One of my first substantive explorations into the Torah blogosphere was with regards to the ban of R’ Slifkin’s books. This essay is not intended either to condemn or defend the ban which many have written about almost to the point of ad nauseum. However, in my surfing of the Torah blogosphere, I was struck by the fact that so many people’s emunah seemed so fragile because of a perceived irreconcilable conflict between Torah and science.
There are a number of approaches available. I use the term “approaches” because IMO, there may not be any real answers that solve every problem relating to one’s degree or level of Emunah. FWIW, this issue is not a 21st Century issue but can be found in Hilchos Teshuvah where we find that the Raavad champions “Emunah Pshutah” or “simple faith” as opposed to a faith based upon a scientifical or philosophical basis. Echoes of this dispute can be found in writings of the Ramban and Rashba. One can postulate that the development and flourishing of Kabbalah under the Ari was in reaction to a rationalistic system of viewing hashkafic issues that had no answer for such cataclysmic events as the expulsion from Spain.
That being said, RYBS commented in many different contexts that our challenge is to be a Shomer Torah UMitzvos despite the presence of doubts. IOW, the challenge is neither to walk away from Torah observance because of the presence of real doubts on many issues or to believe that one’s responsibility is to solve issues that not even Moshe Rabbeinu received answers to such as Tzadik vRah Lo, Rasha vTov Lo..Simply stated,-one should not water down Torah to make it palatable to science and those who believe in “scientism” or water down legitimate scientific discoveries or questions to make science palatable to Torah. There are some conflicts that cannot be resolved. OTOH, many of the books authored by militant athesists such as Dawkins, Gould and Hitchens strike me as displaying less knowledge of Torah Judaism than a graduate of an elementary day school, yeshiva or Beis Yaakov. IMO, such books are hardly a threat to Torah. R D Lamm has an excellent essay on this issue as well where different levels of doubt are set forth. I don’t have the title in front of me, but it is worth reading just on what constitutes a legitimate sense of doubt.
Given the above, I would argue that our responsibility is to gain as much an understanding of what Chazal viewed as the Ikarie Emunah which are set forth in Chumash, the Siddur and Machzor. Basic concepts such as Bchirah Chofshis, Akedah. Am Segulah, Bris Avos, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Bris Sinai, Kabbalas HaTorah, TSBP, Malchuyos, Zicronos and Shofaros and Teshuvah seem IMO the concepts that Chazal stressed in developing a bedrock sense of Ikarie Emunah. As a corollary, I would maintain that a study of the Taryag Mitzvos and how they apply differently to a Kohen, Levi Yisrael, woman and minor would show that our Mesorah presented and demands different levels of Kedusha for different people. From what I have seen, we need to work more on these Ikarie Emunah and to be able to believe in them-even if there is no physical or archaeological evidence that would support them. I strongly believe that a belief that would be predicated solely or primarily on the evidence supporting these events is susceptible to a human challenge.
Guide to abbreviations:
IMO – In my opinion
FWIW – For what it’s worth
RYBS – Rav Yosef Ber Soleveitchik
IOW – In other words
OTOH – On the other hand
TBSP – Torah She Baal Peh