While I’m criticizing Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s occasional lapses in rationalism, here’s a short response I wrote to Rabbi Slifkin’s post Two Sentences of Inspiration from back in March. What does he recommend to the many people who write him disturbed by all their questions and doubts about the core beliefs of the Jewish faith? As noted in my post from a couple days ago, he says that the divine providence he sees in his life (e.g. finding an article about an obscure aspect of lion behavior right when he needed it) does it for him, although he acknowledges that may not work for others.
So what is it that should take care of all the questions that rational inquiry and a 21st century scientific understanding present? Jewish survival. “An ancient home, centuries of exile and the worst, most irrational persecution in history, followed by the extraordinary return to the land and creation of a vibrant country,” he writes. “It’s tragic that many Jews… entirely downplay Providence when it comes to the return of the Jewish People to their homeland and the creation of the State of Israel. It’s far and away the most extraordinary and inspirational part of the Jewish experience.”
I certainly agree that Jewish survival, despite being persecuted in, thrown out of, and, when lucky, simply treated as second-class citizens in just about every country in which we’ve tried to live peacefully, is astounding and inspirational. As my Jewish history professor George Berlin put it, “The most amazing thing about Jewish history is that there is a Jewish history.” But where does the invisible, all-good, all-powerful being come in to the picture? To me, the Jewish survival argument for the existence of such a being is a particularly egregious example of the confirmation bias.
Here’s what I wrote in my comment. If you go to the original post, you’ll see responses to my comment and my responses to those responses. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Freethinking Jew said…
I’m a fan, Rabbi Slifkin. HOWEVER, this post is an extreme example of the confirmation bias.
Think about what you just said: The Jews have survived despite the worst persecutions possible; therefore, an all-good, all-powerful being must be watching over us. You see what you did? You completely ignored the evidence that goes AGAINST your hypothesis of an all-good, all-powerful being watching over us (i.e. the torture, the pogroms, the forced exiles, the holocaust, etc) and you cherry picked the part (i.e. that our people still have an identity and a land) that confirms your hypothesis and said, “You see? The good L-rd’s watching over us.”
To beat a dead horse, the Jewish survival argument is:
A: We’ve suffered and no divine being stopped it
B: Yet we still exist as a people and have a land
Therefore C: A divine being must be working His magic.
But what happened to A! “Well, there is an explanation, we just don’t know what it is.” Then say that for B, too!
Chag kasher v’same’ach! 🙂 [FTJ: It was right before Passover.]