The Holiness of Doubt is a timely and essential contribution to the study of sacred Jewish texts. What does it mean for a book of faith for millions of people to be riddled with the uncertainties evoked by hundreds of questions? Rabbi Joshua Hoffman has chronicled the questions of the Torah and offers personal insights and the accumulated wisdom of interpretations, ancient and modern, to discover the meaning of questions and the holiness of doubt. This book offers the reader a chance to see the wisdom of the Torah refracted through its questions.
Divided according to the weekly Torah portions as traditionally studied in the Jewish community, this book explores the purpose of questions in the text and becomes a unique interpretation of the Torah on its own. There are also summaries for the portions which do not contain questions to explore what impact the absence of questions has on the Torah as a whole.
In confronting doubt, we gain a renewed permission to explore the deepest questions of our time. We can discover, like our ancestors dreamed, that the wisdom of the biblical tradition echoes eternal truth in every generation.
Rabbi Joshua Hoffman has studied and practiced as a pulpit Rabbi in the Southern California area for the past twenty-five years. He was recently appointed president and CEO of the Academy for Jewish Religion California, a seminary training twenty-first-century Jewish clergy to embrace twenty-first-century Jewish life. He served Congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California from 2003 to 2021. He publishes widely in blog posts and articles worldwide
Part 1: Introduction to Genesis
Part 2: Introduction to Exodus
Vayakhel and Pekudei
Part 3: Introduction to Leviticus
Vayikra and Tzav
Tazria, Metzora and Acharei Mot
Part 4: Introduction to Numbers
Bamidbar and Naso
Part 4: Deuteronomy
Ki Tetzei and Ki Tavo
About the Author
In this enlightening debut, rabbi Hoffman argues that the Torah can be better understood through questions the text itself poses, starting in Genesis with the snake’s provocation of Eve. The Torah’s questions are “more than literary devices,” Hoffman explains, and asking them is “as sacred... as expressing absolute faith.” God’s first question of Adam and Eve in the garden “Where are you?”—might seem odd coming from an “all-knowing” being, but his intention, Hoffman writes, was to inspire self-reflection and compel Adam and Eve to “take responsibility for [their] actions”; eventually their fear of God “will be transformed into confidence and loyalty.” Before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, his query “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” demonstrated he was “grappling with the potential for goodness in the face of total wickedness,” and, as such, implicitly grants humans “permission to ask questions of God... because God models that behavior.” Ideal for synagogue study groups and curious believers, this offering advances an attitude toward doubt that’s freeing but purposeful textual questions exist in order to help readers “confront... uncertainty” and enrich their faith. Jewish readers eager to take their Torah study a step further should have a look.
A beautiful reading and rereading of the Torah, offering readers elegant insights, inspiration, and guidance in these difficult days.
The one who questions and doubts is a person of faith. Scattered throughout the Torah are prompts—questions that help guide our lives. In Rabbi Joshua Hoffman’s masterful book, he seeks to answer those questions. And in doing so, he provides us with direction for our own lives while also helping us to probe the depths of wisdom that Torah has to offer. At the same time, Rabbi Hoffman offers us his own torah so that we may deepen and widen our learning even further.
One of my best Talmud teachers told us that the questions in the Talmud were often better than the answers. A professor of mine told us graduate students in philosophy that a philosopher is a five-year-old child who never stopped asking “Why?” Being willing to ask questions and not expect totally satisfactory answers is the mark of the epistemological humility that we all should have, for God may know everything, but no human being does. This does not mean, though, that we should not ask questions and seek answers. On the contrary, questions are absolutely critical in seeking meaning in life, as this book amply demonstrates. So ask away, and let Rabbi Hoffman and the Torah itself spur you to more questions!
This is a wonderful book for anyone who wants a deeper mode of Torah study. Rabbi Hoffman explores the world of the Torah through the questions found in the text and helps us ask our own questions of ourselves, God, and the world.
This book reminds us that what makes us human is our ability to question everything. It was a pleasure to engage on this journey of questions and answers, doubt and faith, through the Torah with Rabbi Joshua Hoffman as a guide. He helps us explore our own questions and doubts, leaving lots of room to think and reflect along the way. Bring an open mind and heart, and start reading!
Rabbi Hoffman’s unique focus of methodically examining the questions within Torah, rather than the questions we may have about Torah, reveals a “face” of Torah we might otherwise overlook. As he highlights, this opens important conversations about inquiry, faithfulness and doubt that are most relevant and grounded in our sacred text.
In the sacred text of the Torah to which so many turn for answers and clarity, the presence of abundant questions challenges us to probe deeper. Hoffman’s book thoughtfully and insightfully invites us to embrace the blessing of uncertainty in our studies and spiritual life journey.