Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Torah study and Secular study


"Ben Dama, the nephew of R’ Yishmael, asked R’ Yishmael: I have learned the entire Torah. May someone like me study Greek wisdom?

"R’ Yishmael responded by citing this verse (Joshua 1): ‘This Torah scroll will not leave your mouth, and you will speak of it day and night.’ Go find a time which is neither day nor night, and during that time you may study Greek wisdom."

(Talmud, Menachot 99b)

Have a great day,


  1. Good evening,

    Does one truly understand this Gemara to mean that one should not study things other than Torah?, or that it's okay as long as it is not "Greek wisdom" or presumably other philosophy? What is the halacha l'meisah re: this exhortation? Michael

  2. That, my friend, is one of the truly eternal debates, and the halachah l'maaseh varies among many points of view.

  3. Given the debate and difference among different knowledgeable people, am I free to choose the view that is most compelling and convincing to me? And, is it then important to be sure that one's Rav sizes up the answer similarly to the one asking the question?


  4. Hi Michael,

    I'd say we all need an objective Torah voice, someone with nothing to gain and with a view anchored in Torah, to help us anchor these questions for ourselves. We are too biased by our own experiences and interests. That person, I'd think, should be one's Rav.

  5. Good evening,

    If I could be more direct... If I am a Torah u'maddah kind of person, doesn't it make most sense to pick a Rav who is "anchored in Torah" as you say, but who also supports that view. If a meaningful education in general (secular) studies is important to me, why would I consider choosing a "Rav" who disagrees? Rabbis on either side of the discussion might fit the description of being objective with no particular conflict of interest and nothing to gain personally. This general concept can be one obstacle to one's wanting to or successfully finding a Rav.

  6. Hi Michael,

    You might want to see my response to a comment by "Steg" here.