Thursday, May 26, 2011

Secular study and Torah study

[Post I read recently: R' Elyashiv on Automatic Electricity on Shabbos at Life in Israel]

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Religious Education, Collected Writings 7:21 -

"Our children need not forego the benefits of a worthwhile secular education; they need not sacrifice the opportunities for the study of the arts and sciences in order to obtain all the treasures of truth and wisdom that Judaism holds for their lives. If both studies are nurtured hand in hand, there will be ample room for both; the one will reinforce the other and the result will be a Jewish education that will find favor in the eyes of both Gd and man."

Of course, Rav Hirsch has much more to say in this essay - on the value of secular education, on choosing Jewish education if you can only do one, on the way that secular education can help create a stronger Jew. I only excerpted this because it was quick to re-type (Rav Hirsch's style of expression generally doesn't lend itself to tweeting!), and thought-provoking.

What do you think?


  1. At first glance, it seems that this bolsters Rav Schwab's argument that Torah Im Derech Eretz was a hora'at sha'ah (that obviously still applies today), as opposed to a new ideal of Judaism.
    Yasher ko'ach!

  2. I commented on the post at the Life in Israel blog.

  3. The content of secular education has changed, so one wonders which of today's secular fields of study Rav Hirsch would value highly and which not.

  4. Shmuel-
    I'm not sure about that, in context. I should really find some time to post more of the essay.

    He does mention a broad variety in his essay. Again, I should really post more of it.

  5. I'm basically a Hirschian in this matter, but I was made to think twice by something I read a while back.

    In the book Traditional Alternatives (p. 163), Jonathan Sacks (before he became the British Chief Rabbi) argues that this ideal is a lot more difficult than in Rav Hirsch's day, because secular studies have become more hostile to religion:

    "Secular history is resistant to the idea of revelation and miracle. Post-Darwinian natural science does not lend itself easily to the idea of purposive creation. Sociology tends to relativize relgious belief by seeing it in terms of context and function. Secular ethics tends either to be Kantian or utilitarian, built, that is, on rational rather than revealed foundations. None of these disciplines is incompatible with religious faith, [emphasis added] but none is obviously harmonious with it. Each, as R. Soloveitchik pointed out elsewhere, incorporates a different perspective on reality. They cannot be combined into a single unified vision. Just as one cannot view an object from several different points of view simultaneously, so one cannot view the world secularly and religiously at the same time. The most one can do is oscillate between them. This creates tension and ceaseless dialectic, not harmony."

    I've found this a challenging argument, because I want to believe, as R' Hirsch says, that religious and secular education can go hand in hand, but I fear the 'oscillation' may be inevitable, at least for the presetn.

  6. There is no real evidence that R.Hirsch was talking about 'es la,asos."
    It is just a rationalization for those opposed to secular studies.