Secular Studies in Jewish Law
A Halakhic analysis of the permissibility of secular studies within the confines of traditional Jewish law.
This paper is a survey of sources in Jewish law from the earliest to the most modern on the topic of secular studies. Throughout the generations, there has been a serious legal debate as to the permissibility of the study of secular knowledge within the confines of traditional Jewish law (halakhah). The paper makes no judgment on either side. It is only a presentation of the sources and an analysis of the various opposing viewpoints on the issue. Earliest sources are from the Bible, latest sources from the 20th century.
“For the modern Jew, the most engaging problem within Jewish law is, ironically, the question of what is not Jewish law, namely, secular knowledge and philosophy. The study of subjects such as mathematics, the sciences, the liberal arts, and the various trades and vocations, is indeed a challenging notion, given the understanding that the Torah (Old Testament) is the blueprint for all human behavior, and that its study is equal in importance and reward to all of the other precepts combined. The Torah, in fact, seems to issue a formal warning against secular studies: “This book of law [Torah] shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night”-the study of Torah must be constant, leaving no time for other intellectual pursuits.”
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