In memory of my father and teacher, Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l, who taught 200,000 adults how to read Hebrew. Regarding my father, see David Golinkin, Insight Israel: The View from Schechter, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 157-167 = www.schechter.edu/InsightIsrael.aspx?ID=76; Rafael Medoff,Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, s.v. Golinkin, Noah; Rafael Medoff and David Golinkin, The Student Struggle Against the Holocaust, Jerusalem, 2010. On his tenth yahrzeit, 25 Adar 5773.
The following speech was delivered on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at the opening event of the “Israeli Friends of Schechter” in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Dov Elbaum and Kobi Oz – Liebhaber Prize winners for 2013, the heads of the Schechter non-profits, donors, faculty, staff, graduates and students.
Two weeks ago an historic event took place in the Knesset. New Knesset member Dr. Ruth Calderon stood in the Knesset and said what many think, but no one dared to say so at the Knesset podium:
I was educated like everyone else my age – public education in the spirit of “from Tanach to Palmach”. I was not acquainted with the Mishnah, the Talmud, Kabbalah or Hassidism. By the time I was a teenager, I already sensed that something was missing. Something about the new, liberated Israeli identity of [Moshe Shamir’s] “Elik who was born of the sea”, of Naomi Shemer’s poems, was good and beautiful, but lacking. I missed depth; I lacked words for my vocabulary; a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories – were missing. The new Hebrew, created by educators from the country’s founding generation, realized their dream and became a courageous, practical, and suntanned soldier. But for me, this contained – I contained – a void. I did not know how to fill that void, but when I first encountered the Talmud and became completely enamored with it, its language, its humor, its profound thinking, its modes of discussion, and the practicality, humanity, and maturity that emerge from its lines, I sensed that I had found the love of my life, what I had been lacking…
It is impossible to stride toward the future without knowing where we came from and who we are, without knowing, intimately and in every particular, the sublime as well as the outrageous and the ridiculous. The Torah is not the property of one movement or another. It is a gift that every one of us received, and we have all been granted the opportunity to meditate upon it as we create the realities of our lives. Nobody took the Talmud and rabbinic literature from us. We gave it away, with our own hands, when it seemed that another task was more important and urgent: building a state, raising an army, developing agriculture and industry, etc. The time has come to re-appropriate what is ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us… (Ruth Calderon, “Opinion”, The Jewish Week, February 14, 2013).
One can assume that all present here tonight identify with her words and agree with her. Therefore, I was shocked to read the reaction of a (supposedly) learned Jew on the internet. He questioned whether the secular study of the Talmud is forbidden by the Talmud itself (Rabbi Gil Student, “Secular Talmud”, Hirhurim – Torah Musings, February 17, 2013 (also found on Jewish Ideas Daily)).
He maintained that the correct study of the Torah is Torah Lishmah, Torah for its own sake, and it is stated in the Talmud in a number of places that whoever engages in Torah study not for its own sake “it is better for him that he had not been created” or “it becomes for him an elixir of death” (Berakhot 17a and Ta’anit 7a).
And what is Torah not for its own sake? The Tosafists explain inSotah 22b that this is a person who does not study Torah in order to observe the commandments.
This explanation agrees with Yershalmi Berakhot (1:5, ed. Venice, fol. 3b; and cf. Vayikra Rabbah 35:7, ed. Margaliot, p. 826 and the parallels cited there):
For a person who studies not in order to do, it is better for him that he had not been created, And Rabbi Yohanan said: A person who studies not in order to do, it would have been better for him had his placenta been turned over his face and that he had not been born.
In other words, according to these sources, the study of Torah without the intent to observe mitzvot is a bad and undesirable act.
As for the first claim, the Tosafists do indeed say so in the tractate of Sotah, but in other places they themselves say that “Torah not for its own sake” means that he learns in order to annoy his friendsor that he learns because he is afraid of being punished or that he learns in order to receive a reward (see Tosafot to Berakhot, Ta’anit, Sotah, loc. cit.).
As for the opinion in the Yerushalmi, this is clearly a minority opinion, because the majority opinion according to the Bible, rabbinic literature and the halakhic authorities is that it is amitzvah for all Jews to study Torah.
It says in the Torah in the Shema (Deut. 6:7): “And you shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them when sitting at home, when walking on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up”.
And so it says in Deutoronomy 33:4: “Moses commanded the Torah to us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob”. And our Sages explained in Sanhedrin 91b:
Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: Whoever withholdshalakhah from a student, it is as if he robs him of the heritage of his ancestors, as it is written “Moses commanded the Torah to us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob” – it is a heritage of the entire Jewish people from the six days of Creation.
And so ruled Maimonides in his Laws of Torah Study (1:8, 10):
Every Jewish man is obligated to study Torah, (Maimonides did not include women in the mitzvah of Torah study (ibid., 1:1,13), but we have proved elsewhere that women are also obligated to study Torah – see my book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, pp. 358-366). whether he is poor or rich… whether he is young or an old man whose strength has diminished.
Even if he is a poor man who derives his livelihood from charity and begs from door to door, even if he is a husband and [a father of] children, he must establish a fixed time for Torah study during the day and at night, as it is said: “You shall think about it day and night” (Joshua 1:8)…
Until when is he obligated to study Torah? Until the day he dies, as it is said: “Lest you remove it from your heart, all the days of your life” (Deut. 4:9)…
Indeed, the Torah belongs to the entire Jewish people and not just to the minority which defines itself as “Orthodox” or “ultra-Orthodox”. The mission of the Schechter non-profits for the past 28 years is to teach Torah throughout the State of Israel to every Jewish man and woman, boy and girl, in an open and pluralistic fashion.
Each of our non-profits teaches a different audience in a different fashion:
– The 82 graduates of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary teach Torah at Conservative congregations throughout Israel and Europe, as hospital chaplains, at TALI schools and in community centers.
– The Schechter Graduate School teaches Jewish Studies to almost 700 students in an interdisciplinary fashion, while 1,200 graduates teach part of what they learned here throughout the country, from Kiryat Shemonah to Eilat.
– The TALI schools teach Jewish studies to 41,000 children at almost 90 TALI schools and 126 pre-schools throughout the country, and to many thousands more via the “Jewish Culture” program.
– Midreshet Yerushalayim teaches Torah for its own sake to thousands of children, teenagers and adults at Neve Schechter in Tel Aviv, at Batei Midrash (Learning Centers) from Karmiel to Eilat, and throughout the Ukraine.
The total budget of all four non-profits is less than 8 million dollars per year, but the State of Israel until now has not funded us because of the mistaken notion that Judaism only belongs to the “Orthodox” and the “ultra-Orthodox”. Most of our donors live in North America and they ask: Where are the Israelis? Why don’t they support their own Jewish education? The question is justified and deserves an answer. Therefore, we founded the Israel Friends of Schechter in order to raise money in Israel for this crucial goal, in order to ensure “that out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3; Michah 4:2).
I want to conclude with an email we received three years ago from a woman in Kfar Saba:
My name is Dorit and I am the mother of two daughters, one in first grade and one in kindergarten.
I want to inquire if you have any kind of framework for classes about Judaism in Kfar Saba.
My daughter goes to a public school and it bothers me very much that there is no education for values and for Judaism.
I am very interested that my daughters should know, respect, love and want to know and understand Judaism…
Dorit is right. Most of the Jews in the State of Israel are very interested that their children should know, respect, love and want to know and understand Judaism. We understood this 28 years ago and we are fulfilling her wish: We are teaching Jewish studies to 45,000 Jews of all ages. With your help we will continue to expand the circle of learners until every Jew in the State of Israel will understand and agree that the Torah is “a heritage of the entire Jewish People from the six days of Creation”.
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.