Judaism: Beliefs and Realities
In matters of faith and religion there always is a struggle between the actualities of life that we physically see and experience and the beliefs that are mostly unable to be seen and proven empirically.
To further complicate this matter, one generation’s miracle often turns out to be a different generation’s science. See Mark Twain’s devastating satire of a book “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” for an example of this.
Yet religion is basically founded on the unseen and that which cannot be proved. In matters of religion and faith, belief must always outweigh the real world and its rationalities and order. Yet a sense of balance and proportion in this matter of viewing life and the world is central to Jewish thinking and a traditional way of living.
Over-reliance on extreme beliefs, that simply have no real basis in Jewish thought and experience, historically has always led to personal tragedy and national disaster. It is not for naught that Rambam cautioned us against messianic speculations and false messiahs. To the true believer, nothing can shake one’s belief no matter how far-fetched and unsupported by facts and tradition it may be.
In the Jewish world there exist today fringe groups which, in perfect and unshakable faith harm us while believing that they are helping us. A little common sense would also stand us in good stead. Religion must perforce rely on the irrational. But the main focus in Judaism is on the rational, real world that we live in.
A smartly dressed handsome young man came into our synagogue last week and after the maariv prayers shouted out his messianic beliefs. This naturally brought about a reaction from some of the congregants present and a great deal of noisy shouting ensued. I wonder how shouting about one’s messianic beliefs in a strange and definitely non-messianic centered synagogue can in any way hasten the coming of the messianic era itself.
That thought apparently never crossed the mind of the true believer that initiated this incident. For reality plays no role in the mindset of the misguided few who make so much noise and trouble for everyone else. There is a great brouhaha brewing currently about the erection of a crucifix by local residents of Uman on the site where Jews have come to pray there the past number of years on the High Holy Days.
Why Jews should think that they are welcome in blood-soaked (Jewish blood) Roman Catholic, anti-Semitic Ukraine is to me completely irrational. To desert the Land of Israel, leave wives to fend for themselves over the holidays in order to boost the tourist economy of a very hostile society puzzles me in the extreme. Especially since in pre-World War II Ukraine the overwhelming number of Eastern European Jews, Chasidic and otherwise, never wished to visit Uman and never did. But a new custom, deified by the commercial ventures that it has inspired and created, now stands as a core matter of belief though it clearly flies in the face of all past and present Jewish realities.
There is an ironic Yiddish joke about a rural synagogue from whose precincts a Cossack stole a shofar on Rosh Hashanah and stood outside the synagogue foyer and attempted to sound it. The Jews in the synagogue were horrified at the thought of a Cossack sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Someone attempted to calm them by reminding them that their rebbe had assured them that a Cossack is incapable of extracting sound from a shofar. The Jews thought it over for a moment and said: “The rebbe is undoubtedly correct. But what if the Cossack actually does sound the Shofar?!”
There is a prevailing mindset in the fringe groupings of the Charedi community and the extreme Jewish Left that the State of Israel should never have been capable of arising and coming into being. Since it could not have happened it must, now that it is happened, be at best ignored or at worst fought against. The reality of its existence of sixty-five years and of the fact that over six million Jews populate it today is immaterial again to the true believer.
It should not have happened according to these belief systems and therefore it did not happen, all empiric evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Reality should not be the enemy of faith. Rather it should serve as the basis for a stronger and more encompassing faith in the Torah and the One Who guards Israel.