(Inspired in part by Ilyka)
There is something I’ve noticed in the community at large, overall: the highest forms of achievement to reach are careers in medicine, finance, and law, and in fact for many would appear to be the ONLY aspirations of worth. Unfortunately, there are in fact two problems with this (actually three, if you count this potentially being based on an unfair generalization):
The first problem with this, really, is that it helps to perpetuate myths about Jews and their power and wealth: that the more Jews are pressured to enter these careers, the better they can be pointed to by anti-Semites who in times past have and in some circles continue to conflate Jews with capitalism to deride our culture and deny our legitimacy.
I certainly think it’s most likely that this situation came about mere generations ago when many Jews lived in societies where law, medicine and finance were the only career paths made available to them by oppressive governments (in the case of medicine, we were often seen to make better doctors than other groups of people – see Sherwin Nuland’s Maimonides for more detail), but at least ostensibly, now, in North America we are free to any career path we might want, so is it not time to ease up?
The second such problem, really, is that this attitude that working-class lives and less glamorous and respectable careers are unfitting of Jews has no real place in Judaism. A university education need not be the primary metric of worth, especially not in our community. The biggest example, I would think, is of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Akiba was 40 years old before he began to learn Torah; a shepherd AND illiterate to boot, the legend goes that he was inspired after seeing water wear down a rock and thought “if a trickle of water can break through a rock, how, too, can the Torah reach me!” And so he began to learn. I grant that it is true he DID learn eventually, it’s true, but the simple fact is that he was a man of very humble lifestyle before this, and the Talmud does not denigrate this fact, and in fact highlights it.
It also occurs to me that the greatest Jewish heroes of the Torah as well as Talmud, that is Moses and King David, were also shepherds at points in their lives, and this is not denigrated or played down, so why is it that only the highest positions are acceptable for careers for Jews? If it’s a defense against the scourges of institutional anti-Semitism as it maybe has been in the past, well, medical boards could deny Jews their licenses, the Bar Association could do the same for lawyers, and academics could be denied tenure. So even that, hypothetically, wouldn’t be foolproof.
Filed under: antisemitism |