Aaron Zimmer
Cohost of "Physics to God" podcast

Cultural and Intellectual Insularity

Now that I’ve laid out a framework for critiquing the ideal of ultra-orthodoxy in contrast to the ideal of modern orthodoxy, I’d like to examine one of the hallmarks of ultra-orthodoxy: insularity from secular society. To do this, it is important to distinguish between cultural and intellectual insularity.

While, theoretically, there can be elements of modern culture that complement the values and lifestyle of a modern orthodox Jew, on a practical level, as discussed earlier, contemporary culture is devolving into more and more foolishness and depravity. Therefore, on a practical level, it’s wise for even a modern orthodox Jew to insulate themselves to a large degree from much of secular society.

However, intellectual insularity is another matter altogether. While there is much danger in exposure to secular knowledge (as evidenced by the many Jews who have abandoned religious faith in the modern era), there is also much wisdom in secular philosophy and science. It is understandable why ultra-orthodoxy has chosen to insulate itself over the past few centuries from modern knowledge, but it comes at a steep cost that modern orthodoxy ideally avoids.

One negative consequence of intellectual insularity is the pernicious belief that secular science somehow shows that God doesn’t exist, when in fact the opposite is true: modern science points directly to an intelligent cause of the universe. Another example: many are under the mistaken impression that the Big Bang theory is detrimental to an orthodox Jew’s beliefs when the opposite is once again true: the Big Bang theory is a compelling argument for the creation of a universe with a beginning (something the Rishonim would have loved to have in their back pocket in their battle against the ancient philosophers on this pivotal issue).

These are only two of the most obvious examples of negatives that a modern orthodox Jew avoids by coming into direct contact with secular knowledge. But there are more consequences, some more subtle than others, one of which I’ll discuss soon.

About the Author
After earning a physics degree and receiving rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Yisroel Chait, Aaron Zimmer utilized his personal resources to trade commodity futures. His approach was deeply rooted in the conceptual frameworks of physics and the Brisker Method for Talmudic analysis. After an eleven-year career marked by success in commodity trading, Aaron now cohosts a podcast, "Physics to God", with Rabbi Dr. Elie Feder. He resides in Lawrence, New York, along with his wife and their five children.