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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2008 / 8 Mar-Cheshvan 5769

Six out of ten isn't bad, is it?

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson


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How I tricked a classroom of apathetic students into grasping the fallacy of moral relativism


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | First year teachers can't be picky. That's how my wife and I ended up in Budapest, Hungary.

Predictably, we came away with countless vignettes and anecdotes, of which many are amusing, astonishing, or literally unbelievable in the retelling. Nevertheless, in a year filled with culture shock, frustration, elation, inspiring successes, and soul-wrenching failures, one forty-minute class still stands out in sharp relief against all the rest.

It wasn't even my own class. I was substituting for my wife, covering a class she had been lamenting since the first day of school: a dozen tenth-grade girls, every last one of them not merely indifferent but openly hostile to Judaism, to education, and to life in general. Moreover, they spoke almost no English, and had little interest in learning.

I entered the classroom to a chorus of scowls. On the far left side of the room was Dora, the only one of the bunch who spoke passable English. Her boyfriend, she said, was studying to be a rabbi. Dora knew everything.

In the center of the room was Andrea: sassy, arrogant, flirtatious, exuding attitude in buckets. Her look dared me to try to teach her anything.

I took one look at the semi-circle of lost souls and wondered what my chances were of getting anything across to them. But I had already planned my attack. I turned without a word and wrote across the chalkboard: It's okay to steal as long as you don't hurt anyone.

It took about five minutes until everyone in the room understood what I had written. Having finally broken the language barrier, I asked the class: Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

I wasn't sure what to expect. A class full of secular Americans might object from a nebulous, ill-defined sense of right and wrong. But given the culture of amorality that permeated countries behind the former Iron Curtain, it was quite possible these girls wouldn't object at all. If so, I could always raise the ante by advocating premeditated murder.

But they made it easy for me. Surprisingly, it was Andrea who took the lead. "No," she said with great conviction. "It's wrong."

"Why?" I asked.

Her answer startled and delighted me. "It's in the Ten Commandments."

"Oh," I said, my eyes widening. "You believe in the Ten Commandments?"

"Of course," she said without flinching.

"All of them?" I asked.

This time she hesitated. "No," she finally said. "Not all of them."

"Well, which ones do you believe in?"

As it turned out, the class could only identify two of the ten, so I wrote out the list on the board. "Okay," I said to the girls who, despite themselves, were becoming engaged. "Which ones do you agree with?"

After some debate, the class came to a consensus on six of the ten: the prohibitions against idolatry, murder, theft, adultery, and swearing falsely, and the commandment to honor one's parents. I wrote a large check mark to the left of each of their choices.

"On these six you all agree?" I asked, and they all nodded. "You're all willing to follow these?" They nodded again. "And the others?" I asked. They shook their heads with equal certitude.

"Well then," I said, turning back to the board. "If you choose those six, then I'm going to choose these six." With neither rhyme nor reason, I ticked off a check to the right of a different set of six. "These are the commandments that I am willing to follow."

I might as well have set off a bomb. Almost every girl in the room began shouting as if I had committed the worst form of heresy.

"Why are you so upset?" I asked in my most innocent voice. "You picked which six you agree to follow. Why can't I pick which six I agree to follow?"

Again it was Andrea who protested: "But you're a rabbi!"

"I don't understand," I replied. "Only rabbis have to keep the Ten Commandments?"

She looked momentarily confused, then recovered. "Yes," she said confidently.

"Why?"

This time her expression of confusion lingered before she changed tack. "But look at which ones you left off your list. What about Sabbath? What about murder?" She was becoming quite emotional, and the rest of the class with her.

"You got to pick your six," I said calmly. "I get to pick my six."

We went back and forth a few times, the girls insisting that they were justified in choosing their six commandments while my selection of six was somehow a betrayal of all that was sacred. They seemed to take it personally that I refused to accept all ten commandments, and they grew increasingly agitated as I smiled pleasantly and kept repeating that if they had the right to choose which commandments they could keep then I had the right to choose mine as well.

"So what's the answer?" Dora finally demanded.

"What was the question?" I asked politely. She looked back at me as if she might explode. When the girl next to her literally clawed the desktop with her fingernails, I finally gave in a bit. "You're free to make up your own rules," I explained. "But if you do, then you have no right to argue with anyone else whose rules contradict yours."

The bell rang. "Thank you, ladies," I said. "It's been a pleasure teaching you."

"But wait!" cried Dora. "You didn't teach us anything."

I smiled on my way out. Of course I had taught them something. I had given them their first lesson in the fallacy of moral relativism, although the term had not yet become popular. Was it too much to hope that any of them might someday appreciate what it was I had taught them?

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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. Visit him at http://torahideals.wordpress.com .






© 2008, Rabbi Yonason Goldson