Thursday, March 10, 2011

Madlik on Jewish Education

On the topic of interesting blogs discussing in Judaism in ways that break down some of the traditional ideological boxes, I would like to point my readers to Madlik. The author, Geoffrey Stern, is a graduate of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, got a degree in philosophy and now considers himself post-orthodox.

This week Stern has a post on the potentially corrupting influence of "high holiday" Judaism. The usual objection, when discussing the high holidays is that for so many that is their entire Judaism. For Stern the danger is in how the high holidays can become, despite it only being three days a year, the model for Jewish education.

But as anyone who has experienced the whole scope of the Jewish calendar knows, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do not represent the mainstream of our tradition. By far the historical – experiential holidays of Sukkot, Shavuot, Purim and most of all Passover trump, or should trump the service – pietistic bend of the so-called High Holidays.

So too with education… The educational philosophy manifested by the four sons/children of the Passover Seder, their questions and sometimes snide comments remind us of what Jewish education is at its best. A noisy, rambunctious and irreverent endeavor in which each participant finds his/her own place and stakes his/her own position. ...

The vigorous, in-your-face debate of the Study Hall (Beit Midrash) of any traditional Yeshiva, where every point is debated, every premise questioned and every issue remains unresolved.. this is what is preserved at the Seder and is the bulwark of Jewish intellectual curiosity and vitality.

Just as the High Holidays have insipiently penetrated and monopolized the Jewish calendar, so too, a focus on sacrifice, service, ritual repetition (aka “continuity”) and blind-pure devotion to our beliefs, have sadly permeated Jewish education. With regard to an emphasis on Holocaust studies and the “They died in Service” mentality, it’s ironic (or is it?) that the word Holocaust comes from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt” and is ultimately a Leviticus term for a wholly burnt offering.

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