Ignorance and Apathy

Many years ago at my daughter’s six year old birthday party, her little friend calmly asked, “What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?” We were all surprised to hear such vocabulary from this young girl. She then blurted out, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”

Unfortunately, the ignorance and apathy in the Jewish world is not a joke. The prophets foresaw the era we are living in when they said that a time will come when there will be a famine in the land. It will not be a famine for lack of bread and water. But it will be a famine of those unwilling to hear the word of G-d.

The ignorance of basic Jewish concepts and even simple bible stories, is appalling. On the one hand, so much information is readily available by way of the Internet. But too many Jews are either apathetic or honestly do not believe that our religious teachings have relevance to them.

For those who have had the opportunity to study our sacred teachings, realize the Divine wisdom contained in it. They get direction from our Torah, and understand their purpose in this world.

This might explain why there is so much intermarriage and assimilation in the world. If Jews would only open these books, their perspective on their Jewishness would definitely change. They would not have to create their own value system, or look to other cultures in their search for meaning. Everything is right there in our holy books.

Added to this tragedy of incredible Jewish ignorance, is that many who have studied and identify themselves as Orthodox Jews, have also displayed their own share of ignorance. Some of the most basics principles of Judaism are completely neglected.

In our Mussaf prayers on every holiday, the liturgy begins with the words, “Because of our sins, we were exiled from the Land.” It should be rather obvious that the presence of Jews living outside of Israel represents a curse of sorts. It is a sign of being rejected or unworthy to be able to live in our holy land.

The Prophet Ezekiel goes a step further by saying that those outside of Israel desecrate the Name of G-d. The Gentiles are able to mock the Jews by saying. “If you are G-d’s chosen people, why are you not living in His land?” Such accusations make G-d look weak. Thereby, desecrating His Name.

The Galut, exile, is a curse. Knowledgeable Jews know that if we are not in Israel, we are guests anywhere else. Only Israel is our home. When we are guests, we are meant to live modestly and not arouse the envy of the Gentile.

Another example of such ignorance, is seen every year on the Fast of the Ninth of Av. It is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It marks the destruction of our two holy Temples in Jerusalem. It is a day where we reflect upon what we once were as a people. The Jewish nation that once all served G-d in Jerusalem with holiness is scattered throughout the world.

In essence, Tisha B’Av is the day that created this apathy and ignorance. We were once a people who collectively knew its purpose and what G-d expected of us. All that was shattered with the burning of our temples.

Somehow, the lessons of this fast day have been changed into anti-semitism day. Rabbis recount the bitter torment of our history by mentioning the pogroms and persecutions that Jews suffered over the generations. Ignorance has caused a diversion from the true meaning of this day.

The Jewish people remain a great people. By the grace of G-d, we have always been blessed with holy Jews who never stopped studying and never strayed from true Jewish ideals. Israel is strong and Torah study is equally strong. They are “holding down the fort” so to speak. It is our fervent prayer that Jews everywhere intensify their studies. This applies to the most ignorant and apathetic who have never studied, to those who have studied but somehow have strayed from true Jewish beliefs.

When this happens, ignorance and apathy will no longer be a tragedy, but will remain a cute little joke of a six year old.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.
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