Teaching Emunah - Then and Now
Over at Cross-Currents, my friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken has a brief essay entitled "Teaching Emunah to our Children" which stresses the importance of making emunah into something entirely rational and logical, following the approach of Rambam and along the lines of the "proofs of Torah" used in the Discovery Seminar. In the comments, someone brought up the topic of the "Four Animal Proof." I responded that this alleged proof is deeply problematic, and I noted that we are better off teaching about the extraordinary nature of Jewish history and the value of a Torah lifestyle rather than marketing such “proofs.”
Looking back at Dr. Marc Shapiro's fascinating post on Rav Kook, I noticed something that I had missed before (due it being overshadowed by the other fascinating revelations in that post). Rav Kook specifically addresses this idea of scientifically/logically "proving" the truths of Judaism:
Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor begins (ch. 2) by arguing that it is the “obligation of the true sages of the generation” to follow in the path of the medieval greats who were always concerned about those suffering religious confusion. While the contemporary spiritual leaders must respond to the concerns of modern Jews, R. Kook points out that since the issues confronting people today are so different than those of the medieval period, the works of the rishonim are of only limited value in confronting the current problems.
In ch. 3 R. Kook states that the medieval approach of trying to “prove” religion will not work in our day, and that in place of this, religious leaders should stress justice and righteousness, i.e., the humane values of Judaism.
Dr. Shapiro's footnote has an especially interesting reference to Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg:
 R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg would later argue against trying to “prove” Judaism in the medieval fashion. In the post-Hume and post-Kantian world I thought that this was pretty much agreed upon by everyone. How wrong I was can be attested to all who attended my lecture on Maimonides at the 2008 New York Limmud conference and recall the dispute that took place afterwards. An individual who is involved in kiruv adamantly insisted that the major doctrines of Judaism can be proven to the same degree of certainty as a mathematical proof, and that these truths can thus be proven to non-Jews (who if they don’t accept the proofs are being intellectually dishonest). In this conception, there is no longer room for “belief” or “faith”; since the religion has been “proven” we can only speak of “knowledge”. The notion that Judaism could not be proven in this fashion was, I think, regarded by him as akin to heresy. I have had a lot of contact with “kiruv professionals” and had never come across such an approach. Yes, I know that people speak about the Kuzari proof for the giving of the Torah. However, I always understood this to be more in the way of a strong argument rather that an absolute proof, with the upshot of the latter being that one who denies the proof is regarded as intellectually dishonest or as a slave to his passions. I also know R. Elchanan Wasserman’s strong argument in favor of the viewpoint expressed by my interlocutor (see Kovetz Ma’amarim ve-Iggerot, pp. 1ff.), but before then had never actually found anyone who advocated this position, lock, stock and barrel. So the question to my learned readers is, is there a kiruv “school” today which does outreach based on the “Judaism can be proven” perspective?
Meanwhile, at Cross-Currents, it seems that people are misunderstanding what my book "The Camel, The Hare and the Hyrax" says. Here is a comment that I just submitted:
Rabbi Menken, you appear to have misunderstood my book. The Discovery crowd claims that we don’t know the identities of the animals in the Torah’s list, but I claim the exact opposite. What I proved was that we can be very, very confident about the identities of the animals in the Torah’s list – via Chazal, mesorah and from the consensus of everyone who has studied the zoology of the Torah, including Rabbonim as well as academics and zoologists. The problem that these animals don’t chew their cud is usually solved by saying that “maale gerah” doesn’t need to mean “chew the cud” – but once you redefine it, there are many more such animals. (This does not present a problem with the Torah, which makes no claim that these are the only such animals in the entire world.) There are certainly many gaps in the fossil record, but nobody with expertise in this area would claim that this is relevant to discussing the identities of these animals, for reasons that I explained in my book.
Regarding the statement in the Gemara in Chullin that this topic is a rejoinder to one who says that Torah is not from Heaven – there are at least three different explanations of what the Gemara means. The one used by Discovery was first proposed by Naftali Hertz Wessely.
If Discovery feels that the proof is solid and that my book has no merit, why can’t they publish a detailed explanation of the proof and rejoinder to my book? The answer is obvious. Incidentally, I should mention that a number of people in various Aish branches, as well as people from Arachim, accepted my conclusions and stopped using this “proof” for that reason.
I certainly think that Rav Kook's approach of teaching about the humane values of Judaism, in addition to teaching about the extraordinary nature of Jewish history and the value of a Torah lifestyle, makes for a better foundation.
(Note: Lately I had had to reject a number of comments that were off-topic, submitted by suspected trolls, or otherwise not abiding by the comment guidelines. Please familiarize yourself with these guidelines.)