I Thought the Greeks Lost

by Dovid Landesman

For many years, the Torah Umesorah Annual Dinner was scheduled for the week of Chanukah. One year, R. Gedaliah Schorr zt’l, rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaat, and at the time, the only member of the organization’s Rabbinic Advisory Board who spoke unaccented and fluent English, was invited to give the keynote address. The master of ceremonies, when introducing Rav Schorr, decided to use the opportunity to offer his take on the educational needs of the country. In his lengthy remarks, he challenged Torah Vodaath to open a college and “show how it should be done.” When it was finally his turn to speak, Rav Schorr stood silently at the podium for a moment, a pensive expression on his face. He then turned toward the m.c. with an enormous smile and said: “You know, I was under the impression that we defeated the Greeks!”

The relationship between am Yisrael and Greece has always been somewhat equivocal. Greece is counted as one of the four nations [along with Bavel, Persia and Rome/Edom] who have subjected Israel to exile, yet throughout the period when we were subservient to Greece, we were never physically absent from the land of Israel. Moreover, the initial acceptance of Greek domination was passive. Alexander the Great was crossing Eretz Yisrael on his way to battle the Persians for world domination when Shimon ha-Tzaddik – kohen gadol and leader of the sanhedrin – reached a political agreement with him to insure that Yerushalayim was not “accidentally” destroyed by the Greek legions as they made their way east. The physical conditions of exile under the Greeks were benign until the period of the Chashmonaim when the Jews revolted against their rule; a revolt that was in great part a reaction to the assimilation of Greek values by a significant portion of the Jewish population.

On one hand, Greek culture is seen as particularly depraved. The worship of beauty – especially of the human form – and the emphasis on aesthetics [art and literature] is considered to be the embodiment of the triumph of the physical over the spiritual. The proclivity towards homosexual behavior, the lack of elementary tzniut at public events, the vivid descriptions of intimacy among multiple gods in a series of classic fables – all of these would seem to point to a culture that is the absolute antithesis of Judaism. Thus, it is surprising to find that Greek language is considered to be second only to lashon ha-kodesh in its intrinsic holiness. I would expect that Chazal would have us avoid such cultural assimilation at all cost.

Yaft Elokim l’Yeffet v’yishkon b’ahalei Shem – God granted beauty to Yeffet so that it might dwell in the tents of Shem. The simple explanation would suggest that there is an entire area of Divine wisdom – the beauty of Yeffet – which was made accessible to Shem through the good offices of Yavan [Greece], the scion of Yeffet. Beauty has intrinsic value, for we find Chazal (Shabbat 131a) interpreting the verse zeh keli v’anvehu – this is my God and I shall beautify Him (Shemot 15:2) as indicating that in performing a mitzvah, one should do so in the most aesthetically pleasing manner possible. Given the clear link between the obsession with aesthetics in Greek life and the excesses of Greek culture, one might expect this to be less than important.

In building the mishkan, Moshe was commanded to specifically utilize the craftsmanship of Betzalel because he was blessed with extraordinary artistic talents in a wide variety of fields. Betzalel is considered to be “filled with wisdom” because he knew how to sew, weave and embroider magnificent tapestries – skills that as far as I know, no contemporary yeshiva has ever encouraged! True, these were undoubtedly inherent rather than learned qualities – I would be very surprised to discover that Betzalel had been enrolled as a student of the Ramses School of Design prior to yetziyat Mitzrayim – but they are nevertheless talents that are not usually considered to be part of Torah nor are they – or related fields like music or architecture – part of the yeshiva curriculum.

In general, Judaism does not seem to completely reject the absorption of values from outside sources. Chazal declare chachmah bagoyim, ta’amin – recognize that the nations are in possession of wisdom; i.e., there are valuable fields of knowledge that are accessible without recourse to Torah. This would not a priori mean that these fields of knowledge are unavailable to one who has never been exposed to secular studies. In theory, one could utilize his natural talents and eventually achieve the same results. As far as I know, there is not even an illusion to the healing properties of Vitamin E in Torah shebichtav or sheb’aal peh. Nevertheless, even if I had never been exposed to the scientific process of observation and experimentation through which all pharmacology is established, I could in time determine the medicinal value of Aloe vera on my own. Similarly, the complex nano-technology which allows for the manufacture of microscopic devices is ultimately a result of the scientific process that could theoretically be developed without relying on the instruction of others. Obviously, however, it is more efficient to utilize the publicized findings of others rather than repeat experiments by yourself. But is this determination the totality of what Chazal had in mind when they spoke of chochmah bagoyim?

I would posit that chochmah bagoyim ta’amin means that we should accept that this chochmah is valid even though it comes from non-Torah sources. These fields of knowledge do not depend upon Divinely revealed wisdom accessible only through Torah; they are a byproduct of the Divine gifts of intelligence and creativity with which all mankind was imbued and which everyone can develop to the extent that his potential allows. If you decide that you will ignore scientific breakthroughs because they are not rooted in Torah and instead engage in your own research and experimentation so as to be sure that your life is al taharat ha-kodesh, then know that you will be guilty of a grievous amount of unnecessary bittul Torah.

I am distressed that students are taught to belittle the discoveries of science, claiming that we have no need for it since hafoch bah, hafoch bah, d’kulo bah – study it (Torah), study it, for everything all [knowledge] is in it. I have often heard students – and quite a few rebbis – point to the mathematical and medical genius of the Chazon Ish as proof that there is no need to teach our children a core curriculum of general studies. Glibly, they claim: “Look how much the Chazon Ish knew without ever having gone to college!” My invariable reply is that the Chazon Ish also achieved an incredible level of mastery in all fields of Torah despite [or perhaps because of] the fact that he never attended a yeshiva!

There is another factor that needs to be analyzed when considering the extent of general knowledge to which one allows himself to be exposed. Our ability to efficiently utilize the wisdom of the scientific process is dependent upon a basic familiarity with the fundamentals of math, science, and foreign languages augmented by reading comprehension and writing proficiency. Most of these areas of knowledge are not included in the basic cheder curriculum in Eretz Yisrael. I wonder whether the excesses that the scientific method is judged to have brought to society have led to a rejection of the notion that there still is wisdom among the goyim.

Casey Stengel once wisely commented that “nostalgia aint what it used to be.” Nonetheless, I think that it is worthwhile to look back and see if we can determine why the yeshivot a few decades ago were apparently more successful in producing talmidim who saw no contradiction in straddling the divide between Torah study and general education.

Forty or fifty years ago, parents expected the yeshivot – at least the non-chassidic mosdot – to provide their children with a decent secular education, for the majority of them intended that their sons continue with professional studies after they graduated high school. To be sure there were a number of students who did not do so – if I recall correctly, approximately 30% of the beit midrash bachurim in Torah Vodaath did not attend college – but as a general rule, this was the expected path.

For the most part, talmidim learned two sedarim in the yeshiva and then attended college from about 5:30-10:30 two or four nights a week. Many then continued onto graduate studies in a variety of fields, including law, accounting, business, medicine, engineering, psychology and the sciences. For the most part, and there were of course exceptions, they remained bnei Torah and have built homes that are paradigms of Torah and chessed. I would say without hesitation that in the overwhelming majority of cases, their homes are more strictly observant than those of their parents. Their immersion in the world of general knowledge did not erode their level of observance.

Did Rav Schorr see them as casualties of Greek culture? I obviously cannot speak for him, but can only convey the impressions I have based on what I heard from him. Rav Schorr also served as head of Beit Medrash Elyon in Spring Valley – which was a parallel institution to Lakewood – but he made the bachurim in Torah Vodaath feel that we were no less bnei Torah than the students there. He stressed that the primary responsibility we had was to establish our own identity as bnei Torah. Some talmidim learned all day, others learned less while still others were kovea itim for a defined period based on the time they had. But we were all equal, for Torah was the mirror which we looked at when we wanted to see our image.

The yeshivot – and roshei yeshivot – were able to convey to the talmidim a sense of proportion. General knowledge was never glorified but neither was it disparaged. The atmosphere in the yeshiva’s beit midrash was eclectic; one year my morning seder chavruta was the son [and eventual successor to] a prominent chassidic rebbe while my afternoon chavruta was destined to become the chairman of the psychology department at a well known local university. While the latter did not wear the same garb as the former, there was very little difference in their world views. The fact that they chose different “career” paths did not translate itself into a parting of their ways. The talmidim felt that we shared a similar commitment to Torah despite our diverse backgrounds and aspirations which created a ruach within the yeshiva that helped us when we were outside its doors.

Certain behaviors were considered to be “conduct unbecoming” a Torah Vodaath boy and this self-imposed and accepted code was a great source of support during the times we found ourselves on the college campus. We did not need a va’ad harabbanim to set these standards for us; the roshei yeshiva – especially Rav Schorr and Rav Pam zt’l – made us feel that they trusted us to do what was right. Perhaps the atmosphere on college campuses was somewhat less hostile than it is today. Personally, I doubt that the yetzer hara is stronger than it was then; it is the methodology that has changed.
Today a bachur who leaves the beit midrash to study or work is burdened by a sense of guilt; either because he is led to feel that he must be a failure because he does not have sufficient motivation to continue or because he lacks the mesirat nefesh (or deep pockets) to survive the economic rough spots. That leaves him with few choices. He can either plod on and increase his discomfort and sense of frustration, masking it behind a false sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, or he can break away – partially or completely. Without a sense of accomplishment or identification with the yeshiva, the student seeks those signs of success in the world of general studies. This is an unnecessary tragedy that is the basic ingredient that allows the contemporary Greeks their victory. Rejected in his own world, he seeks acceptance and recognition elsewhere.

At what point does a focus on the absorption of general knowledge and culture lead us to the point, in Rav Schorr’s words, of providing the Greeks with a belated victory and at what point does it fit into the rubric of chachmah bagoyim ta’amin? Can we establish a quantifiable amount of general knowledge desirable or is it a moving target that depends upon the era and location of the community? At what point do we risk becoming assimilated rather than acculturated?
I’m not sure whether there are clear parameters that can be drawn. In one community in which I lived one of the local roshei yeshiva would prepare his shiurim while listening to Bach and Beethoven. I doubt that the people there would have been as understanding if he had done so to the music of the Beatles. Unquestionably lines have to be drawn; just as there are chochmot that we can draw upon to enhance our Jewish lives, there are those that can be misused and become destructive and dangerous. The trick, and challenge, is to develop the skills to differentiate between them.
The Greeks succeeded because they were able to convince the Jews that adherence to Torat Moshe was primitive and uncultured. The contemporary fallout from the yeshivot suffer from a similar damaged self-image. Distanced for many reasons from the spiritual light of Torah – as expressed by commitment to Torah study – which they cannot appreciate and which brings them little satisfaction, they are easy victims for seduction by the neon lights of the outside world. The antidote, however, is not to lock them behind high walls and deny them the benefits of general knowledge; that would be self-defeating as well as increasingly unfeasible in a technology driven world.

At the very least schools, mechanchim, mechanchot as well as parents must be sure to reinforce the sense of self-worth of each and every talmid – reassuring them that they all have their own portion in Torah – portions that are of equal import provided that they are the paths that are right for each child’s potential and ability. Chanoch lanoar al pi darko – instruct the child according to his path – based on the road that he can follow, not on a one size fits all course of study. For some students that might be defined as spending years in a kollel mastering many blatt gemara, for others it might be applying the lessons of Choshen Mishpat that they have been taught in yeshiva in their businesses or medical practices. Yaft Elokim l’Yeffet – the outside world has considerable beauty. It can be threatening when glorified as an end unto itself or it can be enriching when it is properly brought l’ohalei Shem – to dwell within the tents of Shem.

[Rabbi Dovid Landesman resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he comments on the foibles of life in Israel. His collection of essays, There Are No Basketball Courts in Heaven is available in Jewish bookstores and his new book, Food for Thought – No Hechsher Required, will be published b’ezrat Hashem this winter.]

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22 comments to I Thought the Greeks Lost

  • cn

    Except that the Roshei Yeshivos spoke quite differently in BME .sorry

  • Miriam

    I would say without hesitation that in the overwhelming majority of cases, their homes are more strictly observant than those of their parents. Their immersion in the world of general knowledge did not erode their level of observance.

    Because they had far more opportunities for learning than their parents. So the point here is that for their generation secular studies did not prove to be a poison – but there’s no proof it was an outright positive (excepting that making a living might be a very constructive way to live one’s life).

    Certain behaviors were considered to be “conduct unbecoming” a Torah Vodaath boy and this self-imposed and accepted code was a great source of support during the times we found ourselves on the college campus….Personally, I doubt that the yetzer hara is stronger than it was then; it is the methodology that has changed.

    Sending a young adult into a co-ed secular environment isn’t so simple – maybe the code of interaction between the sexes was far more distant 35 years ago. But even 20 years ago with the open and friendly and “what’s wrong with it” society, anyone whose tendency was to be friendly and chessed-oriented innocently but quickly found themselves in too much of the wrong company. Even more so the dangers of the environment today. (Reminds me of – a granddaughter of a Torah V’Daas Rebbe! – who entered the same high-profile work environment that I did, although she decided from the outset she didn’t care what they thought of her when she avoided the social events, kept out of the secular chit-chat, left at 5 on the nose…. she’s still there and now a VP!)

    Today a bachur who leaves the beit midrash to study or work is burdened by a sense of guilt….

    Yes if elsewhere on this site Rabbi Menken (or was it YM, if they are different people) can comment that he feels he hasn’t achieved much in learning after keeping only a 1.5 hour daily seder for 15 years, we are definitely doing ourselves a disservice. Now that yeshiva learning into adulthood is accessible to almost everyone, our community has shifted its goals so that parenting classes teach that our central goal is to raise (a) boys to become the next Gadol HaDor and (b) girls to be their supportive Rebbetzins. Whatever happened to the simple righteousness of sewing every stitch into that shoe just right?

    Since when did we accept the Greeks’ approach that success in life is established through objective competition? Why should we believe that he who knows the most, learns the longest sedarim, is the most widely quoted Rav, becomes the (only) winner?

  • L. Oberstein

    I asked a retired businessman who learned in Lakewood in the time of Rav Aharon if it is true that he was against secular studies in high school/ He told me that this is false, that Rav Aharon was very practical and he understood that not everyone will stay in learning for life and that people need an eucation for a livlihood. Rav Moshe Heinemann told me something similar. I think that it is the influence of Brisk, not the influence of Rav Aharon that has transformed American Chareidi orthodoxy. True, Rav Aharon did not like college,but he never thought that the average boy should be deprived of a high school education. as i am told by my more in th loop chareidi colleagues, the American Agudah is suffering from the fact that the young Roshei Yeshiva are to the right of the Agudah . I wold love to understand what Brisk offers that has made it the dominant strain in the yeshiva world.

  • Yossie Abramson

    YTV and Chaim Berlin, jointly filed an application with the NYS Board of Regents to form a college, which was going to proceed until R’ Kotler voiced his opposition.

  • MF

    I am curious if you can provide sources for the first part of your article (besides for Aphikay Yam).

    P.S. It was Yogi, not Casey. (think: “the future ain’t what it used to be” and “it gets late early over there” and “it’s so pact no one goes there”).

  • dr. bill

    i think it is useful to separate two issues, one practical and universal the other theoretical and particular.

    The practical and universal issue is how to educate your children to have a productive role in the workplace. The challenges may well be greater, but the need particularly in a Jewish State is more acute where a full complement of skills is required for the functioning of a society. Resolving or at least making progress on this issue is critical, pressing and possible.

    The theoretical and particular issue is how to understand chazal’s ambivalence towards secular culture, praise for (certain) areas of secular wisdom and clear emphasis on the primacy of Torah. Frankly, for most people understanding what impact Shmuel’s knowledge of astronomy or the Gaon’s knowledge of mathematics had on their halakhic/hashkafic insights is of limited interest at best. (You can fit the number of people who know approximately as much astronomy and/or mathematics into a very small meeting room!) The meaning of terms like gufai halakha with respect to kinnim and pischai nidah (PA 3:18) or hafoch bah ve hafoch bah ki kulo bah (PA5:22) affects a few individuals and frankly, the debate as to what is being said has gone on for centuries. Resolving these issues are neither critical nor pressing nor possible.

  • Bob Miller

    At a minimum, any general knowledge picked up along the way, whether in an academic setting or not, ought to be true according to the Torah standard. True and not twisted politically, true and not twisted to justify amorality or immorality, true and not twisted to land government grants…

  • You are of course 100% correct. But you are spitting in the wind.

    The problem is that the only thing the Bnei Torah on the right hear is what R’ Gedaliah Schorr said at the very beginning of this post: “You know, I was under the impression that we defeated the Greeks!”

    He may not have meant it the way it sounded and in fact approved of his Yeshiva’s high school Limudei Chol curriculum. But the message people hear now in his humorous – almost derisive – response to that MC is that Limudei Chol equals Yavan.

    The challenge of our time is to disabuse those Bnei Torah of that notion. The problem is that there are too many rabbinic leaders on the right who are quite happy with the anti Limudei Chol spirit that pervades the Yeshiva world now. In fact in Israel rabbinic leaders have fought tooth and nail to keep Limudei Chol out of their educational system all while demanding from the government that they be fully funded despite the government’s core curriculum Limudei Chol requirements for funding.

  • YM

    It is hard enough to remember that this world is merely a stage set for mitzvoth performance and observance, gemilus chasadim and the breaking of ones bad middos when one is in the beis medrash full-time; it is extremely difficult to do outside. Perhaps from the perspective of the next world, leaving the beis medrash IS a failure. Take a deep breath and think – maybe the Torah Leaders of Israel realize something that you do not.

  • Ori

    L. Oberstein: I wold love to understand what Brisk offers that has made it the dominant strain in the yeshiva world.

    Ori: Here’s a theory from a cynical outsider. Young, talented Briskers had to go into the yeshiva world. Talented Charedim from other strains had other options. Therefore, Briskers ended up being over-represented as yeshiva teachers, and taught their students their own beliefs. One of the risks of professionalizing education is that you get educators who lack experience other than doing education.

  • Steve Ehrlich

    There is a statistic that seems to get forgotten/ignored in the Orthodox community all too often. The fact is that the average salary of college graduates in the US is about 45% higher then the average salary of high school graduates. It doesnt mean that no HS graduate will ever succeed in business. Many surely will. It means that, overall, your chances of making a decent living are a heck of a lot better if you have a collge degree then if you dont. Thems a fact. Accordingly, any Rosh Yeshiva type who advises bright kids to stay away from the evil colleges is, more likely then not, condemning them to life of relative deprivation. Listening to this “sage” advice has a cost, and its paid by all of us.

  • Miriam

    It is hard enough….in the beis medrash full-time; it is extremely difficult [to keep mitzvos] outside. Perhaps from the perspective of the next world, leaving the beis medrash IS a failure.

    No, no, no! We are not monks!!! Can one of you men please quote some tzena urena or ein yaakov examples to refute this…..?

    One of the risks of professionalizing education is that you get educators who lack experience other than doing education.

    It’s not that – the risk is that the kids who sit in front of educators for 18+ years see educators as their primary role models, professional planning included.

    …any Rosh Yeshiva type who advises bright kids to stay away from the evil colleges is, more likely then not, condemning them to life of relative deprivation.

    Not necessarily “condemning” – they can actually be quite successful if the “relative deprivation” is (a) not so severe and (b) born by both husbands and wives with pride. There’s a third caveat which generally isn’t covered, that there’s a safety net out there – but no one can figure that out since it’s like asking what it means to have “enough” for tomorrow.

  • Allan Katz

    If we check constructivist educational phylosophy we see the ‘ Greeks have adopted the Jewish way of learning .
    The Rabbonim have allies in leading educationalists like Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier. If you read what they say – what it means to be well educated ‘ – Alfie Kohn article , he is in fact recommending a talmudic sty;e of education – curicullum is not important , it is the thinking , the ability to question and analyze. Deborah Meier says – that learning is essentially talking and teaching is essentially listening , learn in pairs etc .
    If general education were to be taught like Gemmorah in a multi-disciplinary way focusing on questions and discussion rather than remembering facts , there would be more respect for chochma and the ability to intergrate it into Torah. So if Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier say that general education undermines the love of learning and curiosity , I can’t see any reason to advocate for it . AK and Meier are anti curicullum which would support the anti core curriculum stance taken here in Israel

    Combining secular studies at high school with Torah has big problems – the boys that see a future in learning see secular education as a waste of time , and those who want to go to university see learning as a hurdle in the pursuit of academic success and therefore put academic learning first.

    Professional training is not about education , which is another story

    Allan

  • Steve Ehrlich

    I guess the challenge is to raise children who value both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. BTW, I need to get into the habit of (re)checking things before I type something. Wikipedia says the mean HS grad salary these days is ~30K, and the mean college graduate salary is ~52K. So its much worse then I thought. If you tell someone not to go to college who can, you will most likely be costing them big bucks. Think about that.

  • Mark

    “Steve Ehrlich
    The fact is that the average salary of college graduates in the US is about 45% higher then the average salary of high school graduates.”

    This statistic says nothing at all about the future success of Yeshivah students who don’t attend college many of whom do exceedingly well in the business world once they decide to enter it. It describes the fate of lower class US citizens who may or may not marry, never did well in school in the first place, is sometimes a criminal and is raised by one parent. That does not describe the average yeshivah student in any way, shape, or form. This is a useless statistic.

  • Miriam

    Mark: It describes the fate of lower class US citizens who may or may not marry, never did well in school in the first place, is sometimes a criminal and is raised by one parent.

    Mark the majority of adults in the US do not have a college education and are included in the HS-only statistic. Many of us public school graduates learned (ran track, played band, etc.) alongside them in high school. Surely you don’t mean to imply that the vast majority of them are half-failures in American society?

  • Steve Ehrlich

    Mark, do you also mean to say that there is no financial advantage to yeshiva students going to college because they’re all so smart anyway? Did I misunderstand you?

  • Mark

    Steve,
    “Mark, do you also mean to say that there is no financial advantage to yeshiva students going to college because they’re all so smart anyway? Did I misunderstand you?”

    Very much so [although I wasn’t as clear as I should have been]. My point is that not attending university is not the sole determinant of one’s future financial success. It is one of MANY factors, among them a few significant one’s that I mentioned along with some others.
    For a number of years I lived in a largely Chassidic community and was blown away by the number of them who spoke pidgin English, couldn’t read or write, yet figured out how earn incredible salaries by starting and managing businesses that don’t require a college degree. I’d venture that if you took a look at the twenty wealthiest Jews in BP, not more than five of them have a degree. I know a number of them personally and English is a language they’re barely conversant in. I’m sure there are plenty of studies that show that English speakers earn significantly more than non-English speakers but that doesn’t take all other factors into account.
    Miriam – I believe my explanation answers your question as well.

  • Bob Miller

    Allan Katz wrote above, “If we check constructivist educational philosophy we see the Greeks have adopted the Jewish way of learning.”

    In many public institutions we seem to have many destructivists among both the student body and faculty.

  • Tal Benschar

    At what point does a focus on the absorption of general knowledge and culture lead us to the point, in Rav Schorr’s words, of providing the Greeks with a belated victory and at what point does it fit into the rubric of chachmah bagoyim ta’amin? Can we establish a quantifiable amount of general knowledge desirable or is it a moving target that depends upon the era and location of the community? At what point do we risk becoming assimilated rather than acculturated?

    I don’t think this is a matter of quantity but a qualitative difference. The Chazal you allude to “chachmah bagoyim ta’amin” has another part, “Torah bagoyim al ta’amin.” What is the difference between chochmah and Torah?

    IMVHO, Torah is something inherently good, whereas chochmah is only an instrument which can be used for good.

    There is an inherent value in knowing Torah, for its own sake, even if there is no practical result. Acc. to R. Chaim Volozhiner, the act of learning Torah is itself an act of deveikus ba Hashem, even if the thing being learned has no practical application (e.g. a mishna in Uktzin). Torah is also the ultimate arbiter of what is good — how to use the chochmah properly.

    Chochma, on the other hand, is value neutral and is inherently neither good nor evil. Consider the invention of the steam engine train. Truly a marvel of engineering, an example of Chochmah ba Goyim. It changed to face of the world. It was used for great good — carrying goods all over the world. But it was also used by the Nazis, yimach shemam, to perpetrate the Holocaust. The trains that carried wheat from the American grain belt to feed half the world and the trains that carried millions to their deaths in the concentration camps used the same chochmah.

    IIRC, the Maharal says that the seven neiros on the Menorah in the Mishkan represent the seven chochmas, with the center one representing the chochmah of Torah. The other six face the middle (el mul pnei ha Menorah yairu shivas ha Neiros) to show that the other Chochmahs must be subservient to and guided by the Torah.

  • Julie

    The reality is, though, that the average person won’t (and isn’t even trying to) become fabulously wealthy. What is needed is a way for people to have a respectable, legal way to make a decent living. For every Horatio Alger story, there are probably tens (if not hundreds) of frum people who are struggling to make it on their own/end up living below the poverty line.
    Not that a college degree is always needed, but the average person needs a set of skills that usually require, at bare minimum, some sort of training.

  • dr. bill

    Tal Beneshar, Cochmah is not just utiltarian. it also includes basic logic and mathematical reasoning that is required to pasken halakha correctly. Note the change in language from the more typical gufai torah to gufai halakha with resepct to kinnim and pischai niddah at the end of the third perek of Pirkei Avot. Both require knowledge of combinatorics – a branch of chochmah – and are still considered gufai halakha. Their theory is gufai Torah (ala the end of the first perek in chagigah), but their practical halakhic application (that depends intrinsically on chokhmah) is still gufai halakha.

    There are numerous examples where errors in mathematics or astronomy led to errors in psak particularly in kinnim (not of practical consequence without a Beit Hamikdash) and zemanim. On the other hand, those rishonim with deep mathematical insight (raavad and rambam to name just two in this area) gave brilliant explanations to mishnayot in kinnim that are rarely understood. Read as well the Gra’s critique of Rabbeinu Tam’s position of chashekha; unlike the baal hatanyah’s critique that was based on observation and traditional sources (geonim and maharam alshakar) in that order, the Gra predominantly used science. Both approaches are gufai halakha.

    Cochmah is not just utilitarian; it is also, on occasion, foundational to halakha.