Monday, May 26, 2008

Towards a Torah Open-Mindedness

To what extent can a person identify as "Open-Minded" and as a Torah Jew at the same time? Assuming that there is an appropriate Open-Mindedness, is that defined by an intellectual tolerance and openness up to specific points, or does the entire concept of "Open-Mindedness" need to be redefined?

An excerpt from a thoughtful post by Dr. William Kolbrener:

...To be open-minded in this sense means to be open to the energies which will transform me into the person I want to become. Without incorporating those energies, I will remain in silent battle with those part of myself I can't face, instead of using those energies as a means of personal transformation. This not only means acknowledging things about which I'd rather forget (or repress) about myself; it also may mean acknowledging a past from which I had hoped to distance myself, the stranger within.

My own thoughts are that there are two aspects to any appropriate “Torah Open-Mindedness”:

First, “intellectual empathy”, the ability to appropriately identify with another’s mindset. In conversation, this would mean when appropriate, listening to a person without agreeing with their point of view, but entering their mindset to make them feel genuinely understood, which could be included in some cases under nosei b’ol im chaveiro.

Second, there is honestly recognizing and accepting one’s own humanity, rather than disowning it. R. Yerucham Levovitz(Daas Torah, V’zos Haberacha)writes that the Chovos HaLevavos himself, may have gone through the challenges mentioned in Shaar Yichud Hama’aseh(including, I assume, the intellectual ones listed there), and successfully overcome them.

There are sources which go further and say that it is specifically the challenges or the “skeletons in the closet” which are the cause of growth in avodas Hashem (eg, the letter from R. Hutner where he says about gedolim, “but who knows about their struggles, their failures, their falls and their regressions”).

As far the application to “Torah Open-Mindedness” is concerned, if one realizes that one suffers, or had suffered, from the same or from a similar malady, it could lead to a greater understanding of another's mindset.