“I Have Not Been Troubled by Them”: Another Angle on the Question du Jour, by Yosef Kanefsky

I love my wife. And this love shapes my daily routine, and defines the contours of the way I live. I am aware of the scientific position that what we call love is in reality a complex set of bio-chemical reactions, refined over the millennium by a process of natural selection that favored those homo sapiens who were able to sustain faithful, long-term mating relationships, and that love is therefore a delusion, a deception performed by our genes. I am aware of this position. But it doesn’t in any way affect my belief that I am truly loving my wife. Nor does it alter in any way the set of rituals and behaviors through which I respond to this love’s call. I recognize the validity of the position and of the questions that it raises, but I am not troubled by them.

I of course cannot know what Rabbi Soloveitchik meant when (in The Lonely Man of Faith) he acknowledged his awareness of “the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest,” yet asserted that he was not “troubled” by them. Perhaps he was not troubled because he knew how to effectively refute the arguments of the Biblical critics, or because he had uncovered the flaws in their scholarship. Or, as is suggested by the fact that he never published further on the topic of biblical criticism, perhaps there was a different reason that he was not troubled. Perhaps he likened believing in the traditional view of the Scriptures to believing in the truth of love.

I am blessed (or lucky) to possess a strong experientially-based belief in the truth of  Divinely-given Torah.  It is an experientially- based belief that in no way addresses the weighty questions of Biblical authorship and historicity, questions whose existence I am acutely aware of. Yet, it largely shields me from their effects.  When, for example, I act honestly even when this honesty comes at a personal cost, and I do so because it is written in the Torah that I should, I feel – truly and deeply – that I am responding to God’s voice, to the voice we all heard at Sinai. Or when I succeed in “doing the upright and the good,” my experience is that of responding to the words that are calling out from the Sefer Torah – the Sefer Torah to which we point as we say, “and this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.”  Equally, on the occasions when I ignore the pasuk in Vayikra, and fail to guard my tongue from speaking lashon hara, my experience is that of having defied the word that God spoke to Moshe upon the mountain.  This is what it feels like to me. The belief that I am in fact living in relationship with God’s word is no less real than the belief that I am in fact loving my wife.

I know that we are all different, and that there are many Orthodox Jews for whom this doesn’t work as well, for whom this kind of “compartmentalization” evinces a lack of intellectual and spiritual integrity. But I also know that I am far from alone in feeling and living the way I do. And so I write this short essay in the effort to describe this way of being – of knowing the questions and even finding them worthwhile and important, but not being “troubled” by them.  I write, to ratify the viability of being intellectually aware and at the same time genuinely pious. For it is, I believe, no less viable than both recognizing the biological realities of hormones and neurological hard-wiring, and at the same time, being unquestionably in love.

7 Responses to “I Have Not Been Troubled by Them”: Another Angle on the Question du Jour, by Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Atheodox Jew says:

    Rabbi Kanefsky,

    >> there are many Orthodox Jews for whom … this kind of “compartmentalization” evinces a lack of intellectual and spiritual integrity. But I also know that I am far from alone in feeling and living the way I do.

    YES. Very true! But also very hard to get across to people. A different example – on my own blog I argued that it’s possible to pray, and yet at the same time not believe in a God who listens to or answers prayers. The former reflects a person’s need to express his/her innermost feelings and hopes, and the latter reflects a person’s intellectual beliefs. Why should a person be deprived either of intellectual honesty or the prayer experience? Why must these two domains necessarily impinge upon one another? Both are essential parts of life! But like you say, some people can’t go for the compartmentalization.

    Like most things however, perhaps the idea simply takes some warming up to. On that count, thank you for helping to broach the topic so articulately and candidly.

  2. tesyaa says:

    So the Rav’s reaction to biblical criticism is roughly equivalent to a man saying “My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world”.

  3. Gary says:

    It’s great that this approach works for you. But for those of us that are bothered by the findings of biblical criticism, just screaming “herasy” from the rooftops is not productive. If TMS is true, there ought to be plausible answers for some of the most pressing questions. I have yet to see this approached in an intellectually honest way.

  4. Chaim Saiman says:

    I think it not accidental that you picked mitzvot sichliyot, or in any event mitzvot that have an ethical rationale outside of the fact it was commanded. But try it now with something ethically neutral (shaatnez, kosher, etc.) or even something ethically challenging, (why cant women count for a minyan, etc.) and I suspect that you (or if not you others), will have a harder time with it.

  5. Mark Pelta says:

    I think it’s simple why the Rav writes in LMOF why we wasn’t troubled by biblical criticism, evolution, or the rest of it. It seems to me he embodies the Adam the Second typology in that book. “He looks for the image of God not in the mathematical formula
    or the natural relational law but in every beam of light, in every
    bud and blossom, in the morning breeze and the stillness of a
    starlit evening…His existential ‘I’ experience is interwoven in the awareness of communing with the Great Self whose footprints he discovers along the many tortuous paths of creation.” His entire existentialist epistemology is of a devotional connection which can’t be understood logically, but only through experience.

    In one speech (Rakeffet vol. 2, 238-241), he notes that American bnei torah “accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. Sometimes, they are even ready to do things which border on the immoral. They lack the experiential component of religion, and simply substitute obscurantism for it” and admits in the essay he doesn’t know how to transmit this experiential element. Actually, I think this experience he is talking about is the same as “God’s palpable presence and direct, natural involvement in daily life” that his son so famous writes about in “Rupture and Reconstruction.”

  6. Max says:

    I can’t buy his position, for the simple reason that

    “I am blessed (or lucky) to possess a strong experientially-based belief in the truth of Divinely-given”… {Torah, Koran, Gospels, Book of Mormon, Sign of the Halley’s comet, tradition of Thetans}

    If you pick a decision mechanism, pick one such that you’d like the outcome of. I doubt the writer is indifferent between these outcomes. If he wants to claim that members of other religions do not feel similarly inspired, there is a Rishon for that!

    “The (Muslim) Doctor said: We acknowledge the unity and eternity of God, and that all men are derived from Adam-Noah. We absolutely reject embodiment, and if any element of this appears in the Writ, we explain it as a metaphor and allegory. At the same time we maintain that our Book is the Speech of God, being a miracle which we are bound to accept for its own sake, since no one is able to bring anything similar to it, or to one of its verses.”

    This (feeling that your book is a Speech of God and a miracle) is not a “subjective fact” Kuzari disagreed with:

    “Said to him the Khazari: If any one is to be guided in matters divine, and to be convinced that God speaks to man, whilst he considers it improbable, he must be convinced of it by means of generally known facts, which allow no refutation, and particularly imbue him with the belief that God has spoken to man. Although your book may be a miracle, as long as it is written in Arabic, a non-Arab, as I am, cannot perceive its miraculous character; and even if it were read to me, I could not distinguish between it and any other book written in the Arabic language.”

  7. […] R. Yosef Kanefsky: “I Have not Been Troubled by Them” […]

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