By JOSEPH H. PROUSER
A Talmid Chacham (literally, “student — or disciple — of a Sage”… plural, Talmidei Chachamim) is an exemplar of Jewish learning and scholarship, deeply immersed in sacred literature and the ways of Jewish piety and personal character. A Talmid Chacham embodies the very best of the Jewish religious and spiritual enterprise. The Talmud observes: “A Talmid Chacham whose inner nature does not match his (or her!) outward behavior is not a true Talmid Chacham” (Yoma 72B). It’s not all about appearances, public conduct, ritual correctness… or even knowledge. A Talmid Chacham internalizes Jewish values and wisdom… to the very core.
Elsewhere, the Talmud insists, Talmidei Chachamim marbim shalom ba-olam – “True Talmidei Chachamim are those who enhance and increase peaceful coexistence” (Berachot 64A and Keritot 28B). This passage was deemed important enough to have been incorporated into the liturgy, often recited on Shabbat morning following Ein K’Eloheinu. The methodology of Jewish scholarship and learning may be disputation and debate… but the acid test of a true Talmid Chacham is the ability to foster amity… within the Jewish community and beyond. A self-styled scholar or putative pietist whose personal comportment or manner of communication impedes peaceful relations is no Talmid Chacham.
Amity – even between those who have differences – is a sage, core value.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)