This essay was written in 1995. It does not necessarily reflect the author’s current viewpoints.
Story 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.