Sunday, October 26, 2008

תורה ודעת

One realization I just came to (although it's really quite obvious), which is the kind of thing I would have expected to be mentioned in "Jews G-d and History", is that it seems one of the reasons Jews have risen to prominence in the countries they have reached is due to the Talmud. What is usually mentioned though, is that the reason for this is that their minds were sharpened in the sharp, penetrating and analytical arguments and give-and-takes of the Talmud. One thing I think worth considering though, is that their minds were undoubtedly sharpened by the breadth of subject matter that the laws of the Mishna and the Talmud cover as well.

This thought came to me as I was involved in reading Mishna, Tractate Kilayim (though the same is true for any other tractate, and definitely for the Talmud); one must have a firm grounding in botony if one is to ever fully comprehend the underlying principles of that tractate, as well as for parts of Tractate Berakhot and other tractates. But then again, one must be proficient in the realities of real estate interactions to fully comprehend the principles behind Tractate Bava Batra (of Nezikin). One too must have a firm grip on mathematics and geometry for one to understand the more technical discussions in parts of the Talmud.

Even today; one cannot come to a decision about whether pasteurized grape juice if fitting for the blessing recited upon wine if one does not comprehend the physical and chemical reality of pasteurization. And so on and so fourth, with all the laws. The 'artist' must know what is going on on 'Wall street'. The 'banker' has to know what is happening in the 'art world'.

Therefore one must have a great storehouse of many different branches of wisdom in order to understand 'The Torah'. But for these studies the knowledge one gains in the process is not mundane- for it being a means to understand G-d's word sanctifies it to a level of purpose and import that it otherwise would not have had.

And in my mind, it is this 'worldliness' that the Mishna and Talmud (not to mention The Tanakh) afford the Jew that has made him intellectually a step above the rest, and has given him prominence in the countries he has travelled.

(Sorry about having so many pictures- I just couldn't part with them!)

[לאפוקי מדעת המתנגדים לעיון ב"ספרים חיצונים", וסוברים דכל מה שאפשר לדעת כבר נמצא בתורה]


Rachel said...

I used to have a [non-Jewish] teacher in high school who would consistently tell us the boys were smarter than us because they learned gemarah. She reasoned that they had greater critical thinking skills. Your idea (of greater well-roundedness) makes sense, but I never thought the average person would actually go out and explore the "science" behind what he is studying... I do, however, recall reading a biography of the Ramban that represented him as doing such.

(You took the pictures?)

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Thank you. Though I was discussing more the "Jewish Gene" phenomenon than 'whether boys are smarter than girls'. Though it's interesting a female non-Jewish teacher would hammer that kind of thing in, let alone mention it..

By the way, if you didn't understand the Hebrew at the bottom, I said "this is in opposition to those who beleive that one should not obtain a secular education, and all there is to know can be found in the Torah". So all I was really saying is that learning Gemara inspires an interest in, and gives purpose to many branches of study (so studying is what makes you smart, not Gemara).

Also: That's a bit funny, because I recall the Ramban as being a little suspicious of over-indulging in 'philosophy' ('the sciences').

And: Nah, I just found the pictures online. It always sucks though that all the good pictures on "Flikr" are protected..

Rachel said...

I didn't mean for it to come out as a boys vs. girls concept... just to point out what she believed the effects of gemarah to be... and then to compare that to your idea that it's not just the gemarah that really makes you smart- but also the study of other fields in order to understand it.

re-Ramban: ha.