Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?
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Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

July 31, 2018 09:46PM
We must commend Rabbi Knopf for his passion and commitment to the ethical realm.

Based on this passion, Rabbi Knopf proposes a wide-range of activities for elevating our ethical standards and behavior. I wholeheartedly agree with his statement that "What is needed is a conscious effort to develop, articulate and teach ethical perspectives based on Torah scholarship." At the same time, I believe that Rabbi Knopf's post would benefit from additional clarification and refinement, which I will attempt to offer here.

Rabbi Knopf begins with the statement that "we need to teach Torah ethics." It seems from the list of recommendations that our efforts would be strengthened by a careful examination of previous attempts to formulate such an ethic. "Torah ethics" is not a simple or monolithic term. The writings and teaching of figures such as Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Amital, and Rabbi Wurzburger, to name just a few, provide us with a variety of nuanced approaches to understanding the interplay between Torah and ethics, and we will be well served by using them as a foundation for our efforts.

Rabbi Knopf continues to write about Torah Values, the need to "find ways to help community members internalize" them, to "teach approaches and methods of dealing with the yetzer hara," and "to cultivate an ethical culture in which communal standards accord with our values."
It is important to note that even these formulations assume a certain approach to Torah and ethics, which as noted above needs to be explicated if we are to stand a chance of success. For example, Professor Isadore Twersky has written at length about the Rambam's view of the role of ta'amei hamitzvot and intellectually informed hergel (habituation) as a mode of moral development) which may fit with Rabbi Knopf's approach. (See Twersky's essays in Visions of Jewish Education.) Professor Twersky's understanding frames the relationship between Torah and ethical conduct, and in doing so offers a springboard for well thought-out approaches to implementation. The same can be said about numerous other approaches, and the key is that we must be clear about which approach we select so that our implementation can be coherent, consistent and effective.

In addition to rigorous conceptual grounding, implementation efforts also must bear in mind what research in moral education has taught us about methodology. On the one hand, educators and researchers who have attempted to teach morals directly, through lessons on the values of honesty for example, have not found success. As early as 1928, the research of Hartshorne and May demonstrated that students could score perfectly on a test examining their understanding of honesty, and yet those same students tended to cheat on the second part of that test as soon as the examiner left the room. So too, educators who attempted to facilitate students' cognitive moral development through Rath's Values Clarification approach or Kohlberg and Blatt's dilemma-discussion model found that students could effectively navigate theoretical discussions, and yet their increased understanding did not lead to any behavioral change.

The best hope for success has come from educators who have created an experience of moral living within the school, such as the Just Community schools founded to bring Kohlberg's approach to life. On a communal level, I would suggest that our best chance for success is to follow a similar path. First, we must clarify what we mean by ethical life. We must move beyond the desire to embody "Torah Values" to explore the conceptual basis for how the Torah connects to ethical living and the philosophical-psychological framework for how individuals and communities can grow towards such ethical living. We must then carefully choose our implementation strategy, bearing in mind that direct instruction, passionate exhortation and even participative discussions fall short. Rather, what is required of us is to build a holistic experience of moral and ethical growth in our schools and communities. I hope that Rabbi Knopf's passion will spur us to continue in this direction.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/31/2018 09:47PM by mlb.
Subject Author Posted

Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Anthony Knopf July 31, 2018 09:34PM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Shmuel Silberman July 31, 2018 09:37PM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Daniel Rothner July 31, 2018 09:42PM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Barry Kislowicz July 31, 2018 09:46PM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Norman Meskin July 31, 2018 09:51PM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Seymour Epstein August 02, 2018 02:21AM

Re: Jewish ethical wisdom - Where Do We Go From Here?

Anthony Knopf August 03, 2018 12:13AM


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