We just learned during a fascinating interview with a very wise rabbi, that much, if not all, Jewish learning and teaching is quite different from standard American university learning.
In studying a subject, Jewish sages take a topic over time, say “Jewish Life from the Babylonian Captivity to Roman Rule.” Another tack is to take a specific place or topic and delve into the nuances – religious life, family life, civic life in Babylon, or Jerusalem.
Not to say that some standard American courses don’t take that view, but many have a different way of studying say, an author. That is the “compare and contrast” method. “Compare Shakespeare to Thackeray and contrast their use of color as metaphor.”
Or “history of the novel in 18th century France – compare and contrast treatment of women from beginning to end of century.” Clearly, we made these up. It has been years since we have had a college course.
Of course, it’s not just a “Jewish” thing. During the interview with the wise rabbi, it suddenly occurred to us that our mother was utterly, inalterably, totally opposed to comparisons of any kind. You were even discouraged from comparing shoe sizes with your best girl friend. “It’s just who you are,” was her attitude. It doesn’t make you more or better.
As a twin, our mother had been cursed with comparisons during her entire childhood. Which one is the pretty one? Oh, you’re the smart one. She’s taller than you are, faster, friendlier…
OTOH, our DDH was brought up constantly comparing one thing to another. As a budding engineer, he had to make sure something wasn’t shorter, heavier, stronger, weaker, etc. Otherwise, things wouldn’t fit together. His family was that way, too, though. They compared accomplishments – who has more education, clothes, records (that was before CDs and MP3s), bigger cars, and later more powerful computers.
Now, we can see benefits to both types of reasoning, or thinking. For example, it may be valuable to see how a culture develops, it can also be helpful to think about and analyse why one might produce more evenly-distributed wealth, more inventions, more stable families, etc. By looking at cultures which are different from one another, one can point out better ways of operating that produce better results.
Oh, but that’s judgmental! That was our objection to DDH’s constant comparisons. His reasoning, which we eventually adopted, was that you can’t plan for the future without making some judgments about which paths are better, that is, which ones will lead to (good) your goal and which ones will lead you away (bad) from your goal.
Remember, though that life can also benefit from just lookly deeply into the past to understand what was happening without defining a development as good or bad. Or investigating a subject to see how all the parts fit together.
Investment lesson – sometimes you just have to make a judgment, do a comparison, make a choice.