Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Judaism?

Something that most of those of us know intuitively has been corroborated by John Marshall Law School professor John Gorby. Professor Gorby is not Jewish but during his career as a law professor he has noticed that most Jews do much better in law school than their non Jewish counter parts. They tend to pass the bar exam at about a 90% rate. This hardly a surprises to me. He compared that to, in some years as low as a 12% bar-passage rate for black students. He attributed this phenomenon not to any racial components but to a religious component. Jews, he says, study scripture in the synagogue more analytically than Baptists do in their churches. And most blacks are Baptists. Baptists tend to have a more emotional approach to religion. They do not study texts anywhere near as much. Certainly not the way Jews do.

This of course caused a big uproar and has led The Black Law Student Association to demand that Gorby be suspended for 30 days without pay. And this… after a five year long dispute… has led to a lawsuit by the professor against the school for not giving him the salary increases he was entitled to.

But that is not the issue I want to address. I just want to focus on his view of reality which I believe is right on the money as it pertains to the Jewish side of the equation.

He is right about why Jews do better in law school than the rest of their peers. But, it is not about studying scripture in the synagogue. As it pertains to the Frum Jewish law studendts, it is about learning Gemarah in a Yeshiva. Young minds who go to law school are not ‘minds full of mush’ to paraphrase John Housman’s famous line from the movie “Paper Chase”. These minds are anything but mush. They have been trained in analytical thinking for most of their educational lives.

While it is no doubt true that the study of law involves a lot more than just having the analytical mind that Yeshivos develop, it certainly does put you many steps ahead of the students who haven’t gone to Yeshivos. And it is interesting that a non Jewish professor took note of that.

As I said, there are other factors, Especially considering that most Jews who go to law school have never been to a Yeshiva. But there is definitely truth to what he said. He must have had a lot of Yeshiva students in his class.

One of the arguments that Jewish atheists use against Judiasm is to ask us, even if there is a God, why be Jewish? Why not Baptist? Or some other faith? When we answer in part it that we have an entire Talmud and 2 millenia of brilliant and analytical thought by people like the Rambam who have written extensively on Jewish law, philosophy and theology the retort is always… well so do the other religions! And they would argue the same thing about their history and their analytical minds.

While this doesn’t fully address that point, I think this little episode demonstrates the difference between Judiasm and other religions. Halachic Judaism relies far more heavly on the human brain, and far les on emotion.

So why are there more Baptists than Jews? Well, one could also ask why are there more Chasidim that non Chasidim? The answer is that emotion is a big motivator. It is probably a better motivator the intellect. The intellect falls short in its ability to prove anything. If one uses purely the intellect one can easily find a home atheism. People tend to react far better to emotional appeals than to appeals the brain. But emoion is not enough. There has to be a foundation. And that foundation is a 3000 year historyof Jewish literature much of which is a highly analytical.

It cannot be denied, at least where Baptists are concerned, that a history of studying religious texts blows away just about anything a Baptist can come up with, as this professor notes. And I suspect that the same can be said for just about any other religion.