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5.0 out of 5 stars
Hillel meets Socrates, 6 May 2013
Solomon's book is the culmination of what has obviously been a life-long personal struggle between "faith" and "reason". He combines warmth and humour with an incisive critique of both fundamentalist and reconciling approaches. The juxtaposition of faith and reason is centuries old, and within the Jewish tradition goes back over 1000 years. But the core of the book is best expressed in the section at the end of Chapter 21, where Solomon writes:
"The Rabbinic ... interpretations of torah min hashamayim ... is no longer the fideism of Augustine, al-Ghazali, or Judah Halevi. They held that reason was inadequate either to establish or to refute religious truth ... they did not hold that faith contradicted reason... The modern fideist, to the contrary, assumes ... that faith contradicts reason... that it leads to beliefs that fly in the face of logic or of hard, empirical evidence."
This is the problem that Solomon maps out and attempts to resolve. This is indeed a deep problem - a problem that certainly impacts on a large part of Anglo-Jewry (whom he has served as a Rabbi for much of his life) who find themselves similarly torn.
Solomon's approach combines the best of both the Rabbinic and the Secular traditions. On the one hand, his breadth of knowledge is impressive, and he is equally at ease with both Jewish and Western scholarship. More exciting is that Solomon presents the reader with both Socratic and Hillelic challenges.
His Socratic challenge appears early in the book in his "Orientation". He considers the verse "The Lord Spoke to Moses saying" (the most common verse in the Pentateuch and one that his readers will have heard many times) and asserts that not he, nor other faith leaders, really understand what this verse means. As a reader, I am forced to question my own understanding of statements that I would normally take for granted.
But it is in his whole book that he lays down the challenge of Hillel. He might have written a longer book, replete with extensive quotations from his sources: such a work would have been an impressive work of scholarship. By not doing so, he says to his more serious and committed readers "Go and Learn!"