Navigating faith and Judaism


Faith is a complicated topic — one that many people struggle with. But what do Jewish philosophers say about faith? And how does Judaism approach belief in God? In this episode, Mijal and Noam discuss the challenges of maintaining faith with questions such as “Can you be Jewish and not believe in God?” and “What is the meaning of emunah”?

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to figure out the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re gonna try to figure out some big items together.

An Israeli soldier prays before going to battle on July 18, 2014, in the fields around Gaza Strip during their army service. (Photo: Ran Zisovitch/Shutterstock)

Mijal: And we really want to hear from you. We’ve really enjoyed getting your emails and phone calls. It’s not just, you know, Noam about you and me. It’s about new people that we get to interact with, learn from, as you email us. So please, please do reach out to us. Email us at, leave us a voicemail at 833-WON-JEWS. That’s 833-WON-JEWS. And when you call, leave your name, phone number, email, and share anything you want under 30 seconds.

Noam: Yeah, everything Mijal just said, totally agree. Except I don’t know, I like the back and forth that we have. So even if no one’s listening, no, we have, thank God, thousands of people, but it’s just a great back and forth.

Mijal: Yeah, yeah, totally, Noam. In this back and forth, I just want to own, sorry, I have like the wrong mic today. So if you don’t hear me so well, umm, blame it on my accent.

Noam: Wow, okay, I was gonna say I hear you perfectly, but we haven’t spoken in a few days. It’s true, we haven’t spoken in a few days. It’s a big deal for us. So do you, I didn’t hear about your Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hazikaron, your Memorial Day and your Israel Independence Day experience. How was it?

Mijal: So I think, Noam, you’re taking the place of our audience question and choosing your own, which is great.

Noam: Yes, that’s what I’m doing. Exactly.

Mijal: So Noam sent in a question. Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut. Well, Yom Hazikaron, I think this year was… It was so heavy, you know? I felt like, I don’t know about you, I was glued to my screen for probably eight hours, like watching ceremonies from Israel, live ceremonies, like stayed up very late.


Mijal: And it was so heavy in Israel. And then my community, the Downtown Minyan, I’m so lucky, I have such a beautiful community. We had a committee of like 15 young people who wanted to make sure that we really honored and did it properly this year. So we had about 120 people who came to my apartment. And we had a one-hour long Yom Hazikaron ceremony with poetry and music and instruments and prayers and pictures of soldiers. And it was, I felt like we were able to do it in a way that was really moving. And then we had an amazing Yom Haatzmaut celebration that was, you know, like when you emotionally like let go and there’s something that happens in the room.

Yeah, I don’t know how to explain it. It was special, it was hard, it was heavy. Noam, how was your Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut?

Noam: Here’s my takeaway from what you just said. My takeaway is you have 120 people that can fit into your apartment? That’s amazing.

Mijal: You should come visit now one day.

Noam:  OThat’s a, okay, one day, one day for sure.

Mijal: One day, one day I’ll decide if I’m inviting you. But tell me about your, tell me about your Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut.

Noam: No, that’s a very, that’s very powerful, your experience. And also the other thing that I’m thinking about is when you’re running a community, the community that you create around that experience on these days is some of the most powerful experiences you could have. So in that way, I envy your experience. For me as a, just a civilian of my community, it’s different, it’s different. Celebrating these days feels different. And so I didn’t have that intense experience that you’re talking about. But I, you know, went to the communal celebrations and commemorations and, you know, was part of those. And that was nice and good to be part of.

BAnd, but I had two things on my mind. Number one is, in our episode I said, you know, Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, should be so much more. Should like, feel it, feel it, feel it, do more and more and more. But then I was reading and watching all the talk in Israel about how like, you know what, Yom Haatzmaut’s a little bit more muted this year. And so I was reflective on like what I said and maybe I was like, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

Mijal: It’s funny, Noam, when we were talking and I was thinking it should be more muted and you said we should go harder. And it actually made me change my mind though.

Noam: Why?

Mijal: Because, well, personally, one of the things that’s hard for me right now is how different the vibe and the mood feels in Israel and here in the US because we’re experiencing different things. But one of the things that we are experiencing in the States is this intense pressure to go underground with our Zionism. And I actually felt like part of Yom Haatzmaut has to be like in America, in Israel it has to be more muted. In America, there has to be almost like a doubling down. Like you’re not going to make us feel only shame and stigma around this. And so I felt when you said that it actually made me think about it differently. And it made me feel like, maybe we need to acknowledge the distance and say we might need to adjust for it and celebrate a bit or commemorate differently.

Noam: Right, and that distinction that you’re making between celebrating in Israel and across the world in the US or wherever, that is a great distinction. Like we cannot go underground.

Let me tell you, speaking of which, my other thought on it was I got this idea from a friend, colleague, Gil Troy, a number of years ago. He said, every single Israel Independence Day, you should make sure no matter what, the ritual should be ice cream.

And if your kids have like regular ice cream, it should be milkshakes. You know, you should go all out. So for the last few years, my kids, they had a great rambunctious experience in school celebrating. I got pictures of my children dancing and singing and all of those things. It’s amazing. But then they came home and we went out for ice cream and they know that they’re not just getting one scoop. They’re getting the full sundae experience. And like that was, that was, that was important to me. And I had a few scoops myself. I did it.

Mijal: My son is seven now. I held off on giving him ice cream until I was in Israel. And it was.

Noam: That’s a great move.

Mijal: I’m agreeing with you, I’m with Gil Troy. I feel like there’s like a Zionist responsibility to associate Israel with sweetness. Yeah.

Noam: It’s like the Maimonides idea that when you first teach your child how to read Hebrew and stuff like that, how to learn, it should be with candy. It’s the same idea.

Mijal: Right. Right.

Mijal: I’ll say one more thing, Noam. One more really good Yom Haatzmaut experience that we had. It wasn’t exactly in Yom Haatzmaut, but somehow, Noam, I feel like this wins me cool points. I helped run a rave. Rave, am I saying it right?

Noam: Yeah, you’re saying it right.

Mijal: I was one of the co-hosts for this massive rave, 200 people in Washington Square Park at the heart of New York City with a DJ and music and dancing and singing for two hours.

Noam: That’s pretty cool.

Mijal: It was beautiful. So, long story short, but basically a group of students at NYU for the last eight years have been running a big Yom Haatzmaut celebration. And for many reasons, it wasn’t going to happen this year. And a couple of weeks ago, some of us from very disjointed places like some alumni, some current students, myself,, connected over it happening this year. And then we were like, we’re going to make it happen. It was crazy. We had to get the permits. Anyways, it was moved to days after Yom Haatzmaut, but we were able to advertise. We had 30 hours to plan and we had about 200 people and it was, it was amazing. It was dancing and happiness. And I just felt like I got really emotional actually. It was really beautiful and best energy ever. Really, really good. Like 10 out of 10 recommend.

Noam: We will dance again. That’s the idea. We will always dance. By the way, Mijal, I think people like you and I, if we’re being reflective, we’re very good, very good. I like that I’m patting myself on the back. We’re very good. No, we’re very good at exploration, we’re wondering, right? We love exploring ideas. I think we have to explore and see different sides of issues. I think it’s so important. But another part of our identity is to celebrate, to go hard when you’re celebrating as well. Like you gotta do that. And that’s what I take from this.

But I wanna transition. I want to talk to you about, I wanna go into exploration mode now, okay? So here’s a question that is on my mind often, and I spent years, and I still do, but I spent years teaching Jewish philosophy. I created a Jewish philosophy curriculum. And something that always comes up is the question of belief. Okay? It’s a question of belief in Judaism.

I’m going to use the word emunah. And I just said belief. Now you could say to me, you and I, having you and me in a room talking about belief in Judaism, we could be like, what’s belief? Is emunah belief? Is that the right definition? What does it mean, Judaism? What part of Judaism? Can you be Jewish and not believe in God? Like a thousand different questions that you and I can ask on this topic.

So I want to help us, you and me now, I want to help us nail down what we want to talk about with a question of belief. I want to hear your reaction. Tell it to me.

Mijal: Well, sometimes for me, it helps to start with the personal. So I will turn to you, Noam, right now and say, yes, turning to you. INo, no, no, I’m just really like, like, is there something about, let’s call it loosely believed faith, we’re going to translate that soon, but like, 

Noam: Okay, great. Whoa. Whoa. Okay. Yeah.

Mijal: In this area, in this area, you personally, okay? Is there something that, is there a question that you struggle with?

Noam: All I do is struggle. I literally named my daughter. I literally named my daughter Sarit because it means to struggle with God.

Mijal: No, no, no. Okay, no. Okay, okay, great. So do you feel comfortable? Okay, but you know what? I will say it’s a little bit, even for me, I think it can be really vulnerable talking about this out loud, but.

Noam: Make me safe in this vulnerability and then I could do it.

Mijal: Okay, I’m gonna ask you some initial questions now. Just a couple of them, softballs, okay? Do you speak with people often about God?

Noam: Yes.

Mijal: Give me one example.

Noam: Well, every week I actually have a lecture, parasha series that I do every Shabbat afternoon where I teach and learn together about, it’s called, the name of the series is called the Pshat and then some, basically it means it’s the primary intent of the author and then some, let’s get into it deeper.

And invariably the conversation is about God and what God wants from…

Mijal: Really, Bible study gets into God study.

Noam: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I like the way you’re saying ‘really’ like, wow, that’s such a big deal because, you know, one of my friends in the past has said, you know, so much time when we’re studying Gemara and Talmud, we spend so much time in those subjects that we actually forget about God. The idea is that God should be the central character.

Actually, I want to read to you a quote and then I won’t, I will not, I promise you, evade the question, or avoid the question. Rabbi Shai Held, a great scholar, one of the leaders of the Hadar Institute, he said, to refuse a conversation on theology is to continue a novel without the protagonist included. Meaning like, you gotta include God in the conversation. And we’re so comfortable making it anthropocentric, meaning making the human the center of the story, as opposed to theocentric, meaning making God the center of the story. For so many reasons in Judaism. So I talk about God often.

Now, when I talk about God, I think that something does come up, which is something one of my students said to me, another quote that I’m gonna read, a student from 2017, class of 2017 said to me, before we can even discuss God’s existence, we need to figure out what God is according to Judaism. If Judaism believes God does exist, what is God? (That’s what she wrote.) What is His relationship to mankind, history and the world?

I was like, these are really good and big questions. Right? So this is something I think about often. And the context that I think about it is in so many different places. Place number one is my own life. Place number two is the way I want to be teaching my children. And then place number three is what that conversation looks like amongst students, peers, colleagues. And those are three different categories.

Mijal: Is there a question that feels alive for you in the first category?

Noam: Yeah, the question that I have for myself is…Does God actually care? Period. Or question mark.

Mijal: Both. Both.

Noam: Exactly. Like, simple as that. Does God care?

Mijal: What do you mean by that?

Noam: What I mean by that is, for me personally, we have a whole set of systems that we do in Judaism, call it halacha, how we go, how we behave. That’s literally what the word halacha means, to go, like what we do, how we think, how we act. And then the question is, does God care? And why do I care if God cares also?

And how does that influence or impact how I choose to live my life? That’s what I mean. Because, and you know what, to be even more vulnerable, I get jealous of people that think that God cares about things. And I’m like, wait, no, God, I don’t think that’s on God’s mind, as it were. I don’t think that God’s really thinking about that right now. And so that’s where it comes from. There’s a jealousy.

Mijal: Why does that make you jealous? I mean, I think I know, but I want to just…

Noam: Because they have such a warmth, they have such a…It’s like, it’s like there’s me, there’s you in this conversation, there’s God. God is present. Like, I’m so upset at God. You’re upset at God. Like, I’m so upset at God for the hostages. I’m like, I’m upset at Hamas. Like, that’s why I personally struggle with, they actually are upset. But God, how could God allow for this to happen? And I genuinely don’t bring God into that conversation in my head. There it is, you got me. That’s what it is. What do you think? Like, do you hear that? Like it’s easy, not easier. That’s also mean and lazy on my part. It’s not easier.

Mijal: Yeah, so. I actually think it is easier.

Noam: It’s, why? Why?

Mijal: I don’t think it’s mean and lazy. Because I think, that there’s a lot of scholars that have written about how religion and God, right? one of the hardest things for humans is this feeling of being out of control and uncertainty and just like bad things happening. And God or religion can sometimes almost like give, give like a way to make sense of it all and a way to almost like deal like people say, God meant for this to happen, God meant this, God meant that. My gosh, Noam, these are such big conversations, I feel like we’re just scratching the surface and I’m like, how are we gonna do this, I’m looking at the clock like–

Noam: Here’s I’m gonna say a story that gets me to think about this even the state. Okay, the story goes like this. There was once a rabbi.

Mijal: in an Eastern European title. Just kidding.

Noam: But no, you’re not wrong. In an Eastern European shtetl, okay? And in this Eastern European shtetl, a student went up to him. And the student said, Rabbi, Rabbi, I’m not sure that God’s really split the sea and I’m not really sure that, you know, I believe that God is paying attention to every one of my activities. And you know what? I just don’t believe in God. I just don’t believe in God. The rabbi looked at his student was being empathic and compassionate and the student really felt heard. And the rabbi really did a great job and the student still didn’t believe in God. And the rabbi ended the conversation by saying, okay, we just finished, but minchah is in two minutes. So we gotta go. And you gotta come daven with me. You gotta come pray with me. And the student went and prayed with him.

Like what is that story? What is that story in Judaism? What does that mean? It’s such a Jewish story.

Mijal: Well, you know what? It actually gets to a very core question that Judaism is not only about belief. Like there’s a funny misconception that Judaism is like other religions. So it’s all about belief. And if you don’t believe in something, you can’t be part of something. And actually, if somebody asked me, can you be a Jew without believing in God? I’m like, yeah, there’s no question to me about it.

Mijal: Noam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Noam: What does that story, I feel like you like the story as an educator. I just, I think it’s such a Jewish story. It might be apocryphal, but I, you know, I’ve in my as a teacher, I’ve utilized it. And then I find it fascinating. The students will then daven, they will pray. And because I’ll tell you why. I don’t know what people believe in and what people don’t believe in. I don’t know when people say they believe in God. What do they believe in? They believe that there is a some master in the sky that is controlling things with like a scepter and like has a big beard and you know, is that what they don’t believe in? What is it that they don’t believe that there’s any powers in the world that they can’t see? What is it that people don’t believe? What is it that people struggle with?

So the reason it’s such a deeply Jewish story is our conception of God is not necessarily this being that we can see and understand. And even if we have a Maimonides, Maimonidean approach, Rambam really scoffs at the articulation of God because God needs to be something that can’t be described. And therefore, it doesn’t matter what you believe in, what you don’t believe in. Judaism cares about community, coming together, 10 people.

Mijal: I’m not sure I agree with, with that being attributed to Maimonides.

Noam: What do you mean?

Mijal: Well, sI want to go back to the previous story. So Maimonides does have something like a form of negative theology, which is really, I think, an important philosophical idea, which basically says there are certain things you can only describe via negation. So I cannot use any human language or attributes to really understand God, literally, not as metaphors. And I can only understand them via negation. So I can say like God is not human, God is not arrogant, God is not capricious, God is not…

Noam: Right. God does not have feelings.

Mijal: Exactly, good. But then the next thing you said, then you said, it doesn’t really matter what we think about God, it’s all about being in community, that I don’t think Maimonides would actually agree with at all. Maimonides is obsessed with the contemplating, with achieving yedia, like knowledge, intimacy with God. So actually, I remember having a hangout with some people from my community, maybe a couple of years ago. We started talking about God. And we are not, like, Non, the fact that you said that you speak about God on a weekly basis, there’s a lot of places in the Jewish community where people just don’t have God talk.It’s almost like taboo. Like that’s the one thing we don’t talk about. Either because it’s like what the more quote unquote religious people do. Or because we are in a place that is supposed to be more pluralistic. It’s supposed to be more like we come from different places. It’s almost like we can’t touch this. But I’ll tell you something. Like in that conversation I had with my students when we’re talking about God and do we believe in God. And at one point I said, I mean, I wasn’t as, you know, it sounds like that’s Shterlrabbi was like, you know, just brimming with empathy. And I was more intellectually curious.

And I said, okay, you don’t believe in God. Tell me about God. Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. And then they would describe to me the God they don’t believe in. And I would be like, great, I’m with you. We both reject that. We both don’t. I mean, I’m like, that’s a fifth grade version of God, in my opinion. Like when I was little, I don’t know, did you have any images? I would watch, I was a big Disney watching little girl and I would imagine.

Noam: What was your favorite?

Mijal: I don’t know. Okay, now it’s a complicated question because my daughter is watching now and I have strong feelings about all of them. They’re terrible. They are the worst.

Noam: Little Mermaid?

Mijal: Little Mermaid is the worst and she loves it. Sorry. You know, she’s really, I think she’s into it because she knows how much I hate it. But every day I’m like, Mazali, we never give away our voices. Whatever, we have like a little thing in which she knows how much I can’t stand Ariel. No, but I used to think about King Triton. I used to imagine him as like, like that was what came to mind when I talk about God, like this, this, this old dude with like a long beard and like a big booming voice.

Noam: Yes. Right. MSo what happens, Mijal, when like my wife, Raizie, told me that she always, until she was, I don’t want to say how old, but she used to view God as the Michelin man. Like she didn’t see the beard, she saw like the, the guy with like the bubbles and everything, that’s how she viewed God. And something that she has said to me, and this is, you got me thinking of this right now, because you said the God that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.

It’s a line like Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichov said that sort of thing and a great Hasidic master.

Mijal: You always find a shtetl rabbi– just kidding.

Noam: And it’s a great idea. And it’s the same thing that we said that you and I talked about last week, the same Zionism you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either. It’s the same sort of, these words are attached to certain philosophies and then people say, I don’t believe in that philosophy, so I don’t believe in it, right? And I’m trying to say, and I think what you’re trying to say is, well, no, it’s okay. That’s okay, like your concept, we don’t want you to mature out of religion. We want you to mature your understanding of religion, right? My question to you is this. What happens when you tell someone that actually God is not those things as far as good theology would have it? God isn’t this physical description that you have. God isn’t this emotional description that you have.

God is not, God is not, God is not. What happens when doing that to people makes people feel that God isn’t, meaning that God is not present, that God, if I take that Maimonides approach and I learn with my son, every Sunday morning, my son and I learn Rambam together

Mijal: Very cute.

Noam: And we start with the beginning of Mishna Torah, it is cute, and we learn Mishna Torah together.

Mijal: Very cute. How old is your son?

Noam: He’s 11. And we start, we started with the beginning of the Mishna Torah, which talks about what God is and isn’t. And the whole description, he’s like, God is not this. And if you think God is described as God is not that, he’s like, and so if I were to say to Eyal, my son right now, what is God? He would jokingly say, no, God is not whatever that thing is. And so, like, so how would you, so what do we do about that?

Mijal: Yeah, I understand. So I have two responses. One is…

Noam: Yeah. Because I don’t want to, here’s what I don’t want. I don’t want to take religion away from people. My, my, Raizie jokes sometimes that I’ve ruined her religious understanding because, because now it’s not the Michelin man. You know what I mean?

Mijal: No, I know. No, I had this over Passover, I was speaking with somebody about the idea of basheret, are people meant to be? And this person was convinced of basheret and convinced that because I’m a religious woman that I’m like totally agree with that 100%. Like that, for example, that every couple was meant to be and that everything that happens in life is like, and I was like, nope. And I can’t even explain to you, like, I feel like I was being…

Noam: Ha ha ha.

Mijal: The meanest, like he looked like, he was really upset. But, but OK, I think that we have a responsibility as parents, educators, thoughtful people. I think there’s actually a question about, when do we when do we?

Noam: Exactly.

Mijal: Like if we’re going to quote unquote break down a set of beliefs or like complicate them or think about them more critically, there’s a responsibility to then figure out, okay, what do we do next? Like I don’t actually believe just for the sake of like, you’re wrong. Like get rid of all of those ideas. Like I’m actually, I think I try to be careful around that. You know what, we can even do Zionism. Israel has flaws and warts and all of it.

Noam: Noam: It does? No it doesn’t, no it doesn’t. No, no it doesn’t!

Mijal: But you don’t just go to somebody and you say all of this is wrong without actually saying let’s learn it together and let’s understand the complicated part. So I think that’s number one. Number two, though, I want to say that’s I think a general note. I think a lot as a sociologist about the following question. I think a lot about what does faith or belief, or I like to use the word commitment. To me, it’s the closest translation to emunah, that you mentioned before. I like to think a lot about like, wait one second. Okay, I like to think.

Noam: Okay, I’m listening. Okay.

Noam: Okay. Yep.

Noam: That’s so interesting. Okay. But I like it. I’m just putting, I’m going to say in American business term. I’m going to put a pin in that.

Mijal: Go for it. Okay, so we can approach a question of faith and belief and commitment and ask intellectually, why do you believe something? And then we can also ask, what does this do in your life? That’s almost like a functionalist approach. So I think what I heard you say before is there are certain beliefs that I feel compelled by intellectually and there are certain beliefs or commitments or whatever that I actually don’t agree with, but I think make life so much better and easier to relate to God. So I’ll give you one sentence that I think you’ll understand, but we have to unpack, for many years. I feel like I struggled because I was stuck intellectually with the God of Maimonides while I craved the God of Heschel.

Noam: You just named for me exactly, exactly what you were asking me that question before about like what I’m struggling with. It’s that. That’s it. You named it. You put great, you put great vocabulary to exactly what my, what my personal experience is. There it is. Named it.

Mijal: So tell me if this resonates as your personal experience. It means that the God of Maimonides can be understood as a God that makes more sense from a rational perspective and that it’s consistent intellectually and that you can understand and this and that. But also it’s a God that is much, much harder. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s much, much harder to kind of feel like an everyday kind of connection and presence. And the God of Heschel, I’m using Heschel as one example, a great philosopher and a theologist who spoke about a God who desires human relationship, a God that feels a God of pathos, all of that. The God of Heschel and the God of the mystics and the God that you can talk to every second and that you can see in everything that you do, that functionally, I crave that even as my mind can’t do that.

Noam: So do you, are you basically saying then that the pinnacle of what you’re looking for, I like that I just jujitsu this, you were asking me personal questions, now I’m doing to you.

Mijal: I don’t mind.

Noam: The pinnacle, Maimonides is a step towards the pinnacle of the Heschel approach, which is God desiring something from you, and you wanna climb towards that, so what are you saying?

Mijal: No, I’m not saying that. Well, no, I basically said I spent a lot of years stuck between this. I felt stuck between my intellectual, what I rationally believe in, and then feeling like that kept pulling almost like stumbling blocks in my ability to, and sorry, I’ll just say this, I don’t know if you had this. When I was younger, I didn’t have the God of Maimonides. When I was younger, it was…

Noam: Correct, right, right.

Mijal: It was different. And I spent, I spent, I can’t even tell you how many years now I spent trying to go back to 19 year old me or 18 year old me and the way I used to pray. And I spent years and a big stumbling block was my intellectual exploration that I felt ended up kind of making it hard for me to pray the way I used to pray. AAnd that was so, so I’m not saying so, and I was very aware. I’m pretty self aware with this thing. So I was like very aware that I’m like,

Noam: Right.

Mijal: I want that so badly for so many reasons. And also it’s very hard to do that once you’ve, once a certain amount of, I’ll use the word naivete. It’s like, people use this word when it comes to religious faith. Like it’s almost like everything is natural, makes sense. You don’t question it. Like you’re just, you know, once you’ve looked behind the curtain. Once you’ve looked behind the curtain, it’s hard to come back. Anyway, and then I’ve had all other journey in which I discovered new ways of thinking about this. But that struggle speaks to me very deeply of, yeah, like kind of like the intellectual, the emotional one. And also asking myself, what kind of life do I want to live? I think that’s actually, you know, maybe we’ll conclude, you know–

Noam: We’re not done, let’s continue going, let’s continue going.

Mijal: Okay. Well, I was gonna just share one story that, that to me, so, okay, we’ve had different journeys. So like there’s different years of my life in which I was doing things that I wasn’t doing now. So for example, there was a time where I was like, you know, closer to Haredi Judaism. And I was even like staffing, like being a staff member of like kiruv, outreach programs. And I must’ve been like 19 or 20, I don’t even know. And I remember that I staffed an Aish Hatorah program and the whole thing is a blur but I remember hearing the following from one of the rabbis who I wish I could acknowledge but it just like it stayed with me, it stayed with me till today, it just stuck we were having a conversation about God and suddenly it turns to us and he says, what kind of life do you want to live? Do you want to live a life with God in it? Does it make you a better person to live with God? And I was blown away by that because put aside all intellectual questions and all of this and all of that. And by the way, I do, I think I share with you, I have a very strong sense of God existing. My questions tend to come more about like, how do we interact with God? But when I heard that, I was like, wow, what a question. 

A life with God and a life without God, if it’s only a matter of like choice, to me, it adds a certain sense of ultimate meaning that I just don’t want to live without. And I’m very comfortable owning that and saying that’s part of my commitment. That this is, I think, just the road to a life that would make me feel better about my life after 120 years.

Noam: I think it’s beautiful. TI want to, there’s so much more to talk about here. I want to leave with two ideas that you just got me. This whole conversation really got me thinking. But here’s, I’m going to do a continued challenge of Rambam, Maimonides, and that sort of approach to God, and then a defense of him very quickly, and then that’ll, we’ll leave it with this, and then we’ll continue. Samson Rephael Hirsch, a great rabbi in the 19th century, he said this in reaction to Maimonides. It has a lot to do with what this Aish rabbi said to you. He said, for so long people have philosophized all around these expressions to remove the danger of the slightest thought of any materiality or corporality of God, meaning the physical or emotional presence of God, that at the end of, that at the end one runs very nearly into the danger of losing all idea of the personality of God. Had that been the purpose of the Torah, those kinds of expressions could easily have been avoided. But he says, this last danger is greater than the first. Such consciousness of the personality of God is of much greater importance than speculating about it as to whether this or that can be asserted of God.

And what Hirsch is saying is that basically if we’re going to be living in a world in which the personality of God is not present because we’re concerned about turning God into some sort of emotional or physical being, then what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna strip people’s relationship to God. Because you’re not going to have that personality. You’re not going to have that relationship to God. And in many ways, it’s a critique of Maimonides.

And then I was just thinking about this as you were talking about my misarticulation, misconception of the negative theology of Maimonides. Listen to what else Maimonides says. II’m going to say it just in English, even though it’s in Hebrew. So I’m going to read it, but it might not read it perfectly because I’m looking at the Hebrew, but I’m going to say it in English. He says, how is it possible to have a path to love and fear God. He says, at the time that you’re contemplating His actions, meaning God’s, His creations, His wonderful creations, what you’re gonna have is immediately, he says, miyad, immediately, you’re gonna love, praise, glorify, desire to know God. He says in Hebrew, le’da, to know God, to have that. And it’s so interesting. The answer that Maimonides has to having this deep presence. Because you’re right, Maimonides wasn’t like, don’t feel God, don’t have, God is so present. But he says the way to do that is to reflect exactly like you were talking about in Guide to the Perplexed on the greatness of the creations, on what emerged, on the wisdom that has no beginning and has no end. And immediately what you’ll do is you’ll start to fear and love and praise and know God. And I found that to be like so powerful.

And it’s, and you and I, Mijal, we will go deeper into this together. We gotta go into Buzaglo. We gotta go into other great Jewish theologians and how they understand belief and faith in God. What these words even mean, I’m gonna, what I’m sticking with right now is emunah. I’m so interested in this. You just said this before, I love this. You said emunah means commitment? Is that what you said?

Mijal: Not that it means, but it’s the closest word that I can use loosely for it in English. But I also wrote a whole essay trying to describe him, I’ll send it to you. So it took me 5,000 words.

Noam: Okay, okay, so, okay, so I might then take that article and then that’s what we might unpack together next week. That’s what we might have to do, okay? Okay, amazing. Speak to you later.

Mijal: OK, right now great great doing God talk. OK.

Noam: Absolutely, bye.

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