Every year the United States Department of Education recognizes Blue Ribbon schools for their academic excellence. The Department of Education recognizes approximately .002 (two tenths of one percent) of schools in America to be Blue Ribbon schools.
Rambam Mesivta, which earned Blue Ribbon status in 2015, is the only independent yeshiva boys’ school in the country to have been awarded this distinction. The award is recognition of those select schools whose outstanding academic program ranks top in the nation.
For the past three years, Rambam’s Rosh Mesivta, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, has been selected to speak at the Blue Ribbon conference which hosts hundreds of educators from across the country.
The topic of his presentation this year was, “Learning to learn, questioning your question.” With input from soon-to-be Dr. Hillel Goldman, Rambam’s associate principal, and Rabbi Avi Hershman, director of Israel guidance, Rabbi Friedman focused on universal applications of Talmudic methodology.
Among the many examples cited was the chazal who explains how Avraham Avinu attempted to disabuse his father from idolatrous notions. Terach, Avraham’s father, believed in idols. His young son Avraham snuck into his father’s warehouse, smashed idols with an ax and placed the ax in the hand of the one idol he didn’t destroy. When his father came to the warehouse he incredulously asked what happened. The response received from Avraham was that the one remaining idol had decapitated the others. Terach’s response was that he found Avraham’s answer ludicrous since “idols don’t have the ability to do anything.”
Rabbi Friedman explained that Avraham’s approach was to debate others by demonstrating to them that the premises they assumed to be correct are, in fact, self-contradictory. Terach was thus given the opportunity to realize his mistaken assumption and hence, reject idolatry.
In another part of the lecture, Rabbi Friedman made reference to Richard Thaler’s groundbreaking work in behavioral economics. Thaler, who bases his work on experimentation, demonstrated that there is an emotional attachment that each person holds towards their own possessions. For example, in an experiment conducted, college students who were given a coffee mug worth $2 would not part with it until someone paid them $5, far exceeding the actual value of the cup. A Talmudic dictum was then cited that refers to the fact that a person has an emotional attachment to his own possessions.
The outcome of Rabbi Friedman’s talk was to impart the beauty and lessons of the Torah way of life and methodology. These efforts were clearly met with success as the organizer of the conference sent a message saying, “Thank you so much for your willingness to share with other schools. Our attendees always talk about your presentation and the value it brings to helping more students!”