Framing Beliefs

Video 9 – Understanding Prayer: Heart, Mind and Soul

In this video, Rabbi Sacks clarifies that Jewish faith isn’t irrational or naive or pre-scientific. Instead, it is a framing belief.

As we approached Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2017, Rabbi Sacks created a series of ten short videos to delve into what prayer really is, and how it can change your life.

Each video includes subtitles in: English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Spanish (click on the 'Settings' icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the video-player to select your preferred language).

Does faith really make a difference? And is it possible to have faith, even in the twenty-first century, common time, after all we’ve learned from science?

The answer to both questions is: Yes. Jewish faith isn’t irrational or naïve or pre-scientific. Faith is what I call a framing belief, and I want to explain what that is.

I once had a conversation on television with a famous atheist, and I got him to read out a letter he had written to his daughter when she was ten years old. In it he said: Never accept anything without evidence.

Ten minutes later, I asked him, “Are you an optimist?” He replied, “Yes, of course.” Then I asked, “Show me the evidence.” There is no evidence. Or to put it more precisely, optimists find evidence to justify their optimism, and pessimists find an equal amount of evidence to justify their pessimism. No evidence could ever decide which is true, optimism or pessimism, because these attitudes shape the way we experience the world and how we interpret the evidence. Optimism and pessimism are framing beliefs.

Another example: is it right or wrong to go through life trusting people? Some do. Some don’t. They’re suspicious, wary, afraid to be betrayed. If you trust people, some of them will take advantage of you, and it will hurt. But if you go through life cynical and suspicious, you’ll protect yourself against betrayal, but you’ll never know love or friendship, the deep communion of souls. There are some things you can’t achieve without trust. So which is the rational option: trust or suspicion? There is no rational option. These are framing beliefs.

And so it is with faith. When all the science is in - when we know exactly when and how the universe came into being - the question will still be open. Does life have a meaning, a higher purpose, or is it just, in Shakespeare’s words, “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.

Was the universe born for no reason and will it for no reason one day die? Are all our prayers in vain? Is there nothing beyond the physical universe? Are all our hopes illusions and our aspirations no more than self-deluding dreams?

Faith and faithlessness are framing beliefs. But which we choose makes all the difference. You can live without optimism and trust, the way you can live without music or a sense of humour. But it’s a limited life. And in the same way, you can live without faith. But you’ll miss out on all that comes from the belief that life has a meaning, that God created the universe in love and forgiveness and asks us to love and forgive others.

That love and forgiveness is beautifully expressed in this simple prayer: Chamol al maasecha. Have mercy on those You have made.

This video was kindly sponsored by Alexander Machkevitch, in memory of his parents Rachel & Anton Machkevitch.

We are grateful to our generous sponsors who helped enable us to produce this video series.