When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Contrary to an oft-quoted adage (which may be true in some circumstances), a fundamental lack of knowledge can prove to be extraordinarily destructive.

This is especially true when those seeking to further their own nefarious agenda intentionally exploit ignorance.

A classic example is the mind-boggling level of ignorance being exhibited in the ongoing conflict regarding the drafting of yeshivah students.

When Yair Lapid, the actor-journalist turned finance minister who has staked his political career on trying force chareidim to join the army, tried to talk directly to chareidim at a press conference, he used phrasing that unwittingly revealed the extent of his knowledge.

“Torah study is a wonderful thing,” Lapid said. “It sharpens the brain and teaches us the difference between truth and falsehood, between black and white.”

In the eyes of Mr. Lapid, Torah is analogous, l’havdil, to a challenging game of chess. It sharpens the intellect, helps train players in the art of long-term planning and differentiates between good moves and counterproductive ones. According to this mindset, the sole benefit of the study of Torah is as a mind exercise that may help students do better in disciplines such as mathematics or physics.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

It can hardly be expected that a secular Israeli would have any appreciation of the spiritual aspects of Torah study. Without firsthand experience, he cannot grasp what Torah means to a Jewish soul and how it bonds a Jew with his creator.

What is, however, striking is the degree to which the secular world doesn’t recognize the fact that, from an academic perspective, the Torah is the greatest treasure of universal wisdom known to mankind. Given to us more than 3,000 years ago on Har Sinai, over millennia the Oral Law has been painstakingly written down in countless sefarim and manuscripts. The sheer amount of practical universal knowledge — not including all that would be classified through secular eyes as related to religious practice — is astronomical. Ranging from ethics to what is arguably the most comprehensive judicial system known to humanity, it includes virtually every type of topic or scenario imaginable.

The concerted effort to ensure that the masses remain unaware of this treasure predates the birth of Yair Lapid in 1963. Much to the disappointment of the late Chief Rabbi Herzog, z”l, the founders of the State of Israel, worried that their secular senses might be tainted by a touch of religion, were insistent that the Torah shall have no part of the Israeli judicial system. Instead, they produced a complex hybrid of British common law, Ottoman law and modern European law, seasoned by the influence of American legal practice. The fact that matters pertaining to marriage were left in the hands of the religious courts is because the pre-existing Ottoman system of localized family law was retained.

In other words, they took from everyone except their own heritage.

This manipulation of the masses is a crime even by strictly secular standards. In universities and archeological digs the world over, inordinate amounts of time and resources are spent researching and documenting the minute details of ancient civilizations and long-extinct creatures. The fact that nothing relevant to our day-to-day lives is ever expected to be extracted from these studies plays no role in the world of academia.

Yet, as part of their war against religion, the leaders of secular Zionism were so determined to deny a people access to the eternal treasure chest of their own glorious heritage that they blocked implementation of all practical aspects of this great wealth of universal wisdom.

They had good cause to fear its influence. For were the wider Israeli population to be exposed to the truth of Torah — even if it would only be from an academic or civil perspective — their whole attitude toward Judaism would undergo a dramatic metamorphosis.

At a time when the issue of Torah study is the focus of so much debate, it is our obligation to take the opportunity to show the masses what Torah is really all about. Those of us who merited to go through the yeshivah system must serve as worthy ambassadors to educate our secular brethren about a code of law whose wisdom is unparalleled in the entire world. We must do all that we can to instill in our brethren, members of the People of the Book, a pride in their own heritage.

Doing so would dramatically change the parameters of the bitter debate now taking place in Israel. As the powerful light of knowledge will dispel the darkness of ignorance, it will also do much to halt the flow of incendiary rhetoric and ease the hatred that is pouring forth against Torah Jewry.