The Middle Road – The True Path

Haredim and Secular Studies

About a month ago in this column I wrote about the virtue of combining
secular studies with religious studies, quoting at length the
informative words of the genius and master of kabala, Rabbi Yosef
Chaim, the author of the book “Ben Ish Chai”, who spoke about the
praises of combining secular studies alongside religious studies.
As a result of this I received a number of questions, and even a few
condemnations. Some viewed my words as an attack on the Haredi public,
“for it is known that the Haredi public acts according to the
directives of the Torah giants of the generation, the Brisker Rav and
the Chazon Ish, and they completely denounced secular studies.
Therefore, how can you, in contradiction to their position, decide
that according to halacha there is virtue to secular studies, thereby
invalidating the Haredi public?” Others claimed that an apparent
hostility towards the Haredi public was evident in my words. One
person wrote that I have already written enough times “about the
virtue of secular studies, and apart from that, even if we agree that
it is possible to learn secular studies, the subject is stale and
boring, and certainly not so important that you have to deal with it
over and over again. This excessiveness creates the impression that it
is the main banner of the national-religious public.” [Here, the
abbreviation for the words ‘national-religious’, or ‘dal’ in Hebrew
was used, which also means ‘the meager public’, a derogatory term].
Thus, I received other questions and condemnations with the frequent
use of this same abbreviation.

Who Needs Secular Studies

Since there are so many questions about secular studies, this is a
sign that the subject is not clear at all. Additionally, many people
from the Haredi public constantly condemn those from the national-
Torah public for integrating secular studies in Yeshiva high schools,
consequently, there is a need to clarify its significance, as has been
explained in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 75a), Rishonim (Rambam,
Rabbenu B’Chayai, and many others), and Achronim (Maharal, “Netiv
HaTorah” 14, Gaon from Vilna, and many others). The Rabbi’s even gave
a homiletic interpretation that the Holy Ark, which was located in the
Holy of Holy’s of the Temple, represents the Torah, while the seven
arms of the ‘menorah’ (candelabrum), which was located in the Holy,
represent the seven external fields of wisdom.
Additionally, if Jews don’t gain knowledge of secular studies, the
only way we will continue to exist is through miracles, for today,
livelihood is dependent on one’s level of secular study. The position
which fundamentally rejects secular studies is similar to the opinion
which claims that it is forbidden for Jews to be farmers or herdsmen
because it entails ‘bitul Torah’ (wasting of learning time). However,
we learned in the Torah that if we follow in its ways, God will bless
the fields, trees, and beasts abundantly, this being the purpose of
the creation of the world – to reveal the Divine presence within it,
both in the spiritual and physical realms.
Today, anyone who claims that it is forbidden for Jews to study
secular subjects, in fact is declaring that the State of Israel will
remain poor and weak, unable to stand-up to its surrounding enemies,
and consequently, no country will support her. Also, domestically, the
State will not be able to continue providing the vast assistance it
presently grants to the poor and sick, and to the maintaining of Torah
One who argues against secular studies is in fact claiming that the
goal of Judaism is to rely on miracles, and not to partake in
perfecting the world, both spiritually and physically. This is
something that contradicts the teachings of the Torah. Indeed,
individuals such as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai can rely on miracles,
however, for the public at large, it is forbidden.

Our Attitude towards the Haredi Public

Possibly, there are some  amongst the Haredi Jews of Lithuanian
descent who feel that anyone who does not submit to the opinions of
their leaders insults their honor. However, they should know that
although their rabbi’s are worthy and notable, nevertheless, there are
Torah giants, from earlier and later generations, no less important,
whose opinion is different. From them I have learned, and their words
I explain.
This is not an expression of hostility towards the Haredi public, nor
does it reject the possibility of learning good things from their
ways, which includes great self-sacrifice for many mitzvoth. And of
course, we all must learn from the Torah giants of the generation –
including the Lithuanian rabbi’s.

The Path of Rabbi Kook

Nevertheless, I am sure that the path of our teacher, Rabbi Kook זצ”ל
is the all-encompassing path, for it is the only one which includes
all of the other paths, and sooner or later, everyone will acknowledge
this. It must be emphasized that the positions of our teacher, Rabbi
Kook זצ”ל are not identical to the ways of the national-religious
public, and there are certain areas in which the Haredi public are
closer to the ways of Rabbi Kook than the national-religious public.

Why Some Rabbi’s are against Secular Studies

Additionally, it seems that the objection of important rabbi’s in the
last few generations to the integration of secular studies is not
because they opposed the value of such studies, but rather out of a
fear that such studies would cause a departure from the Torah.
However, according to the opinion of the rabbi’s we follow, the
solution is not to prevent secular studies, but to learn them with the
proper approach of Torah and fear of Heaven. Precisely in this manner,
it is possible to prevent further departure from religion, to sanctify
God in the eyes of the nations, and to hasten Israel’s redemption.
Undoubtedly, there is room to instruct students who are successfully
growing in Torah to continue solely in their religious studies for a
number of years. Also, there are certain secular institutions where
the learning conditions are liable to lead to the departure from the
Torah and mitzvoth. In such cases, it is preferable to refrain from
secular studies and remain firmly attached to Jewish tradition. In
this area, the Haredi public is too stringent, while the national-
religious public is too lenient. The Torah public, which follows in
the path of our teacher, Rabbi Kook זצ”ל attempts to take the middle
road (although, not always successfully).

Opposing Immigration to Israel

Incidentally, because of similar considerations, there were rabbi’s
who objected to immigration to Israel, thinking that perhaps the new
immigrants would be influenced by the non-religious pioneers and leave
the Torah, or perhaps they would be killed by rioting Arabs. In
actuality, in most of the cases, the situation of those who remained
outside of Israel was worse. From a spiritual point of view, the
percentage of those who strayed off the path was greater outside of
Israel. Many of them left religion because of the influence of their
surroundings, while many others were distanced from religion
coercively by the evil Communist regime. And from a security aspect,
in Europe, the horrific Holocaust took place.

Opposing Serving in the Army

Also, concerning serving in the army, it seems that the main reason
for objecting enlistment in the army amongst the Haredi public is
because of the army’s non-religious character, which causes some of
the young soldiers to leave religion. To our great dismay, the army
doesn’t do what it should to prevent this concern. Indeed, from a
security aspect, it is clear that there is great value for the State
to integrate the sons of the Haredi public into the army, however it
seems that the non-religious agenda of the top army officers is more
important to them than Israel’s security requirements.

Our Rabbi’s were Right

Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, it seems that the path our rabbi’s
instructed us to follow was correct. When there is a mitzvah to
immigrate to Israel, we make aliyah. When it’s proper to learn secular
studies in addition to Torah – we learn. And when there is a mitzvah
to enlist in the army in order to protect the nation and land of
Israel – we enlist. In the midst of all this, we cope with the
problems that arise in light of the situation, and one who follows
such a course – is successful. The reason for those who left religion
was not because they immigrated to Israel, learned secular studies, or
served in the army, but rather because being attached to the Torah and
mitzvoth was not so important to them, and in any case, a large
majority of them would have found a way to leave religion.

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