Category Archives: Faith

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R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg On Faith

I am currently reading Marc Shapiro’s fascinating biography of Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, the Seridei Eish (Buy it here). An fascinating piece is Shapiro’s elucidation of R’Weinbergs view of belief. It is also interesting to note the similarities between R’ Weinbergs view and that of G. K. Chesterton, the famed English writer. Below is an extract from pages 74 – 75.

Believing that modern Hebrew literature was too important and influential for Orthodox thinkers to ignore, Weinberg began to write a series of essay on in, though only two installments actually appeared. Weinbergs essay on Micha Joef Berdyczewski (1865 – 1921) includes a number of fascinating points which, unfortunately, were never fully developed. All that is left are a few glimpses of what could have been some very refreshing thoughts on the nature of faith in the modern world.

The figure of Berdyczewski was bound to be fascinating to the Orthodox, for this wrings include, at one and the same time, the most strident opposition to tradition as well as an apparent pride in it. Not surprisingly, this characteristic has often been discussed in scholarly studies of the author. As Weinberg put it, the key to Berdyczewski is his ‘Jewish Heresy’. Weinberg believed that this heresy arose from the same source as the holy, and was actually the result of deep spiritual longing. Furthermore, just as distinction must be made between the base heresy of the masses and the profound heresy of thinkers such as Berdyczewski, Weinberg argued that the same is true with regard to the opposite pole to heresy, namely belief. In his mind, belief which is characterized by calm and fulfillment is actually a sign of inner emptiness and lack of thought. A man with such feelings is a believer only because he does not have the strength to deny, and such ‘belief’ or rather lack of denial, can never be the source of creativity. True belief, which is both religious and creative, is also stormy and turbulent and has nothing in common with passive fulfillment.

The way Weinberg expressed himself on these latter points bears such similarity to the ideas of G.K Chesterton that one must wonder whether Weinberg had read the latter’s Orthodoxy, which had appeared in German translation in 1909. For example, in the following famous passage we find Chesterton making the same point as Weinberg, in his own inimitable style:

People have fallen into a foolish habit speaking of Orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and swat that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statutory and the accuracy of arithmetic… It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.

Marc B. Shapiro Series: Principle 2

[This post has taken me longer than expected, however here is what I have done so far, its about 70% done]

Principle II. The Unity of G-d

Meaning to say to accept that this is the quintessential idea of Oneness. It is not like the oneness of a pair (i.e. pair of shoes – one group) or and not one like a species. And not like man that has many individuals nor like a body that divides into many different parts until no end (everything keeps on being divisible). Rather God is one and there is no other oneness like His. This is the second principle and is taught in what it says "Hear Israel, Hashem your God, Hashem is one."

Sources against the Kabbalists with regard to the sefirot

MS: opponents of the kabbalah viewed the mystical doctrine of the sefirot, the ten aspects, or powers, of the Godhead, in the same way as the Trinity, namely as a violation of God’s absolute unity and thus idolatrous.

R. Isaac ben Sheshet (1326 – 1407, the Rivash, Sh”T harivash no. 157)

quotes a philosopher who argued that, whereas the Christians believe in ‘three’, the kabbalists believe in ‘ten’

R. Abraham Abulafia

Agreed with the philosophers and saw the standard understanding of the Sefirot as even worse than the concept of the Trinity

Kabbalistsic works (going against a simplistic unity of the unity of God)

R. Moses Cordovero

At the start of the emanation, the Ein Sof, King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, emanated ten Sefirot, which are from His essence, are one with Him and He and they are all one complete unity

R’ Jacob the Nazirite

the first three and the last three benedictions of the Amidah prayer are directed to the Sefirah Binah. The middle blessings are directed to Tiferet during the day and to Binah at night

Definite Heresy

Shabatean kabbalist Abraham Miguel Cardozo (1626 – 1706)

the hidden God, called the ‘First Cause’, it is the Demiurge, the ‘God of Israel’, who created the world and exercises providence. In other words, it wsa the Demiurge, not the First Cause, who appeared to the patriarchs, sent the plagues, and took the Israelites out of Egypt.

Supporters of Abraham Miguel Cardozo’s position

R’ Isaac Lopes of Aleppo

advocated this position quoting from Cardozo’s unpublished Boker avraham

R. Joseph Hayim ben Elijah Alhakam of Baghdad

rejected Lopes’s Cardozian position, nevertheless had a very high opinion of him

R Jacob Kassin (1900 – 1994, Late Chief Rabbi of Brooklyn’s Syrian Community)

Cited Lopes numerous times

Kabbalists who advocated similar idea to Cardoza

MS: Like Cardoza, they believed that that Ilat Ha’ilot has no involvement with human affairs, being completely impersonal and transcendent. Therefore no prayers are directed toward it. Instead one prays to the ‘God’ who is immanent, who created the word and exercises providence in it, that is, the God of Scripture, who is identified with either the Sefira (Keter) or the second Sefira (Hokhmah)

Ma’alekhet ha’elohut

Anonymously authored. Gershom Sholem believed written around 14th Century

R Isaac ibn Latif (thirteenth century)

The First Created Being, may he be blessed, knows everything by virtue of his essence, for he is everywhere and everything is in Him, as it written, the whole earth is full of his glory(Isa 10:3) and all beings exist through him by way of emanation and evolvement, and nothing exists outside of Him

Views at odds with Maimonidean Concepts

R Jacob the Nazirite (twelfth century)

the first three and the last three benedictions of the Amidah prayer are directed to the Sefirah Binah.

The middle blessings are directed to Tiferet during the day and to Binah at night

R. Abraham ben David of Posquieres (Rabad 1125 – 1198)

the first three and the last three blessings are directed to the Supreme Deity (Ilat Ha’ilot), but the middle blessings, which are more personal, are directed to the divine entity which is the manifestation of Ilat Ha’ilot, the Creator (Yestor Bereshit)

Marc B. Shapiro Series: Principle 1

Principle I. To know the existence of the Creator

To believe in the existence of the Creator, and this creator is perfect in all manner of existence. He is the cause of all existence. He causes them to exist and they exist only because of Him. And if you could contemplate a case such that He were not to exist then all things would cease to exist and there would remain nothing. And if you were to contemplate a case such that all things would cease to exist aside from the creator, His existence would not cease. And He would lose nothing and oneness and kingship is His alone. Hashem of strength is His name because He is sufficient with His own existence and suffices just Him alone and needs no other. And the existences of the angels, and the celestial bodies, and all that is in them and that which is below them all need Him for their existence. And this is the first pillar and is attested to by the verse "I am Hashem your God.

Maimonidies, Guide to the Perplexed i. 75

We do not call a human being weak because he cannot move one thousand hundred-weights, and we do not attribute to the God, may he be exalted, incapacity because He is unable to corpify his essence or create someone like Him or to create a square whose diagonal is equal to its Side

Maimonidies, Guide to the Perplexed, iii. 15

The impossible has a stable nature, one whose stability is constant and is not made by a maker; it is impossible to change it in any way. Hence the power over the maker of the impossible is not attributed to the deity. This is a point about which none of the men of speculation differs in any way … Likewise, that God should bring into existence someone like himself, or should annihilate Himself, or should become a body, or should change – all of these things belong to the class of the impossible; and the power to do any of these things cannot be attributed to God

Dispute on this principle

    R’ Moses Taku

    They are issuing a decree to the Creator as to how He must be. By doing so they are degrading themselves

    R Nachman of Breslov (as reported by disciple)

"He mentions that it says in their [the philosophers] books "It is possible that a triangle can be a rectangle?" Our master said "I believe that God can make a rectangular triangle. For the ways of God are hidden from us; he is omnipotent, and no deed is bey him"

Notes of Marc Shapiro

Summary of principle

The first principle declares that God exists, that he is perfect in every way, and that he is the cause of the existence of all things. The principle also includes the belief that God is eternal, for he ‘an existent Being which is perfect in all aspects of existence’ and perfect existence precludes dissolution

Clarification of who agrees with Maimonides

Before Maimonidies, the above view was affirmed by Saadiah Gaon and R’ Ezra ben Solomon (Spanish mystic, died 1238)

Clarification on the nature of the dispute

The dispute between Maimonides and those who limit God is only over what constitutes the impossible, with Maimonides having a more restricted understanding of this than some other  thinkers"

Clarification on the nature of the principle

1) Maimonides’ other point in this principle is that God is the casue of the existence of all things
2) This is not an assertion of creation ex nihlio

3) Establishes Gods ontological priority to the Universe. In other words the universe is dependent upon God for its existence

4) Possibility that the universe has coexisted eternally with God

Faith vs Truth (2)

The following questions need to be answered with regard to faith:

  • What is faith?
  • Is faith a rational quantifiable phenomenon, or is faith an abstract human experience?
  • Is faith a) a wish/ hope for something to be true b) an affirmation of something we know to be true or c) something that is completely unrelated to truth, and in fact, I can have faith in something that I know to be false

Based on the above:

  • Is faith a “place holder” for truth, ie we will have faith until I no longer need it, because I know now that that statement x is true?
  • Is there an “expiry date” on faith? Ie I will only have faith for y amount of time, where after if the statement is not known to be true I will declare that statement to be false?

These questions will serve as a background for the real purpose of these posts, examining the Jewish tradition and its relationship to faith.

To be continued…

Faith vs Truth (1)

The following questions are the ones that really need to be examined in the course of any discussion on faith. These questions have bothered, perplexed, amazed and enthralled greater thinkers than I since the dawn of time. In essence these questions (in my understanding) form the foundational underpinnings for the entire philosophical / scientific en devour.

1. What is truth? Does truth in fact exist?
2. How do we know / recognize that a particular statement is true?
3. What mechanisms can be used to test to see if a particular statement is true?
4. If the truth is found, can it be documented / quantified?

The above questions can all be asked by replacing the word “truth” with “false”. For by definition if the concept of truth is said to exist then so too the concept of falsehood.

Definitions of Faith

Definitions of Faith

Some brief generic definitions of faith are required before examining the relationship between Judaism and Faith. The following are various statements taking from numerous on line resources that will provide such a generic definition:1

1. confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, an idea, or a thing.
2. belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
3. loyalty or allegiance to a person or thing; esp. fidelity to a promise.
4. the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.

Some synonyms / concepts that can be applied to faith are the following:2

acceptance, allegiance, assent, assurance, belief, certainty, certitude, confidence, constancy, conviction, credence, credit, credulity, dependence, faithfulness, fealty, fidelity, hope, loyalty, reliance, stock, store, sureness, surety, troth, truth, truthfulness

The previous statements while not being the definitive definitions of faith will serve as a backdrop for further discussion.

1. []
2. [] Roget’s New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.1.1)
Copyright © 2005 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Definitions of Truth

Definitions of Truth:

1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
a. Reality; actuality.
b. often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence. 1

1. a fact that has been verified; "at last he knew the truth"; "the truth is that he didn’t want to do it"
2. conformity to reality or actuality; "they debated the truth of the proposition"; "the situation brought home to us the blunt truth of the military threat"; "he was famous for the truth of his portraits"; "he turned to religion in his search for eternal verities"
3. a true statement; "he told the truth"; "he thought of answering with the truth but he knew they wouldn’t believe it"
4. accuracy: the quality of being near to the true value; "he was beginning to doubt the accuracy of his compass"; "the lawyer questioned the truth of my account" 2

Synonyms for truth:

reality, accuracy, actuality, authenticity, axiom, case, certainty, correctness, dope, exactitude, exactness, fact, facts, factualism, factuality, factualness, genuineness, gospel, gospel truth, honest truth, infallibility, inside track, law, legitimacy, maxim, naked truth, nitty-gritty, perfection, picture, plain talk, precision, principle, rectitude, rightness, scoop, score, straight dope, trueness, truism, truthfulness, validity, veracity, verisimilitude, verity, whole story 3


2. [] Under entry []

3. Under entry Roget’s New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.1.1) Copyright © 2005 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Prelude to Faith, Doubt and Heresy

I just finished writing exams, (hence there being no post for the last 2 days, due to studying). As a prelude to my upcoming posts on Faith, Doubt and Heresy, I would just like to paste a pertinent quote that will serve as a backdrop for further discussion for these as well as other related topics. The quote is from "The Hopelessness of a Ban (TTP-173) by : Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo" and can be found here.

It is well known that the heretic Uriel Da Costa (1585-1640) from Amsterdam was several times put under a ban by the leaders of the Portuguese Spanish Synagogue in Amsterdam and consequently committed suicide. Concerning this most unfortunate and tragic case the famous sage Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, author of the Torah commentary Torah Temima made the following comment:

‘This phenomenon, to our sadness, seems to repeat itself in every generation. Whenever people quarrel over matters related to ideology and faith, and a person discovers his more lenient opinion is in the minority, all too often although his original view differed only slightly from the majority the total rejection he experiences pushes him over the brink. Gradually, his views become more and more irrational and he becomes disgusted with his opponents, their Torah and their practices, forsaking them completely. Instead of instructing him (Da Costa) with love and patience and extricating him from his maze of doubts by showing him his mistake, they disparaged him. They pursued him with sanctions and excommunication, cursing him until he was eventually driven away completely from his people and his faith and ended his life in a most degrading way (Makor Baruch, chapter 13;5.)’

This upcoming series of posts is something that I have being wanting to do for a long time, so G-d willing there will be some posts for you the readers, over the next few days and weeks. Stay tuned and please keep commenting. I have read all the comments and have appreciated all the praise, insight and references. Keep it up