Kinat Sofrim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Kinat sofrim, literally the envy of scholars, is the Torahs phrase for healthy competitiveness around learning Torah.

The word kinah, jealousy, denotes a character trait that is generally regarded as negative. Envy of someone elses possessions or situation in life is a feeling that the mussar (ethics) writers counsel us to get over.

But with the envy of sofrim, (literally scribes) the situation is reversed. Kinat sofrim increases wisdom, according to the Talmud. If competitiveness can be harnessed to the goals of improved learning and teaching, so much the better.

The principle translates into the halachah that we do not prevent a school setting up in competition to one nearby. This contrasts with the restrictions that Jewish law places on a shopkeeper opening up next door to another retailer in the same business, lest the newcomer wipe out his neighbours income.

This reverses the prevalent contemporary view which is suspicious of competition in education but wholeheartedly approves of competition in the high street. The Torah desires competition to promote excellence in education, but not excellence in consumer goods at the cost of peoples livelihoods.

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009