Jeremiah the prophet says in the name of G-d: “…And it shall be that when you tell all these things to this people, they will say to you, ‘Why has G-d spoken all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity, what is our transgression that we have transgressed before Ha-shem our G-d? Say to them: ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me – the word of G-d – and they followed the gods of others; they worshiped them…but Me, they have foresaken; and My Torah they did not observe.’’ (Jeremiah 16:10-11). The sages note the seeming redundancy at the end of this verse; obviously if we forsook G-d we did not observe His Torah?!
The Talmud answers, the Al-mighty meant to say, “Halevay (I only wish) that Myself they have forsaken (by not observing the mitzvos), but they continued to study My Torah, because the illumination within it (the Torah) would eventually bring them back to Me”. The Talmud states further, based upon another verse, that the Almighty told the Jews “I’m willing to pardon you for the transgression of the three cardinal sins; murder, idol worship and forbidden relations, but your forsaking the study of Torah I can not forgive”, as the study of Torah is G-d’s final hope for the Jews’ connection to Him, (Jeruslam Talmud, Chagigah 1:7).
As we see, the Al-mighty Himself has proclaimed that no matter how far a Jew is from observance, His desire is that each and every Jew should be involved in the study of Torah. Torah study, more than the observance of any mitzvah, is the key to Jewish continuity. The communist Russians understood this well when they banned the study of Torah. A rabbi once visited communist Russia, as a “tourist”. Stopped by the authorities to be checked at the airport, they unloaded his suitcases, taking out numerous pairs of tefillin, mezuzos, tallis and the like, in addition to many volumes of various aspects of Torah. The officials smirked at him, saying “tourist, huh?!” They then returned to him all the religious paraphernalia, but held back the volumes of Jewish studies. They said, “…we keep these, these are the enemies of the people”!
These Russians recognized and comprehended that without Torah study the mitzvah observances this rabbi was bringing them would be short-lived and would not win the people over from their communist ideology. Torah study, however, would have the power to give the people the inner strength to stand up to their ideologies, creating “enemies of the people”. The Russians learned this lesson from the Greeks and Romans of old who first enacted decrees to forbid the Jews from study, punishable by death. The miracle of Chanukah was the celebration of the Jews steadfast commitment to learning, the “light within the Torah” represented by the Menorah and overcoming the darkness of those decrees.
Judaism, furthermore, does not believe that “what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you”. When we have the opportunity to learn and know, we are responsible for what we could and should have known even thought we chose not to know. To choose to not study lest one finds out something she is not willing, at this point, to observe is not a reason to refrain from study. On the contrary, then besides not knowing that item, one becomes liable for not studying!