"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly

"I try to be open-minded spiritually. Why is it that religious Jews are so closed to the wisdom of other religions?"

First, allow me to point out that 'open-minded' and 'narrow-minded' are not objective appraisals; they are the output of a particular perspective.

Those whom you label narrow-minded perceive the dichotomy very differently. Because they concentrate on one path, they tend to think of themselves as focused and committed, and those whom you call open-minded as diffused and undisciplined. That does not mean they deny the validity of a way different than theirs. Rather, they would expect the practitioners of other paths also to devote all their efforts to their own way.

In this light, perhaps the classification of religious Jews as 'narrow-minded' is narrow-minded! (I am confident that you are open-minded enough not to take offense from my words.) Of course, 'committed vs. undisciplined' is no more objective than 'open vs. narrow-minded.' How about 'multi-pathers and 'single-pathers'?

Jews do not deny that wisdom is to be found among the other nations. In religious matters, however, it is felt that Jews should master Judaism and Jewish resources before turning elsewhere ("If they tell you the nations have wisdom, believe it; if they tell you the nations have Torah, don't believe it"-see Eichah Rabba 2:13). Until then, spending much time exploring other systems can be counter-productive. When a potential piano virtuoso invests his practice hours learning to play the violin, or an Olympic swimming hopeful spends his playing golf, they probably gain many new experiences and acquaintances and have a stimulating time. But are they making as much progress as they are able towards their primary objective?

After all, if, as the universalists often stress, all paths lead to the same goal (all streams to the same ocean, all spokes to the same hub, etc), striding firmly down just one path should get you there quicker and more efficiently than flitting back and forth between two or more. Or, to rephrase a classic Eastern metaphor, imagine trying to navigate a river with a foot in each of two boats (Jewish equivalent: you can't dance at different weddings being held simultaneously).

This does not mean Torah Jews disdain the truths other religious savants may have found or experienced. Nor does it imply we have to be afraid of contact with them or their followers, even though we don't seek them out. We do, however, deny the necessity to turn to other ways in our search for truth, self-perfection and/or salvation, whether personal, national or global. If we feel we need additional inspiration, we assume it is available to us in the Torah. It must be, since (as you accept) Judaism is an authentic, comprehensive path.

You say you have found among the 'narrow-minded'-those committed to a single path-significant resource. Perhaps they reached their level of accomplishment precisely because of their unswerving focus?

And if G-d plants someone on a specific path-in this case, arranged for us to be born with a Jewish soul-why fight karma? Let's exhaust our heritage first before we decide that it requires supplementation.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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