A Personal Explanation

A Personal Explanation

I am indebted to my good friend at Jewwishes for first calling this book to my attention in an excellent review she recently posted on her blog. Follow the link to see her review.
But I found some more information about the author, Rabbi David Wolpe which I found immensely interesting in Tom Telchotz’s article written on my daughter’s birthday last September. If you follow my blog at all you know that I am vitally seeking to find people of faith telling us in their own words what their faith is like-in this case Why Faith Matters. Here are some of his comment about the author which have persuaded me to put this book on my must read list for 2009.
(Tom Telchotz’s article -excerpt)
“Wolpe is turning 50 this Friday, Sept. 19, and has been the rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. “Why Faith Matters” is his sixth book, and he wrote it not as a polemic response to the “New Atheists,” but as a personal book about his own journey.

“He was born in Harrisburg, Pa., where his father, Gerald Wolpe, was a Conservative rabbi. When David was 10, the family moved to Philadelphia, when Wolpe’s father became the rabbi of Har Zion, a large Conservative synagogue on the city’s Main Line.”

“In ‘Why Faith Matters,’ Wolpe explains that as a teenager, after seeing the vivid documentary footage about the Holocaust in Alain Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog,’ he became an atheist, embracing Bertrand Russell as one of his sages. Wolpe said he is attempting in this book to speak to his younger self. Yet, to a great extent, Wolpe now regards atheism as a failure of the imagination.”

His central argument boils down to a rejection of the notion that “the only thing that is real is what you see or measure.” Faith, he argues, adds another dimension to our experience of the world.To Wolpe, religious faith is “an orientation of the universe,” a way to invest all we do and all we experience with wonder and with meaning.

“Wolpe’s own journey led him after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania from teenage atheist to studying to become a rabbi at the University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He spent a year in Israel and was ordained in 1987 at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, where he wrote his first book, “The Healer of Shattered Hearts” (Henry Holt & Company).

He brings the same approach to his brief in defense of faith, embracing the objections others avoid. For Wolpe, the notion that religious ritual is primitive or some form of magical thinking misses the point…

Similarly, Wolpe feels that study of Scripture offers its own pleasures at every stage of life that we encounter it. For him, it is not the literal words alone, as much as the experience we garner from studying Scripture that faith adds to our lives. Not unlike a psychiatrist interpreting a dream, we may care less about whether it’s true than what we can learn from it…

Wolpe knows these questions well, not only as a rabbi but from personal experience. His wife is a cancer survivor, and Wolpe himself has had neurosurgery for a benign brain tumor, as well as chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that remains incurable, but for which he is now in remission. Wolpe told me that it was on the day he finished chemotherapy that he decided to write “Why Faith Matters.”

Religion for Wolpe “is a complex of things, rather than an abstract set of beliefs.” What Wolpe feels is lost in the discussion of religion by “the new atheists” is the positive benefits of religion, such as community, a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to charity and charitable acts and of believing that there is something larger than oneself, having boundaries, submitting to a “higher power.”

By contrast, faith, Wolpe said, can also make a “disturbance” of life, making life more difficult. As Wolpe put it, the sense that you are put on this earth for a reason carries with it responsibilities and challenges to meet a higher standard. Speaking with Wolpe, you get a sense that this is particularly true for him; that he is a person who is always pushing himself…

Similarly, in “Why Faith Matters,” Wolpe suggests that faith, religion and religious practice are to be valued — if not for what they offer us then for the benefits they offer our children by learning to look beyond themselves, to be charitable, to treat others as they would like to be treated…

Clearly, you don’t need religion to teach these ideals, but these are aspects of religion that rarely receive recognition from its critics. Faith, Wolpe believes, offers us a chance to give our children a way to suffuse their own lives with meaning and better prepare them for the challenges they will encounter…

The objective narrative of our lives is mundane and prosaic: We are born; we live; we die. It is the subjective that colors and enriches our experience. We all know the power of music or art, of laughter and love to transport us. Why then, not add faith to the list? And what of the connection between the two?

It is also worth noting that “Why Faith Matters” is a book meant to settle the soul of David Wolpe, given that his first impulse when concluding chemotherapy was to write a book.

“I love literature,” Wolpe said. “I have always found consolation in words, in both reading them and also writing them and speaking them. One of the really great gifts of being a rabbi is that you are expected to translate your experience into something that other people can understand and benefit from. That forces you to reflect on it and create some kind of mosaic out of the jagged pieces of a life. And that’s really a great lesson.”

And so, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, Wolpe has given us — and himself — a memorable gift.”

Tom Teicholz (to read more)


J.H.Bavinck was a renowned Dutch Missiologist. His book, An Introduction to the Science of Missions, (1954) was translated from the Dutch and published in Philadelphia in 1960. It has been used as a textbook in many schools ever since and it is still in print.  The following article is his perspective of those universal questions that all of us in one way or another seek to find answers for in our search for a meaningful life. We don’t have to agree with his categories to benefit from an understanding of just how similiar we are in some very basic instincts of life. The comments are from another book, The Church Between Temple and Mosque.

The Five Magnetic Points- J. H. Bavinck

Man by virtue of his place in the world, must always and everywhere give answers to the same questions. He has to struggle with the basic problems which his existence itself entails. He is afflicted by grief and misfortune; he meets both adverse and prosperous conditions; deep in his heart he has a vague feeling of responsibility; he has to adapt himself to the course of nature; he is aware he is only a small being in the immeasurable greatness of the universe; and he knows very well that sooner or later death will knock at his door. Wherever he goes, he is surrounded by a multitude of questions, and although he has the power to escape from them for a certain time, he cannot help being overwhelmed by them at times. His being on earth is itself such an immense riddle that it threatens to crush him. The answers to all the questions with which he has to struggle may be different, but the problems themselves are always the same. And he has to respond to them, not only in his thinking and feeling but also in his whole attitude to life, in his acts and rites, in his existence itself; his whole way of life is a response. Therefore it stands to reason that this universal religious consciousness, with all its antagonisms and tensions, is something real and is to be found wherever men live and toil.

We have a lot to talk with people of other Faiths about. Somehow I have to believe that there must be a “civilized” way we can be who we are and let others know by our lives “whose disciples we are”. May the beauty of the Lord our God be seen in those who claim to know Him.

Read the article Religious consciousness by J.H. Bavinck 




Today is not like normal Sabbaths for the simple reason that this year Pesach falls on Saturday; at sundown today, Pesach begins.

Of all the Jewish holidays Pesach is the one most commonly observed, even by the otherwise non-observant Jews….(Judaism 101)  http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm


Have you ever thought what a quantum leap we could make if we began to really appreciate and respect our neighbors Faith through their own eyes and not through what we’ve heard- even in a “comparative religion” class?

Join me as I observe the Jewish holy day of Pesach.