Monday, August 28, 2006

Kollel vs Math

Here’s another post which criticizes Cross-Currents. Why bother? Because Cross-Currents censor comments, and therefore thois is the only option.

In his latest post, Rav Yitzchak Adlerstein compares kollenicks to Math genius Grigory Perelman, who recently solved the Poincaré conjecture, and shunned any publicity or prize money. RYA writes:

“In our community there are thousands of Perelmans. There are indeed thousands of problems as fascinating and intractable as Poincaré’s. Some are in the Rambam, some in the Ketzos, some in R’ Akiva Eiger. There are no Fields Medals awarded to those who work on them, and often produce results of stunning elegance. Unlike Perelman, these people pursue knowledge monomaniacally, but manage to raise beautiful families at the same time. Like Perelman, they spurn many of the comforts that others take for granted, and find satisfaction in knowledge itself. For the most part, their pursuits are non-competitive, and delight if they can offer a piece to a solution that others will complete.

Like Perelman, they are often misunderstood and under-appreciated, even mocked by others.

Those who can read about Perelman and find his single-mindedness something to celebrate, should pause and reevaluate their attitudes towards the young men in Kollelim who are his Torah analogue.”

Sorry RYA, but there’s a huge difference.

Problems in the Ketzos might be beautiful and fascinating, but solving them won’t bring about any measurable benefit to the world. Possibly solving Poincare might not either, but in general the field of mathematics is absolutely integral and in many cases fundamental to the entire fields of physics, chemistry and so on.

In fact it is quite an object of amazement that mathematics should be like this, and a recent Torah & Science book even uses this fact as an ‘emunah booster’. So while the world’s mathematicians toil away in obscurity, advancing the field, and enabling advances in other sciences, which in turn enable advances in medicine and other life enhancing technologies, our best and brightest spend all day solving problems in the ketzos, and achieving nothing of any measurable value. Of course you can always have faith that God wants us to spend our time that way, but then the analogy hardly holds, does it?

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