Faith & Philosophy

The Jewish Love of Learning

For my people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4: 6)

Jewish history is world heritage. Although religion is a controversial topic today, Jewish history gave us the three great monotheistic religions or the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yes, believe it or not, Islam is a derivative of Judeo-Christian religions and of course while the language of Islam is Arabic, Arabs for the most part claim descent from the Jewish patriarch, Abraham.

And even when we talk about their impact on science, we remember the Ashkenazi Jew, Albert Einstein, the expounder of the theory of relativity. He is one of many other remarkable men and women of Jewish ancestry, who have been trailblazers and pioneers in the sciences, arts and world innovations. From the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, to the father of socialism, Karl Marx, Jews have distinguished themselves through their erudition. It is incontestable that people of Jewish descent have left a remarkable and indelible imprint in the broad spectrum of the intellectual sphere. But they only started to make their mark, it appears, after the 18th century. Before the 18th century you hardly have a Jewish “genius” or innovator of note in history and they are remarkably absent in the renaissance period although they lived in Europe which was the center of the renaissance.

Apart from the 12th century polymath, doctor and philosopher, Maimonides, Jewish scholars are absent during the Medieval era as well. Why?

But after the 18th century, almost suddenly it appeared Jews dominated and featured in every sphere of intellectual endeavor and scientific advancement. The edict of 23 April 1615, which prohibited Christians in France (under penalty of death), from providing shelter or even conversing with Jews, instantiates overt discrimination and persecution of the Jews, which consequently precluded them from “influencing” the intellectual efflorescence of the Renaissance, Baroque and Enlightenment Europe. However, they were permitted to engage in money-lending trades, once they were given legal status.

After the French Revolution, Napoleon who championed learning, would institute a policy of carrières aux talents ‘careers for the gifted’ permitting French Jews to enter previously forbidden fields such as the arts, finance, trade, and government. Full equality for the Jews in France, however, would not come until 1831.

I will research and write more on this in the future. But l will mention that while in the Middle Ages, the Jews in diaspora thrived in the Islamic courts and served as the bridge between the Islamic empire and Christian Europe, perhaps solidifying the base of Jewish commercial endeavors and cultivating an identity not unconnected with enterprise, Jews were barred from learning and attending European universities. Thus, Jews although residing in Europe were clearly absent in the cultural and intellectual revolutions in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (Perhaps one exception is the brilliant Baruch Spinoza, who lived in the Portuguese community in Holland in the Baroque era.)

In the 18th century things changed. However, during the prohibition since their expulsion from their homelands in AD 70, Jews had studied their scriptures and exposited on them, which served as a good basis for intellectual development and preparation for the opportunities that opened up from the 18th century.

One Jewish legacy to the American financial system, is in the cancellation of debts or resetting of records with a clean slate after 7 years. This is a practice borrowed from Jewish tradition and found in the Holy Bible: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.” Deuteronomy 15: 1.

While Jewish traditions, which the world has often accessed through the text that codifies Jewish history – the Torah and Holy Bible – have given the world many positive institutions, such as the tradition of the forgiveness of debts after 7 years, unfortunately many groups have disingenuously misinterpreted Hebraic scriptures to perpetrate egregiously discriminatory doctrines and pernicious actions.

There is a case which we studied in law school, Bob Jones University v. United States, in which the plaintiff, a fundamentalist “christian” university in the south (notice the quotes) claims its policies of prohibiting interracial dating and interracial marriages, were based on Judeo-Christian practices and the Holy Bible. Upon studying biographies of the depraved racist, Adolf Hitler, one finds that he often quoted the scriptures in his speeches and appeared to believe he was ordained by “God.”

Well, as scripture says, “even the devil masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11: 14. So, back to that “hypocrisy” thing again, because a thing misrepresents itself, it does not mean it is what it purports to be. That is, because it walks like a duck…it does not mean it is a duck.

It is patently false to claim that the Holy Scriptures support racial segregation. In fact, the great law giver Moses himself, had married a black woman, and it is recorded in scripture! And the Hebraic God had supported this clearly interracial marriage, by punishing those who protested his choice. I quote the Holy Bible, the authoritative King James version: “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” Numbers 12: 1.

Of course, we know that Ethiopians are black Africans. Besides, Ethiopia means black. My reformed Jewish friend often tells me how Jews are remarkably made up of many different ethnic groups, due to their long history of wandering and mixing with various groups and cultures they have lived among. Scripture describes their sojourn in Deuteronomy 26: 5, “My father was a wandering Aramean…” The wandering Aramean, was Jacob or Israel the ancestor of the Jews, who fathered 12 sons, that would come to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

Amazingly in Zimbabwe, DNA studies confirmed that Black Africans, of the Lemba tribe are descendants of the Jews. There is speculation that some West Africans also share Jewish ancestry, because of some shared customs. But this is yet to be confirmed or disproved by DNA analysis.

So, why have various groups circulated fallacies about racial segregation being based on Jewish scripture? Well, perhaps the answers lie in the  lack of a reading culture. If people would only follow the Jewish tradition of reading…

 

Sources:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8550614.stm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_France

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Spinoza

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_Prize

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