Monday, December 29, 2008

What We Teach Our Children

This morning we completed the Kidushin tractate; tomorrow we start Bava Kamma. The final Mishna in the Kidushin tractate talks about the education and vocational training a father must give his sons. The final viewpoint, that of rabbi Nehorai, is that the single most important, perhaps even exclusively important one, is to teach them Torah.

As I've written elsewhere, the tradition of Daf Yomi, the daily page of Gemara learned in cycles of seven and a half years, is new: it was invented a mere 80 years ago or so, even if by now hundreds of thousands of people, men and women, participate. The tradition of learning, however, is ancient. On any given day, and every single given day over the past 2,200 years, through thick or thin (there has been lots of thin), Jews have been studying the Mishna and its ever-growing supplementary layers; the Mishna itself looks back to centuries of learning Biblical sources. When we participate today, and tomorrow, and next year, we're participating in a lively conversation that has been going on, literally uninterrupted, for more than 2,500 years. The conversation has spanned the entire Jewish world, with contributions coming from today's Iran westward to America (recently); from Northern Europe to Yemen. At all times the discussion included intricate and detailed things about the Land of Israel, Erez Yisrael; most of the time, though not for a few centuries before and after the fist Christian millennium, some of the participants have been Jews living here. The last time this wasn't true was about the time Columbus was discovering America, perhaps a bit earlier. Ever since then, however, there has been an uninterrupted presence of scholars contributing to the discussion from this holy and unique land.

Zionism is not, by and large, a religious phenomenon, nor even a cultural one, though it is also them. It is not to be explained simply by the Jewish insistence on carrying on that conversation no matter what, nor because of their insistence on doing so here. But it is also that. Jews who wish to look away from these facts may do so: we're an argumentative bunch and we always argue about everything, including crucially important things. Non-Jews, however, who take for themselves the right to decide what we may or may not dream of, may or may not aspire to, may or may not attempt: they surely are denying us the right to be who we've always been. This, most emphatically, is a form of antisemitism, have no doubt about it. No matter how they play with words or profess otherwise.

We teach our children to be Jews: we teach them to be part of the discussion, with all the responsibilities that entails.

Achikam just called. They're turning off their cellphones now. We've done our best to teach him; now he's shouldering the responsibilities.


Anonymous said...

Mayeverything that is benevolent in this world protect your son.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

If your son was ordered to shoot a bound and blindfolded prisoner in the foot, what do you think he would do?

And, perhaps more importantly, what do you think he should do?

Anyway. I've obliged you and done a post on the Gaza op on my blog.

Anonymous said...

May the L-rd, mighty and just,
be with Achikam and all Israeli