[Avodah] Torah and Secular Knowledge before Ghettoization

Prof. Levine larry62341 at optonline.net
Wed Jul 7 09:46:36 PDT 2021

At 11:06 PM 7/6/2021, avodah-request at lists.aishdas.org wrote:
>In any case, we're talking about a historical question.  Not what ought
>to be, but what was.  Your assertion was that your preferred model of
>education was the standard among Jews, until it somehow changed because
>Jews were locked up in ghettos.   I simply don't believe that is true. I
>know of no evidence for it at all, and you have not advanced any
>evidence for it.  An essay is not evidence.
What evidence can you supply to back up 
your  assertion that Jewish education has not 
changed considerably  from the past?

We certainly know that there have been monumental 
changes in Jewish education.  The writing down of 
the mishna and then of the gemara certainly 
changed Jewish education. The invention of the 
printing press, and the resulting availability of 
seforim to the masses was another.  The printing 
of the Shulchan Aruch changed how people studied 
halacha.  The printing of the Mishna Torah did 
also. The founding of the Volozhin yeshiva is yet 
another. The availability of searchable data 
bases dealing with Torah is again a change in 
Jewish education and learning.  There are many, many more that one could list.

And your assertion that secular education was 
never a part of the elementary education given 
Jews is historically incorrect. (and please do 
not tell me that this is an essay and hence is not to be relied upon.)


Jewish Education in Muslim Lands available at


In Muslim countries, Jewish boys learned the 
whole range of Jewish and secular subjects.

Curiosity about the great body of scientific and 
philosophical knowledge avail­able in the Muslim 
world soon led to a desire among Jews to acquire 
this knowledge. To that end, Jewish boys also 
studied, again together with Muslims, the secular 
sciences. These included mathematics (alge­bra 
and geometry, Euclidean and non Euclidean, 
trigonometry, and later, rudimentary calculus), 
physics, optics, philosophy (ethics, theories of 
the soul, meta­physics; primarily Aristotelian 
philosophy and then increasingly the works of the 
great Muslim philoso­phers), music (theory), 
astronomy, and medicine. Following in the 
footsteps of Muslim philosophers, Jewish writers 
in the Muslim world
 wrote on the “classification 
of sciences,” in reality an out­line of the 
education curriculum here described.

These secular subjects, many of which today would 
be considered "advanced" study (if learned at 
all), were mastered by the age of eighteen or 
even earlier. The young pupil would learn each 
subject from a scholar who was a specialist in 
that area, and this usu­ally necessitated travel 
to distant cities and even to other lands to 
learn with the greatest authorities. Maimonides 
himself, we know, as a youth learned as­tronomy 
with students of the greatest astronomer in 
Muslim Spain, Ibn Aflah of Seville. [Maimonides 
(1138-1204) is generally acknowledged to be the 
greatest Jewish thinker, Talmudist, and codifier 
in the Middle Ages.] The student would receive a 
kind of diploma at the conclusion of his studies 
with each scholar, listing the books he had 
mastered and attesting to his proficiency.


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