So I’ve found my new, living, Orthodox Jewish, intellectual hero: Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb. He has his Ph.D. in mathematical logic, was Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, and is a senior faculty member at Ohr Somayachin Jerusalem.
What turned me on to him? Simply because he wrote a paper entitled Coming Home and in it he said: “Teshuva is the greatest creative challenge a person will ever face: the challenge of recreating oneself. A person’s whole past – talents, training, experience, successes and failures – provides the materials from which his new identity will be forged. He does not turn his back on his past, but organizes it to fulfill its potential in a new way. It is a denial of Providence to regard any of his “unplanned” prior life as a loss. Everything which happened to him was planned so that he could fulfill his unique human potential and make his unique contribution (see Luzzatto’s Derech Hashem, Part II, Chapter 3). Later, he will see how his seemingly pointless past gave him the tools for his religious future.” These words of course are a great inspiration to me as I am definitely in the process of recreating myself.
In addition to this quote, I’d also like to interact with a few more things that he said in that same paper. Rabbi Gottlieb reveals what brought him to become a Baal Teshuvah: “What led me home? I can, with effort, discern three main themes in my own Jewish development: the desire not to miss, the rejection of arbitrary limits to investigation, and the desire for an integrated world-view.” I can relate to these motivations as well. As a child, I was the first one in the house up in the morning ready to get the day started whether it be exploring, going on a trip, or creating a new game with my friends. If there was a big event coming up like a vacation (never mind that it could be weeks away or the next morning) I felt a need to stay up as late as possible to prepare. How does a child prepare? He dreams (while he’s awake of course) of all the things that could happen: what he wants to do, what he doesn’t want to miss out on, will his favorite stores be closed, could the car break down and cancel the trip? So much to consider and think about, how could anyone sleep? I find that I have similar responses to religion. There is so much to learn, so much to read, so much information to sift through. I don’t want to miss anything! I can spend hours at night studying, reading, interacting, debating. I draw energy and meaning from these activities.
Which leads naturally to the rejection of arbitrary limits that Rabbi Gottlieb wrote about. With Christianity and so many other world religions, the requirement for faith is a cliché used to cover up real problems. How many times was I told to “just have faith” when I asked (smart people) about the problems in the New Testament, about unfilled prophesies of Jesus (or Yeshua as some still insist is an important distinction) that never came true, or in areas where Christianity just couldn’t be reconciled with true Judaism! How I prefer the intellectual honesty of the Sages and Yeshiva rabbis who will discuss the hard topics and expose every possible flaw all while being able to explain it. No, the explanations don’t always agree, but I don’t ever feel brushed away with “just have faith.”
Being armed with a can’t-quit stamina and a no holds barred attitude toward explanation and testing, I can truly learn and discover the integrated world-view that only Torah Judaism offers. It is in this environment that I am recreating myself, my flaws, my strengths, my past, and my potential. In spite of the vast criticism I have been receiving in the past two weeks, I press on boldly unashamed of who I am or what I have said in my honest, blunt and real attempt to reach out to the G-d of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. This reaching out could not have been made possible had I held on to Jesus and Christianity/Messianic Judaism because they are false. Just as you can’t enter a kosher mikvah with a bug in your hand and come out clean, you can’t find the G-d of Israel while you’re still holding on to defiling ideas that are anathema to Torah.