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MODERN ORTHODOXY-----secular studies

MODERATOR Posted - 27 November 2001 21:42

The Rama 246:4 rules explicitly that it is absolutely prohibited according to Halachah to engage in a curriculum of secular studies. To red secular studies now and then, is permitted, he says.

The source of the Rama is the Yerushalmi Sanhedrin.

It has been suggested the difference between a curriculum and just a glance, is that this prohibition is not due to Bitul Torah but rather a Bizayon HaTorah, by establishing studies in areas other than Torah, it shows that you believe they have some value that would justify learning them when you could have been learning Torah.

Rav Shimon Schwab ZT"L sought the Torah opinions of two great authorities, Rav Boruch Ber Liebowitz ZTL and Rav Elchonon Wasserman ZTL, regarding college education. Their responded as follows:

Conclusion of Birkas Shmuel (Kiddushin #27 p.42):

"What emerges is (a) that according to the Torah the obligation of Banim Ubeni Banim means you must make your children into Geonei and Chachmei Torah - and not merely to prepare them for life as a Jew. But rather, you must teach them and get them to learn the entire Torah, and if chas v'sholom you do not, you violate the entire Mitzvah of learning Torah as per Banim Ubnei Banim.

(b) Universities and gymnasiums (i.e. secondary schools - MOD) are prohibited because of Apikursus [that they teach]. My Rebbi (i.e. R. Chaim Soloveichik ZTL) prohibited them even in war time, and even to save a life, for to avoid violating this, even a Jewish life is to be spent.

(c) To learn secular studies on a regular basis is prohibited, as per the Rama 246:4 ...

Brothers, please do Teshuva while there is still time, for the enlightenment (Haskalah) has blinded our eyes and weakened us. For we have no benefit in this world at all - both spiritually and physically - except from Torah. All the strength of Klall Yisroel is from the Torah ... we should do Tehsuva and repair the Batei Medrashos that have been broken by the Enlightenment."

Kovetz Shiurim II:47:

Question: Under what circumstances is it permitted to learn secular studies?


(a) If you must learn books that contain apikursus, it is prohibited ... needless to say even to make money or to prevent a loss thereof.

(b) If you must sit in school with Goyim, and it causes someone to befriend the Goyim and their ways, it is prohibited as per the Lo Saseh of Hishomer Lecha etc. for the Torah commanded us to distance ourselves from the Goyim in every way...

(c) If the studies do not cause you to learn Apikursus or to befriend Goyim, and you learn secular studies in order to know a skill to make a living, it is permitted, and it is a Mitzvah. However, this is only in general. But if a person sees that his son wants to learn Torah and he is prepared to be a Gadol B'Torah, in such a case R. Nehuray said: "I will forgo all skills in the world and teach my son only Torah."...

(d) If you don't need the studies for Parnasa, and you just want to be involved in them, there is reason to prohibit because of Bitul Torah, as per the Rama in YD 246, who writes that it is forbidden to learn secular studies on a regular basis....perhaps it is not due to Bitul Torah but rather it is an affront to the honor of the Torah ... someone who set out to learn secular subjects indicates that he believes that they have a purpose in and of themselves [besides for parnasa], and that is against the Torah's opinion. [see above]..."

Reb Elchonon continues, saying that the confusion in Germany happened when people thought, mistakenly, that by Jews possessing secular knowledge the Goyim will hate them less. This caused a "negiyos" - a vested interest - that caused the German Jews to desire that their rabbis be secularly educated as well.

Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT"L also denounced college in a Teshuva, and in a famous speech delivered to his students, published under the title "The Counsel of the Wicked."

There he reiterates that everyone has an obligation to become great in Torah, we should not care so much about Cadillac’s (yes, this was said in the "olden days"), and that learning Torah is what we should be pursuing, not secular stuff.

He says in America you do not need college to make a Parnassa, and we should be willing to live on little, not a lot, for the sake of Torah, and that R. Nehuray's statement of abandoning all skills in favor of Torah applies all that more today that we live in a country where you can make a parnassa without college, with no miracles needed.

There is a tape available in many Seforim stores called "The prohibition to learn in Colleges" (Yiddish), which contains addresses by Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTL and Rav Aharon Kotler ZTL condemning college.

rena Posted - 29 November 2001 15:00

would this issur also apply to girls (if they are not learning apikursus) because there is no mitzvah of v'hegata bo yomam va'layla?

gg Posted - 29 November 2001 15:00

I assume this is all talking about boys. is there anything wrong with girls going to college w/o apikorsus? Even with boys though-even if they don't go to college, don't they learn secular studies in high school which is already past their bar mitzvah? what is the heter for this according to what you wrote above?

MODERATOR Posted - 29 November 2001 18:12

Good question - Reb Elchonon discusses this in his responsum. He says that girls would also be prohibited if the prohibition is due to the affront to Kovod HaTorah involved with college, but if the prohibition is only due to Bitul Torah, it seems he is not certain. His words are:

"If the prohibition is due to Bitul Torah, maybe it applies only to men but not to women, but the truth is, women are also obligated to learn the Halachos that pertain to them in order to fulfill the Mitzvos.

"Or perhaps, even without this reason [of Bitul Torah] it is prohibited to learn secular studies regularly, so as not to give them value like the value of the Torah...."

He does not come to a conclusion regarding this.

MODERATOR Posted - 30 November 2001 15:23

Regarding High School, the only reasons it is allowed is either because education is mandated by State Law (in New York it is until age 17), or simply because if they did not have High School education in the Yeshivas, parents would simply send their kids to worse places to get it.

But it is definitely looked upon not as a l'chatchilah, but rather as something that is annoyingly necessary in the current environment.

Rabbi Chaim Segal ZTL, the Menahel of the HS of Chaim Berlin was once told by Rav Shach ZTL that if possible, he should not be teaching English studies. In Eretz Yisroel, almost all Chareidi Yeshivos do not have English at that age.

Rav Aharon Kotler ZTL made some kind of commitment not to allow English studies on the HS level in Lakewood. The exact details, and if this was actually a Takanah or merely a preference, is not clear and depends who you ask. In any case, Rabbi Elya Svei, Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia and a student of Rav Aharon's, was asked why he allows English in Philly if Rav Aharon was against it. What difference can there be between the town of Lakewood NJ and Philadelphia PA?

Reb Elya answered that he has no choice, and that currently, the Baalei Batim would not send their kids to the Yeshiva except under these circumstances.

Today, there are a small number of High Schools in America - particularly in Lakewood - that do not teach English. Also, many Yeshivos do try to reduce the amount of secular studies as much as possible, through knocking out the last semester of English, and a number of kids are leaving HS early to enter Bais Medrash.

Is any of this the ideal? No. It is not. Is it justified? The schools say it is, as they have no choice. But the point is not what the Jews do, its what Judaism wants. Everyone agrees that it would be a higher level, a preferable situation if we would indeed not learn English even at the HS level, at least not beyond what is necessary to survive. Nobody claims it is an ideal. The problem with Modern Orthodoxy is not what their Jews do, but what their Judaism says. Jews are imperfect - we know that and accept it - but Judaism is perfect, and unchangeable. We do not make over G-d in our own image.

That’s why all this talk about those able to learn all day being an "exception to the rule" misses the point.

Not everyone will become Moshe Rabbeinu, to be sure, but everyone should try to come as close as they can. And everyone admits that being Moshe Rabbeinu is something to look up to, strive for, and admire. Even if most of us don’t ever make it there.

So too even if many people will not learn all day, we all must recognize that it is certainly a higher level, it is a prize and privilege and merit that we should all try to attain, since it provides us with a higher spiritual level, and reaching the highest level possible in this world is our goal.

Today, thank G-d we live in a society where many, many people can learn all day. They recognize, BH, that learning Torah is better for your soul than practicing law. Or accounting. Or writing software. No question about it.

The point is the values, not the behavior. Behavior represents Jews; the values represent Judaism. To say that not everyone will reach the high level of learning all day is acceptable. But to say that it is not a higher level, is changing the Torah's values. Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam. And that includes every second of learning.

her Posted - 02 December 2001 19:56

There are so many frum high schools that teach more secular/cultural studies than is necessary, and many schools prepare their students for college with Touro credits. What is their heter?
Also, is there really nothing to gain from secular studies? Chochma is chochma. Rabbi Akiva went all over looking for chochma. What's the difference?

MODERATOR Posted - 02 December 2001 20:16

Because only one type of CHochma earns you Olam Habah. The other just gets you Olam Hazeh.

ptgard2281 Posted - 04 December 2001 19:14

I don't agree, Mod. Secular studies have helped me understand much about the world I live in. For example, I appreciate the world I live in because I took subjects like Earth Science.

I know more about my body because I took physiology and Biology. I can speak Hebrew well because I my English education helped me understand Hebrew better. I have learned that Hashem gives some people the gift to be artistic in my art classes. Without learning Math, I would have never understood what it meant for the Jews to be counted by Aharon. You get the idea -- there are so many things we don't learn about in Judaic studies that we do learn in secular studies, or other things that enhance our learning of Judaic studies.

What's wrong with that?

frumyid Posted - 04 December 2001 19:14

What about "yafyuto shel yefet yihei beaholei shem" (Megillah 9b)? haven't some gedolim argued that this is an opinion in the gemara that one who pursues secular studies can rely upon (or at least haven't some gedolim used this as a takeoff for a hashkafa espousing the importance of secular studies). I know that you may claim that this only allows one to study whatever that yafyuto shel yefet is but on a hashkafic level I feel strongly that this can be used to support pursuit of secular studies

MODERATOR Posted - 04 December 2001 20:56


That’s very nice, but there are still priorities. To pick up a biology book once in a while to appreciate your body is permitted, but to make it into a curriculum is not. Because while appreciating your body is nice, learning to keep Shabbos is more important. And as the Chofetz Chaim writes, if someone does not know Hilchos Shabbos cold, he will not go even one Shabbos without being Mechalel Shabbos.

Whatever benefit there is in secular studies, there is infinitely more benefit to your soul - in Limudei Kodesh. So if you have a choice to pursue crumbs of a lavish banquet, which will it be?


No, this is nothing to rely on. The Halachah is explicit as explained previously. That Gemora does not change what the Rama writes. No Posek says so.

Furthermore, that does not explain why someone would forgo the opportunity to earn infinite reward and holiness in return for...what? The beauty of Yefes? What kind of sense does that make?

IkeHolmes Posted - 05 December 2001 15:56

What about R' S.R. Hirsch? In his yeshivah students learned secular studies.

MODERATOR Posted - 05 December 2001 16:44

Rav Hirsch only allowed the amount of secular studies necessary for Jews to be able to understand and influence their neighbors.

Plus, he did not allow any secular studies that taught anything against the Torah or that disagreed with the Torahs values. He also insisted that his students who learn secular studies be very careful and learned in recognizing and rejecting anti-Torah values they may encounter (austritt). This was a condition for secular learning.

He also did not allow any integration (assimilation) into the non-Jewish culture. He only wanted his students to be knowledgeable.

There are those who also maintain that Rav Hirsch's policies were "horaas shaah", meaning that they were an emergency measure needed for the Jews at that place in that time only, kind of like Pikuach Nefesh, and his intent was not to imply any value at all to secular studies in and of themselves.

Others, such as Reb Elchonon Wasserman ZTL say that Rav Hirsch's original intent was due to the desire to reduce or end anti-Semitism in his country, but the idea later got out of control and people came to value secular knowledge.

grend123 Posted - 05 December 2001 19:38

just a little point of contradiction, Mod:

Rav Moshe writes that college for parnassa is unacceptable and just an excuse used by sinners (Yad Moshe: Chinuch-Limudei Chol-University), so if you accept that then you can't accept college under any terms, and yet you have repeatedly said its ok for parnassa. It's either ok (as Modern Orthodoxy claims) or not, but Rav Moshe says that your "in between" stance is illegitimate.

MODERATOR Posted - 05 December 2001 19:43

Uh uh. Learning secular studies is permitted if you need it for Parnassa, as proven by Reb Elchonon in his Teshuva in Kovetz Shiurim. Rav Moshe is saying that it is not needed n America for parnassa at all, so this heter does not apply. Also, it would only be permitted if you do not have to learn material that the Torah disagrees with, or sit in an unacceptable atmosphere. That, too, was an issue to Rav Moshe.

It's not either-or.

And "modern orthodoxy" is NOT a posek or a thinking entity capable of an "opinion" on anything. If you want to cite an opinion that college is permitted across the board, please cite a human being, preferably a Torah authority. Movements do not have opinions. People do. There are no equal and opposite opinions, in Torah literature, that permit secular studies as Modern Orthodox Jews learn it.

tess Posted - 07 December 2001 18:07

Before I stated college I was skeptical about the "dangers" etc...but now firsthand I look around every day and its a challenge.

I expected my classmates to be indifferent to me, but its worse- they are for the most part very friendly and warm.

Asides from the aspect of secular studies, I think 100% if you want to go to college to learn a profession, go to a touro.

ptgard2281 Posted - 12 December 2001 15:47

Mod, the chances of students picking up secular books as you suggested to me is very slim. While I do agree that torah study is extremely important, I also don't see anywhere in Judaic studies that describes the world and it's components in as much detail as textbooks. I would agree with you more if the torah taught math, science, etc.

It does touch upon subjects that involve this stuff, but we can't possibly understand what we are reading without opening a text that will give us that information. Besides, anyone who is educated enough in torah will know where to draw the line between fact and fiction (such as the concept of the big bang theory), so I don't see the harm in it.

trying Posted - 12 December 2001 15:47

I don't know. It makes so much sense, but I just feel like something is missing here. I'm from a family that boruch Hashem is frum, went to fine frum schools all my life, and here I am in college. College just seems like the natural thing to do. If you want a husband who will learn or will be in chinuch, you can't be a secretary.

MODERATOR Posted - 13 December 2001 18:00

That is due to our lifestyle where we have integrated (another word for "assimilated") into non-Jewish culture. It feels natural, but our feelings are not the word of Hashem.

her Posted - 17 December 2001 18:44

Moderator, why did you put this under "different types of orthodoxy"?

trying Posted - 17 December 2001 18:44

so what's the other option?

MODERATOR Posted - 17 December 2001 18:55

I put it here because of those who have claimed on these boards that the Torah allows or even encourages college. They made an official mode of Orthodoxy to include this idea.

The other option is not to go to college, like thousands upon thousands of Orthodox Jews and others.

tammy Posted - 03 January 2002 19:08

mod, my history teacher enjoys educating us on the fine points of his Christian religion. im in ninth grade and the girls enjoy challenging him, and ill admit myself, that im at times curious about their holidays and so forth.

But I sorta find it hypocritical to be learning about all these other religions (ie.hinduism, islam and such)in a religious school. my friends in other schools don't really mention anything like it, im wondering is this what goes on in all other "frum" schools?

grend123 Posted - 03 January 2002 19:08

"Besides, anyone who is educated enough in torah will know where to draw the line between fact and fiction (such as the concept of the big bang theory), "

What's wrong with the big bang theory? or evolution? or the earth going 'round the sun? If you have the Emunah that the Torah is true, then of course it can be reconciled with scientific fact. Up until last year, it was thought that relativity and quantum mechanics were contradictory - yet they're both scientifically correct!

It was only last year that a new, encompassing, theory explained away the contradictions. If two things are correct, then we must understand HOW they are both correct, not merely dismiss one out of hand.

That's not Emunah, that's blind ignorance, especially because numerous reconciliations HAVE been presented by talmidei chachamim. To give one of the simpler suggestions - Hashem does everything as 'teva'-dik (naturally) as possible, so why can't He have chosen to have created the world with a big bang?

Does the fact that we understand the process of pregnancy and childbirth, and can use ultrasounds to literally watch a baby develop from a zygote, in any way mean that Hashem doesn't breath a nishmas chaim into each new child? Honestly, if you refuse to reconcile emunah with science you're not protecting your emunah, you're stunting it from what it could be if you would just let yourself THINK.

I am aware that evolution and the big bang are theories, not proven fact, but that doesn't change my argument; I'm not saying that they must be correct, only that dismissing them because they don't mesh with the simplistic view of the Torah that we teach first graders is just silly.

We teach little kids, among other things, that no letter of the torah has been changed since har sinai, which is a patent falsehood to anyone who knows anything about the baalei mesorah and the fact that as far back as the amoraim there was a general agreement that we have malei-chasar errors in our sifrei torah, or to anyone who has studied the marasha on yirmiya or the corrected version of the rush's seforim (not the original, where the rush's views were mistakenly reversed, as he himself was quick to proclaim), or the writings of Rav Hai Gaon on the subject.

Just because the questions aren't simple, doesn’t give us a right to ignore them - we have an obligation to find the answers.

MODERATOR Posted - 03 January 2002 19:59

Threes nothing wrong with reconciling Torah with scientific fact, but there is also nothing wrong with exposing commonly accepted scientific ideas for what they really are -- theory, fact, or fiction.

You are correct, that the scientists change their minds all the time about what is fact, which is reason for us to be careful before we interpret the Torah based on those scientific ideas - when the scientists change, will our interpretation also change? That’s not really supposed to happen. Certainly not if we can avoid it.

So what we must do is first figure out what the Torah says, then interpret the theories and scientific ideas to match what we know to be fact based on the Torah. Not to fit the Torah into what the scientists say today.

ptgard2281 Posted - 08 January 2002 18:44

gren, I didn't mean fact or fiction literally . . . I was just trying to make the point that you have to be careful, like the mod said, when making interpretations.

mX Posted - 17 January 2002 23:26

Mod, what about secular studies that enhance Torah learning and help you appreciate Hashem and his miracles in "nature" and the beauty and splendor of the world and Hashem's hand in history and things like that?

I mean, what exactly is "secular" studies anyway? I'm talking about studying "secular" things, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT'L did. Would he have been better off, or as you put it, collected more gold coins, if instead of studying some secular studies, he studied Gemara? Or is it a matter of one's level in Torah that determines the extent of the secular studies?

Also, you said that going to college is permitted under a # of conditions. One condition is that as long as you don't learn apikorsus, but isn't there a mitzvah to KNOW what to answer an apikores? Don't you think it's better to find out the apikorsus and be shown by rabbis and proofs WHY it's false instead of taking the chance that you will encounter it someday on your own and be swayed by it? Or is it too big of a risk, and should only be undertaken by great rabbis thoroughly learned in Torah?

BaronPhilip Posted - 17 January 2002 23:26

"Assuring secular studies" is not nearly so poshut as you made it out to be. You did accurately quote the teshuvos from Rav Elchanan Wasserman and Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, who were writing in response to Rav Shimon Schwab's shaila. But you neglected to mention a third teshuva that Rav Schwab received, the one from the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon Rav Avraham Yitzchok Bloch, who took the position that the advisability of secular studies depended on the time and place of the community concerned. There is also a teshuva from the Rogachover Gaon permitting one to enter college, even considering the possibility that sending a child to college may come under the Rambam's halacha that a father is obligated to teach a parnasa to his children!

Another thing that is not so well known: The Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zisl (who was the Rebbe of the Alter of Slobadka, who trained most of the gedolim of this century) was certainly a proponent of secular studies. You argued that to arrange for secular studies as part of an official curriculum was ossur, but that is precisely what Rav Simcha Zisl did in his yeshiva in Kelm! They studied Russian, math, and history, among other subjects. Rav Simcha Zisl believed that all of this was very important in producing a Ben Torah. These facts are on the record and incontrovertible.

As far as Rav Shamshon Rephoel Hirsch, there is absolutely no historical evidence whatsoever that he regarded his derech as a "horo'as sho'oh".

Anyone even slightly familiar with the volumes upon volumes of his published writings knows this fact. Dayan Isidore Grunfeld, ztz'l (whose wife was Sarah Schneier's closest pupil) wrote extensively on this matter, and brought numerous proofs that Rav Hirsch regarded secular studies as lechatchila. So did Rav Hirsch's own grandson, Rav Yosef Breuer, ztz'l.

All the descendents of Rav Hirsch and his talmidim will tell you in no uncertain terms that to declare that Hirsch didn't really believe in the importance of secular studies is nothing short of historical revisionism. I mentioned in another post here that Rav Hirsch gave a drasha in his shul on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the German poet Friedrich Schiller and told his kehilla that every G-d-fearing Jew was chayyav to read Schiller's writings.

We have dozens of eyewitness reports that Hirsch spent many hours of his day studying poetry, literature, Greek, Latin, etc... If you read Rav Hirsch's writings, you see what a positive view he had of the secular culture of his time, and how strongly he believed that studying those liberal arts disciplines would make a Jew into a better ben Torah.

I think Rav Hirsch would be very disappointed, even disgusted, with college life and popular culture today. Colleges are full of pritzus and sheker, and television and movies are filthy and degrading. So maybe Rav Hirsch would not be so excited about going to college BeZman HaZeh. I can hear that argument. But to claim that Rav Hirsch didn't really support the study of secular knowledge in principle is simply wrong.

There happens to be a long-standing mesorah for the study of secular subjects, especially among the gedolim of Germany, besides Rav Hirsch. You have the Aruch LaNer, Rav Azriel Hildesheimer, Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman, and Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, the Seridei Aish. Rav Hirsch and these other gedolei Torah (and also Rav Simcha Zisl) certainly viewed that it was permissible, EVEN DESIRABLE, for students in yeshiva to have an organized curriculum of secular subjects.

So while I greatly respect Rav Shach ztz"l and the other gedolei Torah of this generation and the last who have opposed even a high school education, I simply and respectfully request that you do not "homogenize" our holy mesorah and the recorded history and positions of our gedolei Torah ztz"l to conform to the ****ah that you personally believe is right.

Achiezer Posted - 18 January 2002 16:49

Aruch HaShulchan, Hilchos talmud torah, quotes Rambam hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, that learning secular studies is permitted as long as none of it contains Apikorsus.
Chovos Halvovos writes that a person's avoda is incomplete if he knows only Torah and not science, philosophy, worldly matters etc.

How do we reconcile these views with the Rema quoted above?

eomilvad01 Posted - 27 February 2002 20:14

Especially today, when we have so much interaction with the goyim, in business and politics, etc. Not being well-versed in such matters can easily create a chilul HaShem. And when goyim, or even fraye yidden, ask us questions, like about politics, policies, business, current events, and we don't know what they're even talking about, and end up looking foolish and "out of it"--that looks pretty bad.

Always our leaders have had to deal with high-up goyim, and they were all well-versed in policies, politics, business, precedents, etc etc. e.g. R' Aharon Soloveitchik ZTL spoke a lot about these things.

And what of members of the Agudah? R' C.D. Zwiebel? I can only guess how much he has studied secular studies. Sorry if I'm switching the focus from science, math, literature, etc, to more political things, but I think that this is where a secular education makes the most difference. B\c it is possible to make a parnossoh with out a (advanced) college education, but we have constant interaction with goyim in these (previously mentioned) fields.

Just a side point: on studying math: I was recently by someone for a shabbos meal, and we were discussing studying secular studies in yeshivos and BYs. And the balebos said out a certain geometrical proof, concerning the area of a triangle and that of a circle, and how they're really one and the same, which he said came straight out of the gemoroh. I was toward the end of my geometry course at the time, and this proof was just so logical, yet so profound, it just compacted 2 chapters of my textbook in one line! So these things really are found in Torah, but over there they just 'don't waste time with it', and just give bottom line upshot.

In the secular curriculums (sp?) they waste time going thru all the fine points and details and nooks and crannies of the subject, when all that's really important is the bottom-line upshot. I see it a lot in learning too. Rashi makes a statement on a certain word, and in literature we have just discovered and concluded the same idea (in English) after spending 2 weeks analyzing a short story by N. Hawthorne. It just makes sense: in Torah you get the maskonoh that the secularists spend eons on, without the bitul zman!

LJoe Posted - 24 April 2002 19:48

Basically what this argument narrows down to is that one shouldn’t keep a closed mind and say "Osser Osser Osser" there are many instances, more often than not where secular studies are not only permitted but may even be required (e.g. Rav Hirsch and BaronPhils excellent explanation).

Although to learn in a college with goyim and coed classes is certainly not the best thing halachic wise, but now that it is easy to find ways around it (Touro, YU) there should in all common sense be nothing wrong with a "kosher" college. Yet there are those who still find fault in even these, to them I ask, what exactly is wrong? We have gotten rid of the three major problems posted by the Mod, pritsus, goyim and apikores.

One last point. To those who have the audacity to put down the gedolim of Germany (and I refer specifically to the Mods reference of the German "confusion") should read Rav Breurs sefer "A Time to Build" which starts off, and I quote, "The teachings of Rav Hirsch were not a Horoas Shoh".

Finally we should step down from our ivory towers for a quick glance around. Most of the world now follows the way of Germany in learning secular alongside kodesh, or they rely on those who do for financial support.
Thank you for your patience.

MODERATOR Posted - 24 April 2002 20:57


The Aruch HaShulchan is talking about studies that are intrinsically assur, even b'akraei, and even for parnassa. He says that non-heretical studies are not intrinsically assur. But the issue of learning even intrinsically kosher secular studies b'keviyus is dealt with, and prohibited, by the Rama.

(I thought I answered this question already. I apologize for the delay.)


No. Chilul Hashem does not mean we have to live up to whatever the Goyim think is good, but rather we have to live up, publicly, to what we know is good.

Chilul Hashem is when the Jews are seen as doing something wrong, such as immorality or another kind of sin, c"v. It is not our job to know secular studies and therefore it is no chilul hashem if the goyim see we do not know them.

Secondly, to know what’s going on the world, you do not need a college education. The idea that people who don’t go to college are somehow "cavemen" (a quote from Norman Lamm about Yeshiva people) is naive and ignorant, and it makes it difficult, if not humorous, to listen to instructions on how to understand world events from people who make that comment, which shows they have no idea what’s going on even in their own community, never mind the world. Naiveté and ignorance has nothing to do with a degree.

And in business, too, those without college education do well enough for themselves, as is seen in the Chasidic communities, as well as the secular ones themselves.

Chaim Dovid Zwiebel is a nice guy and a lay leader of a large Orthodox organization, but he is not a Torah authority in anybody's book, and as such his actions do not constitute "maaseh rav". His going to college is subject to the same commentary as anyone else's.

The proof for the area of a circle comes from Tosfos, not the Gemora, and it is a display of ingenious logic rather than secular knowledge. It is clear that different sages had different levels of mathematical knowledge, and Rashi, to name just two, clearly was not mathematically educated secularly, but used logic and application of first principles to formulate mathematical conclusions.

Much of the seeming secular knowledge of our sages was acquired by them through the Torah, not secular sources. The Chazon Ish, for instance, had zero secular education even as a small child, yet his Seforim show a thorough knowledge of math and astronomy - esp. in his treatise on the international date line.

If a sage who lived in our parents' lifetime (some of us, anyway) could acquire such vast worldly knowledge through Torah, our Chazal and Rishonim could surely learn much more.

MODERATOR Posted - 24 April 2002 21:22


The problem with learning secular subjects was explained numerous times - PLEASE SEE ABOVE - it has nothing to do with Apikorsus, but it prohibited in the Rama, source in Yerushalmi - reiterated by the Poskim afterwards, to learn secular studies as a curriculum. This is either because of Bittul Torah or a denigration of Torah.

Rav SR Hirsch was also bound to the Torah and its sages and so he did not argue with this. If he did, even if someone could provide legitimate Halachic grounds, we would be obligated to dismiss his opinion as that of a Daas Yachid, and go on with life.

But that is not necessary. Rav Hirsch's opinion not being a Horaas Shah is not the issue. The issue is, how much secular studies is sufficient to accomplish what Rav Hirsch said you need secular studies for? In his days, the non-secular studies Jews did not even learn the German language. Today, all Yeshiva students speak English, go to HS (99%), and can function in the world perfectly. There is no need for BA's or PHD's to accomplish what was necessary to accomplish in Germany in the days of RSRH. (Even much of the information we learn today in HS is useless both in the real world, (even for Parnassa) as well as the spiritual accomplishments Rav Hirsch was talking about.) This does not make it a Horaas Shah but rather a goal-oriented pursuit, the amount of time, effort, and knowledge needed to fulfill it depending on the time, place, and person in question.

Horaas Shah or not, it is not coincidence that Rav SRH's shitah emerged specifically in the exact time and place where Haskalah was ravaging our community and that secular studies was the weapon of the Apikorsim to seduce the majority of young Jews away from their religion.

Saying so is not {putting down" anybody. And even saying they were wrong -which I am not - is not putting anybody down. Anybody can be wrong. The "audacity" that you are describing, incidentally, belongs to Rav Elchonon Wasserman ZTL, who wrote in a responsum to Rav Shimon Schwab ZTL, the Rav of Rav Hirsch's Kehilla in Washington Heights, as quoted above.

Yofeh Talmud Torah im Derech Eretz refers not to secular studies but to making a living, and, according to Rav Elchonon, to Middos.


The list of German Rabbonim you cite does not constitute a "tradition". And none of the proponents of secular studies you mention have anything to do with our discussion. Today, when we all speak English, know how to use computers, interact seamlessly in society, are fully aware of current events and politics, are fully considered "cultured" (nebach for today's culture) , are already sufficiently saturated with enough secular studies to fulfill all the goal of what those Rabbonim wanted then.

Knowledge of Schiller, for instance was necessary in Germany to be considered "civilized" according to German culture. Today, if there is such a cultural benchmark, it will be more in the direction of Jennifer Lopez than Friedrich Schiller.

So the question is: Would Rav Hirsch tell us to read Shciller today? I mean, who in the darn world cares about Schiller today, the way they did then? Knowledge of Schilelr today does not constitute what it did then.

And more importantly, Rav Hirsch and all the others only considered secular studies valuable to the point that it assisted us in our Avodas Hashem or for other utilitarian purposes. The idea espoused by some of today's MO spokesmen, that secular studies has an "intrinsic value" (NOT for parnassah, NOT for helping you understand Torah, NOT for anything except its value in and of itself) is a totally assimilated idea that no Torah authority in the world - including Rav Hirsch - ever believed. And yes, this idea did begin in assimilated, Haskalah ravaged Germany (see Rav Elchonon's responsum).

We Jews do not believe in any intrinsic value except the Torah. Everything else is "hevel hevolim." To attribute "value" to anything besides Torah is simple heresy.

Moshe00 Posted - 01 September 2002 6:22

But, Moderator, is it correct that learning a set curriculum of secular studies, in a context where one will not learn apikorsus or befriend goyim, because one needs them to make a parnasa, is muttar? I would ask the Moderator to include the relevant sources in his answer.

MODERATOR Posted - 01 September 2002 6:24

it is permitted. see the teshuvos of reb elchonon and reb boruch ber cited above.

trying Posted - 09 September 2002 10:59

I'm not so sure, Happy. You're right about the luxuries thing, but my one of my biggest reservations about kollel is feeling the strain of money. No cleaning ladies, counting out grocery money, tuition, transportation - necessities require money! Yes, parnassa comes from Hashem, but I want to make use of the natural outlets for making money that He placed in this world.

MODERATOR Posted - 09 September 2002 11:03

I spent many years in Kollel. The hardships are nothing compared to the pleasures. That line form Rav Aharon ZTL - that those who support learning might get Olam Habah like those who learn, but they surely don’t get Olam Hazeh like them, is so true. Money isn’t everything - not only in Olam Hazeh.

grend123 Posted - 17 October 2002 7:35

What about Rav Breur? In "A Time To Build" volume I (the only volume published during his lifetime) he writes that despite the fact that he is aware that there have been major gedolim who prohibited secular studies, he nevertheless is strongly adamant and he goes on to say that this is specifically NOT a horaas shaa, but the best possible situation (quotes Rav Hirsch - "If Chas Vshalom we had to make a choice between Science and Judaism every Jew would of course choose Judaism, but thank God this is not the case").

MODERATOR Posted - 21 October 2002 16:19

I explained this already. Please see what I wrote numerous places about this all over the boards. Thanks.

IWantAllTheAnswers Posted - 23 October 2002 23:13

Dear Moderator,

Some wise guy I know who likes shocking frum people with weird stuff he finds just shoved a strange passage (I think it was a tshuvah of some kind) from Reb Yankev Emden in my face. It quotes very extensively (a lot!) from the New Testament!!

He showed me that it's only in the dfus rishon (first printing) of Rav Emden's commentary on Seder Olam and not in later printings, where they took it out.

What gives here? You've been saying that secular studies are ossur, so isn't it a kal vechomer that to study Christianity would be ossur? I had nothing to say to this guy.

Please help.

MODERATOR Posted - 23 October 2002 23:19

Rav Yaakov Emden's studies of the New Testament was in order to disprove them and defend our religion against them (see for example Shailas Yaavetz 2:136). This is permitted, as per the Gemora's heter of "kdei Lehoros", that was discussed elsewhere on these boards. Rav Yaakov Emden did not study the NT or any other secular studies academically. That would be prohibited.

Furthermore, secular studies is permitted if don’t for recreation, every now and then (as opposed to a regular curriculum or regimen which is prohibited). Sifrei Minim (heretical books), however, would not be permitted even occasionally.

ChochmatNashim BantaBaita Posted - 30 December 2002 6:28

Moderator- to a degree- I disagree w/ u. yes, to learn more secular studies than limudei kodesh- would show you've got your priorities mixed up, but girls- we're not allowed to learn gemarah (which I have to admit, bothers me a lot- b/c I have friends who go to MO skewls- & they come back and tell me some real interesting & cool things, like it just shows you- wow.)

& in the gemarah there is a lot more abt science, math, medicine, astrology, history, we have e/t in there- e/t that we learn today as secular studies- was written waaaaaaaaay back in torah she baal peh. so if guys learn gemarah, they get to learn all these things- but how are we-girls supposed to learn this stuff?

& what if a man wants to become a doctor? yes we know the rambam was 1 of the gr8est doctors- & that he knew his stuff thru the torah, but nowadays, u cannot get a job, to save lives, or to be a dr w/o a degree.

if while in college we still learn torah, like read & learn on our own time books of limudei kodesh- then we aren't ditching torah at all- we're doing both & we're learning secular studies so as to get a job where u can help other ppl. I want to take up psychiatry, I cant do that w/o a dr's degree, & w/o going to college for that. I want to do that- so I can help ppl in their life, & influence or help them when things r going wrong- so that they can continue in the right ways.

also I have to learn English so that I can understand & b able to live in America (since you said it's not rite for us to live in Israel now, b/c we're not supposed to have our own state- before mashiach) & if I’d like to write a book-for hashkafah purposes, most teens today in America- would rather that be in English than in Hebrew, b/c hardly anyone speaks Hebrew well enough to be able to understand..

do you follow?

MODERATOR Posted - 30 December 2002 6:35

First of all, there is very little history and science etc in Gemora, compared to simple Torah information. And even that science is usually not science but Torah information (meaning, the scientists would not agree with it); and the fact that your MO friends find it so interesting is not a reason for you to be jealous of them any more than you might be jealous of Phillip Berg's Kabbalah School, whose students will tell you that they find "kabbalah" more interesting than anything else. You’re learning Torah is for religious reasons - not because Torah is an interesting piece of literature - and so you have to do it according to the will of G-d. Hashem prohibits girls from taking Gemora classes, just as he prohibits ignorami to learn kabblah.

Second, to many people, Gemora is no more "interesting" than any other limud, and often gets tedious and complicated. The grass is always greener on the other side - so stick to Chumash and Meforshim, which G-d said is your job, and leave the Gemora to those who G-d said is their job.

For parnasa, secular studies are often permitted - please scroll up, it seems you haven’t read the forum - and sometimes not. Depends what you are learning and in what environment.

I never said you shouldn’t live in Israel today - that is Zionist propaganda, to position those who disagree with Zionism as having something against living in Eretz Yisroel. One has nothing to do with the other, please see the Zionism forums.

Reishit Chachma Posted - 04 January 2003 21:01

ps your site also suggests cuny for school

MODERATOR Posted - 11 February 2004 8:41

Continued form the discussion with "iwill" in the "jewish Music" forum (don't ask!)

And no, Torah and secular knowledge are not simultaneous, even if you need some knowledge for Torah. There are priorities. We learn Chumash before mishna and mishna before gemora, and nigleh before nistar. Not everything comes "simultaneous". To learn the amount of Torah we learn today, it is not necessary at all to have more than the basic understanding of arithmetic. Especially since the meforshim have already explained to us anything we need to know, secularly, when the need arises. Now the GRA was on a level that all of the above wasn’t enough for him, and that on some level way beyond where we are, more is needed, both in terms of Torah and the back-up knowledge. That’s all the GRA means.

The Chasam Sofer in Parsha Beshalach actually discusses this idea. He states clearly that certain secular knowledge is useful for learning certain Torah topics, such as cow anatomy being useful for shechitah, and arithmetic for Eruvin and Sukkah, but that before we embark on obtaining secular knowledge - and of course that means only to the extent that it is useful for our Torah studies - we must first fill ourselves with Torah-only knowledge. After we are strong in Torah, only then can we move to acquire the useful secular knowledge that we need for our Torah studies.

He quotes the Rambam, who he describes as "the father of philosophy" in our religion, in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, stating that a person may not learn philosophy until after he has "filled his stomach" with Shas and Poskim, which are the things, and only the things, that bring us Olam Habah.

Then he quotes the Rashba, saying that there is a cherem against learning any secular studies if you are under age 25!

The he quotes the Gemora in Brachos "Keep your children away from science" (higayon, as some meforshim translate it), noting that the Gemora is directing its prohibition at "your children", but not at the adults, for adults, who are already advanced in Torah knowledge need some secular knowledge, such as cow biology (I keep emphasizing that so that we do not make the error of thinking that the secular knowledge that we need is a college education). But it is dangerous for us to pursue it until we are armed and ready with a Torah foundation.

This is because someone with a Torah perspective looks at the value and culture of of secular studies differently than does someone ignorant of Torah. And we do want to get the proper perspective.

It's kind of like firemen putting out a fire. They have to (a) dress in their heat-resistant protective outfits, and (b) run into the fire and put it out. But of course, they have to do it in the right order ;-)

TheBster Posted - 09 April 2004 8:28

Just a note, Rav Baruch Bers main opposition to university was because they teach apikores. Something hardly nogaya nowadays.

MODERATOR Posted - 09 April 2004 8:31

No. Rab Boruch Ber explains clearly that studying secular studies as a curriculum is assur s per shulchan aruch yoreh deah, regardless of whether there is apikorsus.

And there is plenty of apikorsus taught in today's colleges - even in the so-called "Yeshiva University" ones.

jess Posted - 12 November 2004 7:22

ok-I haven't had time to read every single post about this, so I could have missed something, but here's my problem: I enjoy secular studies. I feel like it enriches my mind and outlook on life in a different way than Torah, but they compliment each other.

when I read something that says that any type of learning is prohibited, to me, that suggests FEAR-that we're not supposed to read something because it may lead us to doubt Judaism, etc, etc. I can't think of any other reason why we should be encouraged NOT to learn.

however, like I said, I have a greater appreciation for Torah BECAUSE I’ve taken so many secular classes, and I want to go to college so that I can continue to learn. while I understand that Torah should be a higher priority, I have no idea why gaining knowledge in other areas should be prohibited-after all, Hashem gave us such amazing educational resources for a reason, didn't He?

Why wouldn't he want us to study great works of literature, to learn history and math and art and even science?

MODERATOR Posted - 12 November 2004 7:49

Fear. Not at all. If you could be making $1,000,000 an hour and instead opt to make 2 cents an hour, is it because you are afraid to make the million?

The issue is simply that Torah studies are what we are here in this world to do, and so they get for us Olam Habah. Secular studies do not get us any Olam Habah. So if you pursue the secular studies when you could have been pursuing Torah it shows that you do not value Hashem's gift. If I were to give you a million dollars and asked that you come pick it up, and instead you go to work during that time in a sweatshop, it shows you don’t believe me.

Not to mention that you’re silly for doing it altogether - why make less when you can make more?

It doesn’t matter if you have a greater appreciation for Torah if you learn secular studies. Appreciating Torah is good, but learning it is even better. Not to mention the fact that by learning Torah you come to appreciate Torah even more than by learning secular studies.

So the cost-benefit ration of learning secular studies in order to obtain spiritual benefits concludes that it is not worth the price. Better to learn more Torah instead. Every word of it merits you more Gan Eden than a lifetime of doing Mitzvos.

runnerc Posted - 14 November 2004 5:52

I think that people have a hard time with the thought of not studying secular studies, because it's a little bit shocking to realize that there's so much information that they'll never know. It's like when it hit me that, being as I don't talk to boys, I would never get to know half of the world's population. There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish females, baruch Hashem, so it's not like I have a shortage of people to talk to, but the thought that there are so many people who I'm restricted from knowing is a little bit hard to take. The thought of not learning so much knowledge that the world takes for granted that "educated" people must know is a little difficult.

MODERATOR Posted - 14 November 2004 7:01

It's understandable that you’re OK with being able to be friends with a mere three billion people - for the other three billion are males, give or take. You have more than enough people to fill your social calendar as it is.

But if you’re satisfied with that, then you should be even more satisfied with knowing that the Torah contains much more knowledge than you can ever amass even if you'd live a thousand years or more. It is endless.

You have more than enough to learn (even if you are a girl and cant learn Gemora) than you will ever accomplish. Don’t worry - everyone is in the same boat.

As far as missing out on "education", there are two choices - learning secular studies and thus missing out on the Torah you could have learned during that time; or learning Torah and missing out on the secular studies you could have learned during that time.

Which is the wiser choice?

As you said, the issue is accepting the Torah's values - in which case the choice is a slam dunk - or accepting "the world's" values, in which case perhaps, in order to meet the standards the "word" set on being "educated", you should forgo Torah learning and learn anthropology instead.

And that is indeed what it boils down to - do we value the Torah's standards of education more than that of the secular world or vice versa?

The choice is simple: All the secular "education" that you get will be useless to you in the next world. There, they will not ask you if you know how many US presidents were re-elected in history, or whether you are familiar with the policies of Chairman Mao, or if you know how to program a computer. They will bring a Sefer Torah scroll to you and ask "do you know what it says in here?" The more you know of that, the more you will be considered "educated". The less you know, the more you will be considered ignorant.

So the question is - do I want to be educated on this world or on the next?

And please note, there is no minimum threshold for the amount of Torah you are obligated to know. The rule is: more is better; less is worse. And the difference between just a little more and a little less is staggering. As the Vilna Gaon points out, one word of Torah knowledge gives you more holiness than an entire lifetime's worth of doing other Mitzvos.

And here we thought that a secular education is expensive! Its much more expensive than you think - you can acquire it only at the expense of your time and effort that you could have been putting toward becoming educated in Olam Habah.

Two things, though. First, the prohibition is only to learn secular studies as a regular curriculum. To read about them occasionally in your spare time is permitted.

Two, you have hit the nail squarely on the head when it comes to Modern Orthodoxy. Their lifestyle is indeed driven by the values - not the accomplishments -of the secular world. What the secular world considers valuable, they do; what the secular world considers unsophisticated, they do to.

We can take the useful aspects of what the secular world produces - but their values are theirs, not ours. The Torah teaches us what is valuable and what is not.

runnerc Posted - 14 November 2004 14:30

one word of Torah knowledge gives you more holiness than an entire lifetime's worth of doing other Mitzvos

Does this apply to girls? I don't get it. It seems that, in other forums, you indicate that learning isn't the top priority for girls. Someone told me that tznius is for women what learning Torah is for men. Is this true? I'm not saying that that means that we should learn secular studies, but I'd like to know what I should be doing.

MODERATOR Posted - 14 November 2004 14:58

I mentioned elsewhere that Rav Elchonon Wasserman wrote that he was not sure whether the prohibition of learning secular studies applies to girls as well. It depends, he says, whether the prohibition is because of bitul torah - in which case women are not subject to it - or bizyon hatorah, in which case it applies to women as well, even though they are not obligated to learn, for they are still obligated not to slap Torah in the face.

But regardless, women still get reward for learning (those parts of Torah that they are allowed to learn, of course), even though it is not as great as the reward for a man. They are "aino metzuveh v'oseh".

The idea that tznius for a woman is like Torah for a man is false. There’s no such thing. Women need Torah, too. Without Torah, you cant get Olam Habah. And so the Gemora asks your question: Nashim b'mai zachyan - How do women merit Olam Habah if they do not learn Torah?

The Gemora answers; Bakroei banaihu l'bei kenishta, ib'asniyei gavraihu bai rabanon - by supporting and helping their husband and children learn.


Anonymous said...

I feel that all of you should be alerted to a Google article I ran into with the title "Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism." Irv (You may want to do an exposure of it.)

E-Man said...

It is obvious from Rav Wasserman that institutions like Lander college for men and YU are 100% acceptable.