Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use


Arguing for the Sake of God

David Wolpe tells the story of advice given to a student beginning advanced study Talmud. (The Talmud is a series of discussions by the leading rabbinic sages between 100-500 C.E.) If you happen to fall asleep during class and are called upon by the teacher to explain the lesson, he said, you can always rely on one answer: “The rabbis disagree.”

The Talmud is full of disagreements. Many are resolved. Some are left standing. All reflect a culture in which we use every part of the intellect to understand God’s word.

Doubt Strengthens Faith

In Judaism argument is holy. But it is not argument for the sake of argument. It is argument for the sake of truth. It is argument for the sake of figuring out what God requires of us. It is argument for the sake of realizing Paul Tillich’s insight that “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. It is a core element of faith.”

The value of sacred argument distinguishes Judaism in several ways. These ways can enrich seekers of all faith. They include

  1. Democracy: No one person or group has a monopoly on defining the truth. In other words, there is no Jewish Pope. Anyone with the appropriate knowledge and commitment can arrive at a new understanding of a text or law.
  2. Flexibility: Reasonable people can arrive at different conclusions. To remain viable, Jewish thought and practice had to make room for those different conclusions without dividing into irreparable tribes. It did so by remaining moslty unified on core issues of practice like how and when to observe holidays, while permitting great divergence on matters of belief and interpretation. In other words, unity in deed with diversity in creed. 
  3. Civility: The sages learned early how to disagree without being disagreeable. The Book of Proverbs captures some of their thinking in its teaching: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” What a powerful verse! The aim of argument is not to hurt your opponent. It is to find understanding and truth. 
  4. Responsibility: We draw wisdom and inspiration from the past. Yet, we cannot rely on another person to tell us how to live. Each of us is born with a responsibility to think and to respond to God’s call with our own skills and insights. As the book of rabbinical wisdom, Ethics of the Sages puts it, “It is not your duty to complete the task. But neither are you free to desist from it.”


Previous Posts

The Strange Book of the Bible We Read in Sukkot
Tonight begins the Jewish “Festival of Tabernacles.” Known in Hebrew as Sukkot, we spend time in  temporary outdoor dwellings. They remind us of the fragility of life our ancestors experienced during their journey across the Sinai Desert. Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity!  The biblical book

posted 3:57:40pm Oct. 08, 2014 | read full post »

When a Rabbi Announces He is Gay
Religious leaders are public figures. We live on display. People look at what we drive, what we eat, what we wear. Unfortunately, sometimes we hide parts of ourse

posted 8:01:44am Oct. 08, 2014 | read full post »

Is 75 the Perfect Age to Die?
Dr. Ezekiel Emauel, the well-known bioethicist and brother of the mayor of my town, argued recently in an essay in the Atlantic Monthly that 75 is the perfect age to die. After that, he said, most people have little to contribute to society and are a burden rather than a benefit. I can think of f

posted 9:02:23pm Oct. 05, 2014 | read full post »

Yom Kippur: The Happiest Day of the Year
Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is filled with solemn prayer, and most Jews fast. How, then, can it be the happiest day of the year? Allow me to explain... Picture the scene: It is 1944, in Glasgow, Scotland, in the midst of the Second World War. Kol Nidre is about to

posted 1:29:44pm Oct. 03, 2014 | read full post »

The Secret to Traveling Light: A Jewish Story
Once upon a time, a poor man walked from town to town. He carried a heavy load on his back. One day a wagon driver stopped his horse and offered him a ride to the next town. The grateful man said “Yes, thank you for your kindness.” After they had gone a few minutes, the wagon driver turned ar

posted 3:17:31pm Oct. 02, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.