Rationality vs Theology


In short, the core of my question would be: Is there a rational basis for granting authority to scripture as the word of God? Or does it take a “non-rational” (in contrast to “irrational”) act of faith to bridge the gap between logical deductions and religious belief?


A little bit about myself and where this question is coming from:

I was born and raised in Israel as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew. At Young teenagehood I’ve rebelled against the religious lifestyle I was brought up with, and I’ve been living a secular life since. I’m currently in my early 30s and living in the US.

In recent years, I’ve been expanding my interest in comparative religion, psychology and philosophy. All that in the wake of a powerful mystical experiences I’ve had.

I personally find much inspiration and wisdom in the biblical scriptures. And from a strictly critical point of view, arguments for the existence of God, such as the ones made by Ibn Sina, Thomas Aquinas, the Ramba”m and many other epic thinkers, make sense and positively resonate even with a skeptic like myself. However, when it comes to the question of exclusive authority to scripture, the answer I often get would be something along the lines of “What do you mean?! it says so in the Bible!”

I doubt there is any need for me to point out the fallacy in that kind of argument…

The other answer I would often hear, is that the nature of revelation and prophecy themselves are sufficient as proof for the legitimacy of the scripture been the word of God. That actually might be a good argument, however it will fail to explain the exclusivity that is attributed to the Tora for example over other supposed revelations.

In other words, how can one deduct the exclusivity of the revelations to ‘legitimate’ prophets like Moses upon other “false prophets” from Jesus and Muhammad all the way to Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank? All that without pointing back at the content of the Tora itself as proof.

Mind you, if I were to examine my personal mystical experience from an early historical or even medieval context, there is a pretty good chance I would consider myself a profit. Of course from a contemporary point of view, I can say that it was no more than a naturally occurring altered state of consciousness, or a spontaneous psychedelic trip. (The nature of consciousness and experience, and the place divinity takes within the two is of course a subject for a whole other conversation)


“Faith” is a concept that takes central place in most if not all religions, and in the search for meaning, one might reach a point where there is no other choice but to take that ‘leap of faith’. If that’s the case, it might not be overwhelmingly compelling, but I’ll see that as acceptable. After all, many central things in our life cannot be explained by rationality alone. Love, beauty, art and music are just examples…


I appreciate your time and hope to hear back from you soon.



  1. First let’s start with a fact everybody agrees upon: There exists today a group of people, the Jews, who claim the following: “3,300 years ago, millions of our ancestors experienced what they felt was G-d talking to them. We, their descendants, have an unbroken chain passed on through the millennia that tells us two things:
    (1) That the event took place
    (2) The contents of the message.”
    The Jews are the only people to ever make such a claim.

    Let’s first look at point number one.
    How can you explain a group of people who claim to be descendants of millions of people experiencing the splitting of the sea, the manna and the Revelation at Sinai? How did the first generation start believing it? A charismatic leader? A slowly evolving story? Mass hypnosis?

    Could a leader rewrite the oral history of a people and get them to believe it happened to their own ancestors? Imagine Napoleon telling the French “In the year 750, G-d split the Rhine river for your ancestors, commanded them a set of all-encompassing laws, and they passed that experience down from generation to generation.” The people would say “What? Dad never told us that! Hey, Grandma, did your grandparents ever tell you about this?” Remember: We not only believe in the Exodus and Sinai, we also believe that we have an unbroken chain back to those events.

    Or the slowly evolving story: The people ate sap from bushes that grew in the desert, but used to say “G-d sent us food from heaven” because
    they wanted to express the idea that all nature comes from ‘Above.’ One day, Johnny comes home from kindergarten and says “Dad, the teacher told us that food fell from the sky.” The father, reading a newspaper, grunts “Uh huh,” and Johnny grows up with a misconception. Eventually, Johnny’s misconception becomes the predominant belief. Slightly absurd. And What about Sinai? Was it really a volcano that ‘grew’ to become a mass prophecy of 613 commandments that we all agree upon?

    Mass hypnosis? Martians? Now we come to a second problem. No matter what theory you concoct to imagine how such a belief got started, you
    must answer the following question: Why are we the only ones in history ever to make such a claim. Why, indeed, didn’t Napoleon create such a belief? Why didn’t Pharaoh or Hammurabi, Paul or Mohammed, Alexander or Julius, Lenin or Mao? They all could have ‘propheted’ greatly. No people, clan or country across the globe at any time in recorded history ever claimed that G-d convened their nation and spoke to them. Except us. Why?

    Is it that the Jews were simply the most ignorant, superstitious, stupid and gullible people ever to walk the face of the earth? But then, having accepted this belief, they became the most scholarly, unyielding, skeptical people in the world, earning the title ‘People of the Book,’ surviving the ideological onslaughts of Christianity and Islam, giving their lives to pass on this belief, becoming a ‘light to the nations’ and spreading morality and monotheism to all humanity?

    The Torah itself predicts that no one else in history will ever make a similar claim: “Inquire into the earliest days, the past, from the day
    G-d created people on the earth, and from one end of the universe to the other: Was there ever such a great thing as this, or was there ever even heard a claim like it? Did a nation ever hear the voice of G-d speaking from the midst of the fire as you heard, and live (to tell about it)? Or did G-d ever attempt to come and take a nation out from the midst of another nation with miracles, signs, wonders, and with open expressions of Divine might, and with great awe, like all that Hashem your G-d did for you in Egypt in front of your eyes? (Deuteronomy 4:32-34)

    Now, how do we know the events and laws were transmitted faithfully? Well, we see Jewish communities dispersed across the globe for millennia: Europe, North Africa, Asia, Yemen, the Middle East. And although they had no central authority and limited means of communication, they all have the exact same Torah and the exact same oral explanations of it. (Obviously, there are some minor differences, but only the type you would expect. What’s astounding is how few there are.) Even our Torah scrolls agree to the very last word.

    Obviously, therefore, we have a remarkably faithful method of transmission. And the reason is also obvious: We never treated the Torah like a party-game or a ‘telephone message.’ Rather: “He heard it from his teacher 40 times.” “One who studies a chapter 101 times is incomparable to one who studies it only 100 times” “His father left him hundreds of ships, hundreds of fields. but he never saw any of them – rather, he traveled from teacher to teacher and studied Torah.” “Rabbi Akiva studied 40 years, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai studied 40 years.”

    The Talmud is replete with examples of the Jewish People’s total dedication to Torah study, sometimes suffering even torture and death for it. It’s easy to see how such a nation kept the message intact.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team