By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Since I have received many positive responses from the you, I will continue to address the thoughtful questions from the student, Aryeh, in New Jersey:
“If a Jew and a non-Jew both believe in God for no logical reason, why should the Jew get rewarded and the non-Jew get punished — the Jew was just lucky? Is there anything better about believing in God because that is what logic dictates rather than “just believing?”
Firstly, you make the assumption that for a Jew who believes without thinking deeply, why he or she has that belief has “no logical reason” to believe? While it is true that Judaism exhorts us to delve deeply into our beliefs, and one does not fully fulfill the mitzvah to embrace our beliefs without doing so, that does not make one who espouses our beliefs with simplicity, or “emunah peshuta,” as “illogical”; rather simplistic.
If someone believes their computer works simply because they see that it does without understanding computer programming or operating systems, although their understanding is simplistic it is not illogical, and it works that way for most people.
Only those who understand computers on a deeper level are going to make a difference in the world of computers, but the majority who don’t comprehend them are not illogical people. It is just that going with the flow of something they see works, works for them.
The commandment to “believe,” in its entirety, consists of the actual belief as well as the understanding of both the logical and historical affirmations of our belief system. One who merely espouses the “simple belief” without delving into the historical and logical verifications of our belief system has not yet fully fulfilled that mitzvah, although he or she is considered a believing Jew.
As I have written in past columns, Christianity, in many of its beliefs, is quite the opposite; it is virtuous to “just believe,” and to question it or subject it to scientific verification could label one as an apostate. This, as mentioned before, is the subject of the opening section of the classical Jewish philosophical work “Daas Tevunos” (of R’ M.C. Luzatto).
A Christian who believes in his or her system just because they were brought up that way is also not being illogical, just simplistic. Your assumption that we hold that they will be “punished” for their beliefs as opposed to the Jew being rewarded, is not entirely correct.
Some forms of Christianity don’t clash with the basic seven Noahide laws. Those branches of Christianity that deify their lord (who was just a nice, Jewish boy), come into conflict with the core commandments given to Noah for all of humanity upon leaving the ark.
It is incumbent upon all of mankind, by virtue of being a human with the power of thinking, to understand and fulfill those seven laws, one of which is “not to serve idols.” To deify another person and to serve that deity may be considered idol worship. Anyone who serves idols, even if they were simply brought up that way, will be liable for their actions at the end of the day.
Only God will be able to judge to what extent each individual is liable for such actions; to what extent they had the ability, based upon that individual’s unique circumstances, to have truly embarked upon a search of the truth and to reflect upon the religion they were bequeathed by their forebears. But some liability, with whatever that entails in their eternity, does exist.
In that way, we truly are “lucky,” as you mentioned, that our forebears — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah — bequeathed us the direct will of God. One who espouses their beliefs, even without the full depth therein, is ipso-facto connected to those spiritual giants and to millions of believing Jews, all connected to the Al-mighty by fulfilling His will.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.