Secular Learning, Torah Learning

Many years ago at Hebrew University, I studied with the renowned Israeli philosopher Eliezer Schweid. During a bus ride we took together, he talked about my plans of becoming a rabbi and explained why the challenge to Judaism was different in the modern world.

The professor told me that traditionally, Torah had to measure itself against a single tradition or school of thought: it was the Torah versus Aristotle, or Islam, or Christianity. But today the Torah must contend with a large variety of disparate disciplines: astronomy, sociology, biology, psychology, archeology, history, linguistics, physics and on and on.

As a result of this change, some champions of Torah close themselves off from all modern scholarship. Others seek to be more nimble and widely learned in order to contend with the challenges of the modern age. Our most important scholars will be like Ralbag and Rambam, masters of secular learning as well as Torah. As knowledge expands such comprehensive expertise is not fully achievable. But the enterprise is important: God’s Torah is as wide as the world, and if you reject knowledge of the world, in some deep sense, you also reject the Torah.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.