My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for January 2017: Am I a fundamentalist rube? Can we reconcile science and religion?

Am I a fundamentalist rube? Can we reconcile science and religion?
My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for January 2017

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I recently realized that a religious publication that I thought was factual has at times presented fictional material as fact. I would rather not reveal the source, because that will expose me in two ways. First, it will let people know how gullible I have been. And second, it may expose me to social criticism for doubting authoritative religious writings.

Am I a naïve rube for not picking up earlier that people make stuff up, call it fact, or even sacred fact, and will not tell us that it is fiction?

Awoken in Weehawken

Dear Awoken,

It’s hard to answer an elliptical question that leaves out details. I don’t know exactly what you previously thought was factual and what you believe you now know is fictional.

We all tend to accept what we read at face value much of the time. It would be exhausting for us to question and doubt every written “factual” item that we encounter. So you took published material as fact, when perhaps some of it was fabricated in order to make a point or teach a lesson.

In religious writings the use of parables or stories is common, and helps to put a face on human strivings, conflicts, doubts, and other challenges. The midrash and the aggadah, for instance, are literary genres that use narratives, allegories and legends to teach moral lessons based on biblical and rabbinic personalities and events.


In a book honoring Jacob Neusner, read my essay, Varieties of Religious Visualizations

A Legacy of Learning: Essays in Honor of Jacob Neusner (Brill Reference Library of Judaism.) was published in 2014. My essay is in the book.

My contribution is Varieties of Religious Visualizations by Tzvee Zahavy:

In this paper, I describe several distinct visualizations that I recognize in Jewish prayers. By the term prayers, I mean the texts recited by Jews in religious ritual contexts. By the term visualizations, I mean the formation of mental visual images of a place and time, of a narrative activity or scene, or of an inner disposition. The goals of the visualizations can include: (1) professed communication with God, articulation of common religious values for (2) personal satisfaction or for (3) the sake of social solidarity, or (4) attainment of altered inner emotional states or moods.

You may download the paper at Academia or at Halakhah.com.

Or you can buy the book. It's pricy - I just sold my copy for a handsome ransom.