A Discussion on ExOrthodoxJews YAHOO Group
July, 2008

The CHABAD essay, THE AGNOSTIC'S REWARD, generated a heated email discussion between me and some Internet friends after I forwarded the essay to them.
Highlights below.

From: "Jerald Gould"
Subject: The Agnostic's Reward
Friday, August 29, 2008 4:01 PM

Well Shlomoh, it follows that anyone, including an agnostic who has recited The SHEMA according to this Rabbi, having thus already communicated with Hashem, cannot truly be an agnostic? But if one does recite the words of The SHEMA without truly believing them ,how then does this person, according to the Rabbi, still remained blessed? Many people say things they do not truly believe in order to either keep up with the status quo or perhaps, by the pressures of society, merely for acceptance. I believe that HASHEM must be the final judge, not the rabbi, of who is sincere and who is not sincere, even though they may have recited The SHEMA only once or thousands of times . What say you?

From: "Shlomoh Sherman" <>
To: "Jerald Gould"
Subject: The Agnostic's Reward
Friday, August 29, 2008 8:07 PM

OK Jerald, from what you write above, it is clear that you have no real understanding of how Jews think religiously. So let me repeat here for your benefit what I have said elsewhere.

Let's start off with a very famous story from the TALMUD. It is the story of the MACHLOKET [argument] between
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua.

These two men were debating about what happens when an oven becomes ritually impure [TAMEI].

Rabbi Eliezer said that once an oven becomes TAMEI, the owner must throw it out because it cannot lose its TUMAH. Rabbi Joshua disagreed. He said that it's true that the oven cannot lose its TUMAH - SO LONG AS IT REMAINS AN OVEN. But if the owner dismantles it so that it is no longer an oven, but merely pieces of metal lying on the ground, there is no longer TUMAH associated with the component pieces. Then the ownwer can put the pieces together as though he were building a new oven.

Rabbi Eliezer said, Are you playing with the TORAH?
Rabbi Joshua said, No, I am asserting my right as a member of the Sanhedrin to give my rabbinic interpretation
of the TORAH.

Rabbi Eliezer said, Who will back me up in MY interpretation that the oven has to be thrown out.
The Sanhedrin answered, We vote with Rabbi Joshua. He may break down the oven and rebuild it.

Rabbi Eliezer said, If my opinion is the correct one, let the stream outside this building flow backwards, and the stream flowed backwards.
The Sanhedrin said, We do not rely on streams to decide an HALACHIC opinion. Rabbi Joshua's opinion stands.

Rabbi Eliezer said, If my opinion is the correct one, let the walls of this chamber bend inward, and the walls bent inward.
The Sanhedrin said, We do not rely on walls to decide an HALACHIC opinion. Rabbi Joshua's opinion stands.

Rabbi Eliezer said, If my opinion is the correct one, let Heaven back me up.
So a voice from Heaven called out [the voice of God] and said, Why do you dispute the words of Rabbi Eliezer? Isn't his opinion usually the accepted one?
So Rabbi Joshua stood up and called out to the Heavenly voice, The TORAH is not in heaven.
So the Heavenly voice was quieted and Rabbi Joshua's opinion prevailed to this day.

Later one of the Sanhedrin was walking on the road and he met Elijah the prophet. He asked Elijah, What did HASHEM say when Rabbi Joshua told Him that the TORAH is not in heaven. Elijah said, HASHEM smiled and said, My children have bested ME!

Later on, Rabbi Joshua was asked how he arrived at his decision.
Simple, he answered. Rabbi Eliezer is a very wealthy man. If his oven becomes defiled, it's nothing for him to go and buy a new oven.
But why should the TORAH penalize the poor who can hardly afford the oven they have?

What is the TALMUDIC story saying?
The TORAH is not in Heaven. Once it was in Heaven but then God handed it down to earth as a gift for the Jews to have it. Once on earth, it no longer belonged to God. It was the Jewish People's possession and only THEY could interpret it.

Once a gentile wanted to become a Jew. He prayed to HASHEM and said, HASHEM, I wish to become a Jew. Please make me a Jew.
A voice came out of heaven and said, My son, I can do many things but one thing I cannot do is make you a Jew.
What must I do to become a Jew, asked the gentile.
You must go to the Jews and ask them to make you a Jew. They are the only ones who can do that.
The gentile said, But it says in your TORAH that Isaac chose to be a Jew and he was one, while Ishmael wished to remain a gentile and so he remained.
It says that Jacob chose to be a Jew and he was one, while Esau wished to remain a gentile and so he remained.
Yes, said HASHEM. Before the TORAH was given at Sinai, people had a choice to be Jewish or not, by their own volition. But after the giving of the TORAH and after Israel accepted the TORAH, people no longer had that choice. Personal choice to become a Jew was taken away from gentiles and given to the Jewish People. Only they can make you a Jew. Go to them and do what they say and you will be a Jew.
Said the gentile, Why must I go to the Jews? Said HASHEM, Because only THEY can teach you the TORAH. I cannot. It is no longer in Heaven.

One day the Sanhedrin sat to decide a matter.
They asked, If a Jew does a MITSVAH, must he have KAVANNAH [inward positive feeling or intent] in order for the MITSVAH to be valid?<BR>
After much deliberation, they decided that MITSVOT do NOT require KAVANNAH to be valid. The act itself validates itself. The very fact that he <BR>
chose to do a MITSVAH and did it, over-rides any REASON he may have for doing it. The TORAH never commanded a Jew to have "belief" or "sincerity" when doing a good deed. His motives are beside the point. People cannot read his intent and God is not interested in reading it. That is the Jewish view.</P>

<P>I think that you have been influenced to much by Christian views that deeds need "purity of heart" or "good intentions" or some such foolishness in order to be valid. Christians need belief for their deeds. The Jewish religion teaches that Jews do not need belief. When I go to CHABAD, I am sure they know that my belief is weak - yet they have me put on TEFILLIN. They include me in a MINYAN without asking me about my personal beliefs or lack of them.

Not only the rabbi mentioned in THE AGNOSTIC'S REWARD, but ANY rabbi, will tell you that an individual receives a blessing for reciting the SHEMA or any other MITSVAH merely because he is a Jew and he did it. Nothing more is required. If he happens to have KAVANNAH, that is wonderful; it's a plus. Maybe he receives am additional blessing for his KAVANNAH - but the world, and certainly the Jewish world, does not run on KAVANNAH. It runs on what you are doing or not doing.

This is the reason that I tell Jews not to look for MOTIVES from those Christians who support Israel. Their motives are none of your business.
If you are in trouble, you don't ask a person who is helping you why he is doing it. He is doing it BECAUSE he CHOOSES to do it. That's all.

The man may be agnostic but he is a Jew first and an agnostic second. What say you?

The Agnostic's Reward

Saturday, August 30, 2008 1:01 AM
From: "Jerald Gould"
To: "SuzanneU", <

Hi Suzanne:  
I was just about to reply to Shlomoh when you sent me this message.
I really don't know where the conversation is going.
These two rabbis who Shlomoh quoted about the cleanliness of a stove and its parts being disassembled and then reassembled seems to hang on questionable rituals and not anywhere near the previous topic of the agnostic who bragged to have everything in life in spite of his non-belief.
Whereas the rabbi answered, saying because the agnostic had said The Shema at least once before, that was enough to qualify him for even more than he already has!
Shlomoh said being agnostic does not prevent him from going to shul and shmoozing with other Jews because they do not question his belief.
But if they knew it, what then I pray would be their true response?
Isn't a Synagogue supposed to be a Holy place of prayer and devotion?
So why would one who is not a believer wish to participate at all?
There is a big difference between a Jew who believes and a Jew who does not, similar to a Christain who believes and a Christian who does not,
and anyone entering those holy portals just for the sake of mingling has reason, I would think, to question his true intentions.
What say you ?

The Agnostic's Reward
Sunday, August 31, 2008 1:35 PM
From: "Shlomoh Sherman" <>
To: "Jerald Gould"
Cc: "Suzanne Utts"

Jerald and Suzanne
It amazes and frustrates me that after this thread has gone on so long that neither of you understands me perfectly altho  I think that Suzanne is catching on, as her last message to me showed. She spoke about her church not shunning anyone.

But Jerald, you obviously don't think like a Jew. I think that having been a Christian for so long has blinded you to simple axioms that religious Jews take for granted. You are STILL questing my right to participate, along with other Jews, in SHUL. Have you even been reading what I write?

I sent you the CHABAD article about the Agnostic's Reward to back up what I had been saying about myself. Not only did you then question this Chassidic rabbi's statement that the Agnostic was blessed because he recited the SHEMA. You were not even able to understand my response to your misguided opinion that God really cares about what you think or feel when you are engaged in a MITSVAH. Frabkly Jerald, you sound like a GOY. Even Suzanne got what I was saying.

Well let me try one more time before I give up.

The first story about the oven was intended to show you that what Jews say about the TORAH is more important than what HASHEM thinks about it. I know that this probably seems alien to you but you didn't even seem to know what I was trying to tell you.

The second story about the gentile who asks God to make him a Jew was intended to show you that logically because Jews are the only ones who can teach the TORAH, that they have the right to decide how to run Judaism, including the axiom that MITSVOT don't require KAVANNAH. God does not teach the TORAH anymore. He taught it once and only once - to the Jews.

Even the third story about the Sanhedrin officially stating that belief is not important in the PRACTICE OF JUDAISM seems to have gone over your head.

At this time, if you still think that I am not supposed to be involved with other Jews in SHUL, you'd better speak with Suzanne so that she can explain it to you better than I.  

The Agnostic's Reward
Sunday, August 31, 2008 2:09 PM
From: "Shlomoh Sherman" <>
To: "Jerald Gould"
Cc: "Suzanne Utts"

--- On Sat, 8/30/08, Jerald Gould  wrote:
I was just about to reply to Shlomoh when you sent me this message .I really don't know where the conversation is going. These two rabbis who Shlomoh quoted about the cleanliness of a stove and its parts being disassembled and then reassembled seems to hang on questionable rituals  

Shlomoh wrote:
Excuse me but can you tell me what you mean by questionable rituals ?

From: "Jerald Gould"
To: "SuzanneU"
Re: : The Agnostic's Reward
Saturday, August 30, 2008 2:01 AM

On 8/30/08, SuzanneU wrote:

I know some Modern Orthodox and a few Chassidic Jews who would agree that he is still a Jew by ethnicity; but when he denies that G-d even exists, he has left Judaism and they would try to get him to come back to G-d.

I tried to inject some humor in that story about the stoves, but bottom line is that a stove can be clean on the outside and dirty on the inside and only a miracle of G-d can get the dirt out of all the nooks and crannies of a stove (soul).   Same way with tombs that are whitewashed and clean looking on the outside but are filled with death inside.  Humans can be like that.  King Nebby was like that.  He was dressed to the gills in splendor but was still worshipping Ba'al on the inside.

Yes. Synagogues and churches are supposed to be houses of prayer.  

It must be that everybody is welcome because sometimes G-d touches a person even if he goes into the place in unbelief. My friend Barbara's husband, Dave, called her one day from work and told her that he was going to go to the Sunday night service at the Baptist church they were attending.  She was home with the kids.  Dave was pretty wild back then and away from G-d.  Anyway, he walked into the church as the congregation was singing "There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.  And I know that it's the Spirit of the L-rd. There's a sweet expression on each face. And I know we're in the Presence of the L-rd. Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heavenly Dove, stay right here with us ... filling us with Your love.  And with Your blessing, as we lift our hearts in praise ... withouth a doubt we'll know that we have been revived, when we shall leave this place."   At that moment, G-d broke through all Dave's defenses and he returned to the L-rd.  That was 30 years ago and he is still going strong serving the L-rd.  He, Barbara, and their five children went on faith to Asbury Seminary where he trained for the ministry. G-d provided for every need down to bicycles for the little children while he was in Seminary.  So ... maybe it is a good thing to go to services even in unbelief!
SuzanneU :-D

Just a quick note before I hit the sack. First of all thanks for your insightful response. Perhaps as you said, a good place for the unbeliever is the least place he/she would be expected to be. Right smack in the Lord's Den! Like your friend Dave for example it worked wonders, so I stand corrected  to the possiblity that miracles can be wrought in the most unexpected ways. So let the doors be open to all non-believers and who knows what Our Lord may wrought?
What say you?

From: ""
To:, Jerald
Cc: SuzanneU,
Re: [exorthodoxjews] Re: : The Agnostic's Reward
Sunday, August 31, 2008 11:18 PM

In a message dated 8/31/2008 1:36:39 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, Jerald writes:
Shlomoh said being agnostic does not prevent him from going to shul and shmoozing with other Jews because they do not question his belief.

Nobody questions anyones belief. There are many Modern Orthodox Congregations where people believe in God and modern life.
I don't ask them what they believe and they don't ask me what I believe. When I am in shul I am a Jew just as they are. And if I am an agnostic at least I am a Jewish agnostic. Sholmoh and I, and all other Jews, are Jews, and we stand with the Jewish people, whatever they may believe.

From: "Jerald Gould"
To: "Shlomoh Sherman" <>
Re: : The Agnostic's RewardSunday,
August 31, 2008 11:21 PM

Oops--I missed your last reply, Shlomoh, that is, until now, accusing me of thinking like a goy!
Well that in itself is a racial slur which shows what you not only think of Suzanne who happens to be a gentile Gentile,
and, I guess, putting me in the same category just because my reply or comment to you was not to your complete satisfaction.
I never said that you were not entitled to mix with other Jews and express your Jewishness the way you liked.
I mainly remarked that if I felt the same way you did or do, I would not wish to take part in any religious ceremony.
within a synagogue feeling as you do without my conscience being assaulted.
I do appreciate the accumulated knowledge that you are pouring forth and I shan't attempt to debate with you as I
acknowledge that mine is admittedly far less than yours.
So call me what you may! --- Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Re: : The Agnostic's Reward
Monday, September 1, 2008 5:49 PM
From: "Shlomoh Sherman" <>
To: "Jerald Gould"

Jerald, I will clarify what I said. First of all, I was not ACCUSING you of anything. I said that you think like a GOY because of how you approach the whole issue of religion, and no matter how many times I try to tell you how Jews view religious participation, you ignore what I am trying to teach you. The fact that you can't participate in a religious service with other Jews without your conscience being assaulted shows me that you just don't think of those things in Jewish terms. Well maybe being with Jews is more important to me than worshipping any deity. Ok, I confess, my KAVANNAH is not up to par. What can I do? I can't believe what my mind won't let me believe - so what? I should stay away from other Jews whose minds let them believe? That is not even logical.
How come Suzanne doesn't think my conscience should assault me and you do? I have just given up trying to either teach or persuade you that I am within my Jewish rights to go to SHUL. Now about me saying that you think like a GOY. Who told you that that is a racial slur? What's racist about it?
First of all, GOY is a perfectly legitimate YIDDISH word which means "gentile". In itself there is nothing negative about it. Oh yeah, a person may use it in a negative way just as I have heard "Jew" used in a negative way. But it means "gentile" and nothing else. And the fact of the matter is that knowledgeable Jews and gentiles don't think alike when it comes to religion.
We jews are big on doing things. Gentiles are big on KAVANNAH because after all
according to their scriptures, they don't have to do anythng gain salvation except make a declaration of belief in a saving deity. I suppose that making a declaration of belief implies some kind of feeling in the heart or conscience. Jews don't make that kind of declaration. Jewish do things with other Jews, and sometimes, guess what? They are religious Jews.
Thinking like a nonJew is not a slur. It's a statement of religious fact.

The original essay that spawned this exchange can be found by clicking here

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