In Judaism, learning is part of piety. While the ideal of the simple, righteous person exists in Judaism, far more common is the person whose reverence flows from erudition. A Talmid chacham, a learned individual, is also assumed to be a good person.
Of course that is not always the case, but in Judaism the belief has long been that the more you know, the better you will be. Ancient historian Arnaldo Momilgiano observes: “In Athens and Rome thinking about religion usually made people less religious, among Jews the more you thought about religion the more religious you became.” Study was indispensible to growing spiritually. So it was then and so it is today.
The great question for Jewish survival is whether our children will learn. Jewish education may not quicken the philanthropic pulse like anti-Semitism or Israel, but as the Rabbis taught, the future of the world “depends upon the breath of schoolchildren.” If our children do not breathe the air of our tradition, learn its language and its lore, we will fade away. To all our children adrift in the secular sea, we throw an ancient lifeline — a book.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).