The Importance of Asking Questions

Below are quotes from an article written by Lord Rabbi Johnathan Sacks Chief Rabbi of the British Common Wealth about the importance of questions and how asking questions is really something that builds faith.

Isidore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied:
“My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from
school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good
question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.”

As Wilson Mizner once put it: “I respect faith. But doubt is what gets you an education.” To me, this is a
caricature of faith, not faith itself. What is the asking of a question if not itself a profound expression of
faith in the intelligibility of the universe and the meaningfulness of human life? To ask is to believe that
somewhere there is an answer. The fact that throughout history people have devoted their lives to
extending the frontiers of knowledge is a moving demonstration of the restlessness of the human spirit
and its constant desire to transcend, to climb. Far from faith excluding questions, questions testify to faith
– that the world is not random, the universe is not impervious to our understanding, life is not chance.
Critical intelligence is the gift G-d gave humanity. To use it in the cause of human dignity and insight is one of the great ways of serving G-d. When faith suppresses questions, it dies. When it accepts superficial answers, it withers. Faith is not opposed to doubt. What it is opposed to is the shallow certainty that what we understand is all there is.

What struck me was the connection between education and faith. That we know how important it is for students to ask questions and that the skill of asking questions and being inquisitive is often more important than the answer. However we tend to at times in religious classes shy away or be afraid of certain questions. I think what Rabbi Saks is telling us that as in education we need to encourage our students to ask questions and that it is OK to have doubts.
My other takeaway from the article as an educator was the last line: “What it is opposed to is the shallow certainty that what we understand is all there is.” As educators we need to understand we don’t always know the answer but that is OK, because after all it is all about the learning and learning doesn’t only have to be from teach to student but it can be and perhaps should be the Teacher together with the students learning

Finally I wrote a previous blog post ( about the balance between 21st Century learning and how it fits in a Judaic classroom. Here is another entry point that perhaps in the past certain religious teacher may have shied away from and that is incorporating more inquiry based or problem based learning but as Rabbi Saks shows us asking those questions actually straightens our faith and asking questions and inquiring is something we should embrace and encourage and not shy away from.





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    May 30, 2012

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