Judaism has long been under attack. To deal with that, there has been a long history of apologetic works. From the classic 12th-century The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith, 19th-century The Nineteen Letters by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and up to the current times with The Non-Orthodox Jew’s Guide to Orthodox Jews by my friend David Baum.
Every generation has its spiritual concerns and challenges that must be dealt with. If not, there’s no way faith-based communities can realistically expect their members to stay within those walls of faith.
Many believing Jews today struggle with legitimate questions and concerns, that for some; have often gone unanswered. For those looking for those answers, Reason To Believe: Rational Explanations of Orthodox Jewish Faith (Menorah Books 978-1940516714) by Rabbi Chaim Jachter will be a most welcome book. Here, Jachter doesn’t shirk away from dealing with numerous troubling and vexing theological and moral questions and quandaries.
Jachter is no Anselm of Canterbury and doesn’t attempt to use logical proofs to calm the reader. In fact, he notes that modern philosophers, including Descartes and Kant, have shown that one can prove very little, if anything.
A recurring theme in the book is timing. For example, he notes that Greta Hort described a naturalistic approach to the Ten Plagues detailed in the book of Exodus. But if the Ten Plagues were natural events that were not in fact coordinated by God, they should have reoccurred at some point in the past 3,000 years.
Timing again comes into play when he describes the modern state of Israel. He writes that Israel slipped into existence through a window that briefly opened and just as suddenly closed. The UN resolution of 1948 required Stalin and Truman to be on the same page, in addition to myriad other fortuitous timing incidents. What one calls timing, another calls divine providence.
The book details both the rational basis for belief, and especially with the challenges of belief in the 21st century. Jachter deals with topics such as the gap between Torah and science, contradictions in Biblical texts, archeology and the Torah, and much more.
The book is orderly, easy to ready, heavily references, and Jachter often quotes from his students and congregants. At two points does the author err though. First, he misunderstood Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s approach to Torah and science in The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution. Slifkin details those issues in his recent blog post.
In writing about the Six Day War, Jachter quotes Rabbi Lawrence Keleman that many military experts are a loss to explain Israel’s 1967 victory. Colonel Carl Singer U.S. Army (Ret.) told me that when he served with the Army Chief of Staff, he was part of a team that did study the Six-Day War. Dr. Singer, like Jachter, doesn’t wrestle with the contention that God had a welcome hand in Israel’s victory and survival during the Six Day War. But Singer for one would attribute victory to more conventional causes.
The book closes with a chapter on humanistic objections. Here, Jachter writes some of the finest vindications and defenses of difficult concepts such as human suffering, the destruction of life with Amelek and a condemned city, mamzerut and more. Jachter’s brilliance is his ability to remove the bias from the underlying question, and answer it in a rational and intellectually honest manner.
Until it’s recent demise; Radio Shack had long used the slogan You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers. There are many people who are troubled by the disconcerting spiritual questions they have and can’t find answers to.
While it doesn’t profess to answer every vexing question; for those that want intellectually satisfying answers, Reason To Believe: Rational Explanations of Orthodox Jewish Faith would make Radio Shack proud.