As the Hirhurim blog, or as I like to call it – the “Orthodox Instapundit” – gets comfortable in its new home, I’d like to talk about one of the last “hot posts” on the old blog. There, Rabbi Student spoke of a “Modern Orthodox View of History” and the need to look for larger “trends and themes” to understand history from a religious perspective.
This started a firestorm of debate about the relationship between Orthodoxy and history, including the usual debates about historical accuracy and differences between traditional and academic dating. Aside from the extremely cynical tone of the debate and the sad confirmation of my very ambivalent attitude towards Jewish Studies, a major point was missed – the question of God in history.
Much is made of the Rambam’s ikarei emunah (“The 13”), their necessity and acceptance in Orthodoxy (see esp. Marc Shapiro’s important book on the subject). In my opinion, these debates miss the point. Even if the exact parameters of the foundations of Orthodox Judaism can be debated, they do exist and are not crossable (see e.g. Rabbi Yitzhak Blau’s article on the subject).
Instead of ikarei emunah, I tend to understand them as “fundamental axioms”, initial assumptions about our world that dictate our relationship with God. These axioms permeate throughout the Tanach (indeed, belief in Deism is one of the causes of the punishments of the Tochacha) and Toshba, even if they were not specifically “spelled out” until much later. These include God’s existence, his creation of the world & revelation, as well as an undefined “end of days”.
Another one of these axioms is that God can intervene in history, and did so in the past. We can of course debate how this happens; e.g. whether he intervenes on an individual or a collective level, what is the nature of this intervention &c. Nevertheless, the principle remains. Deism is not an acceptable Orthodox position by any definition of the term.
The above description brings up the obvious problem of hester panim – the idea that God has removed himself from active intervention on our behalf or from revealing himself. How is it possible to believe in God’s hand in history post-revelation and hester panim? Does it simply mean that the help is hidden – if so, is there any way to intuit it (obviously, it is impossible to prove or disprove it)? Does it mean that God has voluntarily removed himself from the world?
What say you, reader? How does one reconcile the two? Is it possible to find (not prove) God’s hand in history?