Sunday, September 20, 2009

From the Talmud

"As it is your duty to teach your son the law, teach him a trade. Disobedience to this ordinance exposes one to just contempt, for thereby the social conditions of all are endangered." "He who does not have his son taught a trade prepares him to be a robber." "He who applies himself to study alone is like him who has no God."

Can you see perhaps how those who are not taught the value of working with their hands might become robber barons of Wall Street instead of useful servants of society?

John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch says that in hindsight he would have decorated and furnished his office from Ikea instead of with the million dollars worth of antiques. But perhaps if he had been taught a trade he might have understood the values of the hand made approach and even made a few things himself. He would have thereby been more in touch with craftsmanship and the important values it can impart. He might also have learned something practical that he could fall back on. Though I doubt that he would have the skills necessary to be a professional woodworker, he would at least have had a meaningful retirement to look forward to.

We have swept the ideas of skill and craftsmanship into the corners for too long. Our current economic and political situation is the result.

According to Henry M. Leipziger in Education of the Jews, Teachers College 1890, "Nearly all the great teachers of Talmudic times were workmen. Hillel earned money enough to attend the academy by wood-cutting. Rabbi Joshua was a blacksmith, others were tanners, carpenters, millers." Compare this with the legions of politicians, pundits, and religious zealots attempting to manipulate the American people. We would have a more honest and civil nation if we returned to skill and craftsmanship as our core values.

More from the Talmud: "Great is the dignity of labor; it honors man." "The laborer is allowed to shorten his prayers." "It is well to add a trade to your studies; you will then be free from sin." "Beautiful is the intellectual occupation if combined with some practical work." "He who derives his livelihood from the labor of his hands is as great as he who fears God." "He who lives on the toil of his hands is greater than he who indulges in idle piety."

According to Charles A. Bennett, "Evidence seem to be lacking that the Jews appreciated as do modern educators the intimate relationship between training in manual skill and intellectual development, but they did in a more or less general way recognize that a boy who worked with his hands was better than a boy who did not, and that study in school and labor at a manual occupation go well together, and are effective in producing useful members of society." Bennett wrote this in the 1920's about the earliest origins of the manual training movement. Otto Salomon and Felix Adler were two later Jews who brought a stronger sense of the connection between hand and mind and perhaps the Talmud was influential in formulation of their thoughts. Since that time the intimate relationship between hand and mind has been largely forgotten in American schooling.

Not from the Talmud, but perhaps it could have been:
Truth is most clearly expressed when through hand, eye and heart, an object of useful beauty is created.

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