Jewish Scholarship

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



Jewish Scholarship


    In 1882, Leon Pinsker, an Odessa Jewish doctor, published his famous book Auto-emancipation. Although a Russian, Pinsker wrote this book in German which, at that time, was the language of all educated Europeans, just as English is now. The word emancipation is derived from the Latin word manus or hand and means “to give out of hand” or to liberate a slave. I call attention to the Latin meaning because that was what Pinsker sought to convey. He regarded the Russian and other European Jews as slaves of the majority who, in Pinsker's words: “ ….are refused such recognition as would not lightly be denied to Zulus” and went on to say, "…….when we are turned out of the house we ourselves built we beg humbly for mercy.”  This is of course what the Arab terrorists and their European allies still seek to do in Israel in the expectation that Jews will once more act the role of eternal Cinderellas.

   Pinsker was an “intellectual” and in his own words, “a diploma chaser.”  He founded the Choveveh Zion or Lovers of Zion movement over which he presided until a few years before his death.

    Pinsker recognized sixty years before the Europeans murdered one third of the Jewish people that our degrees, books, scholarly prizes, Talmud study, professorships, even occasional genius would do us no good and was nothing more than a delusion. A delusion, because the European Jews kept believing that they, i.e., we, “the people of the book”, would somehow, somewhere, in some fashion gain recognition for all we had done for “mankind”.  Albert Einstein understood this when he said that if his theories were proved wrong the French would call him a German and the Germans would denounce him as a Jew.  Further, that if his theories were proved right no one would call him a Jew for then he would be a man of the world.

   The truth is that neither Einstein nor any of the Jewish “intellectuals” were able to prevent one Nazi murder any more than writing books prevents the current Arab Nazis from trying the same thing. The failure of scholarship as a cultural “end in itself” has been proven over and over again. We are justified to therefore ask: “Why does it continue?”  Why is it that in America twice as many Jews are college graduates than is true of the general American population?  A vast number of Jews hold graduate degrees, in law, in medicine, in education and in science. We are vastly over represented among Nobel prize winners and among the faculties of universities and colleges. Almost all the great violinists in this world are Jewish as are almost all American song writers. Yet, our survival cannot come from such activities any more than this outpouring of talent helped the Jews of Europe.

    The reason for all of this lies in our history. The Jews of Europe, once more using the words of Pinsker “………were robbed, plundered and dishonored and…….without the protection of law.” In view of this one thousand year old condition, the Jews of Europe turned inward upon their own culture and their own community. Excluded from the life of those among whom they existed, not lived, they studied their sacred texts, the Talmud, the Mishnah, the Gemorah and the Torah. They “learned”, if they could.  If they could not, then they observed the Shabbat and admired those who had the intellect to learn and study and study and learn. High prestige attached to the most competent Jewish scholars within the “shtetl” communities of Eastern Europe so that the few “wealthy men” (in comparison to the abject poverty of everyone else) gladly married their daughters to the scholars who earned nothing but were supported by their in-laws.

    Beginning with the nineteenth century, these arrangements were slowly questioned. Some of the Jewish Talmud scholars were reading non-Jewish books, including science and philosophy, and some ran across the works of the Jewish Spinoza who doubted everything.  Others moved to America and entered the secular world with great success, a success which could not be hidden from the shtetl.  Because America was, and is, the exception, allowing any Jew the same opportunities that others have, secular efforts succeeded here, for Jews more than for almost anyone else. The reason was our erstwhile scholarship. The Talmud was no longer the focus here but scholarship continued to have great prestige among American Jews. Now, however, the scholarly endeavors could be directed at secular education. Jews, beginning with the 1920’s, entered into higher education here. Here Jews became doctors, lawyers, professors, M.B.A’s and successful business people. We now even have some Jewish billionaires. The artistic community in this country has been fructified by our abilities in that area and mankind in general has benefited immensely from Jewish genius and Jewish work.

   Yet, among our enemies the same attitudes remain which Pinsker described so well so long ago.  If Jews should not live in Judea and Samaria on the grounds that that area is somehow Arab territory, why can over 1 million Arabs live in Israel?  Yet the Arab hordes scream in the streets, “kill the Jews” even as they are more than willing to be immunized by the anti-polio vaccine of the Jewish doctor Salk.  Crazed by religious bigotry and racial hate, these same Arabs demand jobs in Israel whose population the seek to kill.  The president of Syria, a Moslem and not a Christian, seeks to incite the pope and his followers against the Jews of this world by once more reciting the “Christ killer” tale.  Utterly immune to reason and obsessed by the need to destroy, the Arabs sacrifice their own children to their compulsion to slaughter Jews. 

   Today, however, it is not 1903, the year the Russians murdered the defenseless Jews of Kishinev. This is not 1943, the year the Germans slaughtered the Jews of Europe and the Poles slaughtered their fellow Jewish countrymen. The Jewish world has changed. The Arabs haven’t learned this yet. They believe they are disadvantaged. Should not they have the same right to murder defenseless Jews as everyone else?  They say they want all Jews to leave the so-called “West Bank” of the Jordan river.  If the Jews were to do so and abandon all Jewish towns and homes there, then Judea and Samaria could be freely used to import all kinds of weapons with which to destroy Israel. Of course, we Jews have learned. The Israelis also have their scholarship. Yet, they know, and we need to remember, that one missile fired from a helicopter makes a greater impression than a million books.

Shalom u’vracha.

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