[Avodah] RSRH, R Barukh of Shklov, and a historian

Jay F. Shachter jay at m5.chicago.il.us
Sun Jul 11 13:46:34 PDT 2021

> Prof Levine cited RSRH, the Gra via R Barukh of Shklov and a
> historian.  Although admittedly the historian is speaking about the
> Golden Age of Spain, and not making broad assertions about norms
> before and after that golden age.

You clearly did not read the passage purported to be written by that
historian, or you did not read it carefully, since it asserts that
Jews in the time and place in question studied geometry "Euclidean and

More to the point, the people engaged in this debate have lost sight
of their original reason for having it.  The original reason for the
discussion was to determine whether secular education is effective.
Whether secular education was widely practiced, or was not widely
practiced, where it was widely practiced, where it was not widely
practiced -- all of these questions were subservient to the original
question, which was: if I encourage my children to go to college, will
it be good for them, or bad for them?  If I encourage my children to
obtain a secular education thru some means other than by going to
college, will it be good for them or bad for them?  That is the
question you were seeking to address, not whether Jewish
schoolchildren in Moslem Spain studied non-Euclidean geometry.

And if people were thinking more clearly, they would realize that we
will never know the answer to this question.  The answer is
unknowable, because an experiment in which the subjects assign
themselves into the control group, or into the non-control group, is
not an experiment.  Children whose parents give them a secular
education, are not the same population as children whose parents do
not give them a secular education.  Therefore, you may not compare
them.  You will never know with certainty whether sending your
children to college increases, or reduces, their likelihood of
observing some mitzva, the observance of which is measurable, for the
same reason why we will never know with certainty whether smoking, or
living in New Jersey, causes cancer in humans.  Maybe one of the early
symptoms of cancer, a symptom which can be observed decades before any
other symptoms are manifest, is that you develop a desire to move to
New Jersey.

Fortunately, the question that we cannot answer, is not the right
question.  Asking whether teaching your children secular knowledge is
effective, is like asking whether prayer is effective.  It is the
wrong question.  I don't know whether prayer is effective, and neither
do you, and don't say that you do, because you don't.  Our Creator has
commanded us to pray, we are obligated to pray; therefore, we pray.

So the question you should be asking, is not the question that you
have been asking.  At this point, I think that Chana Luntz (Sassoon)
should re-post here the article that she posted on Areivim on April
28, 2010 (originally written in response to an article on "shidduch
references", but addressing larger matters), because the people who
are participating in the current debate, if they did read that article
when it was originally posted, are in need of reading it again.

                        Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
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                                jay at m5.chicago.il.us

                        "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur"

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