A Jewish view of building society

Scholars can be the agents for building a harmonious society or they can undermine society by promoting an untenable, toxic vison.

Rabbi Carmi Wisemon ,

Rabbi Carmi Wisemon
Rabbi Carmi Wisemon

If we wanted to describe Torah scholars, we probably wouldn’t call them builders. Scholars study, teach, do research and write, some are more active in communal affairs and provide guidance to others, but they don’t appear to be building anything. Yet, the Talmud in several places calls Torah scholars builders, those who build this world.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: These are Torah scholars, who are engaged in building the world all of their days.” (Shabbat 114a)

But what are they building?

Societies and nations are founded on the ideals and visions of how they should function, how individuals should relate to one another, to their families, to other communities, to communal and national institutions and to our Creator. The scholars who create, promote and sustain these ideas help define what societal boundaries and aspirations.

Much as our communal rabbis build their communities, by laying out a vision, and setting a personal example for our responsibilities and aspirations, so do Torah scholars create a vision for the world at large of how it should function. This is what makes them builders, because their words and actions build the vison, goals and guidelines for a healthy and harmonious society.

It’s sometimes easier to understand a concept by seeing its flipside. Just as scholars can be the agents for building a harmonious and productive society, they can also undermine society by promoting an untenable, fragmented and toxic vison.

Western society today is in a steep decline, primarily because of the irresponsible and often illogical vision promoted by scholars and professors on university and college campuses. Their postmodern vision emphasizes individual rights and downplays familial, communal and societal responsibilities. They ridicule old-fashion common sense morality and instead promote moral relativism which prevents people from thinking logically and is leading to the breakdown of Western values.

These are the reasons why today’s college and university campuses have become the epicenter of the moral pandemic eating away at our family and social values.

The Torah teaches us. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: “And all your children [banayikh] shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. The Sages interpreted this verse homiletically: Do not read your children [banayikh], but your builders [bonayikh]. Torah scholars are those who build peace for their generation.” (Berachot 64)

We are fortunate that our Torah scholars/builders promote a vision of society which is at peace with itself, the natural world and with our Creator. We can see from what’s happening on our college and university campuses that this should not be taken for granted.


Rabbi Carmi Wisemon is the founder of Sviva Israel and an Israeli high-tech professional.