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48 SHOFAR THE STUDY AND TEACHING OF JEWISH ETHICS S. Daniel Breslauer S. Daniel Breslauer is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. The author of many studies on modern Jewish thought, he has written A New Jewish Ethics, Contemporary Jewish Ethics, and Modem Jewish Morality. Dr. Breslauer is Vice-President of the Midwest Jewish Studies Association. One of the most striking illustrations of Jewish ethics, that in the talmudic tractate Shabbat (31a), also provides pedagogic instruction. A non-Jew came to a prominent rabbi for instruction asking to be taught the entire Torah b'regaL achat, "while standing on one foot." One such teacher, Shammai , chased him away, beating him with the amat habinyan or builder's measuring stick he held in his hand. Another teacher, Hillel, gave him a cogent reply: that which is hateful to you, do not do to your haver (neighbor, fellow, companion); that is the entire Torah, the rest is pernsha (commentary), zit gemor (go and complete your study). Several questions arise in connection with Hillel's answer: who is the haver to whom you should not do something hateful, how is the rest of Torah pernsha on this saying, and what does the cryptic phrase ziL gemor entail?1 Even without decoding this entire statement, the story delineates the strikingly different pedagogies practiced by Shammai and Hillel. Shammai measures truth and sincerity. He drives off all who do not meet his criteria, IThe story and the details of Hillel's answer have inspired several important studies. See especially Asher Ginzberg (Ahad HaAm), "Between Two Opinions" in Kol KitveiAhad HaAm, seventh edition (Tel Aviv: Devir; Jerusalem: Jewish Publishing House, 1961), pp. 370-77; the essential pages are translated in Ahad HaAm: Essays, Letters, Memories, trans. and ed. by Leon Simon (Oxford: East and West Library, 1946), pp. 130-37; see the interchange in Modem Jewish Ethics: Theory and Practice, ed. Marvin Fox (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1975) consisting of Ernst Simon , "The Neighbor Whom We Shall Love," pp. 29-56 and Harold Fisch, "A Response to Ernst Simon," pp. 57-61; the discussion of this question of the "neighbor" to be loved in Shubert Spero, Morality, Halakha, and the Jewish Tradition (New York: Ktav, 1983), pp. 126--34, provides helpful background and detailed references; Spero's analysis of the "negative Golden Rule," pp 201-11 affirms Ahad HaAm's position. These studies, however, do not examine the "pedagogy" implied in the story. Volume 9, No.1 Fall1990 49 who do not measure up to the builder's rod he carries with him. Readers have little sympathy for Shammai in this anecdote. Later in the same text when he uses the same measuring rod to beat off a self-interested would-be proselyte, the reader, but not the author, may feel greater sympathy to him. Hillel, on the other hand, neither here nor in any of the later examples, chooses to judge his prospective student. Even when, or especially when, the student comes with little background and no preparation, Hillel accepts him for what he is, dealing with him ba'asher hu sham, as he is at that moment. Shammai's approach assumes that only already committed insiders can share Jewish learning; Hillel's approach opens the gates of Jewish knowledge to those merely curious or motivated by extraneous concerns. Hillel's formulation should be understood as a pitchon pelt, an opportunity to begin explaining Jewish religious teachings. In the light of this intention , the following interpretation of that dictum seeks to illuminate the meaning and dimensions of Jewish ethics; it does not intend to give a historicalor linguistic analysis to the phrase but to use it as an opportunity for elucidating four aspects of Jewish moral reflection. Teaching Jewish ethics in a secular university requires the same flexibility and openness of approach that Hillel exemplified in his response to non-Jews. Teachers must begin from the presuppositions and assumptions of the students and lead them to a gradual awareness of the distinctiveness ofJewish ethical thinking. Four Dimensions ofJewish Ethics Hillel's response to the heathen's question, unlike Shammai's, did not begin with a definition of Jewish ethics, with an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 48-64
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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