Getting Beyond the Proofs

In the introductory program of the baal teshuvah yeshivah in Jerusalem where I was introduced to Torah Judaism, the “Proofs of God and Torah M’Sinai” was the hottest thing going. We fought over them, stayed up until three o’clock in the morning debating them, and spent weeks and months on them. Having a degree in the life sciences I was particularly loathe to drop the idea of random evolution or accept the idea of a soul. After three months of fiery debates, participating in them and also observing some of the best minds of the finest universities getting shot down to the dust, I was pretty convinced.

Then came summer break. With a new addition to my backpack – a pair of tefillin – I made my way with a few guys down to the Sinai for scuba diving and fun in the sun. From my present perspective it’s hard to envision what there was to do on the beach for so long, but suffice it to say that a month later the “Proofs of God and Torah M’Sinai” were a distant mirage. The tefillin didn’t see the light of day anymore.

What happened? It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. One can see valid evidence and be convinced by intellectual proofs, but the influences of peer pressure from the surroundings and physical urges hold sway.

No one brought any evidence to the contrary. I never even discussed the proofs. But the entire edifice crumbled under the onslaught of vacationing youth on the beach.

Although I had chosen at this point to remain non-religious, I returned to the yeshivah, feeling distant from what had begun to be a tentative tasting of the Torah lifestyle. I needed a base to plan my next step, graduate school or work, so I returned to the dorm. Someone from the administration sat down with me and offered the next stage of programming: Mishnah, Gemara, Chumash, Ulpan. I liked the idea of getting textual, and gaining some Hebrew language skills.

That’s what did it for me. It was a case of “boy meets Gemara, and they lived happily ever after.”
There are no questions for the yeshivah student who is happily engrossed in the intricacies of the Gemara, gaining an intimacy with spiritual Intellect that is the foundation of creation. It is literally the authentic “soul food.”

Now, I’m not naïve. I understand that peer pressure and environment is a two edged sword. I’m not claiming my spiritual experience of the love of Torah is any kind of proof.

What I am saying is the experience of spiritual pleasure in Torah life, whether it be derived from Torah study, prayer, Shabbos, or good deeds, is the counterbalance to the physical urges and egocentric motivations that disturb us from perceiving the truth.

The existence of God is the single most obvious element of existence. What sometimes prevents the greatest minds from perceiving it are the biases of ego, physical desires, and a desire for unrestricted moral freedom.

No one is going to be able to batter ram the truths of Judaism down the throats of millions of secular Jews. Although presenting the evidence for the claims of Torah Judaism is an important first step, and absolutely vital in today’s marketplace of ideas, it cannot be the basis for a commitment to Torah.
This is because a human being generally does not operate on a rational basis. For example, Rabbi Galinsky tells the amusing story of a college professor who passionately lectured to him for hours about the dangers of smoking and then lit up a cigarette after the lecture.

The evidence for the existence of God and Torah M’Sinai is out there (check out for a selection of the material). A person can and should base his emunah on reason and knowledge. However, the crux of free will necessitates that we need something more to counterbalance the effects of egoism and physical desire, which influence us to conveniently overlook our intellect.

That’s the way to get beyond the proofs. A Jew who is sincerely motivated to become close to God and His Torah has to find an avenue of lasting spiritual pleasure that works for him/her on a personal basis and has the power to overcome the siren song of this world.

First published on Jan 10th, 2008

38 comments on “Getting Beyond the Proofs

  1. People are often persuaded of G-d’s existence by personal proofs. It doesn’t have to be something dramatic like surviving a devastating car accident or getting out unscratched from a burning building. However, many individuals have experienced what they believe to be the Hand of G-d in their lives, a little bit of the Divine parting the veil, so to speak, coming out of hiding.

    Look at Mark Twain, who was an atheist. His career took off after finding a $50 bill in the street (worth many times its value today) and he met his adored wife Olivia through a “chance” conversation onboard a ship with her brother.

    I enjoy reading books such as the “Small Miracles” series which relate true stories of people who have had unbelievable experiences that really cannot be chalked up only to blind coincidence. Plus I have had a number of “Small Miracles” in my own life that have had a tremendous effect on my own faith in G-d. I don’t expect my own experiences to be as real to anyone else as they are to me.

  2. In principle, can there be an airtight, logical, 100% conclusive proof (as opposed to only a convincing demonstration) as long as we’re meant to have free will to make our own moral choices? We do have more than enough evidence from observation and tradition to support belief in Torah MiSinai and the other principles of Judaism, provided that we also develop the proper emunah. Without emunah, though, it’s possible to process or select available information and come to the wrong conclusions.

  3. Ron,

    That’s not what I am saying at all. I am saying that proofs are trotted out when they serve our purpose, but once we open that door, there is a lot that will come through that we do not wish to see. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere. To pretend that we are open to everything is just plain false.

  4. In high school, I was a very naive non-thinking flaky Jew who would swallow anything, so evolution didn’t present any problems. I would kick myself for writing down 5.2 billion instead of 4.6 billion…after all,it was just a lesson in memorization (or cramming). I learned about the Holocaust from a made-for-TV movie (was it ’78?) I said ‘grace’ with extended family, and was proud of being polite.

    And ALL my Jewish friends did the same. And when we all went bowling on Saturdays and showed off our trophies. Etc, etc.

    In the beginning of my turning ‘ortho-dox’, and even a bit after, I could easily see being drawn back into the world of my upbringing…and staying. Not because my learning was weak, not because I started having doubts. But because that world has special powers to pull like a vacuum, and sweep one’s memory back to tabula rasa, and in such a sweet, nurturing way.

  5. I had a lot of hatred for the way that Evolution was taught in my school. Basically, after hearing over and over again that Ordovician fishes lived 440 million years ago (or was that Silurian?) you get very skeptical about the whole thing. Particularly when you’re told to just memorize dates for the final exam or for the New York State Regents Exam. Where the science is in just memorizing a bunch of dates I don’t know. Yes, we learned about “half-lives” of radioactive substances and Carbon-14 dating, but there was no connection made to the dates we were memorizing. When our teachers taught us yet again that dinosaurs lived seventy million years ago (or maybe in a more sophisticated class that dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era from 65 million to 130 million years ago), they never said anything about Professor Y finding x molecules of Carbon-14 decaying at Z rate in his experiments with dinosaur bones. There was no explanation where they got any of the numbers from, it was as if the T. Rex fossils came with a date tag saying, “I am 70 million years old.” And of course we had to learn the theory du jour: if that year scientists were saying that the Earth was 4.6 billion years old, that was the number we had better give back on the Regents exam, not 5.2 billion or 3.5 billion.

    After having had the ridiculousness of Evolutionism shoved down my throat, no questions permitted, I was far more receptive to the proofs for G-d’s existence, inasmuch as there was actual scientific evidence (sort of ironic but true).

  6. Rabbi Prof. Shalom Carmy (YU’s Chair of Bible and Jewish Philosophy) wrote to Avodah once:

    People who throw around big words on these subjects always seem to take for granted things that I don’t.

    The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.

    Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.

    One of Jewish History’s big ironies is the “Kuzari Proof”. The whole point of the first section of the Kuzari, which they try to turn into a proof, is that philosophical proofs are of little value:

    1:13 The Rabbi: That which you describe is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.

    1:63 … There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances….

  7. As has been pointed out, there is a huge gap, between “proving” the G-d of “first causes” and proving the G-d of Torah. Once we open up to “proofs” for, we run the risk of being exposed to “proofs” against. Be careful of the Pandora’s Box you open.

  8. i am someone who is a little observant. but i tell you that my fear that there may be no G-d is higher now than BEFORE i spent time at aish jerusalem.

    it’s like i never really questioned the mystery of life (or my belief in G-d) until aish tried to show me that G-d is real and Torah is real.

    I am wondering: can a person opt out of being Jewish? Can I “convert?” I feel like I feel worse in this limbo I am in, and am interested in options.

  9. Thank you, Mark and David, for defending my point better than I could have.

    Fred, please note that I said: “What *sometimes* prevents the greatest minds…”
    With that, I left room for an Aristotle or Socrates who pursues the issue with great intellectual clarity and still could not resolve it.

    Rav Elchanan Wasserman, to be sure, was not so gracious.

    That point is necessary for the theme of my post. Someone who accepts G-d’s existence as a given still needs to understand why so many intellectuals and scientists do not. Once he understands the motives for bias he should realize how important it is to work on our inner world and understand what moves us.

    With that in mind, one should search for his own personal source of pleasure in Jewish life to counterbalance the negative biases.

  10. Fred,

    To people who have done the necessary work it is obvious that there is a G-d and there is ample evidence to support this. The author is just pointing out some possible reasons why smart people would reject the obvious evidence.

    The existence of G-d is not a true or false question. Unfortunately many smart people think they can debate away G-d. It can’t be done.

  11. Mark,

    Of course everyone has biases, and, no doubt, shortcomings as well. I did not (and would not) claim that the article suggested that biases and shortcomings were limited to those who disagreed with the author.

    Rather, I objected to the article’s contention that disagreement itself could only exist as a product of biases and shortcomings (i.e., as opposed to objective reflection and thoughtful consideration). Essentially, this kind of cheap shot (and I do not use the term lightly) dismisses, but does not refute or even address, contrary views.

  12. Also, the most often quoted piece on the issue of bias in this regard is probably Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s maimer. IIRC, (it’s been a while since I learned through it) Rav Elchonon, in building his point, brings the example of the laws of witnesses and how the smallest interest in a case could disqualify a witness, even Moshe Rabbeinu. So, to echo Mark’s point, everyone has biases and no one is limiting the issue of bias to “non-believers”.

  13. The article makes a good point about the so-called proofs not being enough on their own. Indeed, as some have observed, I think the proofs often backfire– they are presented in a debate-free environment like a Discovery seminar; it’s only afterwards that the newly minted BT finds out that the whole thing isn’t so simple. If faith is built on proofs, then: a) it isn’t faith; and b) it won’t survive serious scrutiny.

    The one point to which I object in this article is the comment that “The existence of God is the single most obvious element of existence. What sometimes prevents the greatest minds from perceiving it are the biases of ego, physical desires, and a desire for unrestricted moral freedom.”

    Sadly, the author is going in for a rather cheap debating technique– condeming people as having personal shortcomings for not agreeing with him. For the same reason that the “proofs” fail, there will always be reasonable and intelligent people who see things differently, and who remain outside OJ belief. Condeming them all as blinded by ego or unwholesome desire is as inaccurate and unfair as condemning all frum Jews as blinded by a desparate need to belong to a group.

  14. >>This is very disturbing and exactly the sort of attitude I wrote about in my post on kids at universities. There are fine, moral people who simply do not believe in the Divine.


    No doubt there are. Two secular people, Gates and Buffet, have contributed $61 billion to a fund the help the poverty stricken of the world. From the little I know about it, it seems to be a very good thing.

    However, fine and moral people can admit their biases. At the time I was in college, one of my favorite authors was Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World” and “Island.” Here’s what he said about this subject:

    “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption … For myself, as no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneous liberation from a certain political and economic system, and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…”

    –Aldous Huxley, “Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization” (Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1937, pg 316).

  15. Yaakov, How are you determining percentages (85%) of certainty?

    Also, can’t a person can be moral and have biases of ego? In fact, don’t we all have biases of ego to some degree? Are you assuming that these fine moral people do not have biases of ego?

  16. Proof of HaShem is not proof of Torah or Judasim…

    There’s way more than 85% certainty in evolution, an old universe, etc.

    >The existence of God is the single most >obvious element of existence. What sometimes >prevents the greatest minds from perceiving >it are the biases of ego, physical desires, >and a desire for unrestricted moral freedom.

    This is very disturbing and exactly the sort of attitude I wrote about in my post on kids at universities. There are fine, moral people who simply do not believe in the Divine. Just because you claim they cannot stand up to certain nisyonos does not change that fact. There are plenty of religous people who also cannot pass nisyonos…

  17. I would like to add that despite my enthusiasm for the concept of how Aish explained its evidence, or “proof” of the existence of G-d and Torah mi Sinai, it never was enough to get me to actually walk through the doors of Neve and continue learning. I was headed to the beach, even after I did Discovery. What got me in was the experience of Shabbos, the experience of meeting people who exemplified chessed and were far superior in middos tovos than those I had previously dealt with, etc. Very few people are so intellectually-minded that proofs alone is an effective kiruv tool!

    However, for the second-stage issues that were written about in the other thread about AJOP, the fact that I had proofs in my intellectual armor certainly helped when I encountered a challenge from relatives or myself experienced doubt. I would double back, take a deep breath, and say to myself, “OK, let’s review why I believe in all this. First causes proof -either there is a G-d or there is not. Can the Torah be true?” etc. It still helps now! Even after 20 years I sometimes have the experience of jumping out of my hair (ha ha, my sheitel!), all of a sudden questioning why I struggle with something or other, and review the proofs in my mind.

    So, the proofs aren’t sufficient, but they are necessary. And I think what Rabbi Schallheim (spelled it right?) was saying was just that — they are not sufficient as a kiruv tool, but indeed intellectual understanding of the truth of G-d and Torah is necessary, and many people fall away ultimately without it, when the warm and fuzzy feelings are replaced by outrage, like Ron said, at something some Rabbi said.

    I definitely agree with Steve B about the ultimate spiritual proof of Torah and mitzvos feeding our souls.

  18. Ron,
    The proofs served something of the same purpose for me. Being in Israel, seeing the frum community and the historical sites of the Jewish people, and being exposed to a compelling intellectual argument that there was something real to the Torah changed my preconceptions completely.

    Additionally, beforehand, I looked at someone like Carl Sagan as the paragon of wisdom. Rav Noach changed my perspective of wisdom as well, with the “48 Ways.”

    I see you agree it’s an important first step. The question is, how does one integrate the important yesodei hadas into the warm and fuzzy encounters that are likely to attract more people?

    For example, I found that when teaching Derech Hashem people are not so interested in the first chapters, they find it unappealing, and want to move on to the “juicy stuff.”

    >>A lot of what is presented is interesting and compelling. However, they are not proofs and when couched as such they invite criticism and disproofs. IMHO, it’s overselling.

    For sure, these days Aish “presents the evidence,” not proofs. The “Proofs of God and Torah M’Sinai” was in the late seventies and early eighties. It was replaced by Discovery, which is largely different content.

    Overselling is certainly a problem, but we must be sure that we don’t give to much credence to the counterarguments as well. Some big philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, have said some pretty lame things.

    Such as this:

    “About two years later, I became convinced that there is no life after death, but I still believed in God, because the “First Cause” argument appeared to be irrefutable. At the age of eighteen, however, shortly before I went to Cambridge, I read Mill’s Autobiography, where I found a sentence to the effect that his father taught him the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question “Who made God?” This led me to abandon the “First Cause” argument, and to become an atheist.”

    – Bertrand Russell, Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 1, 1967.

    He reiterates this in his influential book “Why I’m Not a Christian,” in 1927. That’s all Richard Dawkins, another famous atheist, had to say about the subject as well in “The Blind Watchmaker.”

    My eight year old can answer this question.

    These kinds of statements lead me to realization that the God the atheists don’t believe in – I also don’t believe in!

    I agree that the Ramchal, with his clarity and lack of bias, could see the truth with a capital T. Likely, he was referring to proofs such as those presented in the Shaar HaYichud in Chovos Levevos.

    Your presentation is great! I hope you’re teaching as an “asihette” as well.

    >>The greatest proofs of all are Shabbos, TSBP amd the affirmation of Malchus HaShem every time one says a Bracha or Shemoneh Esreh.

    It seems to me you’re saying “the greatest means to affirm and reinforce your Yahadut are Shabbos, etc.” But how does one convince a secular person to invest the time to develop a connection to these mitzvot?


    Good Shabbos from this side of the pond to everyone!

  19. I’m glad to see Belle making the case she is making, because that’s the philosophy I’ve always had. I’m not sure that there is any one universal proof that Aish (or any other organization) could use that would cause every person who was properly shown the proof to believe in validity of Torah. At some level, the person has to want to be persuaded. There are some people who probably could be shown a “100%” proof and still would reject Torah m’Sinai. Heck, I think I went to law school with a few people like that.

  20. Thanks Steve. I think that is also what Rabbi Schallheim was saying.

    I also think this is not only about Aish. The point about overselling is applicable to all kiruv, big or small, group or individual.

  21. Belle, your argument is classically known as Pascal’s wager. It has its strengths and some weaknesses.

    Although some great thinkers have written about doubt, many great thinkers (Ramban, Ramchal and many others) have written about certainty. As I mentioned in the previous comment, it is very possible that in our generation, certainty is extremely rare, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to come as close to it as possible.

    I love Aish and the wonderful work they do. I believe that Discovery and the partial evidence has lost a lot of its oomph in this post Internet age, where you can Google an opposing opinion on any topic. G-d willing somebody will take the evidence to the next level.

  22. I think that David Linn’s point is very well taken. The greatest proofs of all are Shabbos, TSBP amd the affirmation of Malchus HaShem every time one says a Bracha or Shemoneh Esreh.

  23. Mark:

    I can’t comment on the Ramchal, but I can comment on your comment about Aish’s approach (at least what I understood it to be).

    The fact that the stakes are so high is precisely why it is important to understand that every day, people are making life decisions based on much less than 100% certainty. But, for the proposition that there is a G-d in this world and that He has a life goal for us, and that if we don’t understand this we’ve missed the whole point of life, we demand 100%. Well, it seems to me that the risk/benefit analysis would demand much LESS proof that Torah is true considering the risk of getting it wrong. After all, what if I decided to live a Torah observant life based on 85% certainty, but after 120 I discovered that I was wrong, that there is no G-d (CH’vs) and that I led a moral life for nothing. What’s the downside? I missed out on shrimp? A little more carousing? But, if I only have 85% certainty that Torah is true and for that reason decide that I’ll wait til I get 100%, and not to lead a Torah lifestyle til I get 100%, but after 120 I discover that I was wrong, that the 85% was pointing in the correct direction, then what is the downside? I will have squandered my life chas ve shalom! (I don’t mean to imply that everyone who is not perfectly observant is wasting their life. I am saying that for those who are trying to figure out the truth, that the stakes about determining the truth of Torah can be very high, and that demands a LESSER degree of certainty, not a greater degree.

    This is a different point than the fact that Torah is 100% true. That is not what I am disputing. I am talking about how much certainty (“proof”) a person needs before deciding to make an important decision in life. Certainly deciding to behave as if Torah is true is a major life decision. As to our belief, I believe that this is where emuna comes in. We are never going to get 100% proof that G-d exists or Torah is true. He is not going to introduce Himself to me over breakfast. The greatest thinkers have written about doubt. If it was 100% evident we would have no bechira.

    And I believe these issues were discussed at Aish, at least it was discussed with me, as an “aishette.” :)

  24. Belle, I don’t think that was what the Ramchal meant. First of all, the reason, you need more certainty in Torah than in other things is because the stakes are the highest, so I think that Aish’s “other serious life decisions” argument has some weakness.

    I think the Ramchal was 100% sure of G-d and the truth of Torah because he knew exactly what truth was and how to arrive at truth without a single error in logic. There is probably nobody in our generation who is on that level of clarity of logic and reason, although in previous generations there were.

    Perhaps that is why we have to settle for evidence and a watered down and incomplete (85%) version of proofs/evidence. But if our minds where really sharp Ramchal-like logic machines, Avraham’s First Cause, and Rabbi Akiva’s Intelligent Design proofs would be sufficient.

    This is also probably why people often don’t learn the first chapter of Chovos Halevovos because we are not philosophically and sharp logic oriented and we would just get confused by the proofs presented there.

    I’ve suggested to the Aish people many times that they need to update their evidence material post-Internet, but I think it fell on deaf ears. I and others think it’s desperately needed, but at this point they might not be the right people to do it.

  25. As a wife of a true “Aish”-er, one thing I was told happened during any proofs seminar or series of seminars, was defining their terms. This is true Rav Weinberg Torah.

    They had whole classes about epistomology – how you know what you know. They would discuss what is the realistic level of proof most people needed for any serious decision one made in life — ie how much certainty would one require before deciding to marry someone, or invest money, etc. They even discussed “how do we know we’re not just brains in a bottle on a shelf at Harvard?”

    So, one thing left out of all discussions of Aish and proofs is — what *they* would define as “proof.” As far as I understood, proof did not equal 100% certainty. That is a demand of the yetzer hara, or those invested in disbelief, because 100% is never attainable, even for any other choice people make in life. Who has 100% proof that a person’s chasan or kallah is a good person? Who has 100% proof that the sky is blue? Maybe your eyes are deceiving you!

    What the real definition of “proof” is then, is any level of certainty one would require for any other serious life decision. Perhaps 85% certainty. Like I said before, this was always discussed at Aish, at least in the “old” days. Proofs were never just thrown at students without a larger context.

    And this level of certainty, or “proof” is surely what the Ramchal was referring to. Logical deduction in the same way any intelligent human being comes to conclusions about his world.

  26. If you look at the Hebrew, I think it would be translated that “you can learn the truth of these things”.

    The general (mis)use and (mis)understanding of words like proof and truth are definitely part of the problem.

    I would think that the Ramchal had the proof that G-d and Torah are True with a capital T using clear and precise reasoning. I’d be surprised if the kiruv organizations are presenting exactly what the Ramchal is eluding to in this paragraph.

  27. Mark, I noticed that the piece you quoted states, at least in english, that these things can be “logically verified” and “deduced” Perhaps that is what the Ramchal was saying. I don’t think that is the same thing as “proof” the way the word is generally used.

    I also don’t think that the way “Proofs of Torah” are often presented are in the nuanced viewpoints that we are discussing here. When that is the case, I don’t have a problem with it.

  28. Bias is one factor. The other is having clear and crisp powers of reasoning and deduction.

    In his work, The Ways of Reason (Derech HaTavuna) the Ramchal states:

    “Dialectic investigation is the process of analyzing a statement or idea in order to explain and clarify its truth or falsity. This process consists of setting forth all possible arguments which validate and establish the statement or nullify and disprove it. An arrangement must be chosen which will test the relative strengths of the arguments pros and cons. Finally the question must be resolved on the side that appears most pleasing to the mind.”

    The Ramchal lays out these dialectic principals and applies them specifically to Gemora but states that these first principles apply to all areas of thought.

    It’s an amazing sefer and if one will take the time to go through it a few times, it will help your Gemora learning and your thinking in general.

    Here’s a Google Books link to the Ways of Reason, where you can peruse it before buying it.

  29. It depends what we mean. I’m not sure Ramchal meant a proof that could satisfy any thinking person totally.

    On the other hand, his view may tie in with that of Rav Elchanan Wasserman ZT”L, to the effect that personal biases hide the clear truth from us. Ramchal was at a level where such biases might not exist.

  30. I was holding where Bob and Ron are in regards to proof of G-d until a recent reading of Derech Hashem. On page 31 of the English Translation, the Ramchal is talking about believe in G-d and he says:

    “These concepts can also be logically verified by demonstrable proofs. The veracity can be determined from what we observe in nature and its phenomena. Through such scientific disciplines as physics and astronomy certain principals can be derived, and on the basis of these, clear evidence for these concepts deduced. We will not occupy ourselves with this, however, but will rather set forth the well-known basic principles handed down by tradition.”

    Does anybody know of another work of the Ramchal where he elucidate the above described proofs.

  31. There’s a whole spectrum from (A) demonstration of plausibility to (B) proof. In areas where we need to have the free will to choose, it’s hard to imagine that a 100% nailed down proof could be devised. However, a demonstration of plausibility can and should be attempted, to wean secularly “educated” Jews away from biases against the Torah and Judaism. Maybe all that’s needed here is to replace the word “proof” with something more accurate.

  32. I agree, Bob.

    Mark, I have to make it clear that I never had to be convinced either that (a) there is a God or that (b) there was something called being Jewish that was fundamental to being Ron Coleman. That is a big deal. I think a generation later, fewer Jews have the latter. It helped that I was from an immigrant family. As to the latter, well, I simply don’t believe hardly anyone is really an atheist.

    But what did change was the idea I had that believing in the Torah required an utter, or perhaps more accurately a huge, leap of faith. I came to understand that what we don’t really have nearly as good a grip on what we consider objective truth as we think. I learned that there was a lot more reason to believe that the Torah was in fact the word of Hashem than I had ever thought possible. That gave me “permission to believe” — for unlike many of my friends at Aish, I reject the proposition that “proofs” are actually proof when it comes to Hashem, much less to Torah MiSinai. But I do believe that through these programs, the gap over which one must take his leap of faith can be closed sufficiently that even an oaf such as myself can traverse it, and then let the exposure to the beauty and truth of Jewish life take you the rest of the way.

    I can’t urge enough, however, how important this last part is. I have one friend who from time to time wants to be frum but, because of unpleasantness in the past, doesn’t want to be around frum people or frum “scenes.” I have known some frum go-it-alone-ers — it’s not impossible. But it’s all but impossible. I consider myself fortunate insofar as so much as unzer folk drive me up the wall sometimes, I am just enamored of them.

    The people part, Mark, is the one thing you can’t teach in a seminar, and is the one thing that for most of us makes or breaks the whole deal — far more than proofs o’ God, evolutionary debates and whether or not this or that rabbi said this or that outrageous remark. It’s not that rabbi’s Torah. It belongs to us — but there has to be an “us.”

  33. I was never a big fan of the “proofs” idea. A lot of what is presented is interesting and compelling. However, they are not proofs and when couched as such they invite criticism and disproofs. IMHO, it’s overselling.

  34. About sequence:

    Jews can enter the frum orbit through warm and fuzzy encounters that appeal to the emotions, and then balk and drop out when confronted with the detailed beliefs and concepts that were not explained to them earlier. So it’s good that the better BT-oriented organizations give the necessary weight to some key intellectual issues in Judaism.

  35. Ron, What presumptions and perspectives in particular changed from the proofs. That it is not illogical to believe in a G-d given Torah? That there is a Truth with a capital T? Something else?

  36. You hit the nail on the head. To me, the “proofs” period of my journey was useful in terms of changing my presumptions and perspectives. Then you have to look at Jewish life and spiritual growth on their own merits.

    That’s why I’m astonished when people claim they were frum for a while then decided they couldn’t reconcile themselves to the historicity of the mabul (the primeval Flood), for instance. Clearly, they didn’t “get it” in the first place.

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