Sunday, February 1, 2015

8 The More You Know The Less You Know #70days70years

I am learning to remember there once lived a person named Gezela Lorinz nee Noilander. She was born in Oradea Mare, Romania, 1885 and died in Auschwitz, 1944, aged 59. May her memory be for a blessing.

by Rabbi Malcolm Hermon

You can read the essay by clicking on the title above. Here are my thoughts.

One summer when I was a student I went for a month to a summer camp in America. It was a camp for Jewish students to instill in them a measure of religious identity which they may have, until then, not achieved. What started out as a last chance to catch assimilated youth before they went out into the world, became the focus of Jewish education for many less-affiliated families. They saw this camp for one month one time, as all the Jewish education their children needed.

I, on the other hand, had been sent to Hebrew classes for six hours a week from the age of 6 until 12. I hated it, as most of us did. We got a basic Jewish knowledge and learned to read Hebrew but that was it. It was largely based on Bible stories which were told as stories suitable for 6 year olds and never evolved into something meaningful for young adults. No wonder so many of us rejected it.

In my teens, however, I enjoyed the social life of groups who were far more religiously dedicated than I or my family. By the time I left school I was mixing with students who had been in full time secondary education in religious schools and were heading for full time study in yeshiva for up to three years before going to university. I knew nothing compared to these friends.

I stayed with this crowd though, because it was a good and enjoyable way of life. I liked the lifestyle but I didn't get it how all these families could live totally committed to a life based on the fairy stories I had been taught.

I came to the American summer camp from the opposite direction from most of the other students. I wanted to hear the philosophy taught to intelligent college students who were not already brainwashed into the whole family and community package. I wanted to hear it fresh, without all the superstitious add-ons and without the guilt factor of dropping out. I wanted the bottom line.

The application process included a questionnaire in which you had to rate yourself on a scale of 1 (least) to 5 (most). When I came to the question about my Jewish knowledge I obviously circled the modest 2. I knew more than those who had chosen a completely secular lifestyle but in my religious community I was largely faking it.

When Dr Bruce Powell met me at LAX airport to drive me to the camp we talked about the questionnaire and he told me that this one question was the the most telling of all. In this one question he could almost guarantee that students who circle the 4 know way less than students who circle the 2. It's obvious really. If you grow up with little Jewish background in a home that doesn't practice religion except maybe a bit on Pesach (Passover) and Yom Kippur and you know how to read Hebrew a bit, that you're not supposed to work or drive on Shabbat, and that meat from pigs is forbidden, then you pretty much know everything right?

In today's reading Rabbi Herman describes the depths of Jewish learning. How the main tracts, starting with the Torah, came into being. Each book building on the studies that came before and fitting together to form the vast volumes that are still studied today.

I don't study these books. I hear bits of knowledge and wisdom retold around the dinner table when dining with those who do. I live in Jerusalem, my life is half in Hebrew, I am a traditional Jew who celebrates all the Jewish festivals and holy days, I have an M.A. in linguistics and language learning. On a scale of 1 to 5 my Jewish knowledge is a 2.


  1. I found you via Elaine at Mortgage Free in Three. I have been reading some of these posts and thought I would tell you about a BBC4 programme that I watched last evening. Regina the First Female Rabbi - most interesting and inspiring.

  2. Thanks Blodwin, I'll have to look it up.