- Religious Emotion
- Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: In a number of articles on your website, you make
reference to the fact that religious life should be entirely an
exercise in rational thought and proofs. Your proof for this position
is that since the difference between man and animal is abstract,
conceptual thought, then clearly it is exactly that difference that
man is to use in service of God. My only problem with this is that you
make it sound like that is the *only* difference between man and
animal, when that is clearly not the case. For example, man is also
capable of ecstatic religious experiences, as opposed to animals.
Based on your reasoning, why should man be an abstract, academic
philosopher and not a carlbach chassid when both personalities are
using faculties that animals don't seem to possess, at least to the
same degree. Remember, animals do have some intelligence too, and in
some cases are in fact capable of rudimentary abstract thought.
- Mesora: Your claims have no
support in reality. No animal will ever "ponder God". Its so
called intelligence is merely an ability to mimic. In some species,
this is their unique method of survival. Chameleons change hue to
obscure visibility from the predators, parrots recreate predators'
sounds thereby camouflaging themselves, or attracting mates, and
others simply hide. Animals have no soul, they have no intelligence.
- 'Religious experiences' not governed by halacha, tend to move
towards the Carlbachian free for all. The emotionally feverous and
imagined 'closeness to God'. The same is seen by those gathering to
sing Hebrew music composed of Biblical verses. Such a practice is
prohibited by the Talmud, by Rav Moshe Feinstein, but yet, such
prohibition does not deter those emotionally riveted individuals from
violation. These approaches are fallacy, and dangerous. They open the
floodgates of emotion under the fabricated auspices of
"religiosity", thereby condoning all that a person wishes to
express and feel. He thinks himself religious, but is sorely
misguided. He desires our Supreme, intelligent God, but in actuality,
lives in a world of sense stimulation, full of psychedelic, unfounded
visions. He indulges in what he thinks to be Kabbalah, assuming he
understands metaphors as literal, and spirals down into a life only
Judaic by name.
The Torah outlined our every action - even the prohibition on the
unlearned dancing at the Simchas Baais haShoavah during the Succah
holiday. Why is this? I believe for this very reason. The Torah does
not allow celebratory acts by any other than those who truly
understand the concepts being celebrated. Simple dancing bereft of
true Torah insights is prohibited. Therefore only the wise men were
allowed to dance. Otherwise, it is religious emotion without religion.
To the shock of the unlearned, Judaism bans such empty activity. Only
activity guided by intelligence is tolerated in Judaism. So, let the
ignorant stop dancing, and open a gemara.
- Thought is the only vehicle for approaching the Prime Intelligence -
God. God is not involved in religious emotion, that such an emotion
would be an approach to Him.
- Study the Talmud and the great philosophers as a starting point for
understanding the Torah's criteria for approaching God.
- Reader: Man is unique only in the sophistication of his
thought. Similarly, man is unique in the sophistication of his
emotional faculties - you never see a cat having a religious
experience like, say, a carlbach chassid would have. Based on all of
this, I would say that since you cannot approach God completely
through any one avenue of expression (intellect included), we have to
utilize all the faculties available to us, all of which are more
sophisticated than those of animals. Based on the above, I fail to see
the premium you place on rational proof at the expense of the
religious experience, when neither a) can take you all the way to God
and b) is completely unique to homo sapiens.
- Mesora: You try to
"prove" that rationale is not the only method of approaching
God. Resorting to a similitude of reasoning contradicts your very
statements, where you preach emotional experience. The Torah has
formulas, and you are introducing that which is alien to Torah.
- Maimonides teaches the purpose of sending away the mother bird is to
avoid her anguish. Seeing her offspring taken away is as difficult for
animals, as it is for man. Your statement that man's emotions also
differentiate him from the animal kingdom are also false.
- Emotions have a place, God gave them to us. See my article: The
Purpose of the Emotions