Would God Rather Be Abandoned Than His Law Disobeyed?

Nov. 30 2021

As a young man, Shalom Carmy found himself impressed by the radical skepticism embraced by so many great philosophers, including Socrates and René Descartes. Even as his own attitude to these philosophers became more nuanced, Carmy recalls that he still believed the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” At the same time, he writes,

I took seriously the comment of my revered mentor Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein that this sentiment, however noble, was not the way to be followed by Jews, who are “believers, the sons of believers.” I have pondered, without coming to a settled opinion, what exactly he meant by this. . . .

The tension between doubt and conviction can be painful, which is why we often avoid confronting it with an eye toward resolution. As a participant in, and commentator on, religious life, I was, from an early age, aware that many practicing Jews, and many Christians for that matter, do not enjoy a robust intellectual commitment to the principles of their faith. Even on an emotional or experiential plane, they are often divided between affirmation and doubt. What was I to make of this situation? Many seem to have furnished themselves with a comfortable niche of intellectual and religious indecisiveness. They are more interested in what they can wryly or dramatically doubt than in agonizing and struggling over the life-and-death questions that are answered by our religious traditions.

Pace Rabbi Lichtenstein, I could not help judging that among those who classified themselves as “honest doubters” were some who led more strenuous, perhaps more authentic spiritual lives than did their placid neighbors, who practiced their religion either blissfully ignorant of, or willfully oblivious to, the questions and crises that should have troubled their serenity. Lichtenstein himself acknowledged this reality. If one must choose between a religious life of commitment marked by anguished doubt or one of observant superficiality, then the former seems the better path, the one that promises richer and more ennobling spiritual rewards.

Jeremiah rebuked his generation, accusing them of “abandoning Me” (that is, God) and “not observing my Torah,” implying that violating the Torah is somehow worse than departing from God inwardly (2:12). Well-known rabbinic statements elaborate. They explain that God would rather be abandoned than that His Torah be disobeyed, because people who persist in their engagement with the Law may be brought back to God through the illumination that such a life provides.

Read more at First Things

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, Faith, Jeremiah, Judaism, Philosophy

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount