Does ‘belief’ matter? A Coda

What is the relationship between belief and rule-keeping? Which matters more in religion? These comments follow from a previous post on this matter.

The Guardian’s Face to Faith column has an interesting comment by Geoffrey Alderman on the life of Benzion Dunner, a prominent member of London’s Orthodox Jewish community, who died earlier this year.

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said: “Benzion Dunner was an outstanding exemplar of Jewish values and Jewish responsibility. He was a person of exceptional chesed, much of whose work was done quietly behind the scenes and was all the more impressive for that. Our hearts go out to the members of his family, whose grief we share. His memory will endure as a source of blessing and inspiration.”

According to the Guardian article (and that’s my main source), while Dunner was very wealthy and very charitable, he was also a user of cocaine and may have died under the influence.

The question is how the community of which he was a part should respond to this. Alderman seems to think it’s sad “that practically no one among the sectarian-orthodox is prepared to condemn his behaviour”.

The issue seems to be how someone who doesn’t keep the rules is to be regarded. Is condemnation appropriate?

It seems there is more to it than merely belief or obedience. There is also belonging. This matters enormously. And in the case of Benzion Dunner, his standing in his community, not his rule-keeping, is what he is being remembered for. And this standing comes from exemplary chesed, not from perfection.

No one can be good at everything; all of us have our weak points. In this case, it seems, fatal drug-taking.

But belonging, as much as believing or obeying, may be the mark of a good, if flawed, life.

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