By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz describes the Talmud as “perhaps the only sacred book in all of world culture that not only permits, but even encourages the student to question it.” As soon as they are able, we ask our youngest children to ask the Four Questions at our Passover Seders, teaching them the sanctity of questions and prompting them to ask their own.
The Biblical book written and read annually in response to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (and by extension, the many tragic losses of Jewish history) is known in English as “Lamentations,” but in Hebrew is called “Eichah” – meaning “How?” or, more emphatically, “How could this possibly be?!” That question is the very first word of Lamentations, and is repeated throughout the book. The Book of Jonah, the final scriptural selection read on Yom Kippur, our holiest day, ends with a question.
Practitioners of Jewish tradition are not mere vessels to be filled with doctrine, nor geese to be stuffed with information. We have a sacred obligation, a spiritual mandate to explore, to challenge, to question in our search for truth and meaning, and in determining God’s will for us and God’s plan for our collective future.
Judaism is, in every sense, a challenging faith.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)