Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Realm of the Intellect and of Belief - Part II - From Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael, pp. 85-86
[We saw last time that there are two major camps among the classical, Jewish thinkers whether it is positive to search for intellectual, philosophical proofs for matters of belief. Among the supporters were the Rambam and R. Saadia Gaon and among the opponents were R. Yehuda Halevi and R. Yosef Elbo.]
Around this question of the proper attitude toward philosophical investigation of basic theological questions there was a serious quarrel among sectors in the Jewish world at the time that the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim came out, and echoes have reached our times. Some of the leaders of the Chassidic movement have spoken out fiercely on the matter. So said, for example, R. Nachman of Breslav: “After all the philosophical knowledge [even of one who has truthfully attained it] one must throw out all of the philosophy and serve Hashem with pure, unquestioned belief, with absolute simplicity and without any external wisdoms.” “Even though the saintly author of Chovot Halevavot said that one needs to inquire and know, he is correct, but it should not be done through a material intellect. Rather, it should be based on means that are grasped through the words of the prophets, the words of the Zohar and the teachings of the Ari z”l, in order that it can purify the soul so that it is capable of grasping with holiness the pleasantness of the glow of His blessed light, fear of Him and love of Him. After all of this, what do you know, what have you searched out, and what have you found? Everything is still as closed [to our intellect] as it was to start with” (Netiv Mitzvotecha, of R. Yitzchak Isaac of Kumrana).
A sharp expression of opposition to the approach of intellectual inquiry was given in our times by Dr. Breuer, from the Frankfurtian school of thought of R. S.R. Hirsch. In his words, which negate any possibility of deliberation and intellectual proof about things connected to Hashem, he belittles the thought of “proofs from those who were caused, about He who caused them to be.” He makes such triumphant claims such as, “There are no proofs. Thank G-d that there are not.” His approach seems somewhat exaggerated, given that there are serious approaches within Judaism which accept the approach that he rejects. Giants who shone light on the Jewish people were of the opinion that there is a mitzva and an obligation to make philosophical inquiries. In his words, one can discern echoes of the conclusions of modern philosophy, which claim that theological inquiry is closed before the human mind.
It is not for us to decide among the powerful protagonists of the different approaches to our question. We will not rule on these “matters of thoughts,” in matters that are of universal magnitude. We will suffice just to draw out the different approaches to the matter, from which emanate huge differences in the intellectual approach to Judaism.
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