Israel Drazin

Leap of Faith is not a Jewish concept

A rabbi in the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a praises the Israelites who said at Mount Sinai naʿaseh ve-nishma, “let us do and let us hear” in Exodus 24:7. He claims that the Israelites showed a “leap of faith.” They accepted God’s commands even before they heard what God was demanding. Their faith in God was so strong that they promised to do what God demanded even before they knew what it was.

The Talmud states. “Rabbi Elazar said: When the Israelites gave precedence to ‘let us do’ before ‘let us hear,’ a Divine Voice spoke to them: “Who revealed to My children this secret that the ministering angels use? As it is written: Bless the Lord, His angels, you mighty in strength, who do His word and listens to them”’ (Psalm 103:20).

This is an example of Midrash. It is a lesson Rabbi Elazar wanted to teach, but it is not what the Torah says. Verse 7 clearly states that Moses first revealed God’s commands, and only after hearing them did the Israelites accept them. The verse is, “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that God has spoken, let us do and let us hear!’”

Not all talmudic views are rational. This one is an example of a talmudic rabbi accepting a Christian concept of “Leap of Faith.” “Leap of Faith” means that if someone in authority, such as clergy, tells you do or believe something that makes no sense to you, don’t question the authority, accept it, and do what you are told to do and believe what he says you should believe.

This concept is alien to Judaism, which stresses that people should use their intelligence. Intelligence is the “Image of God” mentioned in Genesis 1:27, which Maimonides said God placed in humans. In his Guide for the Perplexed 3:17 and 18, he stressed that the Divine Providence that helps humans when aid is needed is not the intervention of God into human affairs but the people’s use of their “Image of God,” their intelligence, that helps them, and the more intelligent a person is, the better help the person receives. He encouraged people to learn and improve themselves. This results in people becoming all they can be and do the same for all creation.

Furthermore, the talmudic rabbi in Shabbat 88a misses what Targum Onkelos teaches. The Aramaic translation of the Torah, Targum Onkelos, translates the Hebrew word shema, which many, as this rabbi, translates as “hear,” as “accept.” It is like a mother telling her child, “Hear what I am saying.”  She does not mean “listen.” She means “accept and do what I am telling you to do.”

This is also the meaning of the widely known command, Shema Yisrael, “Hear Israel, God is One and is One.” The command is “Accept Israel, for God is the only deity and is unique.”

So, contrary to Rabbi Elazar, the Israelites were saying in Exodus 24:7, “We will do and {thereby} accept” what God commands.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.