Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

The three different ways to learn Orthodox Judaism

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).

Advanced

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 1400 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/ or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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