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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Welcome - Part II: Emunah

Being that much of the time we will be exploring the fundamental faith propositions of Judaism let me first introduce some thoughts on the process of coming to belief. This introduction should give a good idea of where we are heading and frame future discussions.

The choice to believe is a choice that is constantly made throughout our lives. We make belief-choices in the complicated issues of politics, ethics and religion. But we also commit to beliefs in regard to the most fundamental questions of our identity, history and security. However, our belief commitments are almost never informed by absolute proofs (because outside of 1 + 1 = 2 there are no absolute proofs!). In varying degrees, our beliefs are based on probability, which in turn is based on intuition (see the hakdama to the Milchamos vs. the Cartesian view on knowledge). We shall apply this methodology to religious belief as well. Let us look at the arguments in favor of religious belief and the counterarguments against religious belief, and then let us weigh them.

But before we do so, we must check the “I” making this intuitional judgment. Which arguments are weightier than others depends on who is making the value judgment. An intellectual will find value in an air-tight logical proof; an emotional person will find more value in a strong emotional argument. We furthermore must ask: am I open to religious belief or will I scoff at even the most outstanding arguments, am I open to the spiritual world or am I so caught up in physicality that the very notion of the transcendent is a laughable one? It has been said, for this reason, that only a religious person can truly understand and value religion; only someone who has acquired an internal self can understand and value internal knowledge.

However, even purity of heart is not sufficient for coming to the proper intuitional conclusion. Only through acquiring a deep and wide knowledge of the subject matter (religion, science, philosophy, theology, history, literary theory, the occult etc.) – an expertise – can we hope to develop the proper intuition in these fields. Only through understanding the nuances, the strengths and the weaknesses of the field, can we hope to grasp the specific arguments.

Yet, there is a deeper intuition that does not require expertise in every, or any, field of knowledge. This subtle intuition –what religious people call faith – is more basic than knowledge. It stems from “a subtle inclination from the sensitivity of the soul.” A sensitivity to transcendence and wonder; a sensitivity to holiness and purity. The greatest argument for religious belief is not phrased in the language of the intellect but in the language of the soul. When one senses the Transcendent One in the world and in the Torah, and one’s own transcendent soul, all questions fall away. Yisrael v'Oraysa v'Kudsha Bruch Hu Chad Hu.

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