by Eric Simon
I'm a big time baseball fan. And, coming from the New York area, I
followed the World Series intently.
But, I have to admit, even I was surprised when I read about the Mayor
suggesting that it would be fine for school children to skip school to
see the Yankees' ticker-tape parade.
Don't get me wrong. I'm no stick-in-the mud. In fact, one of my cherished
boyhood memories is skipping school to see the Mets clinch their first
pennant, against the Braves, in 1969. (Nolan Ryan pitched and Hank Aaron
hit a home run).
But it got me to thinking about how much more Jewish tradition seems to
value education than the society around us. Now, I'm not about to say
that education isn't important to the rest of society -- anyone who listened
to the presidential campaign knows that education is important --but
Judaism seems to take it one step further.
Every day, religious Jews say the following:
"These are the obligations without measure, whose reward too is without
measure to honor our father and mother, to perform acts of loving
kindness, to attend the house of study daily, to welcome the stranger,
to visit the sick, to rejoice with the bride and groom, to console the
bereaved, to pray with sincerity, to make peace when there is strife;
and the study of Torah is equal to it all, because the study of Torah leads
to it all."
That's a nice theoretical framework, but is this idea put into practice?
I was walking to work one day, and I saw someone walking in the other
direction. He was wearing a kipa and he was reading a volume of Mishna.
We got to talking, and then I asked him what he was doing. He told me
that very recently his mother had died, and that, the congregants of his
divided up the six parts of the Mishna so that the entire Mishna would be
studied in her honor. I can't think of anything even remotely
similar to this is our society.
What does a religious Jew do after completing the study of a Tractate of
Talmud? He throws a party, called a "siyyum." And at the siyyum, the
person is expected to speak some words about what he had learned, to teach
something to his guests. Furthermore, in many instances a new Tractate
is begun, in order to make sure that finishing one Tractate is not the
end of the person's study.
The contrast between this and the Yankees' ticker-tape parade couldn't have
been more striking skip school to attend a party versus making a party
to celebrate learning.
Perhaps Tevye the Dairyman, star of Fiddler on the Roof, best summed up
the Jewish attitude towards celebrating success and learning. In the
famous song, "If I Were A Rich Man", he finally decides, after
considering various options, that he would study "with the learned men
seven hours every day." Yes, he says, "this would be the sweetest
thing of all."