Shabbat Parashat Bereshit | 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Realm of Philosophy and Belief - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pg. 85-86
The line that separates between the realm of intellectual, philosophical attainment and that which one knows based on belief is one that separates the great Jewish thinkers into two camps. Can human intellect come to proper conclusions about the purpose and source of the world, and is it the place of the intellect to search for answers to these questions?
The main proponents of the philosophical approach are Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rabbeinu Bachyei, and the Rambam. They posit that there is an obligation from the Torah to secure one’s foundation of belief with philosophical inquiry and proofs. Even according to these proponents of philosophy, there still remains a strong place for belief based on a passed-on tradition and an inherited proclivity toward it. Likewise, the Rambam warns lest one rely on his limited intellect and assume that whatever conclusion he comes to will be correct. Our Rabbis already warned us that going “after one’s heart” refers to heresy.The way to go about philosophical inquiry is with the conclusion known with certainty in advance, with the desire being to make clear to us in practice that which we already know cognitively from our prophets. It is similar to one who has received a trustworthy accounting of his finances, but desires to go through his accounts and see how the numbers work out. In this way the approach of Jewish philosophy is very different from that of general philosophy, as the latter encourages the inquirer to accept any conclusion he comes to based on his intellectual abilities. The rationale of engaging in the philosophical realm, for us, is thus based on the assumption that human logic will bring one to the correct conclusions and the conviction that the mind, not just the heart, should be the source of our religious feelings.The approach that rejects use of philosophy on matters of belief has its foundations in the Kuzari, and is phrased succinctly by Rav Yosef Elbo: “Belief is a higher [level] than knowledge based on inquiry.” The clinging of the Divine Spirit to the human intellect is obtained precisely through belief. Not only is it better to rely on belief but it is more reliable, according to the Kuzari. He points out that resorting to philosophy causes doubts to creep in, since when you ask philosophers questions you are likely to find out that there is little they agree to. Even those proponents of following belief alone, agree that there are certain limitations to belief. These include not believing something which clearly runs against what reason dictates as plausible.Bitter struggles have existed on the question of the advisability of philosophical inquiry on matters of religious dogma from the time the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim was publicized, and the echoes reach to our own historical period. Some of the great Hasidic leaders have spoken out harshly against philosophy, saying that serving Hashem with simplicity and acceptance is better, and one should search for deeper insight only through such religious mediums such as Kabala. It is not for us to “decide” who is right and who is wrong on this important matter but to understand the origins of the different approaches, which develop into enormous differences in the entire approach to Jewish thought.
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend
More articles from this issue:
This edition of