I was asked to do a review on the book A Conversation on the Way by Martin Bodek.
The book is essentially a long dialogue that takes place between two Yidden (Jews) on their way to shul.
The one Yid is a fairly well (presumably self-)educated guy who loves to learn new things and loves to indulge in theological and philosophical Jewish questions. Despite his claims that he believes in God, Judaism, etc. he evinces characteristics of a typical Jewish skeptic, who has read more than the prescribed Yeshiva reading list and knows that evolution is true, the world isn't 5773 years old and lo and behold Chazal didn't get it all right. Despite his skepticism he seems very (almost overly) enthusiastic about pursuing these issues and does not seem bothered by the threats that these things pose to Jewish faith. He reminds me a lot of the blogger DovBear, pretty much adopting every skeptical approach possible, but then saying at the end "But I still believe because of my upbringing and that's perfectly ok!"
The other Yid, who has a lot less to say, seems to be some sort of yeshivish Yeshiva guy. His favorite answer to Yid1's various challenges are answers like "God can do anything", "God can make it look 1 million years old" etc. Although many of his responses are typical of the average Yeshiva guy, with little education beyond the pages of a Talmud, he nevertheless is unique for a Yeshiva bochur in that he doesn't run away from Yid1 who is spouting tons of what the Yeshiva world considers Kefira. Yid2 is fairly confident that while Yid1 is a clever guy he's got it all wrong and he's not gonna convince him otherwise.
Anyways Yid1 and Yid2 walk to shul and basically discuss everything that Jewish skeptics and believers have been talking about for years. The book doesn't get into academic depth, but it is a rather realistic portrayal of a real conversation an average skeptic and an average (yeshivish) believer would have. They broach on dozens of topics at a dizzying pace discussing the age of the world, questions of morality, what constitutes a miracle, whether Genesis makes sense (they discuss Genesis 1-7 at great length), what Science and religion have to do with each other, the DH and everything in between.
I particularly liked Yid1's argument against the 5770 year old word and the "God-can-do-anything-even-trick-us-with-fake-bones defense". Technically one can always assert this and say "Well we can't trust our senses and maybe God's testing us and God can put bones in the ground etc. etc." However what Yid1 did was to show HOW MUCH we have to mistrust the world around us in order to assert that the world is only 5770 years old. Its not just dinosaur fossils and the Mabul can't explain it all and the Yeshivish position leaves one with a world that is more misleading than the Matrix.
In general Yid1 doesn't defeat Yid2 in arguments (in real life no one wins arguments). He just takes them ad absurdum and says "so basically if you believe abc and d then you would HAVE to believe efg and H!"
Too which Yid2 usually answers triumphantly "Yup!"
I think this book is the type of thing a Yeshivish guy entrenched in his dogmatism should read. It's sort of a introduction, or a "cliff's notes" (to quote Yid1) of the questions of skepticism, and is a good way to begin to approach a critical understanding of religion as opposed to traditional acceptance of everything. To the skeptic it is an interesting presentation of skeptic-believer arguments. I thought of it as a sort of compilation of the arguments raging between believers and non-believers on the skeptical-jewish blogosphere over the past 8 years.
I wish the book would have been more of a dialogue. Yid2 was not the most educated fella in the world and due to ignorance of just about everything he was fair game for Yid1. Although Yid2's ignorance and types of responses accurately reflect the average philosophical position of most Yeshiva people, it reduced the book to very one sided conversation.
P.S. After writing this review I realized that the Yids have names which get mentioned once at the beginning of the book Zachary and Joe (which I assume is Zecharia and Yehoshua!)
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