Mind the Gap

Scepticism regarding traditional beliefs has risen in previous years challenging contemporary ideology. Can the sceptic maintain his religious allegiance? I believe so.  This blog post demonstrates the feelings of both sides and portraying the sceptical outlook before plunging down the rabbit hole. To promote a Jewish lifestyle of practise and unification. A diverse perspective can be enlightening to those who are not on the yellow brick road of orthodox ideology. Who do not fit into a box but still profess their Jewish identity.

Tradition: a genuine phenomenological view against archaeological historicity  

Traditional Insistence

Tradition is the primary proof for legitimisation as many Jews have cited “Mesorah” as valid evidence of their integrity. This model is the necessary one to uphold ancient rituals. The focus on objective findings, whether scientifically or archaeologically, is minute to the oral transmission. It is not about positivism or the truth, it is about cultural adherence. There is something to a continued tradition despite its mythic tale. Persisting customs is considered the best approach from the perspective of internal continuity. Too often we are preoccupied with providing an accurate display of ancient events. Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt (if possible) that Jewish history isn’t “phoney”/inaccurate. At times, like the game telephone, inaccurate transmissions are passed down. They do not match the primary event but later scholars justify it through the primordial experience. The necessity for linearity is insignificant, in my opinion. External prosecutors should not judge the validity. Questioning historicity is fair, but it need not undermine the current motion. The more evidence brought forward for or against is inconsequential to the continued practice. 

Accurate portrayals consume many people. We should be honest about our history, but we do not need to make it or break it on such disclosures. Divulging such information is to enlighten us about our history, not pervert it. The mythos of rabbinic formulation to the ancient composition is methodologically significant to our lifestyle whether or not it’s accurate. Myths are integral to identity; their power lies in the audience’s absorption. Myths are generally regarded as these fantasy stories. Sometimes yes, but their value is clear to the cultic philosophy. Embellishment is a classic tactic to promote self-interest in valued inspiration to the masses. Ancient scribes frequently tilted the narratives in their direction. I find it difficult to believe that some book’s big events were fantastical. It seems a little too far. Yet even if, it does not negate the features of modern practice. 

Jewish Wager

The tradition stands paramount over the accurate origin. The value of cultic internalisation is the core to survival. Tribal measures of telephone-like transmission link generation to generation. It is not just that God supplied such a holy system on the people but that it has been foundational to the tribe for two thousand/four thousand years (whichever numeric preferred). In Covering terms: the acceptance of the code by the people legitimises it. White makes a similar claim in his recognition of trans-generational acceptance through a shared language. Law is a cultural activity that requires public consensus; its authenticity is through public action. If groups execute, it is valid. It does not need some supernal origin; the myth is empowering in its belief. The theology is not the same as historicity. Granted, the doctrine is considered historical, but this is more about tribal history than historical legitimacy. Traditionalists do uphold historical accuracy because the divine book says so, not because there is visual evidence to it. Additionally, what is written in the book is reflected in the collective past of the people. The oral transmission of historical events was codified into a reference guide and then to a legal code. Tradition relies on transmission, not evidence.

For many, attempting to argue against historicity is a problematic claim. To be sceptical is blasphemy. Such an approach is quite extreme. Holding close to ancient ties is imperative, but it need not hold the literality of those events. Traditional scholars have argued for metaphorical readings. This was the first step in potentially moving the ball farther. Some have gone so far as to deny historical legitimacy to some of the prophetic books. I, personally, uphold the view that innocent until proven guilty. I also do not think archaeology is necessarily sufficient in its objective portrayal of the past. Even if this is so, as much of my argumentation in other essays have been, it does not matter. Objective history is of no consequence. I am not appealing to any mantra. In a certain way, my view is post-modern and positivistic simultaneously. I do not care for the “real history,” not because it is unimportant. It is crucial to know what occurred, but that does not have any bearing on the traditional mindset. Mind you, they would flat out reject it. On the other side,  those who reject tradition due to historical issues, I think, are missing the point. I can concede that the extreme positivistic manner that traditionalists rely upon is at times not only untenable but extremely inflexible. They have their vision and will not compromise an iota. Only a few brazen individuals have argued for some foreign ideologies. 

The sceptics are unable to feel accepted because of the strict ideology of the traditionalists. Their fixation on dogmatic monism has been a cause. I can understand the alienation felt. I have not received backlash personally, but I do feel isolated by my views. It is foreign and not respected in those circles. There is where for both to meet in the middle. The traditionalists need to take a breather. They are way too stringent with their vision, and their preservationist philosophy is dangerous and exclusive. The openness to a more mild comprehension is the best option. As someone willing to accept historical illegitimacy, the cultic atmosphere is the key to retaining engagement. Intellectual honesty is critical to mutual understanding, but it is also imperative to be a genuine individual. Both sides need elaboration: the unyielding traditionalist and the honest sceptic.   

The traditionalist is stuck in his conservative extremism. After years of persecution, he needs to protect himself. His beliefs are on the verge of termination. He must defend at all costs. If even an iota is conceded, the whole enterprise falls. On the other hand, the traditionalist is not too extreme that he solely holds his views for preservation. He indeed believes in what he preaches. The transmission of the historical literality is conclusive to him. The tradition for him is paramount and unequivocal. The idea of any miscommunication or mistake is marred; there is a perfect symmetry passed down to the current generation. Their confidence in their convictions is absolute.  

The modern attack on the legitimacy of these views has forced a reactionary retort by the traditionalist. Perceiving the modern age as a religious genocidal attempt, he defends it with his life. His tradition is of utmost importance, protecting his identity at all costs. He sees the modern queriers as protests, attacking his history. His family and culture are subjected to criticism. Any individual would take issue with such an attack. The traditionalist is only protecting his roots and preserving his tradition. The defensive shift leads to extreme stringency and conservatism. Locking the doors to disallow the entry. The modern world will not enter and corrupt. 

Steelmanning Sceptics

Is this what the sceptic is doing? Is he wishing to attack? Corrupt? Destroy? From the traditionalist lens, affirmatively. Is it possible external factors prompt their fears instead of the criticism itself? It is likely. In a world of constant persecution and religious withdrawal, trepidation is understandable. Yet, it is critical to not hurl names at individuals who question. They are not malicious. They are interested in the truth. The narrow-mindedness of the traditionalists leads to ad-hominem attacks. We are discussing facts, not feelings. The sceptic is not out to decimate religion but clarify the truth. His goal is to uncover the actual truth but will not concede his tradition. He questions the linear historicity, but its truth has little relevance to his legal involvement. The pursuit of truth is integral to the sceptic. He will ask and ask. Conflicting results will simply employ an honest representation. The tradition is paramount, but the truth is also crucial. 

The sceptic unveils authentic history. He wishes to fully comprehend Jewish history. If stories are fictional or embellished, he wishes to know why. What is the reason for these stories? What do they mean? Some brazen authorities have already delegated some narratives as metaphorical. Could this be expanded to more narratives? The modern spirit in the sceptic is to expose the truth. He will not give up his tradition, but he will not uphold events factually if they were not. He will interpret their meaning via tribal values, but only to their merit, not precision. The sceptic does not wish to forgo his heritage. This misnomer creates friction between sceptics and traditionalists. The sceptic has been branded a heretic for even pondering questionable content. It is by any means whitewashing and childish. For the sceptic, truth is more important than preservation. We can preserve more through the truth. 

Each side warrants a genuine portrayal instead of straw-manning. The traditionalist believes absolutely in his tradition literally. This attitude is fearful and scary, yet it is honest and simple. The sceptic’s opposition is from newfound evidence. The dismissal by the former due to its misalignment with a belief is incongruent. The latter’s motives are pure for truth, curious and honest. No one is trying to topple the other; it is about different visions of expression. 

Religious Remedies

My issue with traditionalists arises from a refusal to acknowledge counter-evidence. Archaeology is not the be-all and end-all of the truth. It is a barometer of historical legitimacy, but its selectivity in the traditional world seems at times disingenuous. The conclusion is if evidence overrides traditional sources, then it all falls apart, I do not think holds up. If we are honest, then it for sure cannot. We may need to re-educate our identity, I would argue the correct way. We need to express the nationalistic/tribal-religious factor. It is about the team; historical accuracy is of no concern. It would be great if the stories were accurate, but I do not think this is imperative. The narratives are valuational. They teach lessons about peoplehood. The laws are the tribal rituals incumbent on the people to actualise. 

In a postmodern light, phenomenologically, they can believe in narrational absolution. It’s not about objective history but Jewish history. How do the narratives fit the overall identity? How do they translate? The mythic association need not be confused with fiction but with valued underpinnings. In a positivistic fashion, the truth is channelled through the tube of Jewish history. Despite relativism’s multiple truth advocation, legitimacy flows from the sect’s emphasis on a specific route. The traditionalist can keep his beliefs unprovoked even if it is intellectually lazy and naive. While the sceptic can simultaneously accept the objective facts and traditional stories. Postmodernism enables the sceptic to accept multiple truths at one time. It is less about playing each side and more about constructing an authentic narrative. Phenomenology, narrowly carves a truthful path. Judaism lies within that frame. It is unfettered by outside claims. Though I think it is critical to acknowledge historical development and dynamic attitude, accurate philology is genuine through this cylinder of light. It is looking outward from within, not vice-versa. The phenomenological perception recognises the developing world around them without scrutiny from beyond.


About the Author
Jonathan Seidel is currently studying government at IDC with a focus on counterterrorism. He is on the debate team and model UN, participating in conferences and expanding knowledge on a wide range of important issues is important to him. Jonathan has a long history working with special needs kids and running programs to ensure those kids have amazing experiences. Jonathan's favorite topic to write about is Jewish philosophy and he hopes to create a space for Jewish students to cultivate similar discourse online.