Judaism was born out of opposition, rebellion and protest. It overthrew and outlived mighty empires and gave the world a radically new understanding of itself. Judaism has nothing to fear. It has prevailed over all those who criticized it but has also learned much about itself by listening to opposing voices. Through these voices, it has been able to sharpen its own claims and if necessary change its mind when the inadequacy of these claims has become clear. Only in this way will it continue to play a central role in the future of mankind.
Jewish education has only one goal, and that is to inspire students to reach for Heaven (Yirat Shamayim)—to transform them into outstanding human beings, who demonstrate concern for their fellowmen and dedication towards the Jewish people and the notion to serve mankind as its ultimate mission, according to the commandments of the Torah.
We are in desperate need of bold ideas that will place the Torah in the center of our lives and make us receptive to God’s presence through a daring new encounter with Him. Let it be heroic. Not staid and comfortable, but painful and hard-won; a deep breath in the midst of the ongoing conflict ever-present in the heart of humankind.
Learning Torah requires human authenticity; it means standing in front of a mirror and asking yourself the daunting question of who you really are, without masks and artificialities.
When teaching, our rabbis’ and teachers’ personal conduct must be a reflection of what they impart in the classroom, as there is truly no better education than by example. Thought and practice must illuminate each other.
Nobody can deny that Judaism today finds itself in a crisis that threatens to have devastating consequences. Instead of Judaism growing upward, vertically, it is becoming corpulent, growing horizontally. The growth of adherence to Halacha in the last few decades has clearly not been accompanied by a true religious revival. Genuine religiosity has nothing to do with the Yiddish expression of frumkeit, an untranslatable expression of routine religious observance.
To live a life of faith is to be prepared to live a committed religious life according to an inner belief of the heart and not because there is absolute empirical certainty. There is a constant need for questioning and rethinking one’s beliefs. In many ways, religion must be warfare—a fight against the indolence and callousness that stifles inquiry.
We are in need of a radically different kind of yeshiva: one in which students are confronted with serious challenges to Halacha and its weltanschauung and learn how to respond; where they become aware that it is not certainty, but doubt, that gets you an education; where it is not Rabbinic authority that reigns supreme, but religious authenticity.
Like the generation of the Tower of Babel, in which the whole world was “of one language and of one speech,” we are producing a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered to be the ultimate ideal.
Israeli teachers should create tension in the classroom by presenting their own ideas about Judaism and Jewishness, and then wage war on them, asking the students to fight them with knives between their teeth and come up with new ideas. In that way, the students will begin to appreciate and love what Judaism is all about. And only then should the teachers introduce biblical, Talmudic and midrashic texts as part of the discussion.