Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Absolute Truth

I just read an excellent article in the latest Commentary by R. Meir Soloveitchik titled Of (Religious) Fences and Neighbors. An abstract of the article can be seen at .

The article reviews a book by Maria Johnson Strangers and Neighbors: What I Have Learned About Christianity by Living Among Orthodox Jews which can be purchased at

RMS contrasts the point of view of Rabbis Heschel, Greenberg and Hartman on pluralism with the view of the author and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik in Confrontation. While Rabbis HGH, each using a different slant, argue for the acceptance of other religions as true, allowing for more than one truth, Ms. Johnson, a staunch catholic who befriended and lives closely with practicing Orthodox Jews, argues for agreeing to disagree on theology while accepting and even admiring those who have different beliefs. She understands and admires the love Jews have for Halacha, she even understands our obsession with details as a demonstration of that love. Although having great respect and acceptance she remains secure in her belief that her religion is the truth while acknowledging that her Jewish friends feel the same about theirs. Here is a quote by RMS from the book:

Johnson is quite matter of fact in acknowledging that her Jewish neighbors regard her as mistaken in her beliefs. Trying to guess what they tell their children about her and her Catholic family, she muses:

I’d imagine they say what I’d say to my [own] children if the nice family down the block were Mormons. I’d say, “They are great kids, and I’m really glad you’re friends. You’ve probably noticed that they go to a funny church and they have some odd ideas about God. If they tell you stories about an angel called Moroni or somebody called Joseph Smith and some tablets, you can just tell them that we’re Catholic and we don’t believe in that. Don’t argue with them; it’s really important to them, and we don’t want to hurt their feelings, but just between us, it’s pretty silly.”

There have been many discussions lately about Rambam’s Ikarim whether they are valid, stand up to scrutiny and even whether they have a place in Judaism, a religion based on actions and not on dogma. The utility of dogma in a closed society, where contact with the outside world is restricted, may be questionable. One may argue that devotion to Halacha suffices and accepting the existence of God as Creator is enough. Saying Shema twice daily and davening three times daily is all the theology needed for one to be a Frum Jew. Although most individuals who belong to such a group would not acquire any higher theological understanding, they would no different then the majority of any religious group. In each there are only individuals who aspire to a higher understanding of their existential state. It is however the modern Jew who does interact with society either because of his profession, his lifestyle or his personal preference that the need for the Ikarim, the dogma, is indispensable. The Jew, who confronts daily other points of view and is expected to deal with them, needs to have a clear understanding that, although he is respectful of other opinions, his is the truth. He also needs to know what his truth is. The Ikarim provide us with a summary of our truth.

There is only one truth and eventually all the other nations will recognize that. The fact that they think that their truth is absolute is based on mistaken theology. As human beings we can accept that they do not agree with us as long as they don’t try to force us to accept their theology. There is no possibility of a dialogue because the religious experience is personal and cannot be shared. As the Rav wrote that it is “both impertinent and unwise for an outsider to intrude upon… the way in which a faith community expresses its relationship to God”. Rambam so eloquently expressed our position in Hilchot Melachim 11:4

וכשיעמוד המלך המשיח באמת, ויצליח וירום ויינשא--מיד הם כולן חוזרין ויודעים ששקר נחלו אבותיהם, ושנביאיהם ואבותיהם הטעום

When the king Moshiach will truly arrive, and succeed, they [the nations] will all realize that their ancestors endowed them with falsehoods and that their prophets and parents misled them.

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