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Objective Thinking
Inherent in Jewish traditional scholarship is the nurturing of individual, rational thought. Surely the main original objective of learning by rote the differing opinions of the sages was to develop the capacity for dispassionate, rational analysis. This with the aim to enable a person to take a step out of the emotional bias of their own perspective and examine others. What the ability to think for oneself with dispassion does is enable one to look with at least some objectivity at a truth that differs from what one wants to hear. Otherwise so-called logical analysis and critical thinking is in danger of being reduced to picking and choosing according to one`s likes and dislikes.
Meira nee Olson, US/Israel, 13/10/2009 21:21:00
rambam
i read your book on the rambam about 15 years ago and wanted to thank you and tell you you have profoundly changed my life
avraham rosenblum, israel, 08/10/2009 12:32:00
Extrapolating
"Suddenly, [in some influential orthodox Jewish communities, for instance, Chabad,] the new truth was sincerity and dedication ...." Thanks, Dr. David Hartman, for making that observation, elaborating on it and summing it up like this. It made me realize one can extrapolate and apply it to the broader cultures so many of us grew up in as well, world over. And now I better understand how it can have been so hard to learn it`s possible to be sincerely wrong. "...the new truth was sincerity and dedication ...." Only regarding Jews can you reference this phenomenon as "new," and only to the extent it has usurped the talmudic tradition of wrestling ideas. Outside that narrow context the phenomenon is, of course, not new to societies or individuals. You would think even a cursory study of history would help anyone realize that sincerity and dedication need have nothing to do with truth! But to trust your own thinking when it starts going against prevailing wisdom, or for that matter against a strong single personality, takes strength and guts and faith that your Creator gave you adequate brains to do the job. You challenge each of us to look at the content of any given situation dispassionately, analytically, and with confidence to form our own conclusions. And you ask us to be aware how easy it has become even in Judaism to get lost in the charisma of someone`s sincerity and dedication to something that on analysis may show itself to be "appealing irrationality." "The deepest challenge to Judaism is that we have given up on the belief in the rational capacity of human beings to build a decent life. We`ve given up on reason, the greatest treasure that human beings have." Beautifully put but I hope not, at least in the main! We must continue to safeguard those traditions that nurture the flowering of individual, rational thought, if only because the rest of the world sometimes collectively has abandoned reason with disastrous consequences. For another thing, only to the extent someone can think for themselves can they actually examine a different perspective, as opposed to summarily rejecting it or swallowing it hook, line and sinker. Besides aha! moments of realization are fun and emotionally fulfilling.
Meira nee Olson, US/Israel, 08/10/2009 10:22:00
Balance
As a formerly secular Jew who has become "orthodox" over the last two years, my experience in yeshivas has been a little different from what you describe. It seems that most yeshivas focus on rational approaches to Jewish thought. In the end however, their students are just as clueless as to how their Gemara shiur translates into every day life (except that they are always prepared to comment on the kashrut of others). Similarly, non-orthodox institutions seem to be particularly focused on rationality. It was a struggle for me to find a mahala that speaks to both intellect and emotion. At the end of the day, I suspect that any Jewish education that doesn`t enlighten both will always fall short.
Michael, Israel/America, 21/09/2009 15:16:00
Brilliant article
I think we need to arrange for you to come to SA and give a few lectures.
Rob, South Africa, 21/05/2009 16:01:00
Lack of rationalism
What is happening today seems to mimic what happened almost three hundred years ago when the original chassidic movement was founded. A person is a complex being - not only must his mind be nourished but so must his heart. And while Orthodoxy of the various yeshivot has a lot of mind, they have lost the heart. This was recognized long ago when the mussar movement was initiated. But here too the study of mussar has become yet another subject that has no bearing on how I actually live my life. Study of Torah must never be divorced from the question of "Well, how should I now behave?" All of the extremist movements speak less to the mind than they speak to the heart, or better yet to the gut. And in the end that will win out over all the rationalism in the world.
Abe weschler, Israel, 24/03/2009 12:27:00