Having completed 4.5 years of university, one of the key messages I learnt was “you have to have a good source”. Whenever you are looking for the truth of a matter, you should always know who said it and where they got it from. This helps remove bias and means you don’t just believe what anyone says. And you get better marks.
Just like in the academic world, in Judaism there’s also a value put on the source. The further back we go the greater the Rabbis and the closer in time to Hashem’s revelation and the giving of the Torah. Our chances of finding truth (emes) increases as the chain between people decreases. One great Rabbi told me that one of the three important considerations when choosing who your Rabbi should be is that chain: Who was his Rabbi, and that Rabbi’s Rabbi, and so on.
Amazingly, some Rabbis in our generation can outline their whole lineage. And it’s not lineage for the sake of lineage. Much of Torah is the oral tradition and the spoken chain from teacher to student is pivotal in finding the real truth. Even in Judaism there will be people who pass off falsehoods for truths and its our responsibility to know the difference. We must get to the bottom of the source, know its root and who said it. It’s a big task when you’re baal teshuva as you start grappling with even the basic concepts, but it is an important part of questioning what we learn.
A good place to start is making sure the Jewish books you read are from a reliable source. How? Many Jewish books start with references from great Rabbis of our generation. It’s an endorsement that what you’re about to read is not fiction.
So, authenticity applies just as much in the Torah world as it does anywhere else. Before you believe every word that man says because he has a long beard and kippah, consider his sources. Does he tell you what they are? Are they good enough? Question, research and ask. It’s part of learning and growing towards the truth. And there’s a lot of truth to discover.