Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Parable of the 3 Jews

Dedicated to Chaim G.

The Parable of the 3 Jews

Once there were three Jews who went off into the world to make their fortunes. The first Jew wrapped himself in straw, the second wrapped himself in wood, and the third in brick, and for a time they were all very happy.

But, presently, came along a wolf. The straw, and the wood could not withstand the wolf's arguments, and the Jews who relied upon them were quickly gobbled up. Only the Jew who surrounded himself with brick was able to survive.


In the parable the straw represents supernatural claims, and the wood represents ahistorical claims. For a long time, Jews were content to make and rely upon both, but gradually, gradually, the discoveries of science, archeology, linguistics and history have made many of those claims untenable. The mistake many Jews make is imagining those supernatural and ahistorical claims are essential to Judaism. But, by definition, can something esential to Judaism be false? Only the theological claims, the bricks, are essential. If a claim of ours has been trumped and proven false by science or one of the other disciplines, isn't that conclusive proof that the defeated claim is not fundamental? And, if it isn't fundamental we should be pleased to see it go. More wheat, less chaff.

There's no reason to cling sentimentally to ideas that are wrong

This post first appeared on April 10, 2006.

Addendum March 8, 2007
People like Chaim G. say the truth is dangerous. He says that if people are told that humantachen originally had no connection to Haman, for example, the entire Mesorah will unravel and Judaism will shrivel up and disappear. He worries that if any Jewish idea, or the utterance of any Jewish teacher are challanged a mass exodus from the religion will commence. Others, like me, say the lies are more dangerous. We counter that if you insist, for example, that the universe is exactly 5767 years old, any Jew who has been to a museum will conclude the whole tradition and everything in it is false. He'll say: "They lied to me about dinosaurs, what else did they lie about?"

In an age where the truth is always a mouse-click away, the way to save Jews and keep them Jewish, is to face reality with open eyes. If we want Jews to take Judaism seriously we must give them a serious Judaism, one that understands the difference between theology and history/science, and the difference between knowledge and belief.

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