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    You must be reasonable

    The strangest paradox in the Torah is the parah adumah, the law of the red heifer (Num. 19).

    When a person was ritually impure, a mixture of substances was sprinkled upon him, with the effect that the impure became pure whilst the pure (the officiating kohen) became impure. One and the same substance thus had two opposite effects.

    The Torah simply calls this a “statute” – a law obeyed out of loyalty to God though its motive remains a mystery. It implies that religion does not need to be amenable to reason and logic.

    There is something attractive about such faith. It reduces doubts. It provides emotional security.

    Some Jews share this approach, but Judaism as a whole rejects it. It is more normative in Judaism to say God gave you the gift of reason and expects it to be used. Reasoning may not bring final answers, but you are not absolved from asking questions and grappling with them.

    Judaism agrees with the saying, “He who will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dare not reason is a slave.”

    The classical philosophers used to say, “God forbid there should be anything in the Torah which goes against logic.”

    They would largely endorse the words of AN Whitehead: “Religious truth must be developed from knowledge acquired when our ordinary sense and intellectual operations are at their highest level of discipline. To move from this position towards the dark recesses of abnormal psychology is to surrender finally any hope of a solid foundation for religious doctrine.”

    Does this mean nothing is true or to be accepted unless we have arrived at it by the use of the human mind?

    That would negate the need and validity of Divine revelation. It would say, “God, I am not interested in Your word, only in what reason says is true!”

    But that is to go much too far. Judaism believes the primary way to truth is through what God lovingly reveals to us. What our reason does is to enable us to reinforce our perception of the message and to try in humility to understand God’s thinking.

    There will be times, as with the red heifer, when our thinking brings us to a dead end, when reason does not produce results. That is when we recognise the limitations inherent in being mortal.

    There will be things and their connections which we will never be able to grasp. But instead of saying, “I believe because it is absurd”, we say, “I believe the Divine wisdom is infinitely superior to mine. I believe God expects me to apply my reason even to difficult things. But I know the limitations to my wisdom.”

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