Is There Such a Thing as Asking Too Many Questions?

Moment, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

Is There Such a Thing as Asking Too Many Questions?


Independent

According to our creation story, the serpentine trickster posed the first question ever asked: "So, God said you shouldn't eat from any of the trees in the Garden, huh?" That prompted First Woman to respond: "We can eat from the fruits of the trees in the Garden. Only in regards to the tree in the middle of the Garden did God say not to eat from it ..." Questions are important not only for stimulating discussion but for jump-starting the dynamics of creation. Until the serpent introduced the concept, nothing had stirred. Creation had been absent of flavor, zest, spice and meaning. The human mind had slowly begun to atrophy, lacking stimuli for kindling-thought and response. Likewise, without the freedom and encouragement to question, which is so much a part of the Judaic mindset, Judaism itself would have gone catatonic a long time ago. Why, then, was the serpent penalized? Because, while questioning is vital to our life force, it can just as easily drain us of our life force if it conceals hidden agendas and unscrupulous attitudes. We see this in the Hagadah, where we read about the not-nice child questioning the Seder rites with a tone of mockery and personal challenge as opposed to a sincere quest for learning.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler Walking Stick Foundation Thousand Oaks, CA

Humanist

Nu? Is it possible to ask too many questions? Isn't that how we find things out? And shape our ideas and opinions? Maybe we come to a conclusion, but what if we find more information to modify it? Are facts fixed for all times? Aren't scientists constantly making new discoveries? As Jews, do we really believe that the world was created 5770 years ago? Or, in the face of archaeological evidence to the contrary, that the Exodus took place as described? Or that Jewish culture hasn't changed in each generation? In fact, didn't the early rabbis teach us to turn the text over and over, always looking for new-truths? And, inevitably, can't we expect that future generations will develop a form of Jewish expression that we can't possibly anticipate just as our ancestors couldn't have envisioned our form of Judaism? Don't we want our children to be critical and independent thinkers? Don't we ask them to distinguish between myth and fact? Don't we even challenge them to have the courage and chutzpah to question ancient teachings and not accept them automatically simply because they come from long ago? Nu? Isn't there always room for one more question?

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism New York, NY

Renewal

When I was a child coming home from school, my parents never asked me, "What did you learn today?" Perhaps they knew that the obligatory childhood answer is "Nothing." Instead, each day they asked, "What questions did you ask today?" The paradigm of praising questioning has deep roots in our tradition. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Moses, perhaps weary of the process of questioning and answering, approaches G-d and says, "Master of the universe, reveal to me the final truth in each problem of doctrine and law," to which the Lord replies: "There are no pre-existent final truths in doctrine or law; the truth is the considered judgment of the majority of authoritative interpreters in every generation." Moses cannot get a final answer and must continue the process of questioning and exploring! We also learn in the Passover Hagaddah that the wicked child is wicked precisely because of the way he "asks." The other three children initiate conversation and relationship through shared discussion, but the wicked child simply embeds his exclusion in his comment. All questions are welcome, but how we ask them determines not only the response but the relationships we create in the process.

Rabbi Chava Bahle Makom Shalom Chicago, IL

Reconstructionist

Besides being People of the Book, we are also People of the Question Mark. …

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