Op-ed

The Fifth Question Many are Afraid to Ask

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April 11, 2014

RabbiDavid D. Steinberg

Rabbi

David D. Steinberg

The Fifth Question Many are Afraid to Ask

The full-page advertisement above appeared in the past few editions of Hamodia Newspaper and Bina Magazine, both media publication for the Ultra-Orthodox world.

It reads:

“‘How do I know it is all true?’
The question hovers in the mind of many children, who may be embarrassed or too afraid to voice it. 3326 years after Matan Torah, the very basics of Emunah need reinforcement.” 

According to the project’s website, in the last few years they have hosted classes and presentations for more than 15,000 people.

Here is a selection of some of the classes that took place:

  • Los Angeles – Substantiation of the Revelation at Sinai, 300 attendees
  • Borough Park – The Sinai Event Really Happened, 150 attendees
  • Zurich & Manchester – Torah’s Divine Origin, 75 attendees
  • Williamsburg – How We Know Our Torah is Real, 30 attendees
  • Toronto – The Revelation at Sinai, 40 attendees
  • Zurich – Present Day Korachs… Several pesukim to prove Torah can only be Min Hashomayim, 200 attendees
  • Monticello, NY – Sustaining Emunah in Hashem and Torah from Sinai, 400 attendees
  • Tustan, NY –The Sinai Story Is Really True, 75 attendees
  • Manchester, UK –Rambam on Our Trust in M. Rabenu, 120 attendees
  • Manchester, UK – Torah-Min-Hashamayim, 230 attendees
  • Lakewood, NJ – “Torah Min Hashamayim” Q&A Session, 120 attendees

The fact that this advertisement is targeting the Ultra-Orthodox and Chasidic communities, where for many the mere question is considered taboo, reveals, to my mind, the deep underlying challenge Judaism and the broader Jewish community is facing. One would think that the Ultra-Orthodox would be the last segment within the broader Jewish community open to admitting the weakness in its own ranks. Nevertheless, there is a reason this advertisement targets the Chareidi and Chasidic communities.

On some level, Ultra-Orthodoxy is able to acknowledge the problem because it still believes it has answers to “prove” that tradition is literally true. But herein lies the problem for the broader Jewish community. The approach used by the Ultra-Orthodox to address these questions will sound silly, even embarrassing to many in the Modern Orthodox communities. How, then, are they to deal with the questions? After all, as the saying goes, “Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to know answers.”

Ironically, this problem forces the more scientifically and academically educated communities to avoid and even deny the existence of questions, and they end up even less engaged than the Ultra-Orthodox community in these important questions.

This is why I founded TABS. Like my Chareidi brothers and sisters, I too believe that there is a crisis of faith and engagement in our world and it needs to be addressed head on. Where I disagree with the Ultra-Orthodox approach is that I don’t think the responses can or should be given in a way that tries to negate or avoid modern scientific and academic approaches. חותמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא אמת – the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is truth. I believe that the truth frees us – not that it frees us from Torah but it frees us to appreciate Torah in its true context. 

Rabbi David D. Steinberg is the co-founder and director of Project TABS. He learned in Manchester Yeshiva, Gateshead Yeshiva, and Mir Yeshiva. Steinberg took the Ner Le’Elef Rabbinical Outreach training course and moved to Huntington, NY to work as an outreach rabbi for the Mesorah Center. In 2007 he joined Aish Hatorah NY as a Programs Director, managing their Yeshiva in Passaic and serving as a rabbi in their Executive Learning program.

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