In addition to being a serious talmid chacham and masterful halachist, Rabbi Chaim Jachter is a renowned educator with decades of experience in the classroom. He possesses the many qualities of an effective teacher: excellent pedagogic skills, patience, a passion for the subject matter, and, perhaps most important, an openness and warmth toward his students.
Rabbi Jachter’s talmidim have great respect for him, but at the same time recognize he is genuine and sincere and therefore accessible and approachable with all types of questions. They know their rebbe does not sit in an ivory tower. He is keenly aware of the many issues adolescents struggle with, and he is a sounding board and guidepost in helping his students navigate those struggles.
Teens wrestling with issues of faith and morality know Rabbi Jachter is someone they can confide in, someone who will hear their doubts, someone who will offer realistic answers and perspectives to the most daunting and troubling questions.
These interactions with students over the years are what inspired Rabbi Jachter to write Reason to Believe: Rational Explanations of Orthodox Jewish Faith (Menorah Books). Having written many books in his “Gray Matter” series delving into detailed and nuanced areas of halachic practice, he realized that many adolescents (and adults for that matter) have little appreciation for multi-layered legal discussions. They are not sure there is a God, and even if there is, what would motivate them to adhere to a rigorous code of law if that God was not apparent or relevant in their lives?
The book begins by defining faith and then, through the eyes of classic and contemporary scholars, offers varying approaches and perspectives to each of the challenges that are raised. The weaknesses and strengths of each answer are proposed, so the reader can make an honest and informed judgment about the material.
Why do we believe in God? Why must we live as practicing Jews – isn’t belief enough? Using the framework of history, Rabbi Jachter illuminates the Hand of God in the events as they unfold. Whether discussing Mordechai and Esther changing the tide of the great Persian Empire, or the modern-day miracles of Israel’s existence, the reader’s eyes are opened to Divine Providence across the millennia. He directs our attention to archeological proofs of historical events and how artifacts that are thousands of years old tell a story of the past that sheds light on where we are today.
Rabbi Jachter devotes a section to understanding the scientific challenges to the Torah’s authenticity. Was the world always here or was it created? How old is the universe? How do we resolve the disparity when scientific discovery contradicts what the Torah teaches?
Using the wisdom of Chazal and current scholars studying these issues, such as Professors Gerald Schroeder and Nathan Aviezer, and Dr. Jeremy England at MIT, Rabbi Jachter methodically unravels the contradictions. He shows how the Torah and science are not just compatible but complementary when it comes to understanding God’s Hand in creating the universe and life on this planet.
Morality and religion present their own set of questions. If we live in a society where autonomy is a sine qua non, why must we be told how to talk, eat, dress, do business, spend our free time, etc.? How can a religion of compassion require the eradication of the entire Amalekite nation, men, women, and children? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Rabbi Jachter does not shy away from the difficulties these questions pose, but he is not monolithic in his responses. He offers a variety of perspectives, some profound, some practical, some emotional, that will speak to the differing perspectives of readers who struggle with these issues for any number of reasons.
Rabbi Jachter writes, speaks, and teaches not in the language of the seventeenth century or the 1970s but in a manner palatable to today’s generation of questioners and seekers. He is able to communicate this way because of his years of experience as a pulpit rabbi and high school rebbe. He deals with real people who struggle with real issues, and is therefore able to give his readers a hands-on approach that speaks in layman’s terms without sacrificing the depth and meaning of his ideas.
I believe Reason to Believe is a must read, certainly for those who struggle with the questions the book raises, but even for those who do not have philosophical, moral, or foundational conflicts with Judaism. The book will give even the most faith-grounded person a more profound understanding of Judaism, the methodology of the halachic lifestyle, and a greater appreciation for the nature of the relationship mankind can have with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Reason to Believe needs to be on all of our bookshelves. It frames our entire belief system and provides context and meaning and richness to a way of life we should not merely settle into but enthusiastically embrace.