Sunday, January 08, 2006

Musings on Blogs II

(Musings on Blogs I is here)

Last night, I took part in AishDas' melaveh malkah event, that included bagels and a panel discussion on the topic of Simple Faith and Philosophical Knowledge. I was originally supposed to be on the panel but when we realized that there would be too many speeches, I was quick enough to get my name removed before anyone else did. R. Moshe Sokol spoke about the historical debate over whether philosophical knowledge is the only option. R. Yisroel Hirsch spoke about what the term emunah (belief or faith) means as opposed to how we use it colloquially. And R. Shalom Carmy spoke about the necessity of a firm faith underlying one's philosophical knowledge. The speeches and the following Q&A session were recorded and will hopefully be posted on the web soon.

Thinking about this event afterwards, and what I would have spoken about had there been time, got me thinking about the need to speak differently to different audiences. If you are taking an in-between position, as I would have and as Rabbi Carmy did, you need to emphasize different points to different audiences. To a group that is entirely simple faith, you might (if it is appropriate, of course) need to stress the value of philosophical knowledge. And to a group that consists of philosophically minded people, you might need to emphasize faith. Again, this depends on many details. You don't want to offend or to drive people away from Judaism. But in order to get your point across accurately, you have to recognize your audience.

The same goes for this blog. Astute readers will note many contradictions between different posts. There are two reasons for this. One is that I am simply human, and a poor example of one to boot. So I'm inconsistent. That's just how it is. The other reason is that I know that my readership is very heterogeneous, with vastly different backgrounds and outlooks. I cannot effectively get my point across in any single post because inevitably some readers will focus on one part but not the other. Which is more important: theory or practice, confidence or speculation, faith or confirmed knowledge, etc.? The short answer is: Yes.

My firm belief is that deep down we all need be a "Shtetl Yid", an old-school Jew from a small town. We have to approach the world with a firm and unwavering faith. We have to follow the rules, whether we understand them or not and whether we want to or not. We have to follow our own rabbis (whom we should choose wisely), even if we disagree with their conclusions. To me, home is a blatt (page) of Gemara. Anywhere else I may find myself is just a temporary digression.

Someone with that underlying foundation can face the world without sacrificing his Jewishness in thought or practice. Nothing is a problem to a man of faith. And an "I don't know" is OK but so is a speculative suggestion that solves the problem. Because there's nothing to fear.

So some posts will emphasize that while others will emphasize speculation and various options.

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