Our Intense Focus on Torah Education is Celebrated, Yet it’s Flawed

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Sefer Torah
08 Aug 2019

Complementing the creation of the State of Israel, the revitalization of Torah study in both Israel and the Diaspora has been pivotal to the rejuvenation of Jewry following the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust. In the Diaspora, formal Jewish education, for toddler to teenager, has been the primary antidote to assimilation and intermarriage. And, both in Israel and beyond, Jewish studies have not only taught our children of their Jewish identity, but also of its meaning and significance.

Our community’s intense focus on youth-centered Torah education is deservedly celebrated, yet it is significantly flawed. Inculcating children with both Jewish values and Torah study skills is certainly essential. We err, however, in framing Judaic studies as a formalized educational endeavor, akin to geometry and civics. Not only do students begin to view Torah as an academic exercise rather than a way of life, but they graduate with the misimpression that schooling has provided the necessary level of religious studies they will need to enjoy a meaningful religious life. The depth and sophistication of their knowledge, however, is that of a teenager. High school level biology may be adequate for most students, but not for those who intend to go on to a career in healthcare or the sciences. Similarly, a high school level understanding of Judaism is wholly insufficient for Jews seeking a meaningful, lifelong religious experience.

The legendary Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok KaCohen Kook z”l, observed that in every society, in every religion, in every country, in every era throughout history, there is a remarkable inverse correlation between a community’s level of education and sophistication and the degree of its religious intensity. The more educated a community, the less vigorous its religious commitment. Is this observation not evidence, asked Rav Kook, that religion generally appeals only to the most primitive minds? Doesn’t this inverse correlation prove that we, as sophisticated individuals, should recognize the folly of a commitment to, and passion for, Torah Judaism?

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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.