The Time Kivshan Ha’Esh Turned Out to Be in Midwood

It is a basic tenet of chareidi Judaism that 12 years of religious education are essential to ensuring one’s understanding of and dedication to Judaism. Also, that if you don’t go to seminary for a year, you could lose everything from those 12 years. Also, if you then ever step outside of the chareidi community, you jeopardize it all as well. 
This always puzzled me, because I was under the impression that Judaism was Truth, and provable, and something I always felt extremely confident in. Why was it at more risk in the face of exposure to other ideas than last season’s fashion? 
Anyway, this story from Kaylie reflects that attitude. It’s not really surprising, except that otherwise intelligent people can believe it. FTR, I know plenty of extremely committed frum Jews who passed through the flames of Brooklyn College untouched. 
“So in 9th grade the Dean used to teach us parsha once a week.
One week he came in visibly distraught and started talking about secular colleges. He said he just found out that one of his graduates was in Brooklyn College. He told us he couldn’t believe it and that going to a secular college is like walking into a fire.”


This story sent in by Kaylie. 

The Time Kivshan Ha’Esh Turned Out to Be in Midwood

6 thoughts on “The Time Kivshan Ha’Esh Turned Out to Be in Midwood

  1. > He told us he couldn’t believe it and that going to a secular college is like walking into a fire.”

    And like Avraham Avinu, those who had faith would emerge untouched by the flames. Right?

    Or, like steel, those who passed through the flames would be stronger for it.

    And, somewhat beside the point, “Ur Kasdim” means “[the city of] Ur of the Chaldeans,” but people who lived long after the Chaldean civilization and long before archaeology mistranslated it.


    1. Esther Bernstein says:

      Response to your beside the point, because I found it fascinating (and didn’t quite understand what you meant…) –

      I did a bit of research just now on Ur Kasdim and the story of Avraham in the fire. The earliest Jewish source is Bereishis Rabba, which dates from the 4th-5th century CE, but there’s no way of knowing which parts of that text were part of the original and which parts were added up to a century or so later. At which point Muhammad was already living, which is relevant because one of the earliest sources for the fire story is in the Quran. What a lot of people don’t realize is how much religious thinking at that point was fluid across religions and influenced by other religions or sub-sections of other religions (ie Jewish kabbala influenced by Islamic Sufism). I’m not trying to imply that it was originally a Muslim story and was borrowed by the Jewish writers. But it’s fascinating the way stories develop – they get passed back and forth, with more details glomming on and being modified each time they’re transferred (this is one of my areas of fascination, how stories in general are adapted across cultures and time, though I don’t focus very much on the religious stories. Mostly I look at fairy tales and Arthurian legend…)

      Elisheva Baumgarten, a leading scholar on medieval Judaism, says that the Kivshan Ha’aish story was expanded significantly with more details in medieval Ashkenaz, and is almost always told alongside the story of Daniel and his friends (Chananya, Mishae’el, Azarya) who also withstood a test of fire. Her discussion of this is in a book about Jewish-Christian relations, in a chapter about “ordeal by fire” and why that was a test considered to prove a person’s faith (whether Jewish or Christian).

      And by the way, G*3, thanks loads for inspiring me to go searching for this. I don’t think I would have read this book because it doesn’t seem directly relevant to a project I’m working on now, but the book, and particularly this chapter and discussion, will be so so so useful to my paper.


      1. > I’m not trying to imply that it was originally a Muslim story and was borrowed by the Jewish writers.

        It’s impossible to know. I’ve seen Muslim skeptics cite it as an example of Jewish Rabbinic literature influencing the development of the Koran.

        > the book, and particularly this chapter and discussion, will be so so so useful to my paper

        Now I’m curious. What’s the paper about?


      2. Esther Bernstein says:

        That’s interesting. It is really impossible to know, because they were developing at the same time for the most part. The first time I realized this was at a conference panel where someone was talking about the similarities between Rashi and contemporaneous Christian commentary. Mind was blown. After that, I suddenly felt a whole lot more comfortable with Bible criticism.

        In a nutshell, the paper is about chronicles and piyyutim written in twelfth-century Rhineland about the 1096 Crusade. So I’m reading a lot about martyrs…


      3. That’s an interesting subject. What I find interesting is that so much of the really horrible anti-Semetic persecution was unofficial. The crusaders who rampaged through the Rhineland were the rabble, and the authorities in places tried to stop them. It reminds me a lot of what black people experienced in the South under Jim Crow. There was pervasive low-level persecution, and you were second-class, but officially your rights were protected. Sometimes the authorities even tried to protect you. But try to get a jury to convict a white person for hanging black man…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. DF3 says:

    How could someone who’d never been to college tell us what it’s like? He heard it from other people who didn’t go to college? He looked at only the “worst cases” of “what happened” to people who went to college? Well, that’s like a combination of hearsay, and the children’s game telephone. Good plan!


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