VA’ETCHANAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism - RABBI BEN­JAMIN RICK­MAN

“If your child asks you to­mor­row… you shall say to your child ” Deuteron­omy 6:20-21

IF the verses above are fa­mil­iar, you have done well. They are read ev­ery year in the pas­sage on the Four Sons at Seder. If thoughts of Pesach panic you, stay calm and keep read­ing. Ju­daism’s grandeur is re­flected in its abil­ity to deal and ac­tively en­cour­age ques­tions. As an ed­u­ca­tor, I am al­ways amazed by the depth and hon­esty in the ques­tions that I am asked by my high school stu­dents.

How­ever, this is not al­ways the case. A study of Is­raeli youth who had de­fected from Or­tho­doxy re­vealed that many had left not be­cause they were both­ered by doc­trine or the de­sire for “free­dom”, but be­cause they had stopped ask­ing, or were not en­cour­aged to ask, ques­tions. Greater still is the dam­age done by some ed­u­ca­tors who la­bel their stu­dents’ ques­tions klotzkashas, “fool­ish ques­tions”. Teach­ers hide be­hind a ve­neer of re­li­gious de­vo­tion when in­stead it is ig­no­rance or their own lim­i­ta­tions that stop them en­cour­ag­ing their stu­dents to ques­tion.

This is a se­ri­ous er­ror, which has led to the loss from the Ortho­dox world of many sin­cere and po­ten­tially bril­liant minds. There are no fool­ish ques­tions. The magic of a good teacher is to transform a sim­ple ques­tion into a les­son, to en­able the stu­dent to feel that they have fur­thered the learn­ing. Not all ques­tions can be an­swered and some­times “God said so” might be the an­swer; but such state­ments end ques­tions and for some end their Jewish jour­neys al­to­gether. Some­times the best an­swer is to ad­mit that the ques­tion re­mains or as ex­pressed by the Yid­dish wit­ti­cism, “One does not die from a ques­tion”.

As we move to­wards Rosh Hashanah, I would en­cour­age ev­ery­one to make a New Year res­o­lu­tion to ask as many ques­tions as pos­si­ble.

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