How Judaism Views the Relationship between General Knowledge and Religious Study

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

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria