Sunday, June 12, 2011

Faith vs. Intellect?

In a post back in March ("Anti-Academic Judaism") I discussed a trend, in some Jewish circles, against the intellectual, analytic approach of academia; there is a school of thought which views such a derech as a dangerous challenge to religious faith.

In a thought-provoking debate in the comments, as well as on another blog, various posters discussed multiple aspects of the issue.

Last week, in preparing a Shavuot shiur, I came across the following relevant passage in Rav Kook's Orot Yisrael (Chapter 1); I think one could take it in multiple directions, but I like it anyway:

The original Hebrew:
חולשת האדם גורמת, שבהיותו מוכשר למחקר שכלי יוחלש בו יסוד הנטיה האמונית, ובהיותו שלם באמונה הוא עלול למעט בהשכלה וחכמת לב. אבל תכלית דרך הישרה היא, שכל כח לא ימעט את חברו, ולא יתמעט על ידו, כ״א יתגלה בכל מלא עזו, כאילו היה הוא השולט לבדו. כת האמונה צריך שיהיה שלם כ"כ כאילו אין לו שום אפשריות של מחקר, ולעומת זה צריך שיהיה כח החכמה כ״כ מעולה ומזורז כמו לא היה כלל כח של אמונה בנפש. ״אדם ובהמה״ — ערומים בדעת ומשימים עצמם כבהמה.

My translation:
"Human frailty causes a person who is gifted in intellectual analysis to have a weaker inclination toward faith, and a person who is whole in faith to reduce his intellectual insight and wisdom of the heart. But the goal of the straight path is that each strength not reduce the other, and not be reduced by the other, but rather that both be revealed in their full strength, as though it alone was in control.

"Faith must be as complete as if there was no possibility of analysis, and complementing this must be a force of intellect which is elevated and energized, as though there were no force of faith in the soul. "Man and animal (Tehillim 36)" – clever in intellect, and making themselves as [unthinking] beasts."

What do you think?


  1. "Human frailty causes a person who is gifted in intellectual analysis to have a weaker inclination toward faith"

    That's just wrong. The reason "a person who is gifted in intellectual analysis" doesn't have faith is because faith is dumb and religions aren't true.

  2. I disagree with anonymous, but I also don't see an inverse relationship between intellect and faith --I know both very smart and not so smart people on both ends of the faith spectrum. One only needs to look at someone like Rav Lichtenstein shlit"a (there are doubtless other examples and I am not purposefully leaving anyone out, just giving an example I am familiar with) to see a person of great, great faith with tremendous intellectual gifts.

  3. Anonymous 2:41 AM-
    Strong assertion. Is that an article of faith for you, or the product of intellectual analysis?

    Anonymous 10:20 AM-
    Why equate "smart" with "intellectual analysis"? I know many people I consider smart, who aren't particularly analytic.

  4. Anon no.2, you can just as easily posit that Rav Lichtenstien (as well as others) personify the ideal balance that Rav Kook referrs to at the end of the excerpt?
    While the natural tendency is toward an inverse relationship, the "happy medium" would be the equilibrium between the two.

    Reb's Hub - have you seen Iggrot haRAYaH: Gevul Chofesh haDe'ut?

  5. (from anonymous #2) Rebbetzin's husband, I thought the words "מוכשר למחקר שכלי" essentially meant "very smart" in english, but I am sure that I miss nuances in hebrew meaning all the time.

    Shmuel --you are probably right.

  6. Shmuel-
    I have not.

    Anonymous 5:23 PM-
    In Rav Kook, and in the particular context of this paragraph, I'd say it's meant to refer to intellectual analysis rather than 'computer power'.

  7. Some academicians have been known to search for grants and prestige, but not so much for truth. Often, their un-pristine motivations and well-cooked results are revealed, whereupon their equally guilty colleagues trash the revealers.

    Sometimes, pseudo-analytically debunking beliefs and practices of traditional Judaism has been the cheap path to fame. This debunking can be done ever so self-righteously by those skilled in the art.

    Other academicians are the real deal, though. We ought to be smart enough to tell the good from the bad.