Friday, Jan 14, 2022

Megillah 7: A Proper Education

When Sir Moses Montefiore once visited Warsaw, the Chiddushei Harim and Rav Yitzchok of Vorki spent many hours sequestered with him. Their appeals were aimed to convince him to petition the crown regarding several issues of vital importance to the Jewish community.

One was the law that required every cheder to teach foreign languages. When the local Maskilim heard this, they decided to form their own delegation of wealthy “intellectuals” to counter any such claim. They explained to Sir Moses that this decree was actually a great benefit for the Jewish community, since this was the means through which Jew-hatred would become a thing of the past. “Besides,” they claimed, “your honor should know that most rabbis disagree with the fanatics who assert that learning a foreign language is prohibited in the Torah schools.”

Since the Maskilim had reached Sir Moses first, the rebbes started out at a disadvantage when they brought up the issue. The philanthropist immediately parroted the “progressive” view, and when the rebbes refuted this claim, he directed them to Rabbi Dr. Levy, his own counselor, who argued that they should teach languages based on a teaching of Chazal: “On Megillah 7, we find that the miracle of Purim was partially due to Mordechai’s knowledge of other languages.”

The Chiddushei Harim immediately replied. “It was only because Mordechai was on the Sanhedrin that he understood foreign languages. As our sages explain, this is a requirement for the Sanhedrin only to avoid hearing testimony through a translator. In fact, the events of Purim disprove your claim. Bigson and Seresh dared to plan an assassination in front of a Jew because they knew that Jews did not learn foreign languages. Mordechai only spoke their language because he was the rare exception, not the rule.”

He concluded, “It is enough for us to have a few representatives like Sir Moses and yourself—nothing more is needed.” Rabbi Levy promptly admitted to Sir Moses that the rebbes were right (Me’ir Einei Hagolah).

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