Question about secular studies

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    Hi, this is a serious question that I am curious about. I am genuinely interested in the answer (i.e this post is not meant to be cynical or controversial in any way).

    In order to demonstrate my question I am going to pick an example: in this case a car. Now, I’m sure everyone acknowledges the tremendous use of cars and their prevalence in our everyday lives. I am sure you will be hard pressed to find a Halachik authority who frowns upon their use. At the same time, a tremendous amount of secular education was put into the production of cars (and of course airplanes, refrigerators, even mass production of seforim etc etc). The Haredi community seems (and correct me if I’m wrong), to at most put no inherent value in secular knowledge and to often regard it in rather more negative terms.

    SO my question is: is it not a contradiction to clearly depend so much on the outputs of secular knowledge whilst disregarding its value? The only answer I can think of is: “well its for the goyim, and we’ll use it if it helps us.” I’m not going to say that’s an inherently bad answer, but would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.


    The assumption that hareidim don’t value secular education is wrong. The difference is that while seculars (and Jewish wannabees in particular) view secular education as a source of enlightenment and as a badge to prove their worth as a person. Hareidim value secular education only for what it can do to benefit them. For enlightment and self-worth, Torah is what matters. The goyim learn secular subjects “lishma”, frum Yidden do it for ulterior motives. That’s the difference.

    If a hareidi (hareidis) wants to cook good meals, he/she will learn cooking. Not since that makes him/her a superior person, but because they have a use for that skill. BTW, have you noticed that there are many hareidi households with excellent food – and they didn’t learn that in a frum school. One find hareidim with all sorts of job skills (you really think all those hareidi businesses pickup the need skills in heder?).


    Thank you for the interesting question.

    What in particular gave you the impression the Haredi community disregards secular studies? If it’s because they are not taught at schools, that’s not because they are not valued, but because other things are valued much more. We believe it’s much much more important to raise the next R’ Akiva Eiger than the next Newton, but that doesn’t mean a Newton is worthless.

    I’m not saying you won’t find Haredim who think all secular studies are worthless. But you’ll find people who say all sorts of things. Why they do that is a question for sociologists and I doubt the answers will uncover any important truth.


    Wait wait, are we talking Chutz La’Aretz or Eretz Yisroel? Because in the US there’s a huge variety of people who refer to themselves as “Hareidi” and a similarly sized variety of Yeshivos. Some put nearly as much emphasis on secular education as limud Torah, and some barely (often not even) meet the minimal requirements stated by law.

    So let me try to answer your question for both the Chutz La’aretz and Israel.

    In Israel, there is a massive amount of distrust for the government and non-Torah studies in general. This stems from a history of the memshala trying to push Chareidim to go one way or another along with the huge anti-religious bent in a lot of Israeli universities. It lead to a culture of opposition to being machshiv anything that isn’t Torah. You can criticize it all you want, but that’s just how it is.

    In the US, like I said for the most part there’s little open opposition to secular studies. Though there is a growing trend for High Schools to be more like Israeli Yeshivot Ketanot. Let’s focus on them. Those people who run those Yeshivos and the parent body have a modern Yeshivish mindset: That their little yingele will learn in Kollel his whole life and get a job as a Rebbi if he needs to make a chasuna. In that sense, yes. Secular studies are frowned upon. They are seen as a means to an end. The means in this case are the absolute minimal skills required to interact with the world outside the ? ????? ??? ????.

    Chassidishe schools have a similar mindset, but not so much to train kids for Kollel as it is an idea that everything they need will come from the Chassidishe community so why would they ever need to learn trigonometry.

    Personally, I am a ?? ????? ??? that comes from a long line of ?????? ????? which, for the last 5 generations as far as I could tell, have all gone to institutes of higher learning and taken secular education extremely seriously. My extended family consists of plenty of college grads few, if any, have strayed from the Derech and most of which are massive ?????? ?????. So I can tell you what the mindset is for people who frown upon secular studies, but I cannot explain it logically nor can I ever see myself agreeing with it.


    What we don’t value is secular knowledge for the sake of secular knowledge. The esoteric value.

    Does Harvard say “we’re here to learn stuff to figure out how to do stuff”? No, they say “veritas.” And Yale says “lux et veritas” (and urim v’etumim).



    Building on what Akuperma wrote.

    Anyone who has stepped foot in a liberal arts college understands the danger. A christian co worker of mine has her daughter in a local community college. The daughter thought she was safe taking some core courses. Her english professor turned out to be LGBT and rather than reading Shakespeare, every book that was required reading was written from someone in that community. The pitfalls and dangers of what is viewed as learning in the goyish velt, is obvious.

    If colleges were strictly profession related, it would not be as despised by he charedim. Aren’t there many trade schools attended by charedim? Rather the charedim understand the severe spiritual decline in spending time with those who make secular studies their religion.

    yeshivishe kup

    Additionally, there are many yeshivos that are popping up around america that offer extremely amazing english programs. I know of one that has AP classes in 9th grade!


    ronald9 – i LOVE learning anything literally from biology to chemistry to philosophy to chumash to navi to math to halacha so on.


    Sparkly. I take offense for chumash, navi, and halacha that you mentioned in the same sentence as secular subjects. You can love learning all of them but I sure hope you love kodesh more.

    Ronald: As a college student, learning secular subjects, I can tell you that I find some of it interesting and some of it incredibly boring. I’m only learning this subject to get the degree and get a job; even though I fill up the essays with fluff that I’m passionate and energetic (and I definitely am interested in the field), the truth is that it’s a sideshow to my true love. No matter what, a Torah-true Jew should love learning Torah above all other kinds of wisdom. You are correct: secular knowledge has no inherent value; if there are no applications, and no superior moral source for the wisdom, then why spend precious time absorbing fleeting thoughts of “great philosophers” who might be total creeps when you’ve got something as precious and beautiful and completely pure and true as the Torah?

    In direct response to what you wrote, I am personally interested in how things work, and I make a point to know at least some of the science behind most household technology. Science can be fascinating. The only thing that has no point is learning for the sake of learning when there is no tangible goal.


    lz – theres something called enjoy learning science and math.

    Avi K

    Both Rabbenu Becahye and the Gra on ch. 3 of Pirkei Avot say that someone who does not know seven secular fields (Astronomy, Measurement, Physics, Geology, Logic, Music and Psychology cannot be called a sage and will be seventy times lacking in Torah. Rambam counts studying Astronomy as one of the Taryag mitzvot and says that studying Math and Physics prepares one’s mind to learn Toah.


    Avi K – very good point.


    Avi K – learning this stuff l’sheim shomayim is one thing. the alter rebbe talks about it in the beginning of tanya. b/c you’re using the secular knowledge to better serve, or better appreciate, Hashem.


    mik5 – very nice.

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