Friday, October 15, 2010

Don’t Learn That! It’s too scary!

I’ve mentioned before that I get a daily e-mail talking about one halachic (Jewish legal) question. It’s usually on some relatively minor issue – am I allowed to talk in between shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana, or whether an electric light can be used for reading on Shabbat. It’s an approach to Judaism which is utterly different from my own, but I’ve always found it fascinating, in an academic kind of way. Occasionally, I find something really interesting in the legal logic. Sometimes, I find a hint of a higher meaning there. Sometimes, well…

Today’s question was “Is it permissible to study secular philosophy?” You see, there are some opinions, found in the Ultra-Orthodox world, that all of our spare time should be use for sacred study, and nothing else. There are some quotes that can be found in ancient Rabbinic writings to support this kind of view, as well.

Of course, many great Rabbis, such as Maimonides, were well versed in secular philosophy. Don’t worry. We’ll just rationalize those away - “oh, he was only learning that in order to refute the heretics. And besides – you’re not as holy as he was, so it doesn’t apply.”

But, the kicker was the explanation as to why it’s bad to study secular philosophy:

We should not be studying secular philosophy, which causes confusion and raises questions without providing adequate answers, thus threatening a person's fear of God and commitment to Torah.

So, let me get this straight. Secular philosophy causes confusion, and can’t always provide sufficient answers. But, religion never does. Right? Nope – only absolute clarity and surety over here!

Oh, and just to make it clear – if something challenges and confuses us, the best way to deal with it is not to do the hard work of deepening our learning and understanding, and delving further into the matter. No, the best way to deal with it is to cover our eyes while crying “na na na na – I can’t read you.”

If secular philosophy, or anything else which can be learned (I’m looking at you, opponents of evolution), is so destructive to your faith, then maybe you should consider that the problem lies with your faith, not with that outside learning. I mean, how solid is that faith, exactly?

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