Judaism is the only religion that teaches young children that questioning Jewish religious principles and practices is a good thing to do. For over three thousand years Jews have celebrated the Passover exodus from oppression in Egypt. And for more than two thousand years the youngest child present at the Passover dinner would chant four questions. Everyone than tells the child how well he (and now she) had done. Thus, Jewish children, both those who can chant and those who only observe, connect asking questions about religion with positive feelings.
Even more important, as the children grow older they learn that the difference between a good questioner and a bad questioner is not the question; but how it is asked. The good questioner at the Passover Seder seeks Jewish knowledge and wisdom. The bad questioner feels negative and alienated from the Jewish community and the question ‘what does all this mean to you‘ reflects this.
The Passover Seder meal/service is an excellent time to teach this lesson because one important difference between people who are free and slaves; is that free people can question things and slaves cannot.
That one can believe in, and feel close to, the Devine One; and yet question God’s actions starts with Abraham; who when informed that God plans to destroy the city of Sodom because its whole society has become corrupt asks God: “Will you sweep away the righteous along with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?
Will you really wipe it out and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?” [Genesis 18:23-5]
Judaism encourages questioners because Jews do not believe that those who do not know the truth about their true religious beliefs will not go to heaven. For Jews; kindness, charity, love and peace are more important than defining true dogmas. According to the Talmud even in heaven the angels can’t define a small truth about what kind of stone will be in a future Jerusalem’s wall.
The Talmud [Bava Batra 75a] relates Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmeini’s comment on Isaiah 54:12 “I [God] will make your walls [Jerusalem’s Messianic Age walls] of kadkod”: ‘In a dispute in heaven between two angels, Michael and Gabriel . . . one says kadkod is shoham [onyx] and the other says kadkod is yashfei [jasper].’ And God says, “Let it be like this one and like that one.”
But what kind of stones will be used for the wall surrounding Jerusalem is a minor detail. Doesn’t everyone need to know the absolute truth about major questions like the role of humans on earth? After all, “For two-and-a-half years, the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel debated [a very important truth].
The school of Shammai said, “It is better for humans not to have been created than to have been created”; and the school of Hillel said, “It is better for humans to have been created than not to have been created.” [Talmud, Eruvin 13b]
Yet regarding all the debates between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel the Talmud declares that God says: “These and these are both the words of the living God”
The schools of Hillel and Shammai were famous for their disputes over Jewish law. One example concerned whether one ahould tell a bride on her wedding day that she is beautiful even if this is not true. The school of Shammai held that it is always wrong to lie.
The school of Hillel held that a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day. (Talmud, Ketubot 16b-17a) The school of Hillel won the dispute.
Indeed, Jewish law today almost always agrees with the school of Hillel. The Talmud explains why: A heavenly voice declared: “The words of both schools are the words of the living God, but the law follows the rulings of the school of Hillel.”
And why does the law mostly follow the rulings of the school of Hillel? The Talmud further explains that the disciples of Hillel were gentle and modest, and studied both their own opinions and the opinions of the other school, and humbly mentioned the words of the other school before their own. [Eruvin 13b]
Because for Jews; kindness, charity, love and peace are more important than defining absolutely true dogmas.
For more information about absolute thuth and religious pluralism see pages 168-171 in my new book “Which Religion Is Right For You? a Kuzari for the 21st century.” Hadassa Word Press ISBN (978-620-2-45517-6)