Monday, August 21, 2023

Education not to be a fool - "A fool is one who believes everything" Mishlei 14:15)

Proverbs(14:15): The simpleton believes every word; but the prudent man looks well where he is going.

In the 1960's, a book was published "Teaching as a subversive activity. The authors asserted that there  are two types of teaching 1) socialization to the community norms and behaviors 2) teaching students how to discriminate be what is true and what is false or irrelevant. While it is obvious to most of us that the first type of teaching is critical to the survival of any community, the question is what about type 2? Is there any importance to teaching students to be skeptical and critical when presented with information or is this inherently rejected by any religious or faith based community?

Another way of expressing this, is the main point of education in the yeshivos and seminaries to reproduce in the new generation the same thinking and understanding that existed in the previous generations. Or as one educator described the process of note taking, A process whereby the notes of the teacher becomes the notes of the students without basing through the minds of the students?

Is teaching this type of critical attitude, doomed to produce a generation of cynics and heretics? Or is there not only a solid religious justification for this type of education but I will argue it is a religious imperative - if one wants to maintain a high level of spirituality and commitment in the future generations.

At this point let me cite some source [which are I collected in my Daas Torah] - aside from the above verse from Mishlei. It is important to note the attitude presented as important for religious issues - so surely it is important for non-religious issues.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Nineteen Letters #18): [The leaders of Orthodoxy] became at first enemies of this philosophical spirit, and later of all specifically intellectual and philosophical pursuits in general. Certain misunderstood utterances [e.g., Bereishis Rabbah 44:1] were taken as weapons with which to repel all higher interpretations of the Talmud . . . The inevitable consequence was, therefore, that since oppression and persecution had robbed Israel of every broad and natural view of world and of life, and Talmud had yielded about all the practical results for life of which it was capable, every mind that felt the desire of independent activity was obliged to forsake the paths of study and research in general open to the human intellect, and to take its recourse to dialectic subtleties and hairsplitting. Only a very few [e.g., R’ Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari and Ramban] during this entire period stood with their intellectual efforts entirely within Judaism, and built it up out of its own inner concept [Drachman translation]…. we are left with two generations confronting each other. One of them has inherited an uncomprehended Judaism, as practiced by men from habit, a revered but lifeless mummy which it is afraid to bring back to life. The other, though in part burning with noble enthusiasm for the welfare of the Jews, regards Judaism as bereft of any life and spirit, a relic of an era long past and buried, and tries to uncover its spirit, but, not finding it, threatens through its well‑meant efforts to sever the last life nerve of Judaism - out of sheer ignorance [Paritzky translation].

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:50): You should know that knowledge concerning religious beliefs is not simply utterings of the mouth. Rather they are what is manifest in the soul when it has been ascertained that it is true as understood. However, if you are of the type for whom it is sufficient merely to repeat correct views or at least those that you assume are correct views without understanding or thought about them - that is a very easy yet superficial path. You will find many fools who hold views that they don’t understand at all. However if you are one of those who have aspirations to elevate your heart to the highest level - that is the level of understanding…There are in fact no meaningful beliefs without thoughtful understanding what these beliefs actually are. In particular, to verify as best you can that what you imagine to be true is objectively that way. If you have established that there can be no rational basis for rejecting the belief or doubts regarding the belief - then you have certainty that your understanding is correct…. Rather than being a person who can only utter things without having internalized them, a person should be one who knows the truth even if they don’t publicize their knowledge. This is as the pious people have been commanded (Tehilim 4:5), “Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still’.

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:51): There are some who think a lot about G d and mention Him frequently but have no knowledge and merely follow imagination or accept tradition blindly. To my mind, such people are outside of the habitation and are far from it and do not in truth mention or think about G d. Because that which is merely in his imagination or uttered by his lips does not correspond to any existing being at all. He has created it in his imagination as we explained concerning attributes. This type of devotion to G d should only be done after he has a clear understanding of theological issues - to the best of his ability. Only after achieving this intellectual comprehension should one begin to increase devotion to Him and become attached to Him and to strengthen his attachment to Him which must be through the intellect.

Chovas HaLevavos (1:2): The second way to know something is to rely upon a tradition because he believes the one who taught him the tradition. However, he doesn’t know whether it is in fact true through reason and understanding. Relying solely on tradition is comparable to a blind person who is being led by a sighted person. It is possible that he is in fact being led by another blind person who in turn is led by a whole line of blind people. Each one of the blind people placing his hand on the blind person in front of him while the leader of these blind people is a sighted person. If the sighted leader is negligent and fails to guard them or if one of the blind people stumbles or accident - then all of them would suffer the consequences. They would deviate from the path or fall into a hole or be blocked by some obstacle. Similarly, the person who understands G d’s unity solely through the rote learning of tradition cannot be sure that he won’t come to believe in polytheism when he hears the arguments of the heretics. He might come to alter his understanding and err without being aware of it. That is why our Sages said (Avos 2:14): Study Torah diligently and know how to answer the heretic.
Rambam (Letter to Yemen): You should know that just as a blind person relies on the guidance of a sighted person because he knows his blindness prevents him from knowing the proper path, and just as a person ignorant of medicine relies on the knowledge of a doctor to guide him because he doesn’t know what is beneficial and what will harm him and thus puts his trust in the doctor - similarly it is appropriate for the average rabbi to rely on guidance from the prophets and the true experts in halacha to be informed which approach and perspective is correct and which is incorrect. After the period of the prophets [leadership was passed to] the sages who studied, night and day, all types of ideas, systems and concepts as to which were correct and which were incorrect.
Netziv (Introduction to She’iltos): Sanhedrin (24a): Eicha (3:6): “He has made me dwell in the dark places as those that have been long dead” refers to the Babylonian Talmud.” This statement was not meant - G d forbid - as not an insult to the Babylonian Talmud. It means that since Babylonia was a [spiritually] dark place totally devoid of the light of Torah [in contrast to Israel] it was only through the brilliant flame of the dialectical analysis that the Babylonian Talmud was able to penetrate the darkness and arrive at the correct Halacha. Sanhedrin (24a) also mentions that the term Babylonia means mixture. That is because the Babylonian Talmud was a mixture of Bible, Mishna and Gemora. Because of the spiritual darkness of Babylonia, it was necessary to be involved in very deep analysis of a wide range of texts. This tremendous intellectual effort produced greatness in Torah and spiritual light. In contrast, Israel, which is inherently spiritual, needed only a relatively small effort in Torah to create spiritual light.
Ramchal (Mesilas Yeshorim - Introduction): If you look carefully at the world today you will find that the majority of brilliant minds devote most of their energy to esoteric analysis and profound wisdom - each one according to their interests and nature. Some are totally devoted to studying the natural sciences such as physics and biology. Others study the practical issues of engineering and architecture. Some are totally committed to business while others are interested in understanding holy things such as Torah. Of those devoted to Torah, some concentrate on understanding theoretical halachic issues while others focus on medrash and still others work to master practical Halacha. However only a tiny minority of this Torah group make a serious effort to study and understand issues relevant to perfecting their service of G d e.g., loving, fearing and coming close to Him and other issues of piety. This neglect is not because piety is viewed as unimportance. In fact, everyone would say that piety is extremely necessary and that no one can be considered wise unless he has mastered all these matters. However, they justify their failure to study these important issues by saying that the concepts associated with piety are so obvious and well known that there is no need to devote significant time to understanding them. Consequently, study of these matters is left to the less than brilliant minds - to those close to being retarded. In fact since only simple folk devote themselves totally to piety, it is typically assumed that anyone who engages in these studies most be dim witted. However, the consequences of this attitude are extremely damaging both to the intelligent and the not so intelligent. The intelligent end up lacking true piety because they don’t study it and therefore very few individuals are actually pious. The unintelligent lack true piety because they are unable to comprehend it. Consequently, the majority of mankind mistakenly thinks being pious means to say incredible amounts of Psalms, to make very long confessions of sin and to subject oneself to debilitating physical activities such as fasting, and immersing in ice and snow. In other words the “pious” person is one who engages in activities that are universally viewed as repellent and debasing. In fact, true piety is desirable, pleasant, and very far from this common stereotype. It is quite obvious that something that people are not really concerned with doesn’t impact their daily lives. Therefore, even though the basic ideas of piety are familiar to everyone - if you don’t seriously think about them they have no impact on your life. Piety is not something innate, natural and intuitive like sleeping or eating… It requires a conscious program to acquire and develop… Therefore, even though the ideas are easily comprehended and it is obvious how piety manifests itself in life, but piety is not implanted in some one’s heart unless he consciously pursues it. Consequently, since every intelligent person acknowledges the need for piety…what will he answer G d concerning his neglect of developing his piety? Does it make sense to be totally devoted to abstract and arcane theoretical analyses of Torah and Halacha while totally neglecting that which G d unequivocally demands from us?… Shlomo said (Mishlei 2:4–5):If you will seek it like wealth and search for it like hidden treasures then you will come to understand fear of G d [and find knowledge of G d]. He didn’t say then you will understand philosophy, science, medicine, laws or Halacha - but then you will understand fear of G d. Shlomo is clearly stating that fear of G d is acquired only with the same type of effort one devotes to becoming rich or finding treasure… Why doesn’t a person at least set aside some time to look into the matter even if he is already committed to other activities? 
Rabbeinu Bachye (Pirkei Avos 2:19): One should learn diligently in order to be able to answer the heretic. Even though you have the true faith which you have received from your father and your father received it from his father in a line going back to Moshe on Sinai - nevertheless this should not be viewed as sufficient. You also need faith based upon wisdom and knowledge. That is because if you only have faith based on received tradition, it is likely that you will hear the words of heretics that will twist your heart after their views. Therefore, it is necessary to also have faith based on knowledge and wisdom. If you have such faith then when you hear their words you will be able refute their views with intellectual proofs and obviously you will not be influenced by them. However, the heretic that you should argue with is only the non Jewish one but not a Jewish one - since it will just deepen his rejection of religion (Sanhedrin 38b).

Alter of Kelm (Chochma v’Musar 2:62): Why does it say [in the Amida prayer said three times a day] ‘Our G d and the G d of our forefathers’? The answer is that there are two types of people who believe in G d. The first believes in G d entirely because he is following in the footsteps of his ancestors but nevertheless his faith is strong. The second is one who comes to religious faith because of intellectual investigation. Their religious faith, however, is not identical. The first one has the advantage that it is impossible to persuade him to give up his beliefs even by presenting many facts that seem to contradict - Heaven forbid - his faith. That is because the strength of his faith comes entirely from traditions received from his ancestors which he has never questioned or even thought about. However, there is a problem with this approach in that his faith is simply reflexive habit without any inherent personal meaning to him. This is in contrast to the independent thinker who came to believe in G d through his intensive investigations. He not only has strong faith but one which is all encompassing on a personal level since it engages both the intellect and the emotions. However, this approach also has a critical weakness in that his beliefs are open to refutation - Heaven forbid - if someone should show him strong proofs against his conclusions. Therefore, one who has the advantages of both approaches is superior to someone have one approach alone. That means that while a person should learn from tradition what is true, he should also investigate to understand what these truths are. This is the proper approach to faith. That is why we say ‘Our G d and the G d of our forefathers’ [He is the G d of tradition but is also the G d we have come to understand more deeply and meaningfully through study and thought]. This can be used to explain the verse (Tehilim 34:9), ‘Taste and see that G d is good’. The ‘taste’ refers to our personal investigations and ‘see’ refers to seeing that which our ancestors did

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