Learning from all Cultures

As a Bible believer, is it best for us to follow only Biblical guidelines rather than learning the positive values from other cultures, such as Japanese or Chinese cultural values? I thought this would enrich our lives as well as our Biblical learning, but may not be what the Bible guidelines suggest us to do.

Thank you as always, Rabbi Lapin.

Dear Filemon,

You do ask interesting questions. This question is particularly apt because we are answering your question today, which is the eighth and final day of Chanukah. Despite popular attempts to make the historical battle of Chanukah sound politically correct by portraying it just as a long-ago fight for religious freedom, the holiday actually represents, for all time, the internal battle between those faithful to their faith and those who want to resculpt their faith to fit into the popular culture.

The dominant culture of that time was (Syrian-Greek) Hellenism and many Jews became Hellenists.  As a matter of fact, the ancient historian Josephus records how the most popular cosmetic surgery back then, twenty-one hundred years ago, was Hellenized Jews undergoing foreskin restoration procedures. 

However, the Syrian-Greeks did not, like other cultures, want to exterminate Jews.  They didn’t even demand an abandonment of Judaism. They demanded that Judaism become subservient. If a conflict existed between their values and Judaism, Torah, the constitution of Judaism, took second place. (I’m sure you see the parallels to today.)  For instance, as we hinted at earlier, Hellenists saw the body as perfect and the gymnasium as a temple, thus they forbade circumcision.  Loyal and faithful Hebrews continued to maintain that ritual.  The Maccabees , those who fought the battle, insisted that in every way, Torah values are always paramount. 

However, we don’t reject every idea of Hellenism outright. In Genesis 9:27, God blesses the father of the Greek nation with a gift for beauty. However, and this is vital, He praises it when it “dwells in the tents of Shem.”  In other words, ancient Jewish wisdom recognizes that there are legitimate values to be found in the nations, meaning nations other than those who follow the Torah. The primary condition for accessing that wisdom is that it must always be viewed through the prism of Torah; the Torah mustn’t be judged through its prism.

Today, for instance, in several cultures gender is viewed as fluid and subject to an individual’s choice.  Measured against Scripture’s, “Male and female He created them,” we have to reject the popular view as false.  It’s as if we have a foolproof nonsense detector which we can use to measure the value and authenticity of all ideas.

Not only is there no need to reject learning from many cultures; it would be foolish to do so. However, to explore the values of other cultures one has to feel secure in judging all aspects of those cultures against the Truth and rejecting any ideas that conflict with God’s vision, no matter how tempting, rational or popular they may sound.

Enjoy your studies,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

15 thoughts on “Learning from all Cultures”

  1. Yes! You are correct, Susan. I am a PK. Hopefully, I have not lived up to the bad reputation some PK’s have.

    I have been blessed to have a good father and a good Bible teacher/mentor for most of my life. As any RK, PK, or MK (missionary’s kid) we are given a “front row seat” to the blessings and challenges of ministry. I am very thankful!

    *After I reread my post, I apologize for my spelling errors and word omissions.

  2. Thank Rabbi Lapin and Mrs. Lapin! My father and my pastor likes to say the phrase “All Truth is God’s Truth.” Someone might heat or see it displayed among a certain person, people, or time period whom may or may not necessary claim G-d as their teacher, but ultimately it can be traced back to the Original Source of Truth (emet).

    If I may speak vaguely and carefully on behalf of other Christians, who also study Paul’s writings along with the Tanak. He mentions this in his address the Book of Romans to the believers in Roman (Roman 1:20) “for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made, so that they are without excuse.”

    Of course this is an English translation of ancient Hebraic teacher speaking with Greek language and culture to teach Jewish Wisdom to them. They are without excuse and they know true principles because of what He has created.

    Thank you so much for all you do!

  3. Thank you Rabbi Lapin and Ms. Lapin for answering my question. Your answer is also what my pastor at my church used to tell me back then. We need to judge pop culture and societal values around us through the prism of Biblical values. Just to add something I though important (or at least interesting), now that you mentioned the father of the Greek nation, the Japhetites, was blessed with the gift of beauty. I think the Shemites were also blessed with education, as in the Bible Shem was the one who taught Japhet and Ham how to respect their father, Noah, and stand strongly for this noble value. The Hamites were said to be hot in temper, maybe this explains their gift of passion. Anyway, this is only my learned opinion from reading some Biblical references.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for your question, Filemon,
      you gave us much to research and think about

  4. Dear Rabbi and Susan,
    I am also a Christian. Unlike some others I believe all of the Bible. The Old Testament
    is not just a history of the Jewish people, it is the living breathing revelation of God’s word. And the Torah is still the law. That is why I appreciate your programs so much. If you know what God is really telling you, you have no excuse for doing whatever you please. As John Hegge said ” There is a lot of paganism that Christianity Still salutes”. While other cultures may have well meaning precepts such kindness, charity, love of fellow man. We still must try to lead them to the one true God.


  5. Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    I’m assuming you are a Christ follower and if so didn’t Paul’s gospel teach that we are no longer under the condemnation of the law but under the freedom of grace?

    1. Dennis, we are not Christians at all, rather Orthodox Jews. Please look around our website and you will see that we seek to share ancient Jewish wisdom, especially information that was known to Christians in previous centuries. We have no knowledge of Christian theology so your question is not a good one for us.

      1. Susan, if I may?

        Dennis, it is true that the Apostle Paul said exactly that. However, the question here is “Is it wise, is it prudent?”

        While the Christian lives in grace, he is also commanded to follow Jesus’s sayings, to exercise wisdom and prudence, and to live life so as to not cause a brother to stumble.

        I believe the good rabbi Lapin has captured the spirit of this wisdom. To be careful what you buy into lest it lead you astray from sound Biblical wisdom. View all worldly wisdom through the lens of God’s word. Test all things. Hold fast that which is good.

        Rabbi and Susan, listening to your teaching has helped me in my faith and understanding, for we serve the same God. I hope this blesses you in some small way. Shalom.

  6. Excellent topic. From one who has lived all over this globe as a military dependent and parents who taught us to respect every house we entered, other’s cultures are an extended version of their house. While as a soldier myself, I was station in Tehran and traveled as much as I could. Regretfully, I was not able to visit the tomb of King Cyrus but pray that someday soon, peace will reign over the biblical lands so I may make that journey.

    1. I’m sure you have many wonderful stories to share, Ronald. It is eye-opening to see different ways of life.

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