[Avodah] Importance of Secular Studies for Torah Studies

Professor L. Levine llevine at stevens.edu
Thu Jan 11 14:22:18 PST 2018

The following letter appears on pages 94 - 95 of this week's Flatbush Jewish Journal.

It is certainly true that Limudei Kodesh is more important than Limudei Chol.  Unfortunately, this has resulted in the denigration of  the need for secular studies in some parts of the Orthodox community.  However, this attitude is not in consonance with a Torah perspective, because it ignores the following:

First of all, we have the GRA's sefer Ayel Meshulash which deals with geometry and solid geometry that should be studied.

Also, there is the following opinion of the GRA that is given by R. Barukh Schick of Shklov in the introduction to his Hebrew translation of Euclid's book ongeometry, Sefer Uklidos (The Hague, 1780). There he writes

When I was in the illustrious city of Vilna in the presence of the Rav, the light, the great Gaon, my master and teacher, the light of the eyes of the exile, therenowned pious one [may HaShem protect and save him] Rav Eliyahu, in the month of Teves 5538 [January 1778], I heard from his holy mouth that according to what a person is lacking in knowledge of the "other wisdoms", correspondingly he will be lacking one hundred portions in the wisdom of the Torah, because the Torah and the "other wisdoms" are inextricably linked together ...

In addition, we have that  R. Yhonason Eybeschutz wrote in Yaaros Devash 2:7 (as translated by L. Levi in Torah and Science pages 24-25):
For all the sciences are "condiments" and are necessary for our Torah,
such as the science of mathematics, which is the science of
measurements and includes the science of numbers, geometry, and
algebra and is very essential for the measurements required in connection with the Eglah Arufah and the cities of the Levites and the cities of refugeas well as the Sabbath boundaries of our cities. The science of weights [i.e., mechanics] is necessary for the judiciary, to scrutinize in detail
whether scales are used honestly or fraudulently. The science of vision
[optics] is necessary for the Sanhedrin to clarify the deceits perpetrated by idolatrous priests; furthermore, the need for this science is great in
connection with examining witnesses, who claim they stood at a distance
and saw the scene, to determine whether the arc of vision extends so far
straight or bent. The science of astronomy is a science of the Jews, the
secret of leap years to know the paths of the constellations and to sanctify the new moon. The science of nature which includes the science o fmedicine in general is very important for distinguishing the blood of the Niddah whether it is pure or impure ... and how much more is it necessary when one strikes his fellow man in order to ascertain whether the blow was mortal, and if he died whether he died because of it, and for what disease one may desecrate the Sabbath. Regarding botany, how great is the power of the Sages in connection with kilayim [mixed crops]! Here too we may mention zoology, to know which animals may be hybridized; and chemistry, which is important in connection with the metals used in the  tabernacle, etc.

Professor Yitzchok Levine
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