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How Do I Deal With Doubt?

How Do I Deal With Doubt?

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Question:

Please understand: I do not disbelieve Judaism. And Judaism is beautiful, no question about it. But is practicing it a necessary, non-negotiable component of a healthy life for a Jew? Is it even, for that matter, true at all?

I would like to believe so. But I will not believe for belief's sake. I believe my intellect is a gift from G‑d and I intend to use it in my "quest."

If I were, in fact, to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, then I know that I would make the necessary sacrifices to lead a fully Torah-observant life—just like I happily devote many hours of my weekly life to running in place on a treadmill, and I love eating vegetables instead of a candy bar. But how can I know?

I hope this makes sense.

Response:

You say that you would like to know that Judaism is true beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is how every Jew ought to live. However, allow me to share some insight into this shadow called doubt:

Doubt and questioning are not synonymous. King Solomon tells us that only a fool believes everything; the wise man submits everything to intelligent inquiry before committing himself. Questioning is a path towards growth in wisdom and life.

Doubt, on the other hand, is destructive. Its victim is life itself—any attempt to grow, to progress, to become tomorrow something greater than you are today. The voice of maybe not? or says who?—questions that can never be answered, because to every answer you can just ask again, maybe not? and says who? This is the shadow of doubt—a phantom mockery of authentic questioning. It robs a person of resolve, vision and impetus, replacing these with uncertainty, confusion and inertia.

The only response to this kind of debilitating doubt is to quash it down whenever it raises its head; to respond to its incessant, irrational question marks with an emphatic, even sarcastic exclamation mark!

Here is a list of several essays about doubt, and here is another list of essays about the tribe of Amalek, whose spiritual identity is that of one who sows doubt. Tightrope Walking presents an animated lesson in overcoming doubt.

Certainly, a valid question must be explored and plumbed until the true answer is found. But if we are to ever achieve anything in our spiritual quests, we need to recognize the point at which a question has been reasonably answered, and what's holding us back is a perverse, irrational doubt.

Rabbi Moshe Goldman is the Director of Chabad of the Waterloo Region in Waterloo, Ontario. He is also a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations. To view or purchase David’s art, please visit davidasherbrook.com.
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Larry DC April 12, 2013

Rabbi Goldman:

Your discussoin comments seems to me what I have learned that Jews "don't believe in Gd, they know Gd." (Maimonides?) To "know" one must question and that questioning may have the impetus of doubt behind it. I have many times had someone tell me something that was just too incredulous to believe. But I took the initiative not to stop there, but to look up whatever it was and find out... many times I have been surprised to see that it is true and it enters my mind eliminating doubt. So maybe better than discounting doubt, encourage it to start the question to begin dialogue and further exploration....sometimes people find out things they really doubted were actually true or insightful. Reply

Rabbi Moshe Goldman Waterloo, ON April 12, 2013

To Rose Thank you for your comment. I don't believe that we are disagreeing at all. But the questioner asked "how can I know?" - the certainty and clarity that the questioner seeks is found in the openness to transcendent faith, to which one can certainly be led by reason and logic - and relentless doubt is not so much critical thinking as much as it is a carousel ride on the limits of logic. You may want to read "G-d, Rationality and Mysticism" by Dr. Irving Block on these issues. Reply

Larry DC April 12, 2013

Doubt in faith I believe I was once told that Maimonides (correct?) once said that as close as you get to believing, there will always be that "leap of faith" that maybe should reach when the whole system seems right; regardless of some sticking points. But, I think doubt can lead to inquiry (maybe through the "back door). It makes people inquire more when that doubt leading to more answers and questions that can build towards a stronger "faith." Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL April 11, 2013

Cease all your doubts... If anything or any motion makes you sick or is too painful, you have the choice to feel the way you wish religiously or otherwise, especially if there is no one to help you. It is your choice no one else and I’m sure no one is pointing the finger at you. We are all humans and we know our limits. Being raised as Jewish, we are given directions how to behave and if these don’t meet with your convictions, you also have the free will power to choose your own directions, but if you are happy with the ways of the Torah, then cease torturing yourself with doubts, life is too short. I don’t know myself if I have doubts but I know I try to make it work for myself not against myself. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL April 11, 2013

Doubt is a choice we have to make .You are given few options, fact or fiction, you will doubt at first balancing the pros and the cons, but at the end, it will be your choice to move one direction or the other. Believing in a religion, being Jewish or any other, will also be your choice. Spending and wasting a whole life doubting your choice will just make you miss all the joy and conviction of who you are and where your place is in this world, always searching for your own individuality. It seems to me that science has to be more than accurate or could cause extreme damages in human beings as oppose to religion not being entirely followed, which would not as dramatically affect someone. Science gives you hope, a reason for life and strength to cope, and faith complement it. Reply

Rose Mercer Island April 11, 2013

Doubt should not be swept aside Doubtless (pun intended), your intentions are good, but your answer can only satisfy someone who believes. Besides, to say that doubt should always be rejected is dangerous. When you doubt something you can question the fundmental basis for it. When you question something you question aspects. The danger comes from accepting your beliefs and only questioning aspects. What about belief in idols, or belief in anti-semitism? The only acceptable answer for me is that if you believe you do not doubt. Doubt comes from reason, belief is spiritual. If you do not believe then your reason requires you to doubt.. Reply

dan uriel ashdod April 11, 2013

doubt I think it is just a dilemma, to feel freedom inside, to choose how to believe or what to believe to know that truth or belief that truth. G-d isn't looking after your questions or answers, you have to be sure in your self. And then it's a simple choice between what is good or bad
for your self and for others! Reply

Anonymous West Windsor, NJ September 7, 2010

reply to "To Doubt vs. To Question" Thanks for your comments, Rolf.

I definitely disagree. We do *not* automatically take a physician's opinion as true. Not the specifics, and not even the generalities. At least I don't. If you do, I think you'll do better if you exercise a bit more doubt in this area. If you're dealing with a physician you have come to trust, you might accept what they say, at least in most cases. But everyone is capable of error, even major error.

In any case, such certainty is impossible. Go to different physicians with the same question and you will sometimes get *completely* different answers.

Taking the word "physician" and replacing it with the words "Torah scholar" will make clear what I'm saying.

Thanks. Reply

Rolf Forest Hills, NY September 7, 2010

To Doubt vs. To Question Let's suppose you go th the doctor (of internal medecine or the Torah). He tells you that you ough to get more exercise and eat better, and if you don't, it's a bypass surgery down the line.

Now, I can question his perscriptions--how much exercise, exactly? How about alternate therapies, or try different drugs, what sort of foods?--but I don't doubt his diagnosis. I mean, he's the doctor, right?

Is that the difference? Reply

Anonymous West Windsor, NJ March 25, 2010

followup to Dear Rabbi Goldman, Thanks for your comments.

As you no doubt gathered from my own comments, while I do believe in G-d, I do not consider Hiis existence objectively provable in the same sense as the statement 2x2=4 is. That of course leads me to disagree with your analysis.

Also, you wrote that "Being a Jew means ... to know that G-d is a reality." This is not true. Being a Jew means either being born of a Jewish mother or having converted to Judaism under the proper auspices. A Jew who does not believe in G-d is still considered a Jew. Perhaps you mean that being a *good* jew means believing in G-d. But that's a different claim with a different meaning. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA via jewishriverside.com March 24, 2010

Rabbi Moshe's answer is so very HONEST! Wow. I am in awe of this Rabbi's open minded and rational answer. He is correct. No need to doubt when the answer is that religion itself is NOT a scientific fact. Personally, I have made peace with the fact that I believe both in science AND in the existence of G-d. However, personally, SINCE this is the case, I also CHOOSE which of the mitzvoh I will and won't follow, and HOW MUCH and how often I will and can do them. For example, I personally do drive on the Sabbath although I do light the candles and refrain from working for money. I will shop for food I need for my special diet after my surgery if I have run out and foolishly didn't plan (and ask G-d for forgiveness). I won't go around outside in a bikini, but I will go swimming with a one piece suit. I won't sleep around, but I do shake hands with men and hug my sons and important male friends from time to time in a non-sexual manner. Orthodox beliefs say you can't do those things. I'm Reform. Reply

Rabbi Moshe Goldman for chabad.org Waterloo, ON March 23, 2010

To Anon from West Windsor You are absolutely right - when you are referring to subjective opinions or beliefs.

When we speak of objective facts, there cannot be more than one fact. 2+2=4 is an inescapable fact of life, and so is G-d's existence. The same goes for taxes :).

What if millions of people were to join a movement that claimed that 2+2=5, and this would become the popular opinion in most cultures - would you still cling to your old fashioned belief that 2+2=4? Would you be arrogant and fall into the trap of fanaticism and intolerance? Or would you take the route of humility and open mindedness?

Being a Jew means, among other things, to know - not just believe - but to know that G-d is a reality. Witness the verse in Deut. 4:39, "And you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else." Reply

Anonymous West Windsor, NJ USA March 22, 2010

"How Do I Deal With Doubt?" Actually I think doubt is a good thing. Regarding anything, including belief in G-d, the fact is that I made a choice, and that since I'm fallible, my choice could be wrong. I think remembering that is a healthy act of humility.

I'm sorry, but it *is* possible that G-d does not exist.It's also possible that our everyday "reality" is actually a mirage. Knowing these things does not in the slightest jeopardize my belief that both G-d and my everyday reality are in fact real.

We value freedom of speech, not only because everyone has a right to have their say, but also because the other person might be right. Absolute certainty is arrogant and too easily leads to fanaticism and intolerance.

Besides, it seems to me that certainty and faith are inconsistent with each other; faith is believing even *though* we are not absolutely sure. Reply

Anonymous via chabadnw.org March 27, 2009

doubt Why didn't I think of this before? The way to become an intelligent, faithful Jew is to stop doubting and start believing.. Actually, my grandpa, OBM, said it best: "if you believe, you have no questions and if you don't believe, you have only questions." Which makes a good koan, don't it? I personally think you need to take what you want from our religion and hope for the best! As a handicapped, single Jewess, its the best I can do. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA via jewishriverside.com March 27, 2009

DOUBT, positive or negative? Actually, I used to doubt. Now, however, i have come to the realization that Judaism is Judaism, and people worship as they feel comfortable doing, whether Orthodox or Reform or whatever. Also, I've come to the realization that there are TWO meanings (at least) of the word TRUTH. According to scientific theory and fact, NO religion,, and even G-D, cannot be proven, so all religion and the concept of God is FALSE. Does that mean we can't BELIEVE? Ah, that brings us to the second meaning of truth. That which is BENEFICIAL to our spirit, which give us hope, faith, a reason for life and strength to cope. Science can do NONE of that. In fact, science can not prove that LOVE itself is "true". I've accepted that I believe in the G-d which is in my mind and not in G-d as interpreted by others, so there is now no more doubt. Belonging to Judaism is very, very good for my soul. Reply

Rabbi Moshe Goldman Waterloo, ON March 26, 2009

To Anon In my attempt to relate to your situation, a few tips come to mind, which I hope will prove useful.

1 - It's not a Mitzvah to kill yourself in the process of making Pesach. Get as much help as you can afford, and pay attention to your body.

2 - Sometimes, with all of life's obligations, our spiritual convictions can suffer the consequences of our busy lifestyles, and don't get "fed" as they should be. You may need to beef up your conviction, by studying, meditating and living the meaning of Pesach - start with our Passover Study section.

3 - Everyone gets wiped out making Pesach. You're in good company, and hang in there! Reply

Rabbi Moshe Goldman Waterloo , ON March 25, 2009

To Harvey You raise a good point and make an important distinction, and I believe I did the same in the response. Reply

Anonymous Silver Spring, MD March 25, 2009

No doubts, but getting older and very tired I don't have doubts, but I do have exhaustion and physical limitations, more as I get older.

Often, the very thought of the physical exertion needed to make Pesach, to get to shul and back, to stand and daven, weakens and depresses me. What does someone do when there are no doubts, but the spiritual convictions are not strong enough to overcome the weaknesses and pain in the body?

I'm not so old or sickly that I should not be able to follow my convictions. But I resent the pain that many of the mitzvos cause my body, and do not want to do them when they cause me to hurt physically. Is aching a form of doubt? Reply

Harvey Chaplik Chicago, IL/USA March 25, 2009

Without Doubt We are Gullible Fools Doubt is not in and of itself destructive. It is the first step in the cycle: doubt -> inquiry -> belief.

This cycle is continuously repeated by intelligent people who sincerely want to learn and understand. As wisdom is acquired more questions arise.

You characterize doubt as obstructionist, as raising unanswerable questions. It can be so, but not necessarily. Reply

Marc Resnick Miami, FL March 25, 2009

Doubt versus questioning If I may, here is a thought about the difference between doubt and questioning. As a scientific researcher by profession, I am often cast into this challenge because nothing that I work with is ever considered fact. But we accept theories when the data supports it most of the time.

I question everything. I run a study and the data says that I can be 95% confident in my hypothesis. But then I think of another angle and I test it again. This time I am 90% confident (which is considered a failure in science). So I revise the hypothesis and test it again. I am always QUESTIONING.

But I don't doubt the general framework. Perhaps I have a detail wrong that I need to adjust. After all, I am just human. But G-d knows what the truth is. I am constantly searching for it. But I never doubt that it is out there, or that G-d is patiently waiting for me to find it. Reply

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