Article Library / Annual Assessment

2017 Annual Assessment

Though stress is not the only driver of creativity, it probably is the dominant one for Jews. But there are other motivations that drive humans to discover what is new and unknown, inside and outside of themselves, or to create art not seen before. To summarize these motivations under the term “curiosity” is simplistic. We do so for lack of a better term. Curiosity is the impulse inherent in all humans (and animals) to acquire knowledge. Thirst for knowledge, “curiosity,” is part of the human condition, but more often than not, it is survival knowledge, knowledge with a purpose – economic, military, medical, religious, or otherwise. In this case it also belongs to the category of “stress” or “necessity.” Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is comparatively rare. There was such a thirst for knowledge in ancient Greek science, and there is a lot of it in modern “pure science” generating fundamental research. Likewise, some art was and continues to be commissioned by paying customers, but some also reflects an artist’s search for meaning and beauty and nothing else. Certainly, many Jewish contributions to modern science, art and culture were born in this search for pure knowledge, beauty, and significance, which is difficult to define and prove and impossible to measure.

One could see this, too, as a result of the Jews moving out of the Ghetto and entering professions that had been closed to them. Or one could see it as a secularized continuation of an ancient Jewish drive. Jewish religious tradition greatly values learning, the search for knowledge. But it is knowledge with a purpose, knowledge of the Torah. While an important purpose of Torah knowledge was to guide correct religious practice, another important value of Torah study is “Torah study for its own sake.” This value has been variously interpreted, but there is a central tradition of theoretical study and Torah knowledge as a value in its own right. Furthermore, central traditions of Torah study stress hiddush – innovation in interpretation and jurisprudence.19 Further research is necessary to establish to what degree if at all these traditions have contributed to modern Jewish creativity.