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Seeing is Believing

Gavriel Horan

When Rabbi Chaim Jachter, a Gemara rebbi in New Jersey, confronted the doubts of his own star pupil, he knew he had to provide answers — with a comprehensive book on emunah

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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“For many, observance is a mile wide, but an inch deep.” Rabbi Chaim Jachter decided it was time to put down some solid answers (Photos: Amir Levy)

D avid was bright, studious, and highly scrupulous in mitzvah observance, one of the best kids in his 11th grade Gemara class in the Torah Academy of Bergen County. And so, when he asked to speak to his rebbi — Rav Chaim Jachter — in private after class, the veteran high school rebbi was completely unsuspecting of what was about to occur. David handed Rabbi Jachter a stack of papers and with the utmost seriousness, told his rebbi that the packet contained 25 questions about the Torah that had been bothering him.

“I don’t know how I can commit if I don’t have answers to these questions,” he said. Rabbi Jachter was caught off guard. Although he knew that it was not uncommon and natural for high school students to have doubts, he couldn’t believe one of his star pupils was staying up at night with doubts in emunah. But what surprised him even more was that when he read the questions, he realized that he himself didn’t have compelling answers on his fingertips to many of them.

As a dayan, get administrator, congregational rabbi, high school rebbi, teacher, and lecturer in over 200 venues over several decades, Rabbi Jachter’s varied experiences placed him in contact with Jews from across the ideological spectrum. But David’s questions eventually brought Rabbi Jachter to the conclusion that something major was missing from the educational curriculum. He noticed that too many people were what he calls “socially Orthodox” — frum by default because that’s just what the community does.

"Strengthening emunah is a huge way to tip the scales. It’s a game changer”

“Most lack a sophisticated understanding of why Yiddishkeit makes sense,” he says. “We keep mitzvos because we are part of the team. But for many, observance is a mile wide, but an inch deep. And from my experience, this is an issue across the board in all frum communities — from chareidi to Modern Orthodox, chassidish to Sephardi. We tend to think that people will get emunah by osmosis, but we need to truly give them clarity. Emunah has to be taught, not merely caught. Strengthening emunah is a huge way to tip the scales. It’s a game changer.”

After much research, consideration, and discussion with gedolei Torah, he came to the conclusion that emunah should be addressed directly with students instead of assuming they will pick it up by osmosis. His years of research to find adequate answers to questions such as David’s culminated in a recently published book, Reason to Believe: Rational Explanations of Orthodox Jewish Faith (Koren Publishers). The book presents countless pieces of evidence for the existence of G-d and the Divine origin of the Torah, sourced from the Gemara, Rishonim, and Acharonim, in addition to archaeology, physics, history, and ethics. Rabbi Jachter is committed to showing his students, congregants, and readers that G-d’s existence and Yiddishkeit are not only logically and historically true, but also lead to the most meaningful and rational lifestyle possible. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 706)

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