This essay was written in 1995. It does not
necessarily reflect the author’s current viewpoints.
of Judaic Logic.
I have to describe briefly how this book developed, so as to explain the
various turns it has taken. I have been a student and writer of logic and
philosophy since my late teens, and interested in Judaism since my mid-twenties.
When, in the early years of my religious commitment, I tried studying Talmud (Baba
Metzia), I found myself all too often disappointed by the level of
discourse, and this tended to reduce my faith. Wishing to nevertheless enjoy a
spiritual life, it became my policy to practise the religion as I was taught it,
without delving too deeply into the Talmudic sources of its various details,
while drawing my inspiration from the Tanakh.
Back in 1990, as I was completing my doctoral dissertation, principally
about modal logic and inductive logic, for Pacific Western University, Los
Angeles, I decided to add a chapter to it on “Jewish Logic”. Living
for a couple of years free of material concerns, mostly in relative isolation in
a small cabin on Denman Island, B.C., my religious faith had intensified
considerably. I wanted to express my gratitude to the Almighty for giving me the
happiness of writing and put my pen at His service; I wanted my intellectual and
spiritual lives to be integrated; and it seemed to me interesting, in the
context of studies in the history of logic, to focus on this specific topic
which seemed ignored in the literature.
When I delivered my thesis to my study director at PWU, L.A., Dr S. Wade
(Intellectual History, Harvard), he was very upset with me for having written
and inserted this chapter. At the time, I refused to retract. But later I realized
he was right. The essay was merely a faithful praise of Jewish sages, devoid of
constructive detail or critical evaluation. However, it was useful in one
respect; as I was writing it, it was gradually being published in a Vancouver
Jewish paper called “World of Chabad”, and one reader, Daniel
Goldsmith, a lawyer, wrote to me suggesting that I pay special attention to a fortiori argument, as a form of reasoning which was particularly
Jewish and which had not so far received much formal treatment. I included brief
comments on the subject in my essay, resolving to look into it more closely when
I had the time.
After receiving my Ph.D., I resolved to go to a Yeshivah in Israel and
make my peace with the Talmud if not become a Talmudist. For the first few
months, I attended daily a small Talmudic academy called Bircat
HaTorah, headed by R. Shimon Green, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Our Gemara
studies focussed mainly on tractates Baba
Kamma and Berachot. I questioned
the teachers there often on logical issues underlying the matters under study,
and carefully observed and made note of their actual thinking processes. But
though I made every effort to be intellectually open, patient, and not overly
demanding, and to fit in psychologically, socially and of course in terms of
religious practise, I found myself again, frankly, disappointed. The rest of the
year I was in Israel, I passed in other religious establishments and in
libraries, searching for answers, gathering information.
Back in Geneva, Switzerland (one of my homes), in the Fall of 1991, I
almost immediately started writing, referring to my accumulated notes and
working on issues I had not previously had the peace of mind to deal with
(notably, the formalities of a fortiori
argument). At the same time, I attended a series of lectures on Jewish
philosophy, delivered at the Université de Genève by Prof. Benjamin Gross (of
Bar Ilan University), to broaden my scope. My intent was to write a brief book,
having discovered that people generally have little patience for reading
nowadays (my previous work was over 450 pages long). Within a couple of months,
I had written a first draft of some 60 pages. I distributed copies to a few
local Jewish academics and Rabbis; some did not bother to read it, some found it
interesting, and one had a negative reaction.
The latter was Prof. Simon Lauer, to whom my typescript had been sent by
Dr. Esther Starobinski of the Société suisse d’études juives; he rejected it
as an apologetic work. I was at first rather upset that he had not noticed and
appreciated the constructive elements in it (I do not know how much of it he
actually read), but after a while I had to admit that his criticism was
otherwise right, and resolved to be more critical. More precisely, I resolved to
be as honest as possible, neither
pandering to the Jewish religious establishment nor to academia, but admitting
difficulties openly wherever I found them and trying to resolve them as fairly
as possible. It was back to philosophy for me, with neither religious prejudice
nor secularist bias, but simply the record of a sincere search for truth.
Over the past three years, as I studied Torah and other literature, I
took note of relevant material and comments, and inserted my questions, new
insights or corrections into the book, gradually expanding its scope and detail.
I did not, however, wish to rewrite the book in accordance with my final
opinions, but tried as consistently as possible to
allow the various archeological layers of my thinking to remain visible.
Such transparency would testify to the work’s evolution, and demonstrate that it
was not intended as a pronouncement of dogma but as a lesson in independent
thought. Whence the title Reflections:
I would come back to my computer files again and again, in no particular order,
and update past writing with new input.
I must admit, this research has on the whole over time tended to increase
my skepticism; but I expected it to and it cannot be blamed for any decrease in
my personal religious observance. I did not invent anything – but simply tried
to know the facts. There can be no mental health, it seems to me, without strong
commitment to reality and acceptance of doubt. A spiritual life based on
imaginary certainties may be easier and less risky, more pleasant and
impressive, but can it be Gd’s preference? Surely, a spiritual commitment out of
pure faith, transcending empirical and rational forces, is more profound. For
these reasons, I feel no fear that by making this research report public I risk
drawing people away from religion. It is a test, like any other, which anyone
may fail – or pass.