Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Nissan 5762 - April 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Two Opposites That Cannot Dwell Together In One Place

by A. Weiss

Seven hundred years have passed since Aba Mori Hayarchi of Lunil in southern France turned to the gedolei hador with the request that they join his battle against the tendency of many worthy Jews from Provence towards secular studies. Some of his contemporaries had become convinced of the possibility of combining the study of foreign wisdoms and philosophies with Torah study. The gedolim considered this approach a real danger for the continuation of Torah studies and fought it tooth and nail.

France, the seat of Torah in the time of the Rishonim for several centuries, was also the location where the sitra achra sought to attract young talmidei chachomim to delve in secular studies, arguing that it was possible to combine them legitimately with Torah studies.

The objections of rabbonim such as Aba Mori had wide repercussions. He turned to the godol hador of French and German Jewry, the Rosh, who had been exiled to Spain because of persecutions in Germany. The Rosh, in his reply, suggested that a "meeting of gedolei Torah" be convened to discuss ways of fighting this phenomenon. In 5065 (1305) a cheirem was indeed pronounced in Barcelona, home of the Rashbo, against anyone who occupied himself with Greek wisdom before the age of 25. The Rosh was one of the signatories to this cheirem.

Almost seven hundred years later a leading godol of our generation left his arba amos for that same country in order to announce to the whole world that the eternal Torah cannot be replaced and that it cannot dwell together with secular wisdom and the aspiration for "graduation certificates" and so on.

HaRav A. Y. L. Shteinman's journey to France, in which he took with him his advanced years and arba amos of yegias haTorah to wander to a foreign country in order to convey the word of Hashem, strengthened the golden chain of the transmission of Torah in its pure state, which has not diminished even one iota over these seven centuries.

There is not and there never will be a different way of learning Torah. Any attempt at crossbreeding within the vineyard of Torah is doomed to failure. That is the message HaRav Shteinman conveyed in France and comes back to us in Eretz Yisroel like an echo countering any similar thoughts and tendencies in that direction at home.

There is no room for nuances on this point. It is one of the basic principles transmitted to us by our rabbonim, the roshei yeshiva, past and present, and one of the means of acquiring Torah; perhaps one of the most fundamental ones.

Only this is the way of Torah. Only this way did gedolim develop throughout the generations. All the various attempts to create new models and joint frameworks of "Torah umada" and so on failed miserably and the product they came up with carries within it the unmistakable stamp of forgery!

Even if it was necessary in the past to learn a trade for reasons of parnossoh it was crystal clear that this was a pragmatic necessity, and that there was no comparison between that and the chochmas haTorah. The danger only exists when such a comparison is made.

Here too some people pretend that the only purpose of gaining a "graduation certificate" is for "practical" reasons in order to be able "to get on in life," but in practice the world of hierarchies and grades associated with this process becomes a challenge Rachmono litzlan to the goal of studying and toiling in Torah. Eventually Torah study is replaced altogether by advanced secular studies and the attainment of the sought-after bagrut certificate, leaving the victim totally bereft of Torah knowledge and omol haTorah.

However, the bigger danger stems from the stark contrast between the Torah's way of thinking and the logic of secular wisdom. Studying the two together results in false analogies, which distort the meaning of a halocho and its definitions.

The Rosh writes at length, in an interesting responsum, about the fundamental difference between the rules of the Torah, which are based on tradition and halocho leMoshe miSinai, [which may] even [go] against the rules of reasoning and logic, as opposed to secular disciplines, which are based only on the intellectual aspect.

The Rosh had some pungent words to say about this topic in a responsum addressed to a certain rov who argued that in the context of a regulation relating to marriage, the relevant issue in matters of interpretation was the intention of the writer as opposed to the Torah's interpretation, where that was given. (Shut HaRosh, klal 55). In his reply the Rosh related to a number of aspects connected to our topic and he also talks about knowledge of specialized Arabic (necessary for interpreting the regulation): "Although I do not know your secular wisdom, blessed be Hashem for saving me from this, for these disciplines lead a person astray from the fear of Hashem and His Torah." This is the brief opinion of the Rosh on the acquisition of secular knowledge.

Further on, the Rosh has some harsh words to say about the chiddush of this rov: "As to your statement on the intellect and religion, what can I say? Let not our Torah be like your idle conversation. Should your wisdom of logic, which all wise men of religion kept away from, be cited as authority for creating rights and obligations, prohibitions and permits? After all, those who invented these rules did not believe in Moshe and in the righteous laws and halochos that were handed down by him in writing and orally. How, then, can its proponents bring proof from them for [interpreting] the laws of Moshe Rabbeinu o"h? Thank G-d, as long as I am alive there is still a Torah amongst the Jewish nation, and proof can still be brought from the Mishna or the Talmud Bavli or Yerushalmi, and it has not been necessary to bring analogies in order to produce rulings, for the wisdom of philosophy and the wisdom of Torah and its laws do not correspond."

The Rosh sums up: "About this the chochom mikol odom has said, `None that go to her return,' meaning that whoever enters this wisdom first will not be able to go out of it and enter the heart of the wisdom of Torah, for he will not be able to dissociate himself from a natural wisdom to which he has accustomed himself, since he will always be attracted to it. And because of this he will not manage to understand the wisdom of Torah, which guides our lives, for his heart will always be in the natural wisdom and he will wish to compare the two wisdoms, bringing proof from one to the other, thereby distorting the law, for these two opposites are rivals and cannot dwell together in one place!"

These are the harsh words of one of the rishonim whose Torah the whole nation studies eagerly, and whose rulings constitute one of the three pillars of halocho. Who would dispute the severity of these matters?

If all this applies to an individual, it applies with even more force to the founding of yeshivas, which have to be based on absolutely holy foundations, since they are the guarantee for the continued existence of the Jewish nation and the transmission of the Torah to future generations. HaRav Shach zt"l wrote about this in 5738 (1978) in a letter to a professor who was interested in the character of the yeshivas where no secular studies are taught (Michtovim Umaamorim 281): "When there is an admixture of secular studies, the true hashkofoh necessarily changes and creates a distortion of the daas Torah that has been transmitted to us from generation to generation, so that the Torah would chas vesholom be forgotten from the Jewish nation. Because when a thousand enter the cheder [only] one will come out being fit to make halachic rulings and complete in his Torah. But if that one person who becomes a rov will not be complete and strong, we have lost everything!"

This fundamental, clear hashkofoh is an unwavering principle that has accompanied us throughout the generations, from maamad Har Sinai and the kabolas haTorah, Melochim, Shofetim, Nevi'im, Zekeinim, Tanoim, Amoroim, Rabbonon savorai, Rishonim and Acharonim. That was behind the fact that the journey for the strengthening of the yeshiva world in Europe took place under the principle which can be summed up: We have one Torah, let us guard it well with a protective wall against the breaches of the time so that the Torah will remain in its pure state without any foreign admixtures whatsoever, until we will merit the fulfillment of: "For out of Zion shall come forth Torah, and the Word of Hashem from Yerushalayim."

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