Ask the Rabbis, a forum that appears in each issue, provides a rare opportunity to read the opinions of rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism. Its purpose is to illuminate the diversity within Jewish thinking and create a cross-denominational discussion that leads to deeper understanding.
Is There Such a Thing As Asking Too Many Questions?
According to our creation story, the serpentine trickster posed the first question ever asked: “So, God said you shouldn’t eat from any of the trees in the Garden, huh?” That prompted First Woman to respond: “We can eat from the fruits of the trees in the Garden. Only in regards to the tree in the middle of the Garden did God say not to eat from it…” Questions are important not only for stimulating discussion but for jump-starting the dynamics of creation. Until the serpent introduced the concept, nothing had stirred. Creation had been absent of flavor, zest, spice and meaning. The human mind had slowly begun to atrophy, lacking stimuli for kindling thought and response. Likewise, without the freedom and encouragement to question, which is so much a part of the Judaic mindset, Judaism itself would have gone catatonic a long time ago. Why, then, was the serpent penalized? Because, while questioning is vital to our life force, it can just as easily drain us of our life force if it conceals hidden agendas and unscrupulous attitudes. We see this in the Haggadah, where we read about the not-nice child questioning the Seder rites with a tone of mockery and personal challenge as opposed to a sincere quest for learning.
Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Walking Stick Foundation, Thousand Oaks, CA
Nu? Is it possible to ask too many questions? Isn’t that how we find things out? And shape our ideas and opinions? Maybe we come to a conclusion, but what if we find more information to modify it? Are facts fixed for all times? Aren’t scientists constantly making new discoveries? As Jews, do we really believe that the world was created 5770 years ago? Or, in the face of archaeological evidence to the contrary, that the Exodus took place as described? Or that Jewish culture hasn’t changed in each generation? In fact, didn’t the early rabbis teach us to turn the text over and over, always looking for new truths? And, inevitably, can’t we expect that future generations will develop a form of Jewish expression that we can’t possibly anticipate just as our ancestors couldn’t have envisioned our form of Judaism? Don’t we want our children to be critical and independent thinkers? Don’t we ask them to distinguish between myth and fact? Don’t we even challenge them to have the courage and chutzpah to question ancient teachings and not accept them automatically simply because they come from long ago? Nu? Isn’t there always room for one more question?
Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, New York, NY