The Failure of Religion (Plus: Who's Greater - Moshe or the Moshiach?)

Q. Why does religion often fail in the hope and trust of its followers?

A. Thanks for your question. The reason people are often disappointed in religion is because of the actions of religious people or of their religious leaders. All people – even religious people – are fallible and subject to temptation, anger, ego, etc. When people expect more of their co-religionists or religious leaders and are disappointed, it discourages them. It shouldn't. Rather, they should realize that just as they themselves have flaws and make mistakes, so do the others.


Q. Does putting a lot of value on religious ceremonies lead people away from the principles of religion? This is perhaps the biggest criticism that Jesus made of the Pharisees.

A. Thanks for your question. I'm not getting into Jesus and the Pharisees because Jesus isn't part of Jewish theology.

As far as emphasis on religious ceremonies leading people away from the principles of religion, that can happen, but it shouldn't. Imagine, if you will, two friends with different interests. One spends all day inside with his nose in a book, never getting any fresh air, sunshine or exercise. The other spends all day in the gym, working out every muscle but never giving his brain anything to do. Which one is doing it right? If you ask me, neither. Each one has put so much emphasis on one good thing that he completely overlooks an equally important thing. An obsession with letter of the law or spirit of the law, or with ritual or spirituality, can lead to a neglect of some other important facet of religion. This is what the prophet Isaiah complains about when he tells the people that God doesn't want or need their sacrifices (Isaiah chapter 1). Bringing offerings in the Temple is a Biblical obligation, so of course the people were right to bring them! What he meant was that the people were hyper-focused on the ritual aspects and overlooking the underlying principles. That's not good. But being "spiritual but not religious," as so many people put it, isn't the answer, either. One needs a healthy balance of all aspects of faith.


Q. Did the great Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides say in his 13 Principles of Faith that there will be none greater than Moses? If so, what becomes of the expected Messiah who does some things that Moses couldn’t do like bringing the knowledge of the God of Israel to the whole world and ending all war and all that. Wouldn’t that make the Messiah greater than Moses?

A. Thanks for your question. While Moses was certainly great, the foundational principle codified by Maimonides doesn't address Moses' personal greatness. Rather, it addresses the degree of his prophecy, which was so superior to that of other prophets that it's considered to be in a category by itself. Other prophets received messages in visions, like seeing through frosted glass. Only Moses received his prophecies while wide awake, in perfect clarity. (See more here: The Seventh Foundation: The Prophecy of Moses was True and Superior - The 13 Foundations - OU Torah )

The fact that the messiah will do things that Moses didn't do is irrelevant. Lots of people did things that Moses didn't do. (Joshua brought the Jews into Israel, Solomon built the Temple, etc.) That just means that it wasn't Moses’ job. Moses was tasked with bringing the Jews out of Egypt and delivering the Torah. He accomplished those jobs very well.

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on