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A Response to Mordecai

editor Jonathan Cohen
A Response to Mordecai Nisan’s Commitment and Uncertainty ( Mechuyavut VeIvada’ut) Zeev Mankowitz Professor Mordecai Nisan has presented us with a searching and finely crafted clarification of the dimensions, latent and manifest, of commit-ment, a term many of us use rather loosely. His starting point is his home discipline of psychology but the paper owes a lot to his philosophical acumen, social sensitivity and overarching concern with educational theory and practice. Nisan describes the committed person as one who has freely taken upon him/ herself a lasting pattern of conduct which is viewed as worthy and accordingly acted upon. This kind of undertaking – and this may be seen as a drawback – also entails limiting one’s freedom of choice and action and remaining beholden to a predetermined course of action. On the other hand, there are also significant rewards: those who, despite these obstacles and possible costs, remain faithful to what they have taken upon themselves to do are generally held in high regard. And, even more significantly, long- term commitments are critical components in the all important endeavor of living a life of meaning, purpose and integrity. Commitments, argues Nisan, flow from a variable sense of obligation that starts at the one pole with stern, moral imperatives and ends at the opposite pole marked by more malleable obligations to creativity and spirituality. Between these two poles lie the obligations which the Mishnah terms “ things without measure” such as giving charity or visiting the sick which obligate but without stipulating how, when or to what degree. The sense of obligation that underpins commitment belongs in this middle- range somewhere between the imperative and the desirable and is marked by a certain give and take between fidelity and flexibility as circumstances change. As Nisan puts it:

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