In a series of blog posts, Moshe Koppel has systematically described the differences in worldview between two archetypal Jews: the educated, secular “Heidi” who grew up in postwar America and the deeply traditional, Polish-born Holocaust survivor “Shimen”—touching on nearly every topic but belief in God. He argues that the latter issue isn’t as fundamental as it may seem:
[You might ask]: aren’t the disagreements between Shimen and Heidi about how to live merely second-order differences that follow inevitably from their irreconcilable beliefs about nature, history, and theology?
Well, if you insist, we can talk about these irreconcilable differences of belief. But, I’ve got to tell you right up front that the answer to your semi-rhetorical question is no. Young Shimen didn’t contemplate nature and history and conclude, like the biblical Abraham [is described as doing in various midrashim], that there must be a “ruler of the castle.” He was raised to honor particular values and traditions long before he had the most rudimentary ability to contemplate the stuff of belief. And among the traditions that he honors is the affirmation of certain claims about the world.
Simply put, the direction of the causality implicit in the question above is exactly backward: in fact, values and traditions are primary, and beliefs are derivative.
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