Rea­son to Believe: Ratio­nal Expla­na­tions of Ortho­dox Jew­ish Faith

Chaim Jachter
  • Review
By – September 14, 2017

Rea­son to Believe: Ratio­nal Expla­na­tions of Ortho­dox Jew­ish Faith by Chaim Jachter | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

In Rea­son to Believe, Rab­bi Chaim Jachter, a Jew­ish divorce admin­is­tra­tor, mem­ber of a Rab­bini­cal court, and Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tor, presents com­pelling rea­sons why Ortho­dox Jew­ish belief is far more rea­son­able than sec­u­lar per­spec­tives on the world and Torah.” Through­out the book, he mar­shals an impres­sive num­ber of sources and anec­dotes in sup­port of his posi­tion, that chal­lenge the read­er to eval­u­ate his or her views regard­ing faith and tra­di­tion­al observance.

By R. Jachter’s own admis­sion, for any of the argu­ments con­tained in this vol­ume to prove con­clu­sive to some­one whose belief is either shal­low” or non-exis­tent, an indi­vid­ual must at least be hon­est­ly open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of deep­en­ing their faith in God and Judaism. All the arti­cles and argu­ments in the world can­not con­vince some­one to con­nect to HaShem and Torah unless he is will­ing to take the first step to elim­i­nate nois­es” that cre­ate a bar­ri­er between him­self and the Kol Dema­ma Daka (the still small voice; a ref­er­ence to I Kings 19:12 where­by God Instructs His prophet Eli­jah that the best way to reach peo­ple is by sub­tle inter­ac­tion rather than impres­sive, pyrotech­ni­cal, mirac­u­lous dis­plays).” R. Jachter sounds a sim­i­lar theme when he argues that hid­den mir­a­cles are more impact­ful than overt ones: A mir­a­cle per­formed with­in the fab­ric of our dai­ly lives is deep­er and more sig­nif­i­cant than a mir­a­cle that dis­rupts the del­i­cate bal­ance of the world’s nat­ur­al order.” But only a per­son who is seek­ing to iden­ti­fy such a mir­a­cle” can be moved by it.

There­fore, the effec­tive­ness of the book’s argu­ments all depend upon the read­er being pre­pared to accept a par­tic­u­lar point of view, rather than becom­ing con­vinced of the virtues of belief and obser­vance in spite of any per­son­al reser­va­tions. In oth­er words, the proofs that R. Jachter offers are cir­cum­stan­tial rather than overt, stand-alone” indi­ca­tions of the exis­tence of a Divine Pres­ence involv­ing Him­self in human affairs, and as such the indi­vid­ual argu­ments will not nec­es­sar­i­ly make the case.”

While the indi­vid­ual exam­ples R. Jachter offers as proof of divine exis­tence (a cal­cu­la­tion of the time that elapsed between the era of pro­ton anti-pro­ton for­ma­tion and the for­ma­tion of the first sta­ble mat­ter offers a sophis­ti­cat­ed way to sub­stan­ti­ate the age of the uni­verse and human­i­ty as per the Torah’s account; the results of the 1948 Unit­ed Nations vote to approve the estab­lish­ment of the State of Israel were con­sid­ered high­ly unlike­ly and prob­a­bly could nev­er be repli­cat­ed) might not prove ulti­mate­ly con­vinc­ing, there is some­thing to be said about the weight of the cumu­la­tive argu­ments. In oth­er words, the pre­pon­der­ance of such proofs gain grav­i­tas by their col­lec­tive weight, and there­fore one should be forced to con­sid­er not only each idea on its own, but as part of a greater whole, as rep­re­sent­ed by the book in its totality.

Final­ly, when it comes to faith, per­haps it is unrea­son­able to expect that some­one can sim­ply become con­vinced through dis­cus­sion and argu­men­ta­tion. Per­haps the key is expe­ri­en­tial rather than cog­ni­tive. Log­ic and rea­son appear to be anti­thet­i­cal to the ulti­mate ques­tion of God’s exis­tence and con­cern in our affairs. The best that we can hope for is a super­struc­ture that will sup­port one’s leap of faith, should we choose to make it. And R. Jachter has cer­tain­ly suc­ceed­ed in pro­vid­ing such a scaffolding.

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

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