Religion & Beliefs

Doubt: A Jewish Tool?

On Speaking of Faith last night… a really interesting interview with author Jennifer Michael Hecht, about her new book, Doubt: A History. Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the "shadow history" of … Read More

By / May 10, 2007

On Speaking of Faith last night… a really interesting interview with author Jennifer Michael Hecht, about her new book, Doubt: A History.

Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the "shadow history" of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world's great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.

Listening to the show, I found myself thinking about how I've always understood doubt to be very Jewish.  Which is to say that it has always been my understanding that Judaism does not understand doubt as incongruous with faith. Rather, we've seen doubt as part of the process of coming to faith.  Throughout history, we've been a nation of skeptical thinkers, question askers… which is not to say cynics.  That's totally different.

Although in today's world, we tend to polarize, and get grouped into camps of doubters and the faithful… that's not altogether Jewish, is it? 

In fact, the Torah is full of moments of deep doubt. One can almost trace a constellation of important moments in biblical history when we've been pushed to the extreme reaches of doubt.  Manna in the desert. Job.  Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.  On some level it seems like we couldn't be truly faithful if we didn't stand on the precipice of doubt now and then…

At any rate, you might want to check out the segment, or the book.  It sounds fascinating!