interpretation and individual connection and all those viewpoints are equally valid.
So too with Torah; we have certain axioms both in belief and in practice. All of the above-mentioned sects, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, etc., believe in the same Torah from Sinai, the same 13 Principles as outlined by Maimonides which form the framework for our belief system, our definition of Truth. Even with regard to observance, take for example the observance of Shabbos, they are all basically the same. They all accept the same 39 categories of creative activity from which to refrain on the Shabbos; they all recite the same Kiddush over a cup of wine, enjoy the same three Shabbos meals, etc.
Then there are certain gray areas, such as, does one spend more time on Torah study or song and dance? When studying, does one spend more time on the Talmud and Jewish law, or on the Kabbalah and more esoteric subjects? Even within the actual laws of Shabbos, there are subtle nuances, gray areas that may differ, at times, between these sects based upon custom. All are equally valid because they are based upon a true understanding of the sources with the integrity of keeping within the axiomatic truths accepted and agreed upon by all.
They all take into account the H2O of Torah and differ in the gray areas, the subtle hues and nuances. If you look carefully, this is true of all arguments and disagreements throughout the Talmud; it’s not about the general axiomatic principles but about the details, the nuances, the gray undefined areas that are subject to interpretation.
This is the true definition of one’s approach to Torah being “genuine,” not only in intention, but with inherent integrity: playing by the rules defined by the Torah itself.
With regard to other religions, you are correct that according to the Torah a sincere Gentile can also connect to God and develop a genuine, meaningful relationship to Him. We are not a religion that believes that either you’re Jewish or doomed!
There is, however, one caveat. This is as long as that Gentile has not only good intentions, but also fulfills his or her minimum requirement of the service of God according to the Torah with regard to Gentile observance. This means a scrupulous observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. If their religion jibes with these Noahide laws then it is considered, by the Torah, to be consistent with the Truth, and its adherents will merit a portion in the World to Come.
Rabbi Yerachmiel 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,