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Definition of Educated Jew

Being an educated Jew is much like being an educated lover. At a minimum, he should know what turns off his beloved, maybe forbidden foods (too much garlic?) that can cause him to become malodorous, making closeness difficult and unpleasant.

Judaism holds that forbidden foods, such a lobster, cause Jews to be less sensitive people and Judaism is really all about qualities of relationships. Prohibitions in Judaism are very parallel to undesirable behaviour in a relationship of two lovers. On the flip side, just as a good lover must know what his partner desires to awaken more love, so, too, are the obligations of Judaism’s chains of love to G-d, though this is secondary to prohibitions, which in human relationships means before turning one’s lover on, make sure you don’t turn her off.

This basic knowledge of behavioural Judaism can be mastered by studying the Abbreviated Code of Jewish Law. But having the basic knowledge of what to avoid and what to do can be, on some level, a type of “Stepford Wife” behaviour. Some shallow men may enjoy such an obedient wife, at least for a while. Healthier men and women, though, will more enjoy a lover who is more than a two-dimensional robot with a perpetual smile. People crave partners who will help them grow and that introduces a psychological aspect into relationships where people need to know the motive of their partner in order to promote a healthier growth.

In Judaism such psychological knowledge is not at all addressed in the Code of Jewish Law. Psychological knowledge is really understanding motivations and it is gleaned from the near infinite vineyards of the Talmud as well as its commentaries  (Rif , Rambam, Rosh, Ramban, Rashi, Tosefoth, Ritva, ‘Arukh LeNer…Reshash et al).  The “problem” with the Talmud and its commentaries is time. To complete a daily regimen of a page per day of Talmud at the rate of one hour of study, which is quite superficial and without commentaries, takes seven years.  Consequentially, an educated Jew is someone who has paid his dues of time and is, by nature of time, an older person much as a good lover (hopefully) increases his ability to love through study and experience over his lifetime.

But this knowledge of behaviour and motivation is still not enough to be an educated Jew if it isn’t translated into action. Imagine a man with “How to Love” books strewn across his house, yet despite all of his knowledge, the man never applies it.

This is man’s greatest challenge. Judaism began to falter in this area probably because the raw, brute cruelty of pogroms and such, especially in Eastern Europe, put mere survival before pursuit of the Divine. (Eastern Jewry somehow seems to have had a deeper relationship with G-d even without these two disciplines, possibly because of less persecution.) The two remedies that were developed to translate knowledge into action were popular Jewish mysticism known as chassiduth and a very aggressive study of practical ethics known as mussar, though mussar itself is actually far older than chassiduth. Chassiduth is more concerned with “why” (though qabbalah goes far deeper into this), while mussar is more concerned with behaviour modification. Chassiduth and mussar may be akin to a couples’ retreat that never ends.

The Talmud itself says “learn with someone else or your learning will die” and this expresses the need to learn either in public lectures, in smaller classroom environments or even in one-to-one situations. Learning in such ways with these two approaches make Jews constantly conscious of their obligations towards others so that not only are people not stepping on others’ toes, but they are actually lifting them up with love.