lunes, septiembre 05, 2005

On Yeshiva Reform

“You are no doubt aware that the Almighty, desiring to lead us to perfection and to improve our state of society, has revealed us laws which are to regulate our actions. These laws however presuppose an advanced state of intellectual culture. We must first form a conception of the Existence of the Creator according to our capabilities. That is we must have a knowledge of Metaphysics. But this discipline can only be approached after the study of Physics ...”

Moshes Maimonides, “The Guide for the Perplexed”

For two thousand years, the Talmudic community has worked as a hayekian spontaneus order . The rabbis wrote their comments, and other rabbis made comments on those comments. The quality of a text was calibrated by the consensus of the rabbinical community, and the stock of literature slowly increased, creating a fascinating system of crossed links and comments. A dialogue across centuries.

Conservative in ritual and moral affairs, the rabbis have been amazingly open in philosophical terms, and the relatively uniform interpretation of the law in Orthodox Judaism hiddens an eclosion of different cosmovisions, and even more, the most serious and sincere effort to understand the most transcendental of all matters: God´s intentions, in such a intimate way, that any other religion would consider even blasphemous. (Hubris: that´s why G_d chose the Jews).

Great rabbis were respected not by their coactive power, but because of their intellectual and moral reputation. The increasing stock of precedents resembled the anglo saxon law, and the automatic and descentralized checks and balances were parallel to the current system of references in which the scientific community is based on.

Beautiful, isn´t it? No longer.

Using the ultra-representative parliamentary system that has turned the Knesset into a battlefield for special interests, religious parties have kidnapped the budget to keep an state-sponsored system of religious schools (yeshivas). The yeshiva students, close to eighty thousand, are sustained by the state, and exempted from military service.

But the worst part is not the cost or unfairness of this religiously ruled welfare state: for the eternal shame of the religious leadership, the system is intellectually negligible. The majority of the yeshivas, besides religion are esentially ignorant of general culture or science. Given that the “Torah speaks the language of men” (Maimonides), the ones who doesn´t understand the language of men, can forget about understanding the message from God.

Some yeshivas, when try to get a job are unable to get an intellectual or even clerical position. Only a few have universitary studies, and the people that are supposed to spiritually led the most enlightened people of the world would´t be accepted in an educated dinner.

The whole israeli yeshiva system resembles both in cost and inefficiency the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, and the Shas leaders, instead of religious Jews, look like an exotic version of Jose Bové and other agricultural lobbyists.

Of course, to be a legitimate Jewish state, Israel should fund the study of the Torah. But the Jewish religious studies should´t work as a religious-political monopoly, but as an academic meritocracy. What they used to be.

The sinergies between secular and Jewish studies are not only obvious: they are clearly stated by the greatest all-time Jewish scholar (in the quote that heads this post).

So I propose that the state should sustain yeshivas with a program of bursaries, choosing the candidates to be sponsored from the secular university, with given quotas for every branch of science or arts. A few thousands bursaries should be issued every year, with competitive salaries (instead of tens of thousands with subsistency wages: money for nothing). The students should be finally chosen by the rabbis, but only the ones with good general degrees should be sponsored for the state. If somebody else is interested in yeshivas, he or she can pay for herself.

So, if somebody want to be an sponsored yeshiva student, he should go for university studies on a branch of his election, get good enough marks [1], and then he/she can go for religious studies. In particular, a fixed number [2] of yeshiva bursaries should be granted in every branch, to avoid the system to be overcrowded by a few kinds of studies (Literature for example).

It makes no sense to throw people into the yeshiva with no previous knowledge or interest, so optional religious studies [3] should be offered in the secular universities to help the future religious students. Some could say that if secular studies are compulsive for rabbis, religion should be compulsive for all students.

Not really: a doctor can be no more than a doctor, but a rabbi should always be more than a rabbi.

There are two essential non.religious reasons for this reform. The first is directly practical: an educated religious establishment would be not less radical, but at least more realistic. If Israel goes to theocracy (G_d forbid!), at least it should be a highly educated one, able to keep the country running in an hostile environment.

Secondly, the spillovers from Talmudic science into secular studies, and from secular studies to Talmud could be impressive. Can you imagine how much can help modern individualistic ethics or economics in order to understand the Jewish Law? The other way round, a subtle yeshiva approach into secular Law or political system can give amazing returns.

In some other fields as Physics or Mathematics the result could be even more revolutionary. Modern scientists are trading elegance for empirism. That is something that a religious Jew would never do. For him or her, the Universe is a Text created by G_d. Whether right or wrong, this is always a fruitful approach.

But there is something more: modern Western society, probably the most moral and prosperous of History suffers from a deep crisis. We die from success. Perhaps we need a religion. The monotheism is the most rational of all religious systems, but it needs a deep update, not (only) moral but (essentially) philosophical. I trust the People that created monotheism to produce a new synthesis between a (apparently) meaningless universe and a meaningful Creator.

That should be the final step to Messianic Age: the moment when finally religion could be naturally mixed with the rest of human knowledge. When finally our spirit stops to be divided and confused: when cognitive dissonance is not inevitable anymore.

[1] People could be picked from the (for example) 40% best of every branch of studies. Within that group, religious authorities should be autonomous to choose their favorite candidates.
[2] My proposal would be that the percentage of yeshiva bursaries for v.g. engineers should be proportional to the percentage of graduated engineers that Israel universities produce every year. If not enough people is interested within a branch, the money allocated goes back to the state.
[3] For example, every Israeli student could be given the opportunity to do the 15% of her credits in religious studies. All religious subjects should be optional.


At 1:01 a. m., Anonymous Naixin said...

Now I understand why Bonhoeffer said that Christianism is NOT a religion. It is not an anthropological structure but a scatological (spelling?) reality.

Europe won´t last long once Christianism is gone, but the proposal that you offer for saving the Old Continent is naive, maybe absurd. Nice read anyway.

At 3:20 p. m., Blogger David Boxenhorn said...

A very interesting post (and thanks for the links). I don't like the idea of solving problems by adding bureaucracy. I'd rather subtract it.

There is a very high degree of diversity in the Yeshiva world, they come and go all the time. The problem is that by law, if you leave the Yeshiva you get drafted into the army. So, if you plan to never go to the army you have to make a lifetime commitment to Yeshiva. This doesn't do much to encourage life skills. Take away that rule, and the normal level Jewish ingenuity will reassert itself, I am sure.

Things will change. As the Haredi population grows, it becomes harder to economically support their Yeshivas. Per capita support has been declining for years, and people in the Haredi world know that things are changing. Already, there are Haredi institutions for teaching secular trades, and they are increasing in popularity.

At 10:31 p. m., Blogger Kantor said...

Hello David,

Thank you for your contributions. Well, I think my proposal is not specially bureaucratic, provided you have an Universitary bureaucracy in first place. It is no more than a simple system of academic bursaries under simple and transparent rules.

"As the Haredi population grows, it becomes harder to economically support their Yeshivas. Per capita support has been declining for years"

Don´t subestimate the ability of lobbists to keep the welafare state running. Specially under the ultra-representative parlamentary system you have in Israel. Perhaps I am wrong.

Anyway my proposal, as you can see is more directed towards improve the quality of Jewish studies, than to reduce costs.

Anyway thank you for your time. I keep on reading rishon-rishon, my second daily blog after marginalrevolution.

At 2:09 p. m., Blogger David Boxenhorn said...

I, too, was speaking of quality, not costs (though that also counts). When people want to see a job on the horizon, or when they are children of people who have knowledge of the working world, their perception of quality education changes (for the better). I would rather the concept of quality be determined by the real world than by a university cloister.

I'm gratified that you're still reading my blog. Too bad there's nothing much to read lately. Been busy...

At 2:10 p. m., Blogger David Boxenhorn said...

More Haredim are entering the job market, that's the bottom line. A trend I expect to continue.

At 8:12 p. m., Blogger AMDG said...

Hola Kantor,

Veo muy difícil la síntesis a la que se refiere el artículo al final, porque es el cristianismo, la religión de la caridad.

El advenimiento de la época mesiánica (del fin de la historia) ha sido predicado muchas veces. Pero es un error, un malentendido: el fin de la historia es materialmente imposible.

Un abrazo


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