A Never-Ending Journey (On Faith – Static and Dynamic)

Judging by the reactions so far to my last post, my readers have apparently assumed I was making yet another minor contribution to the endless debate about the 13 ikarim, and what, if anything, one must believe as an Orthodox Jew. I admit that looking back on the post, I may have helped that impression along by insisting that belief in Deism is not an Orthodox position. I still hold by that opinion, although I thought the fact that I broadened the possibilities of belief in this principle beyond sachar va’onesh (individual or collective) would remove the fear that I am just another Orthodox inquisitor out to “get” the kofrim. Sigh. I guess some people will always feel persecuted…

So what was my goal with the last post, which clearly failed miserably?

Allow me to explain with the help of Prof. Peter Berger, one of the pre-eminent sociologists of religion in the world today. In his book The Heretical Imperative, a must-read for anyone interested in issues of belief and doubt, Berger outlines three “ideal types” of reaction of religion to the challenges of modernity. These types hold true in any religion, including our own. They are: deduction, reduction and induction.

People who adhere to the deduction model are very much the “establishment” educational systems and yeshivot that skeptics and rational-minded Orthodox Jews rail against. Such people act as if modernity never happened and believe that all the dogmas – significant and less so – are just as incontrovertibly true as they were a thousand years ago.

Those who adhere to the reduction model are the polar opposite of the deduction folks. They treat religious principles and rules like a huge fire sale – as soon as there is a clash with anything modern, they toss it out or render it meaningless. It’s not so much the method as the attitude that religion is a burdensome obstacle to be minimized as much as possible. It may be allowed to exist, but only as a kind of fancy ornament that’s nice to look at but doesn’t really affect one’s life.

I see the debate raging on Internet blogs on the 13 ikarim as one conducted largely between deductionists and reductionists. To be sure, things are somewhat more complicated – most of us are deductionists on some things and reductionists on others. Nevertheless, the principle remains.

I consider this a bad thing not because of the much-needed theological debates, but because of the debate’s ultimate sterility. It’s the equivalent of hikers constantly debating where to start their journey but never actually travelling, or a couple debating the items on a shopping list but never going to the store. What I’m saying is that I want move beyond the “what” we believe and into the “how” we believe.

That’s where induction comes in. Induction is a more flexible, dynamic, and in my opinion a more fruitful way of living a religious life. It is different from the previous two methods. As opposed to them, induction does not hold by “all-or-nothing” rules. It’s not either 0 or 100, but rather a sliding scale, on which one can go up and down without losing sight of the ultimate goal. It does not seek only hard proofs one way or another, but also “soft” ones like experience and intuition. People who hold by induction can say “I believe” (or at least say “I want to believe”) with complete conviction, even if they forgo the deductionist follow-up “with perfect faith”.

Most importantly, induction is individually driven. Reduction and deduction are determined by outside arguments, facts and principles which are absorbed or rejected passively. People who go by induction, by contrast, are always actively seeking out the truth and making it their own – always adding, always striving. It is a more mature, exciting kind of faith, the kind that never goes stale because the journey never ends.

I was trying to do that by discussing the question of intuiting God in history, and I intend to continue with other principles. I hope that my few readers will join me on the journey.


Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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2 Responses to A Never-Ending Journey (On Faith – Static and Dynamic)

  1. fred says:

    ah. interesting.
    this is a more mature way of going about a religious life, where what you do is filled with meaning and doubt, simultaneously. just off the top of my head, this reminds me of rybs and his idea that religion complicates matters rather than simplifies them. it should also serve as a humbling experience rather than an arrogant one. [i think this is a good thing.]
    the maturity of this position also brings up very difficult issues, such as chinuch, and by unfortunate extension, mechanchim. how would you pitch religion to those under, say, 18?
    also, you realize you have undercut 90% of kiruv, also not necessarily a bad thing.
    you are also making it difficult to really answer a sincere questioner’s questions, since so much of what you are talking about is experiential, emotional, etc. this is a bad thing.

  2. Shlomo says:

    There are two separate questions. What is true? and How should I approach life?

    When trying to answer the first question, you are necessarily forced to either “deduction” or “reduction”, depending on the case.

    The second question may be more important. But to the extent that I’m asked the first question, I have to reply accordingly. And I’m skeptical of our ability to answer the second question without referencing the first question with at least a certain frequency.

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