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Commentary on Tanakh Discussion February 15, 2021: “What is the value of Truth?”  

Don Perlmutter

Rabbi Edery’s question stimulated a lively discussion around the nature of belief and the importance of knowledge over myth and superstition.

We began with Rabbi Elazar and the importance of study. He cautioned in the Mishnah that we should study Torah diligently so we can respond to the challenges of the Epikoros (the educated heretic). A priority was placed on this role of study because it is necessary to internalize Torah to argue from conviction. You may not convince the non-believer, but at least you will be less vulnerable to the seduction of his/her ways. In this case, Torah represents the compendium of knowledge or truth and those who would challenge it: heretics. This interpretation can be applied to the story of the four children in the Passover Haggadah. The rebellious, questioning child who does not consider himself to be a participant is the Epikoros.  

The Questioning Jew & Torah
This approach toward truth-seeking can be traced directly back to the previous week’s discussion in which we questioned the Biblical reference to the Jewish people as “stiff-necked." We concluded that this trait refers to an inherent skepticism: a tendency to be analytical and intellectually curious. Jews tend not to accept what is nonsensical, which explains our disproportionate representation in science, medicine, and the law. The result is a true conflict between the inherent skeptical nature of the Jewish people and the restrictions of Torah, the lifeblood of our religion. The Gershwin song from Porgy and Bess taunts us: “The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, it ain’t necessarily so."

Is Science Really Truth? 
Our discussion from this digressed into a lengthy conversation regarding the “catechism of science." Even scientific investigation, which purports to be neutral and unrestrained by emotional predisposition, can be limited or influenced by prevailing accepted “truths” or notions of political correctness. This is the very antithesis of scientific pursuit, but because it is performed by humans with inherent biases, it is a reality. For this reason, scientific studies must be repeated by other investigators and peer-reviewed before they become accepted as “truth."

My Truth vs. Your Truth: Is It Reasonable?
The question was posed: “Do we have to honor someone else’s version of the truth merely because they believe it?” Does “intelligent design” deserve equal standing with evolution? The standard for truth is not the popularity of a belief, but its ability to be proven objectively. We are obligated to use the best knowledge available to determine truth. Religious belief is not exempt from this standard. As Rabbi Hammer stated “…there is certainly room to conclude that religion can be reasonable and can be a positive contribution to civilization and to our lives. That is certainly the case with Judaism.”

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782