Reason and Judaism

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Reason and Judaism

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Decisions of this kind, affecting important areas of life have, however, been made, even at an early stage in the evolution of mankind, at a time when the differentiation between what is today termed ‘Health’, ‘Life’, ‘Mental Power’,‘Morals’ had not yet taken place. These flashes of insight, or ‘guesses’ were discovered instinctively, in a way analogous to (though on a human level) the way an animal ‘knows’ what to eat and what to avoid. Only here, a human problem was answered at a stage in evolution when the faculty aiming at the highest flight and achievement of the human genius to determine the right conduct for us was seen as simply another term for ‘health’. These inspired guesses then crystalised in various sections of mankind as rituals and moral codes (as O.Goldberg remarks, there is no distinction between these). Here, then, we have guesses concerning the practical behaviour of man. They are, as it were, mystical guesses.

What about such guesses in a religion of reason? They would seem to have no place there; surely not in the Enlightenment type of rational or natural religion, where any weight given to ritualism or ritual behaviour would be deemed ‘mystical’; and ‘mystical behaviour’ and mysticism would have to be eradicated, root and branch.This kind of rationalism ( often dismissed by calling it ‘cheap’, but actually accepted by very many people to this day) thinks that there is always a demarcation line between a ‘rational’ and a ‘non-rational’, where the former is distinguished by not doing something for which one does not see sufficient reason to do it. In my view, however, the just mentioned description, ‘cheap’ rationalism and its idea of a ‘rational behaviour’ is a fallacy.

As regards scientific problems where science is not or is not yet able to answer questions of as yet unknown, deeply hidden relationships, there is no such thing as ‘rational behaviour’. In the realm of action, of behaviour, it is not a question of taking or abstaining from taking sides, such as there is in matters of opinion, theories, thoughts. Whereas one can be agnostic and refrain from forming opinions on certain subjects, one cannot ‘not-behave’,i.e not have effects or results, by leaving certain actions undone. Here, not acting actually simply means another way of acting. Since a scientific justifiability in such problems, for whatever course of action, is not available here, every course of action, active or passive, doing or not doing something, is inevitably based on a guess.

Let us view this in the context of ritualistic behaviour. Someone, for example, who observes a dietary religious law because he makes a connection to consequences for ‘health’, in a higher, wider, more sublimated sense; that sense would include character, moral, intellectual, cultural aspects; in short, a ‘summum bonum’ in terms of influences and aims. Even if such a person adduces rational plausibility and gives special weight to certain intuitions in early mankind, he is relying on a guess. A person who rejects that dietary law and practises any other ‘non-ritualistic’ dietary behaviour instead, is not in any better, more rational position; he is denying connections made by the first person; the first person cannot prove his case and the second person cannot refute it. In short, a person who eats pork is relying on a guess as to the role food ‘sub specie aeterni’ just as much as the person who avoids pork.

The argument turns on to what constitutes a ‘rational’ guess. The ‘cheap’ rationalist would question whether one might then make such a claim for any mystical, magic, ritualistic or superstitious behaviour; for example, eating a certain food on the assumption that this will connect that person to someone who died long ago - clearly a false argument. The differences between such an argument and the case for the ritual dietary law are obvious. While it may be beyond the reach of science to determine the future course of human development, moving towards or away from a possible state of perfection, it is a reality that implies real possibilities.However, unifying multitudes of people to a person who died long ago is not realistic, in the sense that it does not lie in a rational line of thought about the real world (which the future evolution of mankind, for instance, does). Where behaviour is based on a rational guess, as in the first case, ‘non-behaviour’ is irrelevant. Since it is rational to assume that there is a definite influence of diet on all aspects of human life, ritualist conduct such as the practice of a religious dietary law would be an example of mystic rationalism. It would be in line with a religion of reason, as discussed above.

In conclusion, a restatement of the tenets of Judaism that places emphasis on a compatibility with a religion of reason would seem to distance itself from the need to believe in miracles and stress the value of the ritual law. Whatever form the latter may develop in the course of the future of religion ( compatible with its principles) ),it seems to me that the principle of ritual is not, as has been generally held, contrary, but essential to a religion of reason.