Is Judaism Rational?

Friday, 18 June, 2021 - 5:53 pm


Some like to think that Judaism is rational but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not. In fact, trying to rationalize Judaism will lead to abandoning it altogether. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study - we have to understand all that we can. But we also need to acknowledge that there are somethings that we simply cannot.
Western society tends to looks down on doing things without logical basis, while at the same time hundreds of marketing firms exist solely to cause people to purchase, behave or believe by appealing to emotion. Most of us wouldn’t be able to articulate why a particular brand is significantly more valuable than its competitors - yet we’ll willingly spend extra money on that particular brand.
The fact is that a rational Judaism is a limited one - even if an individual is significantly knowledgeable and duly observant. At the end of the day, their observance is tied to their understanding - and that is limited by definition.
How can one connect with an infinite G-d through a limited prism? How can one fully integrate Judaism in their life if it is limited?
The supra rational nature of Judaism is highlighted in this week’s Torah portion, its very name is Chukat which means the statutes. These laws that are taught by G-d without any reason being provided. While literally speaking about the laws of the Red Heifer, the Torah implies that all the mitzvot - even those taught with a reason - are included under the umbrella of supra rational commandments.
All Mitzvot, even those that have an understandable and rational meaning, should be performed due to G-d’s command, not simply based on the logical understanding. This attitude provides a powerful inoculation against the possibility of abandoning the mitzvot based on one’s logical calculation.
Think about this: the worst tragedy in history was perpetrated by a modern, technologically advanced, scientifically steeped nation. How could this happen? Because their morals were man made and logical, not based on divine instruction.
Our Torah portion of Chukot has an additional connotation, that of engraving. The Hebrew word for engraving is also related to the name of our portion. It’s an apt connection; when one serves G-d in a supra rational manner, as implied by the first meaning of Chukot, the effect is that their relationship with G-d and their life as a Jew are not simply elements that have been added to their character, rather they are what defines their very being. It’s an expression of their essence, their true self.

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