How Judaism Views the Relationship between General Knowledge and Religious Study

March 24 2022

The phrase Torah u-madda (literally, “Torah and science”) refers to the attempt to bring together fruitfully secular study and traditional Jewish learning. In America, the slogan is largely associated with the intellectual ambitions of Modern Orthodoxy of the kind nurtured at Yeshiva University. Elana Stein Hain, in the first essay of a symposium on the subject, examines the case for Torah u-madda set forth by one of its most prominent exponents: Rabbi Norman Lamm, the late former president and chancellor of that institution.

Rabbi Lamm wanted Orthodox Jews to be curious and confident—that is, curious about all forms of knowledge, but confident in their commitment to Torah. But his arguments are primarily directed over his right shoulder, towards those who are quite confident in Torah but are not curious about madda: those who see “Torah only” as the way to live a truly religious life. For people who are confident but lacking in curiosity, Rabbi Lamm’s arguments still stand 30 years later.

However, today there are also many in Orthodoxy who are not just curious but who value madda deeply. And even those who do not value it deeply are nevertheless exposed to it all the time whether through books, the Internet, or the arts. Moreover, many yeshiva-day-school students pursue degrees—both undergraduate and graduate—at secular universities, where they enjoy a sophisticated madda education. What is more concerning for this subset is confidence: ensuring that Torah does not lose its vitality.

The [question] for this group is not whether madda is valuable; it is whether and how madda should influence our understanding of Torah.

Since time immemorial, people have asked themselves the most basic questions about what it means to be human, our place in the universe, what it means to have a relationship with God, what a good life looks like, how to construct a good society, and how we ought to respond to injustice. . . . I believe that bringing some of the framing questions of madda into the beit midrash [house of study] provides a fruitful way to relate madda and Torah: doing so can help us access the implicit ways that Torah addresses these questions.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Norman Lamm

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia