Letters May 2009
Dov: I recently read a post asking whether science removed the need for God.
Rabbi: Science — a non-deviating and intelligent system — demands a source for 1) its existence; and 2) its design. Just as the presence of a chair demands the existence of a carpenter, science — a far more complex reality — all the more so demands the existence of a Designer.
Furthermore, and more startling must be the absence in any science of a "will". Yet, all sciences compliment each other. Vegetation compliments the specific needs and functions of the digestive system in animate beings. Atmospheric conditions cater precisely to the needs of Earth's environment. And all organs in a body which cannot survive or function alone, work together to sustain each other, and the body as a whole.
We witness the will of an Orchestrator not located 'within' the individual functions of any natural system. Natural systems do not overstep their sphere of function, so as to also create or control other systems, or to make them all harmonious. For example, the digestive system has limited functions; none of which relate to precipitation. The laws that repeatedly cause all flying birds to grow wings suited for flight, are unrelated to laws that govern the properties of air, making flight a reality. And the laws governing vegetation are unrelated to the laws governing digestion: yet, vegetation is perfectly in line with the needs of animate beings. These numerous, independent, natural systems are limited in their functions, never deviate, and possess no "intent". So if these systems have no intent or will to work together, what is it that guides such extreme and perfect harmony? This harmony points to something external to the natural world...an Orchestrator: a Creator Who willed all sciences into existence, Who sustains all sciences, and Who designed all sciences to be harmonious.
Science makes the conviction in God mandatory.
Reader: I have been in the process of converting to halachik Judaism for awhile now. My Rabbi believes in reincarnation and although he believes in Kabbalah to an extent, he tends to align himself more with the rationalist (misnagdim) Lithuainian school of thought.
I have always had a little bit of a problem with Kabbalah. I've never had a problem with TaNaK, Talmud, Midrashim or any of the codes, but Kabbalah always stood out to me. In my assessment, it seems like a non-Jewish philosophy that has crept in to the Jewish community over the centuries. A any rate, this realization has brought several questions which I would like to ask you.
1) Does my Rabbi's belief in reincarnation or Kabbalah invalidate my conversion, or his ruling and guidance as a Rabbi?
2) To what extent are we to shun things Kabbalistic? Let me elaborate a little. Lecha Dodi is a prayer observant Jews have said every shabbat for centuries. It was composed by a kabbalist in Eretz Yisrael. The Shulchan Aruch, which many, if not most, Jews find authoratative was authored by a Kabbalist. Are we to shun this prayers and these writings? What is interesting is that Lecha Dodi and the Shulcahn Aruch, while composed by Kabbalists, have no visible kabbalistic content in them, so I'm not sure how to regard them.
3) Does merely being a Kabbalist or studying Kabbalah from time to time forfeit your share in the world to come? Many Orthodox Jews study Kabbalah to an extent, but very few are what I would consider hardcore kabbalists. Indeed not everything in Kabbalah is false or nonsense, but some of it is dangerous.
I suppose it is important to remember that not every Chassid believes in merits on the dead, praying to the dead, or things of this nature. Not all of them believe the Rebbe was/is the messiah, either. The important thing is not to attack/reject people, but rather, to reject the mistaken notions they may have.
Rabbi: I am not sure that belief in reincarnation per sé invalidates a Jew, as does the belief in idolatry or the rejection of any of the other 13 Principles of Maimonides. My uncertainty stems from the fact that reincarnation mitigates the significance of one of the 13 Principles, namely, Reward and Punishment. As my friend said, "Reincarnation reduces the Torah's threats of punishment to a meaningless game: you sin, receive death by Bet Din as a punishment, but you come back to life again. Where's the threat/punishment of death for sin, of you live once again?"
It is not the involvement in Kabbalah that causes one to forfeit his afterlife, since many books present themselves as "Kabbalah", and the corruptions in each work vary from book to book. Therefore, "Kabbalah" has no objective definition so as a whole, one might say it is correct or incorrect.
Determine the Kabbalistic beliefs of your Rabbi and any of our liturgy before reciting them. If an idea is true, then we don't discount it due to its being found in Kabbalah. Approach such questions on a case-by-case basis. If the Kabbalistic ideas of your Rabbi violate any of the 13 Principles, do not convert through him. These 13 Principles form the accurate view of God all must possess. If someone is in violation of these principles, he is in essence converting you to a Judaism where his god is false. In truth, it is not the Rabbi that is indispensable for conversion, but rather, your ideas and a proper Bet Din.
The Talmud teaches that we are not to simply follow a reputation, even one as great as Moshe’s successor Joshua: “Even if Joshua the son of Nun said it, I would not accept it.” (Talmud Chullin 124a) And Aaron opposed Moses on an issue and Aaron was correct to do so. Moses also acquiesced. (Lev. 10:19,20) It matters none who wrote Kabbalah. We judge the idea, not the author. A close friend and Rabbi is currently working on a new book. In it, he records his conversation with another Rabbi who had the opportunity to view works of the Rishonim – the Sages – stored in the Vatican. This second Rabbi told my friend that he saw in the Rishonim’s writings the rejection of Kabbala (Zohar) as a forgery.