A Religious Skeptic Learns a Thing or Two about God
By Cheryl Berman
Urim Publications, 2010, 159 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 17, 2010
Philosophy student Cheryl Berman, an Orthodox Jew, who now teaches philosophy in Israel, is drawn to the teachings of the medieval rationalistic philosophers, who stress the use of intelligence, until the day that she is hit by a car while walking to school. He leg was badly mangled; she suffers brain damage and amnesia for awhile, and is unable to read. As she recovers – her mind completely and her leg scarred for life – she finds that the rationalistic approach to life no longer answers her questions or gives her satisfaction. "Why," she asked, "did God do this to me?"
Berman tells her tale in a down-to-earth interesting manner. She parallels her own tale with an imaginative story of the writer of the biblical book of Job. The writer is living in Babylon around 586 BCE. He saw the Jewish Temple destroyed and many of his people tortured and murdered. "Why," he also asks, "did God do this to me?" While Berman reevaluates all the philosophy she learned, the biblical writer decides to compose a book that addresses his problem. Both come to the same conclusion. Rationalism does not work. God knows what he is doing, but we cannot understand his plan and acts. People must have faith.
Berman offers us her understandings of more than a dozen different thinkers such as the Greeks Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus, the Muslim Asharites, the Christians Kierkegaard, Kant, Pascal, and James, and ancient and modern Jewish thinkers, including Saadiah, Maimonides, Gersonides, Heschel, and Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik. She likes Rabbi Soloveitchik.
Whether the reader agrees with her understanding of the philosophers that she discusses or with her solution that we need to have faith or her interpretation of the book of Job, is not significant. What is meaningful and interesting is her understanding of these writings, her depiction of her struggle, and how she resolved it. And, what is especially important is that the book makes us think.