Rabbi Dovid Sapirman’s book Emunah: A Refresher Course serves two distinct roles. It is on the one hand a terrific compilation of some of the clearest rationales for believing in Yiddishkeit, concisely and lucidly presented. This author, like many others, found it an enjoyable and enlightening read.
It is also – indeed, primarily – the culmination and now central tool of his decade long advocacy to revolutionize our chinuch methods. R. Sapirman does not logically demonstrate Yiddishkeit merely as a guide for the perplexed, or as a point of further reading for mature maaminim. He advocates that logical emunah curriculums, either based on this book or the teacher training he makes available through his Ani Maamin Foundation, should be introduced as a standard part of middle and high school education. To this end he trains teachers to teach such courses to their students, and promotes having visiting “emunah professionals” deliver occasional lectures at every school.
For the most part the campaign has been gaining traction. The frum popular media has taken up the cause, and the idea of teaching emunah has been becoming more and more mainstreamed. Enthusiastic askanim have also lent their energies toward spreading the word: Emunah must now be taught.
The activists argue that emunah just isn’t being transmitted properly without these innovations; our students are seriously doubting the truth of the Mesorah. Even those who claim to believe aren’t real maaminim, as they can’t rationally articulate the justification for their faith. Another point is that today’s generation lacks the passion and excitement for Yiddishkeit which the activists feel can only be given over through logical emunah education.
Many disagree. They claim that this all misunderstands the needs of today’s youth, and they have a different understanding of what constitutes “real” belief. As for passion, they feel that that’s best given over through, well, passion.
The detractors maintain that emunah lessons raise more problems than they solve. Furthermore, when emunah is given over in this way it tends to be both shallow and fragile.
The second and third sections of this essay will try to clarify the arguments against the proposed innovations. Section II takes a critical look at the claim that our generation’s challenges indicate an emunah crisis, while Section III elaborates on the specific dangers raised by emunah education.
In order to responsibly evaluate the debate we must first clearly identify the point of contention. Interestingly, much of the discussion on this topic seems to neglect this fundamental first step. In some cases quotes regarding the highest levels of emunah are cited as evidence in a discussion that is really about effective methods of education. In other cases the merits of teaching various Yiddishkeit-related subjects are presented as if they establish the need for teaching logical emunah as well.
Section I of this essay is therefore devoted to disambiguation. The goal is to clarify the debate by pointing out what are not the objections to Rabbi Sapirman’s approach. We feel that many of the justifications for the approach are thereby shown to be not to the point. Section I further tries to clarify the debate by exploring each side’s assumed core definition of what emunah is.
The author teaches 8th grade at a Flatbush yeshiva ketana. He can be contacted at ycdanziger at gmail.com