Tomorrow, January 13th, is National Skeptics Day, a day that encourages people to ask questions. Those who are curious might be inclined to ask whether Judaism has any room for skepticism, since faith, according to many modern-day perceptions, connotes believing without thinking, which is more correctly termed “blind faith.” And, while Judaism is a religion of faith – emunah, as the term is known in Hebrew – Jewish tradition centers on the act of questioning.

Throughout the Torah, the ancient Jewish people are referred to as a “stiff-necked people,” inferring that they did not easily accept their new role as the nation chosen to follow the laws of the Torah. Perhaps this was their genetic heritage from Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, which literally translates as: “He who has struggled/wrestled with God.”

Perhaps the best-known text demonstrating the importance of questioning, is the “Four Sons” segment of the Passover Haggadah which depicts the different ways in which a child might question a parent, or, in fact, any person who might question Judaism in general. The “Wise” child asks for a definition of terms and is given an answer that could almost be called academic. The “Rebellious” child asks a question for which he/she doesn’t really want an answer and receives a harsh response, meant, perhaps, to inspire deeper reflection. The “Simple” child asks for an explanation and is given a narrative response. The fourth child does not know how to ask, and the sages specifically state: “you must broach the subject.”

That questioning is a vital component in Jewish life does not mean that the element of “faith” is not involved. By questioning and investigating, a person is meant to come to a place of knowledge-based faith.

Jewish Treats encourages all of our readers to spare no effort to find answers to their own questions by seeking knowledge.

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