Elmer Rich

Real Problem-Solving, Torah Study and the Treaty with Iran

Both Torah study and the recent treaty negotiations prove that real accomplishments and “fixing the world” are hard, long and ambiguous, on-going processes. Real problem-analysis and problem-solving, require careful, precise scholarship and intellectual work and embrace complexity and diversity.

Right-wing politicians and the media hate real problem-analysis and problem-solving – they make the most money selling hysteria.

Jewish Intellectual Traditions – For Us All

No one knows better than Jews that real knowledge, accomplishments and progress takes very long and hard study, endless discussion and argument and a full embracing of the complexity and ambiguity of everyday life and problems. The very rich, millennia long traditions of Torah study, along with the unique and remarkable accomplishments of non-religious Jewish intellectual history and practices teach us what it takes to get things done and “repair the world.”

Whether it is in the study of the folklore contained in Torah or the remarkable accomplishments in science, medicine and business – Jewish intellectual traditions appear to support:

  • Really long, detailed, hard reading, scholarship and study
  • Active critical thinking and endless principled argument – endless! Oy.
  • Application to everyday life and immediate practical problems
  • Embracing and appreciation for complexity, ambiguity and difficulty
  • Cross-generational pursuit of hard problems
  • Deep empathy – for everyone and everything
  • Radical transparency and openness to all people and ideas
  • Easy mixing of scholarship, intellectual work, secular and religious-folklore and business interests

The brilliant accomplishments of, genetically, Jewish individuals is testament to the power of the intellectual traditions and practices (behaviors). As a side note, Jewish accomplishments in politics deserve more study.

Hard Problems Demand Really Hard, Long Work – and (Endless)Thinking

The Middle East is filled with very serious and difficult proliferating and cascading problems.  Just the problems from global warming, water scarcity, population and ecological changes are immense and really, really complicated. The breaking down of geographic boundaries between tribal-ethnic groups, because of growing populations, is always bloody and scary.  Human nature is for some young men to shoot-first and kill when encountering outsiders on “turf” – think of urban block-by-block gang warfare or drug cartel fights for “territory.” 99% of a population may be peaceful, but if 1% of the young men in a tribal group take up AK-47’s – you have a war!

To solve problems we may look to the behaviors institutionalized in the yeshiva. These seem very similar to those of the science – the most productive of all human behaviors. Beware the false promises of emotional appeals to fear, immediate danger, threat and hysteria – which dominate the public discussion in the U.S. and Israel.

But the fear and ethnic-tribal-mongering that sells media and gets votes kills real long-term problem-solving – as Torah study proves.

About the Author
Elmer Rich is interested in evidence-based problem-solving in professional, business and policy work. With an M.S. in Lifespan Developmental Psychology from University of Chicago, he works as a professional marketer and communicator in B2B/technical topics in financial services.