Down with dull, bland, anemic, decrepit, timid, inauthentic ‘Judaism’!
These three ways are qualitatively different. The first one lacks, the second leads astray, and the third one is rare but proper. I think. Do you agree?
Common, Immature Learning
This could be a proper way to learn Judaism for beginners, to learn the basics—and beyond. But it quickly becomes inauthentic.
Just learning what the books say. Some of the students will become teachers, so boring. Ask what they think. They don’t really think. They lack the guts. They got their creativity killed. They just copy. They just parrot.
It’s commendable to have absorbed so much. But they are insufferable parents, teachers, and authors for kids and students who are the most honest, creative, and intelligent among us. They chase them away.
Most of the Biggest Rabbis suddenly look superhuman. They are creative! But scared. Well, we all are naturally creative. And should not be timid.
While we need to start with taking in what others say, we must immediately also begin to question everything. If we don’t start off doing that, later, we might be too timid or scared to even try.
The only real way for humans to learn is to connect any new information to stuff we know already. Stacking new knowledge is not learning.
I went with a novel idea to truly one of the greatest Rabbis alive today. He was livid. “How could you come to me with such an idea? Why don’t you bring me merely a chiddush [novelty] on a Tosfot [one commentator]?” he exclaimed dismayed. He fled to the bedroom and let the Rebbetzin see me out; who was quite embarrassed, asked me if I wanted to drink something.
This is often sold as authentic Judaism but it is neither. It has a name and aura of purity and safety. It is rather a distortion and a dead end.
Less Common, Faulty Learning
This is about being creative before knowing enough. Every thought is a revolution. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s sparkling—it stopped being Judaism.
If this were a popular way to learn, soon, no Orthodox Judaism would remain. Every Jew would follow his or her ‘own judaism.’
Rare but Proper Learning
This is basically a combination of the above two ways. Each on its own is not proper; the combination is. It knows three stages: learn, ask, check.
LEARN First, we need to learn a lot of Judaism. There is plenty so, no one needs to run out of material to absorb ever. Without much knowledge, our brain has nothing to work with. We need to know and keep learning.
ASK Then, we need to get creative. Slow down, asks questions no one told us to ask, and seek answers. Brainstorm; no idea is too crazy to consider.
CHECK And lastly, we must ask ourselves and others, what of our novelties connects to basic Judaism and to Science (this physical world). If it doesn’t dovetail, it probably is no good and needs to go. Or, we may keep it on the back burner to see if we can fit it in later. Or, we can add it to Judaism as an investigated, and rejected untruth. That’s progress too (Popper).
And where does my new idea on Jewish learning link to classical Judaism? We say at the beginning of our Main Prayer: “our G^d and the G^d of our ancestors.” Our conception must come first; but then we must connect it.
We must prioritize learning from role models who know, dare, and check. Over the years, there have been plenty of innovative, great teachers. We need to seek them out and understand what they revolutionized. Think of: Abraham, Moses, Rabbi Akiva, Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, the Baal Shem Tov, the Ramchal, Rabbiner Hirsch, Rav Salanter, Malbim, the Rebbe, Rav Ovadia, Reb Shlomo, Rav Cardozo, and the teachers you specially like.
And we need to check our humility level. Do we think we’re better than everyone else? That would be a clear indication that we’ve left Judaism. The never-innovators at least have the merit that they prevent old Judaism from getting forgotten. But it needs to be seen if our novelties have merit.