A former student at Jewish Yeshiva University in Manhattan is still distressed after a rabbinical professor, years ago, challenged some axioms of students’ Jewish faith during a course called Introduction to the Bible.
So upset is Elliot Resnick that he published an impassioned plea in Kol Hamevaser, the student body’s “Jewish Thought Magazine,” this week — a piece that he headlined Shut Down the Bible Department.
He points out that
…the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews grow up believing that Moshe [Moses] wrote every word of the Torah as dictated by God.
For some, that belief turns out to be unexpectedly shaky. Resnick, who graduated from Yeshiva College seven years ago, feels deeply wounded that the school’s Bible introduction made him consider, among other things, that today’s Torah is not a copy of an absolute and unassailable “original.” To his horror, he learned that words and sentences and most likely entire sections have been added or deleted over time, as is the case with all Abrahamic so-called Holy Books. (I truly thought that that was common knowledge; I was wrong.)
In addition, complains Resnick,
Hebrew, I learned, is just another ancient Semitic language. It possesses no intrinsic holiness.
Oh, the humanity!
Resnick assures us that he loves truth. Loves it.
If my beliefs are naïve or based on ignorance, I am fully in favor of reconstructing my Judaism on a more solid basis.
Awriiight! Now we’re getting somewhere.
But this is not what my Bible professor did.
He destroyed my core beliefs without replacing it with anything. He tore down my foundation and left me staring at the rubble.
Really? Resnick’s articles of faith perhaps weren’t particularly robust then, were they?
I recently met a fellow student who took the very same Intro to Bible course with me years ago. He, too, left that class dazed, he said. He did not know what to believe anymore. How can a professor do that to a frum [devout] teenager? What is the point of teaching all of this to impressionable nineteen-year-olds?
In other words, “How dare you confront me with new information?”
I’m no teacher, but I’m pretty sure that teaching students anything at all neither presumes nor necessitates the affirmation of their dearly-held biases and beliefs. Quite the opposite: good teachers, in addition to offering facts and knowledge, probably endeavor to open minds and challenge students to consider new points of view. That’s kind of what academia is for. Not to learn by rote; not to learn what to think; but to learn how to think — by adroitly juggling all the available evidence, I should hope.
Still, you know what they say about leading
an ass a horse to water. Quoth Resnick:
When I speak to right-wing acquaintances of mine, my main hesitation in recommending YU for their siblings or children is … the Bible Department. I therefore propose that YU either radically reform this department or eliminate it entirely.
As an atheist, I have no dog in this fight — although I’ll note that you won’t soon come across a finer example of why facts are to faith as cats are to dogs.
Resnick’s pusillanimous, provincial philippic attests to that, as do the more than one thousand ‘likes’ his piece has so far received from his frum fellow Yeshivites.