The irony is hard to miss. The heirs of Plato and Socrates and the descendants of Judah Maccabee are at odds once again.
On campuses where “Greek life” thrives, Jewish students are fearful and unprotected. In the shadows of Greek architecture, young people justify the mass murder of Jewish communities.
It’s perplexing. Shouldn’t the “people of the book” and those who study the “classics” pair together like latkes and Greek yogurt?
A visit to a Yeshiva and a campus library offers the “context” of this discord.
In Yeshiva, students sit across from each other with tomes written nearly two thousand years ago, as they discuss and debate the meaning of text. The day often begins with the words “Zogt Der Gemorah” (as stated in the Talmud) as one sets out on the quest to understand a higher truth.
The study hall is a noisy place. Conversations are loud and robust. There is a higher truth we are trying to understand, and to grasp it, we need to apply every part of ourselves. We are reaching and stretching toward a knowledge greater than ourselves.
In the university, the student similarly engages in the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, they are also its arbitrator. Knowledge is measured against their understanding and must be understood in the framework of its time.
Thus, the library is a quiet space. Library voices are used, and the sound of a pencil scratching paper can be heard. Immersed in the classics, they further their own knowledge while questioning the wisdom of the author. “My truth” may have become more important than “the truth”.
A Torah Scholar is called a Talmid Chacham, a student of the sages, as one forever remains a student; the human is not the master, the creator is. The university produces a “Doctor,” a qualified authority in their field.
Indeed, for the college president, the answer to every question is “it would depend on context”; they are the arbiters of truth, and everything needs to be contextualized.
Torah scholar gives the answer Moses did when he was asked a question to which he did not know the reply: ‘Wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you.’ Let me listen for the truth.
Thus, Aristotle taught, ‘Let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.’ Moses brought down the Tablets, which had ‘Thou shall not murder’ alongside ‘I am Hashem your God.’
The contextualized truth has no boundaries and cannot coexist with a divine word. In this context, the Chanukah story occurs.