August 22, 2019

When Does Learning Begin?

“[I]t would seem that [the Talmud] depicts the fetus as wholly without knowledge at some point it in time. But that cannot be, according to the Greek conception. Whatever knowledge you have, you’ve always had. . . . The soul has simply seen it all, and seen it with its own eyes. This is important, because Plato holds that teaching—the gift of knowledge from one person to another—is fundamentally impossible…

[I]n the talmudic passage, it is noteworthy that the initial mention of fetal omniscience really does seem to be of the Platonic, internally self-sufficient kind: “And above its head a candle is lit, and it gazes and looks from one end of the world to the other.” This is a depiction of supernal enlightenment, with the soul transcending the narrow confines of any worldly here-and-now, enjoying an instantaneous view of the whole not from a finite somewhere but from the infinite everywhere. But . . . notice that this is emphatically not how the incipient child comes by its knowledge of Torah, [which] is not simply swallowed in a flash of enlightenment. Rather, “they teach it the whole entirety of the Torah.”

In the context of Platonic philosophy, then, the point made by the text is that, in direct contrast to worldly wisdom, knowledge of Torah is not merely known or recalled but taught and learned. And so . . . it follows that learning Torah involves a relationship between teacher and disciple, a relationship for which the unique identities of the teacher and the student and the intercourse between them make all the difference. It is not an impersonal, objective exercise, but rather a relationship between personal subjects…”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"The United States and Russia are entering a new arms race, and the costs aren’t just monetary. On August 8, Russian civilians around the remote village of Nyonoksa found themselves downwind of a military nuclear propulsion experiment gone wrong..."

"I don't know about you, but for me "Having more people run for president and effectively doubling the number of primary contests" is not up there with "Michigan beating Notre Dame in the playoffs" and "A new deluxe edition of Barbara Bush's..."

"A growing body of research suggests that, rather than posing a threat to individual wellbeing, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle represents a pathway to a more satisfied life. Numerous studies have found that people who purchase green..."

"What should a parent do when a 2-year-old shrieks inconsolably because her string cheese wrapper tore “the wrong way”? Increasingly, the answer is “snap a photo, add a snarky caption and upload it to Instagram.” Publicly laughing at your..."

"The yield curve’s inverted! The yield curve’s inverted! That was the news I awoke to last Wednesday on CNBC as the 10 year Treasury note yield dipped below the 2 year yield for the first time since 2007. That’s the sign everyone has been waiting..."

"Even a casual observer of the entertainment industry knows that Hollywood is hooked on established intellectual property at the expense of original ideas and awash in more money than it knows how to sensibly spend. But three stories about the..."

"One of the formative texts of the Safed myth, which first portrayed the town as a unique place and which was responsible for spreading word of it all around the Jewish world, is the four letters that Rabbi Solomon Shlumil of Dreznitz sent, in..."

"There are lots of reasons to patent something. The most obvious one is that you’ve come up with a brilliant invention, and you want to protect your idea so that nobody can steal it from you. But that’s just the tip of the patent strategy iceberg..."