Rabbi Dr. Nachum L. Rabinovitch (1928-2020) authored “Pathways to Their Hearts,” an easy-to-read book by a renowned scholar about how we should think and live. His views are correct. They are based on the rational teachings of the “Great Eagle,” Judaism’s foremost philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204). Rabbi Lord Jonathan Saks (1948-2020), called the “towering intellect of Judaism,” the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, wrote a fifteen-page foreword to the book in which he praised his former teacher as “one of the supreme rabbinic scholars of our time, outstanding in a wide range of different fields.” He calls the book “an outstanding work, vast in scope, monumental in scholarship, the distilled wisdom of one of the great Jewish minds of our generation.”
The book contains nine enlightening chapters about the significance of the Torah, commandments, morality, human obligations, and goal, how rabbis identified Jewish laws in the past, and how they should do so today. He emphasizes that there is no conflict between science and Judaism and tells us what wrongs King Solomon performed, which should be a warning to us.
Rabbi Rabinovitch shows how the Bible and rabbinic texts talk practically about humans. He saw, as did Maimonides, that the primary purpose of Jewish law is to create individuals and society dedicated to the cause of justice, compassion, kindness, and peace. He quotes Maimonides’ Guide 3:31, “every commandment from among the 613 commandments exists either with a view to communicating a correct opinion, or to pointing an end to an unhealthy opinion, or to communicating a rule of justice, or to warding off an injustice, or to endowing men with a noble moral quality, or to warning them against an evil quality.”
The French Jewish philosopher Gersonides, also called Ralbag (1288-1344), said the same. “Our Torah differs from the precepts and rituals of other nations, for our Torah contains nothing that cannot be derived from logical reasoning and understanding.”
Rabbi Rabinovitch stresses that true scholarship means being open to the truth, no matter its source—and not imposing our views on the material in front of us. “Laboring in the Torah” requires us to read everything written about the subject before us, analyze it to seek its deep plain sense, and think about it independently and critically. He also stressed that a wise person, like the Greek philosopher Socrates, dares to live with uncertainty.
He wrote that Moses pleaded with God in Exodus 34:9 to forgive the Israelites because they are stiff-necked people. Moses was saying that being stiff-necked can lead to perseverance and the creation of what is good for individuals and society.
Judaism, to the rabbi, is not just a matter of deeds. It is also a process of creating ways to the heart, habits of intellect, and emotion that lead to the goal of loving-kindness.
Judaism never opposed the search for truth. “One who ignores the wisdom of the natural sciences ultimately condemns himself to the limitation of possibilities, to the point that he will have no control over the physical world and will be unable to achieve even the best and loftiest desires. A complete human being needs both types of wisdom” [Torah and science]. “God gave man the capacity to disclose nature’s mysteries…. It is incumbent upon man not only to discover what is, but also to imagine what ought to be, and then to make that improved existence a reality.”
It is a mistake to think that religious Jews must reject scientific ideas such as the theory of evolution, the existence of people on other planets, and even the belief that humans can create life from inanimate substances. We must remember that “great Torah scholars of various periods contemplated such possibilities and entertained similar ideas. Indeed, some of these sages cited biblical proof texts for their opinions.” In Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 2:1, Maimonides praised scientific studies and wrote that they cause us to know the greatness of God. Rabbi Rabinovitch reminds us that Maimonides added that “solving life’s ongoing challenges enable the formation of the ideal society.”
Rabbi Lord Saks is undoubtedly correct. This is an outstanding eye-opening book.