Jewish Atheist

An agnostic atheist perspective
from a once orthodox Jew.

Jewish & Secular Education

A fellow Jewish tumblr blogger {x} (in response to asks - some of which were mine, which he kindly answered) was discussing the lack of a full secular education in many jewish schools and why he didn’t think it was a big deal (or even preferable). I’d like to discuss one of his answers; not as an attack, but just as an illustration of different perspectives on this (as I obviously disagree with him):

He made some good points about how one can often still earn a living and live a functional life without a lot of what secular education provides. And perhaps he’s right, but it does limit one’s options, and the nature of work is changing. (Also, I think education is a lot more than merely learning how to earn a living.) But Ok, I can accept this.

I asked about the morality of not teaching kids all that we know so that they can come to their own decisions. This is his response:

Perhaps they won’t fully understand - from a secular point of view - why certain secular people have their own beliefs. Just like they won’t fully understand why certain people still worship statues or many gods.

We don’t want our children to learn/study kefirah [heresy] and avodoh zoro [idol worship~]. We teach them in the ways of the Avos [forefathers]. Which we believe is the very best thing for a Jew.

We should protect our, and our childrens’, minds the way pianists protect their fingers and singers protect their voices. מכל משמר נצור לבך - כי ממנו תוצאות חיים [most of all, guard your heart bc from there comes life~] our opinions, what we think, what we believe, what we know - that is our life. So of course we won’t allow our children’s souls to be influenced by outside/non-Torah sources. As I said in my original post on this subject, there is an issur [prohibition] to read, let alone actually study, divrei kefirah [heresy]. So why should we expose innocent pure children to it?

Also, people - especially children - get easily influenced by what they hear or see (see for example my post on hatred towards Charedim in EY). We want to prevent this as much as possible, even though we know the Torah is emmes [true]. Would any normal parent let their kids watch racist propaganda films, or study it intensively, because they’re not afraid of it being true? Most likely not. Why not? One of the reasons would probably be because it’s wrong in their eyes.

Every parent - whether Jewish, non-Jewish, religious or Atheist - teaches his child in the ways he thinks is best. A point where we can ask the same question. Isn’t that also ‘brainwashing’? Teaching your child only what you think is best? Is that ethical?

I think that from a Torah point of view, protecting our children from kefirah and avodoh zoroh… is indeed ethical; it is even the best thing we could do for them.

To start, I could talk about the effects of racism - including against Jews! - and how these are real, measurable, and obviously horrible practices - as opposed to “heresy” which has only an imagined effect on one’s soul and the like, since souls and the like have never been demonstrated to exist! So I think there’s a big difference between obvious dangers with manifestly horrific results and hypothesized dangers with no obviously negative repercussions at all (in fact, repercussions most of the civilized world would consider a vast improvement!). But still, that’s not the most important difference. 

To me, the biggest difference is that that secular people do teach about the beliefs of others. That doesn’t mean they condone everything, but they’ll talk about, and when the child gets older, he can easily come to study whatever he wants - whether to agree or just to understand. So while, yes, a secular parent teaches his perspective to his kids, it’s really not the same thing as limiting the person to only learning about one perspective - both as a child, and as they get older. To me, that’s indoctrination.

And I understand that a Jewish parent wants nothing more than for his child to be a religious jew, but only providing information that teaches the Jewish perspective - and forbidding the study of anything against the jewish perspective - is, as I see it, pretty severe indoctrination. The person is religious bc he hardly had a chance to even consider anything else. Worse yet, bc they can’t study heretical material, there’s no mechanism for people to correct mistaken beliefs! That’s why there are still many religious people, for instance, who think the sun revolves around the earth, that our planet is 6,000 years old, and that we were created from dust and ribs. That same faulty setup prevents someone from really evaluating their belief system itself. It’s not giving this child a chance to make up his or her own mind. Instead, it feeds it the perspective of elders, many of whom have nothing but the perspective of their elders! And they never come to understand what we now know about the world. It’s only after much, much effort that even more moderate streams come to accept now known realities; that process is all the more difficult for groups which won’t listen a bit to the outside.

Natan SlifkinAnd that’s why you get sincere people like Rav Natan Slifkin who wrote books trying to help orthodoxy address some of these questions - yet the ultra-orthodox, instead of taking it as an opportunity to learn and manage the discrepancies, instead ban the books as heretical and formally shun Rav Slifkin. (wiki)

So children are left uninformed, become anti-informed adults, and beget misinformed children. They system has no correcting mechanism and in the process, entire lives are lost to the beauty of reality, and instead devote their lives to what, had they been better informed, they might have concluded was a fiction. To me, that’s just unethical. And while I can appreciate the argument that parents know whats best for their children, that hinges on the parents actually knowing what’s best! That isn’t always the case. And I think it’s pretty clear that if the parents aren’t critically examining these claims, then they can’t be responsible about the ideas they’re indoctrinating their kids with. And when I say responsible, I mean “being sensible and mature.” I’m not talking about their culpability, which still applies.

It’d be like telling your kids that the entire planet is just your little town and forbidding them from reading maps or books that make reference to other places. And so the cycle would perpetuate. (Until they filled up the town; then the world would have to become a slightly a larger area - but still, ‘that’s it! No more!’)

And I think it’s important to remember that many ex-religious folk are very, very upset at the terrible education they received, which is why many are fighting for education reform in Jewish schools. So, yeah, people who’ve had it and escaped consider it a gross violation of human rights.


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