Photo: Michael Kramer
Dr. Mor Altshuler
Photo: Michael Kramer

Who still wants to learn about Judaism?

In failure of our value system, self-destructive dance plaguing group of educated, self-hating academics who threw away truth-seeking in favor of political correctness in universities compromises Jewish studies, keeps students away, says Mor Altshuler

The festive atmosphere at the 15th World Congress on Jewish Studies held last week at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was accompanied by an air of sadness. This was due to the sense that Israel perhaps is not the focal point of Diaspora Jewry, despite being home to the largest database in the world on Judaism and Jews.


Discussions were dedicated to the crisis plaguing Jewish studies departments – namely, that every year the number of students choosing to study Bible, Jewish history, or Hebrew language gets smaller and smaller. It is possible that this phenomenon is linked to the shrinking endowments of humanities departments in general, to the materialism of the younger generation that prefers to study fields that will bear speedy economic returns on investment.


In addition, throughout the world, universities are losing their status as knowledge and information providers as the Internet becomes an increasingly dominant player, even in researching the past.


Take, for instance, the thousands of rare and first editions of books that have been scanned and made available on the Internet. In years to come, the Internet will also contain scanned versions of periodicals. The virtual library will beat out the bricks-and-mortar library, the very symbol of the old university. In a similar manner, the importance of group learning, in classrooms, in front of flesh-and-blood lecturers is decreasing.


Yet, these are only external changes and provide only a partial explanation on the brain drain from theoretical learning. The devaluation of humanities in the West stems from a failure of our value system, which has its source in the thinning of content and turning our backs on the search for truth that was once at the very aim of learning to begin with.


Alan Blum, a Jewish American philosopher, claimed in his book The Closing of the American Mind that truth was replaced on campuses by political correctness, whose tyranny threatens democratic society.


Spirit of Zionism

In Israel, a nationalist element is added to the failure of the value system, seeing as the first universities were established in the spirit of Zionism. Already in the first Zionist congresses, the Hebrew University and the Technion were planned and slated to be built with the help of Zionist benefactors. These institutions were expected to build an educated and enlightened society and to create a cultural renaissance, including a renewal of the Hebrew language and a shaking off of religious oppressiveness characteristic of traditional learning in the yeshivot and houses of study of Europe.


The Israeli university reflected Zionist ideals. It maintained the continuity between the traditions of the past and the country taking form in the present without foregoing the secular-pioneer mission of building a sovereign independent state without waiting for divine intervention.


Plagued by self-hatred

However, as enlightened freedom of thought is replaced by a politically correct agenda, over-emphasis of secular anti-religion remains and paves the way for self-hating revisionism.


For instance, one of the "new historians" "proved' that Jewish self-awareness as a nation and their continued connection to the Land of Israel are inventions meant to justify Zionist ideology retroactively. A well-known archeologist, who was awarded a prestigious award, regurgitated this claim and applied it to biblical times. According to him, the kingdom of David and Solomon never existed and was only invented to justify control of the Palestinian territories with a claim of historic right. A third "new historian" went far enough to say that the Jewish people are an invention, saying that Jews are all converts from other nations.


With this kind of curriculum to rely on, it is no wonder that students are staying away from Jewish university studies.


Dr. Mor Altshuler is a researcher of Jewish Thought


פרסום ראשון: 08.16.09, 13:34
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