21 March 2009

No questions asked.

Last week, a comment in a Letter to The Editor in the Jewish Press caught my eye. I doubt that comment would have passed muster (not Mustard!) in the Yaated Neeman. Check out the last Letter on the bottom entitled "Hearing Vs. Discerning".

It seems that Dr. Yaakov Stern goes out of his way to make this astonishing admission:

While we may not like to admit this, even to ourselves, the reality is that everyone to some degree is plagued by doubt as to the veracity of the Torah and the omnipotence of Hashem...........

Now, that's quite a shocker. Until my skeptic years, I really can't say that I was consciously aware of such feelings. Sure, I may have had some issues with some Chazals and some Gemaras. But that's not quite the same as doubting the veracity of the Torah. I may even have had some questions about the Torah, but to claim everyone is plagued by doubt seems to speak more to Dr. Stern's frame of mind.

[So please tell us Dr. Stern, what exactly about the Torah do you doubt? Maybe I can help out out there? Yuk Yuk.]

And if you DO doubt it and if everyone doubts it, why is it so terrible to ask questions in public? If doubt is normal, then maybe there's a good reason for it! If doubt is commonplace, isn't it more than expected that some will act on their doubt? Why is it a given, in polite company, that Toras Hashem Temima?

But the truth is that Dr. Stern is at least partially correct. Many people might have moderate levels of doubt. The numerous "train the teacher" Kiruv programs might be be nothing more than an excuse to allow the FFB adult to explore the forbidden in a controlled environment. When Rabbonim tell people about these programs in public, they often say as an unplanned afterthought, "and it will help your own Emunah". Books like Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive are not just meant for the borderline BT. I think it's on the Bookshelf of many Maaminim Bnei Maaminim.

Yet, for all the doubt that does exist, it's still verboten to express your doubts in public. Honest questions of basic belief are not tolerated. Just try it. Just try the vaguest hint of questioning even today's rabbonim, let alone Chazal, and you'll get comments such as "you need to work on yourself" or "That's dangerous" or "I believe such and such because I believe in God". As if their Rav has Gilui Eliyahu.

You'll get odd looks and many types of statements either putting you in your place or cavalierly dismissing the hint of questioning. You'll get any statement other than an open admission that there's a good reason to doubt or that it's OK to doubt.

So my skeptic friend. Just nod your head at the assertion that there will be a Mechitsa in Olam Haboh when listening to Hashem's Shiurim (yes, that was a statement from an Adam Godol). Just keep your mouth shut.


Because an elephant in the room is easier ignored than a buzzing bee.

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