Thursday, 23 February 2012

Question! About Belief . . .



Speaking of kiruv, when I discussed not believing in God with my Aish and NCSY reps, they often told me that Jews - and by Jews they meant Orthodox Jews - did not have to believe in God. That I could do all the other mitzvot, and belief would come later. I found the action first/belief second response manipulative. First of all, at least 10 of the 613 mitzvot invoke God directly. The centrality of God, and the importance of belief is pretty explicit. Second of all, why do the action if you don't believe? ("Why to bring you closer to God!" They'd answer!). Not to mention, the Aish/NCSY version of "action" is a pretty tall order for a secular Jew. It means a massive investment of time, a complete overhaul of lifestyle, and immersion into a new community. If things went according to plan, I would get married quick 'n early, have kids and then the investment ante would really go up. Stepping out would be far more difficult.

But maybe I was being too cynical. After all, as Kugel says, "Judaism is notoriously long on deeds and short on doctrine". So, here's the question:

Do Orthodox Jews halachically have to believe in God? And, if so, how important is this halacha/mitzvah?

*p.s. Just to be sure we are on the same page,I am not disputing that atheists can be Jews.

22 comments:

  1. answer: its a machlokes.

    but seriously, i just heard rabbi slifkin speak on shabbos afternoon on his recent US tour, and he explicitly said there is nothing explcit that says a jew MUST believe anything at all. he talked about the 13 ikarim from the Rambam, and concluded that was a response to Islam, and was quite contraversial and not widely accepted at that time.

    ksil

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By the way, I think Rabbi Slifkin is a heretic too.

      Delete
    2. > By the way, I think Rabbi Slifkin is a heretic too.

      By Chaeridi standards, sure. But like most frum rationalists, there seems to be a theological line hw won’t cross.

      Delete
  2. Oh! I would have loved to hear him speak! . . . What's a machlokes?

    ReplyDelete
  3. machlokes = disagreement or argument. Can be used in both senses but in this case I'd say disagreement.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's probably the deepest question about the sociology of Judaism. Why are we Jewish? And the answer isn't really manipulative when you understand that a big draw of Judaism is that it's a tribe existing in modernity that keeps us feeling secure by being a part of something. Here's a good article on the social dynamic:
    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1148059/jewish/Why-Does-Judaism-Make-No-Sense.htm
    (I'm not saying that the kiruv guy had all this mind.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would be happy if people could accept the sociological reasons as the real ones. Instead, people claim to be carrying out God's will (and that therefore they're better than other people). Religion doesn't make a person humble; it gives people a superiority complex.

      That's my mini-rant.

      Delete
    2. Yeah. Somehow, people seem to be able to keep both in their heads at once.

      Delete
    3. itchemeyer, I really don't find Freeman's article compelling at all. I don't want to go into detail here because I have an essay-worth of disagreements, and it will derail the thread a bit. Bottom line - he starts by giving sociological reasons for irrational behavior, and ends with: "It comes down to our covenant with a G-d that we never quite figured out, and don't really expect to." He starts the article by appealing to (albeit outdated) sociological justification, and ends with "because God told us to". To me that's similarly manipulative: to pretend that it's sociology driving the actions when the writer actually believes it's the theology.

      Delete
    4. >Yeah. Somehow, people seem to be able to keep both in their heads at once.

      (I assume by "both" you mean the sociological and theological reasons)

      You can replace "somehow" with: centuries worth of rationization, indoctrination, cognitive dissonance, denial, pretending, faith, indifference. Take your pick!

      Delete
  5. One of the mitzvos is to love God with all your heart. It's said as part of Shema every day. If you don't believe in God, you can't really love him. I can't remember a place where it says directly "Believe in God", but this would be an indirect way of requiring it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. > I found the action first/belief second response manipulative.

    Of course it’s manipulative. That’s the whole point. It’s enshrined in Jewish thought as “Shelo l’shma ba lishma” (loosely, “do something not for its own sake, and you’ll come to do it for its own sake). It runs on cognitive dissonance.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It also seems to me to not be a very successful approach. "Oh, you don't believe in any of this? That's fine. Just turn your life inside out, dress differently, refuse to eat at your parent's house, give up your weekends, and in a few years, you might!"

    What would such an NCSYer tell his parents? I can't eat off these plates because there might be a god?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a successful approach toward those who are attracted by the lifestyle, but aren't sure about the belief part.

      I agree, if someone isn't entranced by the lifestyle and also doesn't believe, they're not much of a kiruv target and no kiruv worker worth his salt would waste time on them.

      Delete
    2. >What would such an NCSYer tell his parents? I can't eat off these plates because there might be a god?

      Puzzled - you'd be surprised. Yes. And parents concede. Secular people (esp. pre-New Atheist days), IMO, are generally conditioned to be very tolerant of behavior that in a non-religious context would be offensive. By extension, in the same spirit, parents are patient with their children's increased religiosity. Basically their child's offensive behavior (in the case of refusing to eat off parent's plates) under the guise of religion, is kosher. The attitude reminds me of a very NOT politically correct episode of the Family Guy. I'll post it here if you promise not to take it the wrong way/get mad at me!

      Delete
  8. proud MO, slifkin brought this up. He still came to the conclusion that no where in TANACH or even in all of the Talmud is it written that one must believe....nowhere

    pretty strange, if its so crucial to one's being let into the world to come or deemed a heretic....no?

    ksil

    ReplyDelete
  9. what are we talking about here? :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great post. Just used some of the info from here in a response to a comment on my blog :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ami: Thanks! Happy to be of service!

    HH: :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. A compressed form of your question is the title of a book by Menachem Kellner: Must a Jew Believe Anything? (Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization). Kellner's answer is, in a word, "no"; i.e., no beliefs are requirements of halacha, Maimonides to the contrary. It sounds as if Rabbi Slifkin has been defending much the same position.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks MKR - I'll check it out!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...