Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Intellectual Narrow-Mindedness"

In his essay Kislev IV dealing with Chanukah that appears in Volume II of the Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rav Hirsch discusses Jewish minorities and some of the pitfalls that they should avoid.

"There is one other particular danger which is to be feared by a Jewish minority. It is what we would like to call a certain intellectual narrow-mindedness. This danger becomes especially acute the more closely a minority clings to its cause and the more anxious it is to preserve that cause. We have already pointed out that, by virtue of its weak position, a minority depends for its survival on whether it can further and foster within all its members the spirit of the cause it represents. In order to prevail, a minority must be wholly imbued with the truth for which it stands. We have already noted that such intensive spiritual concern with its cause is the essential prerequisite for the minority's survival and have hailed this concern as the most significant advantage that a truth stands to gain when its guardians constitute a minority.

However, precisely such complete dedication to its cause may easily lead the minority into intellectual one-sidedness. This may well stunt to a degree the development of the minority's unique intellectual life. Furthermore, it may make that minority incapable of representing its use effectively to the outside world. Thus, such one-sidedness in a minority may do grave damage to the very cause that the minority seeks to preserve and to promote. The richer the minority's cause, the more will the minority treasure it. But then it may easily come to regard all other knowledge in "outside" domains as unnecessary, or even as utterly worthless. It may reject all intellectual activity in any field outside its own as an offense against its own cause, as an inroad upon the devotion properly due to that cause and an infringement on its prerogatives.

Such a one-sided attitude does not stop at mere disregard for other intellectual endeavors. Once this attitude has taken hold in a Jewish minority, that minority will be unable to form a proper judgment and a true image of those intellectual pursuits which are not cultivated in its own ranks but pursued mainly by its opponents. Then, as a result of simple ignorance, the minority will begin to fear that which at first it merely neglected out of disdain. Consequently the minority will begin to suspect the existence of an intrinsic close relationship between these "outside" intellectual pursuits and those principles to which the Jewish minority stands in opposition."

For more see here.


At December 12, 2007 at 12:19:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great passage. This is so very true, especially these days when one group is quick to condemn certain things that another group does (I write this softly and respectfully, hoping not to open up a can of worms).


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