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.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

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

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism