Just came across a thought provoking statement in this month’s Smithsonian, p. 16, in an article by Maria Konnikova:

When things come easily or quickly, when we don’t have to struggle, we tend to feel smarter, a concept called fluency. In one study, Adam Alter and fellow psychologists at New York University asked volunteers to answer a series of questions typed in either a crisp, clear font (a fluent experience) or a slightly blurred, harder to read version (a disfluent one). The people who worked harder ended up processing the text more deeply and responding to the questions more accurately.

There are obvious implications in this with regard to the publication of seforim, such as in new editions with improved punctuation, and other features that make the material easier to read, and especially with regard to translations.

Just some food for thought.

QuestionGood day ! My name is Mitko. I live in Europe - Bulgaria. I'm very interested in your faith and I have some questions. I have read in wikipedia the rabbinic texts about Adam the first man. It's very interesting that he is regarded as extremely handsome and intelligent. What is your opinion on the character of Adam and his wife Eve ? What was his life after Eden ? Answer

Dear Mitko,

First of all, I have to apologize for the great delay in responding to you. Your question is of a very broad nature and I set it aside for later and then I forgot about it. Please accept my apology.

With regard to Adam and Eve, traditional Jewish sources see Adam and Eve, who were directly formed by God, as ideal human beings. This is the idea expressed in the description of Adam as “handsome,” i.e. the most perfectly formed human being of all time. This was true of their character as well.

After Eden, Adam and Eve continued to live and have children (as stated in the Bible) until their deaths.

As I’m sure you realize, there is an immense amount of literature on this topic. I suspect I could be more helpful if you could be more specific in your question.

All the best,

Lazer Abrahamson

The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do. Too many have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanisticwork that has always been mankind’s main spiritual support. Scientists are (on average) no more likely to understand this work than the man in the street is to understand quantum physics. But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer.

Kenneth Meshoe On my recent trip to San Francisco, I was deeply disturbed to learn about the posters in The City accusing Israel of apartheid. As a black South African who lived under apartheid, this system was implemented in South Africa to subjugate people of color and deny them a variety of their rights. In my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is.
 
Apartheid was a legal system of segregation and oppression based on skin color, with a very small white minority dominating over the vast majority of people of color.
 
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of 
South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place.
 
In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above. My understanding of the Israeli legal system is that equal rights are enshrined in law. Black, brown and white Jews and the Arab minority mingle freely in all public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services. In hospitals, Palestinian patients lie in beds next to Israeli Jews, and doctors and nurses are as likely to be Israeli Arabs as Jews. I also understand that an Israeli Arab judge presided over the trial of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of misconduct. An Ethiopian Jew recently won the title of Miss Israel. None of the above was legally permissible in apartheid South Africa!
 
I believe that it is slanderous and deceptive for Israel’s self-defense measures against the terrorists’ campaign of suicide bombing, rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism that have occurred, and continue to occur, to be labeled as apartheid. I am shocked by the claim that the free, diverse, democratic state of Israel practices apartheid. This ridiculous accusation trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color.
 
I urge all people, young people in particular, to visit Israel and learn the facts for themselves so that they can confidently refute these false allegations against Israel. The misapplication of the term apartheid makes a mockery of a grievous injustice and threatens to undermine the true meaning of the term.
 
In my view, Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.
 

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe is a member of the South African Parliament, the president of the African Christian Democratic Party and the chairman of the South African Israel Allies Caucus.

Daddy Come Home | Short Film

Forget the teeth-gnashing already occasioned by a new study on Jewish identity in the U.S. by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project. The only thing every generation of Jews has in common is the conviction that it will be the last. What matters for the continuity of Jewish life is quality, not quantity. And in today’s America, Jewish intellectual, cultural, spiritual and religious life is flourishing. Case in point: Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, New Jersey, known as BMG or simply “Lakewood” — one of the two biggest yeshivas, or Talmudic colleges, in the history of the world.

At Lakewood, 6,700 undergraduate and graduate students pursue a curriculum focused on the Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of legal argument and ethical narrative that has informed traditional Judaism for a millennium and a half. Even at the height of the golden age of yeshivas in pre-war Europe, it is doubtful if that many people were studying the Talmud full time. The once-famed yeshiva at Volozhin (modern Valozhyn, now in Belarus), the progenitor of the modern yeshiva movement, had no more than 300 students, and perhaps as few as 150; only 60 were officially registered.

Then there is the mode of instruction at BMG, which presents a strikingly disruptive model of higher education. Every term, each student must sign up for a chabura (essentially, a semester-long seminar group) presided over by a fellow student who functions as the faculty member. A free-market system governs the organization of the seminars. There’s only one way to become a seminar head: to be nominated by your peers who sign up to join. If you don’t have enough sign-ups, you lose your faculty position. If you’re good, students will keep signing up each term and you keep your post.

Lakewood Model

Tenure doesn’t exist, except for a handful of senior faculty. The seminars can range in size from as few as 15 students to as many as 200. The members meet for lectures by the seminar head and guided discussions several times week. The rest of the time, they engage in analysis, debate and discussion with assigned partners. Senior faculty are available for guidance and help as needed. Subject matter, too, varies, with some seminar groups focusing on specific sections of the Talmud and others pursuing a wider range of topics addressed by Jewish legal tradition.

In essence, the students are running the institution. Traditional Jewish education is usually thought of as intensely hierarchical, and in some ways it is — respect for rabbis and teachers runs deep. But when it comes to the intellectual heart of the yeshiva, the core activity of Talmud study, the Lakewood model is astonishingly egalitarian and democratic.

That egalitarianism doesn’t extend to women. The yeshiva doesn’t ask anything about the private lives of its students (though it requires that they not date during their first term in residence, the so-called “freezer”) — but it is resolutely, unabashedly single-sex. By the end of the first year or two, most students are married and have children. The wives overwhelmingly work outside the home, supporting the extended graduate study of the men. As a result, the women of Lakewood pursue careers, and the study schedule is set so that the men can participate in child care during what would otherwise be the workday.

An extended community of roughly 55,000 has grown up around the yeshiva, bringing investment, construction — and political clout. In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature earmarked $1.3 billion for the state’s public and private universities — and BMG was awarded just more than 1 percent of that amount, $10.6 million, to build a library and academic center. The state American Civil Liberties Union has sued to challenge that allocation and a much smaller grant to the Princeton Theological Seminary. But because the funds were available to all institutions of higher learning in the state, and recipients include Catholic as well as single-sex institutions, the challenge is on shaky constitutional grounds and will probably fail.

Authentic Experience

Inevitably, BMG represents a limited slice of Jewish life. Its curricular focus on the Talmud largely omits Jewish philosophy, history and literature of even the most traditional kind. Its rigorous and restricted life-world will never be right for the vast majority of American Jews, any more than it was for their European predecessors.

But the yeshiva shows that one kind of authentically Jewish experience is flourishing in America — and that it is autonomous and independent. Its identity isn’t focused on the Holocaust or on Israel, but on intellectual engagement with the Talmud. The yeshiva is neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist.
Only 5 percent of BMG alumni become congregational rabbis. And 25 percent become educators. The rest are engaged in study for its own sake. They will enter the workforce when they are done; armed with skills of logic, formal reasoning and a type of critical thinking, they largely succeed after training in a professional field or going directly into business.

Graduates of institutions such as BMG won’t solve the demographic challenges to American Jewry highlighted by the Pew study. Moreover, the American Jewish community will not be fundamentally transformed by an Orthodox population that hovers near 10 percent. But BMG matters. It matters for the future of Jews in America precisely because it matters for the future of Judaism in America. By privileging ideas and thought over identity, it proudly stakes out a position of genuine durability.

(Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University and the author of “Cool War: The Future of Global Competition,” is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @NoahRFeldman.)
To contact the writer of this article: Noah Feldman at noah_feldman@harvard.edu.