Question:

As long as human beings have thought and questioned, the principal of doubt has been central to progress in reason. All the more so in the modern era, post-Descartes, Spinoza and Hume.

Our tradition explains how Abraham came to his faith on his own, also through doubt, skepticism and reason. Yet, when you discuss faith in Why Do We Believe, instead of resorting to rational proofs, you provide an analogy of the self-confidence of a world-class athlete, who can only win because he believes he can. Is that all there is to our faith—the faith of such great rationalists as Moses Maimonides and Hasdai Crescas? Isn't this the hallmark of Judaism, that our faith is based upon reason?

Response:

I agree with your statement about doubt, it is certainly very much married to reason. And that is why I am hard put to place my faith in reason. You see, doubt is not only a partner with reason, it is it's very defining ground: that reason must always leave room for doubt. In this I agree with Karl Popper—and the Rebbe does as well—that as soon as someone says he knows something with 100% veracity, he has stepped beyond the bounds of reason and entered into the realm of faith.

Isn't it true that every society of history had its great thinkers, and all of those thinkers were able to justify whatever they accepted of that society? How can we put our faith in reason after Heidegger?

Yes, there are some excellent, very reasonable arguments for our faith. Few philosophers possess the grandeur of thought of the Rambam. And neither was Hasdai Crescas any slouch. But can I base my faith upon their arguments? I'm afraid not. Because, if I am honest with myself, I will always know that perhaps somewhere in the world is a greater philosopher who can provide better arguments to the contrary. After all, do not these two giants themselves argue with one another—and not just on trivia, but on essentials?

It's not that reason itself has no redeeming value. Reason raises us beyond the beast and casts light upon all matters of life. As you wrote, it was reason that brought Abraham to abandon his father's idols and the lies of the culture. It was reason that brought him to discover the most significant truths of history.

But it is reason, as well, that brought us racism and genocide. Because the only reason to which we have access is that which lies within a grey organ within a human skull. And that is a very bribed and faulty reason indeed.

As for Abraham, yes, he arrived at the door of faith through the path of reason. But once he entered that palace, he rose far beyond. The Midrash describes Abraham as a man who discovers an illuminated palace and exclaims, "Such a palace must have an owner!" But the Midrash does not stop there: "Immediately, the owner peeked out at him." Meaning that after Abraham found G_d, G_d reciprocated and found Abraham. He revealed Himself to Abraham and guided him. By reason alone, Abraham could never have scaled Mount Moriah to offer up his son. It was a bond of the soul far deeper than any thought can reach.

Abraham was our father. That bond he worked for many years to tie fast, we inherit from him at birth. As he did, we are challenged to reason, to question and to travel our own journey of the mind. But all upon a bedrock that cannot be shaken or moved. There is a time to question and philosophize, and there is a time to open the door that Abraham discovered and walk in—into a space where all questions are answered as though they never were. The great things of life are accomplished in that space beyond that door.

Yes, I am a thinking Jew, a lover of philosophy and reason. No, my Jewishness is not based on any of that. It is founded purely on my love for G_d, His Torah, and most of all, my people. And not just a love for the beauty, awesomeness and majesty of those three, but truly a super-rational bond that simply cannot be severed. This is who I am, who my people have been, through sword and through fire, and this is who I will always be.