At http://www.jewishideas.org/blog/sephardic-rabbis-ashkenazic-garb#comment-107, I just wrote:
I think the most important thing we can do is to inculcate in our children intellectual perspicacity and intellectual and moral courage. Someday, I don't know how many of my personal beliefs and opinions will be adopted by my children, but if there's one thing that I believe it imperative to transmit to them, and which I believe I will have failed as a parent if I fail to inculcate in them (besides the obvious, viz. technical Torah observance and upstanding moral character), is such a perspicacity and courage and independence of mind.
We don't have all the answers yet; the Torah is an ongoing challenge. But we must accept all of life's challenges and all of modern scientific and wordly knowledge, and have the courage to admit the questions, and have the courage to explore daring solutions without looking over our shoulders. Even if the questions all remain unanswered, we must acknowledge the challenges posed, and not shy away. And we must not be fazed by charismatic leadership and authoritarian censure.
Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that growing up, I had almost no friends in school, until high school. Putting aside the various explanations offered by my family and myself for this fact, I nevertheless learned very early on (by approximately fourth grade, at the latest), that I was not beholden to anyone, and that if I knew I was right, and I knew I was following the truth, it mattered not what others said. And if the result was that I hadn't a single solitary friend, so be it; life isn't a popularity contest. Now, fourth-graders were not debating philosophy; my independence and iconoclasm were regarding far more petty and immature matters, but the principle remains the same, and I believe it has continued to serve me well in life.
*Update: I recall someone (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in all probability) saying that in fact, perhaps the blood libels were a blessing in disguise. The whole world vilified us; could the whole world be errant in this? Perhaps they were right? But the blood libel prevented our acquiring Stockholm's syndrome; we knew that we were not drinking gentiles' blood, and so we knew that the entire world could be wrong in every regard. Thus, the blood libels saved us from moral surrender to the majority.
I remember one of the things for which I was most picked on in fourth grade was regarding my orthodontal expander; food would become stuck in it every few bites, and I had no choice but to clear it as I ate. (I was as discrete as I could be, and the most offending facet of this activity was a rasping noise I had to generate.) The other students positively detested me for this, and relentlessly castigated me for this. But I knew I was doing nothing wrong, and of all the things these children did to me, this was among the most influential, convincing me that I was not beholden to them, and that they could be wrong, all of them. In all seriousness, I wonder if perhaps, in some peculiar way, my childhood was an intellectual microcosm of the Jewish people's history?
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