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Virtual Talmud

Two Jews, Three Opinions

It is not just our traditional and liturgical emphasis on asking questions that contributes to what Rabbi Waxman terms the “Jewish intellectual legacy.” It is the value Jewish traditional learning placed upon engaging different opinions.

The Talmud is full of such debates: different opinions are tried, compared and tested. Often a successful conclusion means finding how the opinions of two or more rabbis can be internally consistent (and therefore legitimate) even if they represent diametrically opposite opinions. The model of Talmudic study has not only honed our ability to think clearly but has also created a Jewish culture open to the difference of opinions. It so imbues who we are that even the least affiliated Jew is familiar with some version of the quip, “Ask two Jews, get three opinions.” It is this openness and concurrent tendency against dogma, which is responsible for creating the kind of cultural environment that stimulates creative thinking. It means that Jews are disproportionately represented among the greatest achievers in modern science and culture, as reflected in the number of Nobel Prizes awarded to Jews. It also means that we may have a slightly greater tendency than our peers to think for ourselves and reject tradition and authority. That can be a blessing and a curse. We are what the Bible calls a “stiff-necked people.” This reflects great strength of purpose and character but also plain stubbornness as we exert our sovereign selves, often at the cost of rejecting the very tradition that contributed so much to who we have become.


–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

Read the Full Debate: Are Jews Intellectually Superior?

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Waleed Judah

posted March 21, 2015 at 4:08 pm

How Can a Jew be intellectually superior when Jewish is not a race. In fact if there were a people of Jewish decent, it would be the tribe of Judah… not a bunch of Hungarian converts…

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Elaine Phelps

posted August 18, 2015 at 9:10 pm

What a blast of ignorance from Waleed! Whether or not Jews constitute a race – are there any human races? – many of them share a particular culture, passed down within the family and the larger group. This is true of many other human groups. Inbreeding among those who live contiguously may lead to shared physical attributes as well. There have been Jewish communities since pre-biblical times, as is also true of many other human groups.

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