Thursday, September 6, 2012
When I saw a link at Hirhurim to an article by J. Brown entitled "The Sun is a Star," I assumed that the article was about astronomy and Judaism, written by my friend Dr. Jeremy Brown (who is imminently publishing a fascinating book on Jewish reactions to Copernicus). It turns out that I was only half correct.
The article is indeed about astronomy and Judaism. But it was written by Judy Brown, author of Hush, a novel about sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In the article, she describes how when she was an innocent member of the ultra-Orthodox community, she underwent a religious crisis when a friend explained to her that the sun is a star and that stars are suns. This was followed by reading Carl Sagan's book Cosmos, and the simplistic view of the universe that she had been taught in her Chassidishe community was shattered. Thus began her journey away from that insular community.
I forwarded the article to the other J. Brown, who replied, "Thanks. I hope that I will be able to remain within my faith community, despite the fact that the sun is a star." Very funny! But I think that there is a very important concept to understand here.
I've met people who have no problem accepting that the world is billions of years old, but would suffer a religious crisis if they were ever shown that evolution is true. I've met people who think that it's the easiest thing in the world to accept that the Gemara is not always scientifically correct, but who go to pieces when confronted with scientific inaccuracies in Tenach. And I've met people who are perfectly at ease with reading the first chapter of Bereishis non-literally, but are extremely uncomfortable with scientific objections to the Deluge. Etc., etc.
Every intellectual challenge is also an emotional challenge. When that which we have been taught by revered teachers, and which is a preciously held-belief in our community, is demonstrated to be incorrect, it's hard to make an adjustment. Modern Orthodox Jews who have no problem with my books are not necessarily more open-minded; it's just that evolution and Talmudic inaccuracies about science are within their societal comfort zone.
Furthermore, because every intellectual challenge is also an emotional challenge, this is why radically overhauling one's intellectual approach can be emotionally overwhelming. There are theological approaches which I am now comfortable with, but which I was only able to reach after a long struggle, due to my long and very limiting charedi yeshivah education. There are ideas that would have been much easier for me to accept, had they not come as such a shock.
We are not robots. We are not solely rational beings. We all have our intellectual comfort zone, and find new ideas to be challenging. Being aware of this can help us be sympathetic to others, and can help us cope with our own struggles.
Posted by Natan Slifkin