Thursday, June 29, 2006

Afikei Mayim V

Afikei Mayim, in the Likut Kedushas Ha-Torah (ch. 2, p. 26), quotes the Maharal's Chiddushei Aggados to Menachos 64b in which the Maharal prohibits the study of secular wisdom. This is an accurate and properly contextual quote.

However, this passage is difficult because it directly contradicts the Maharal's words elsewhere. The Maharal writes in Nesivos Olam (Nesiv Ha-Torah, ch. 14):
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And so are the words of the Rambam in his work [Moreh Nevukhim 2:22], that we should listen to the gentiles sages regarding what is under the sphere of the moon because they are wise in the natural world. But we should not listen to what they say about what is above the sphere of the moon, which is above nature. For they were wise about the natural world, but we should not listen to them about what is above nature -- which is a divine wisdom...

Therefore, we see from this that one should learn the wisdom of the nations. Why should one not learn wisdom that is from God? For the wisdom of the nations is also from God, since He gave it to them from His wisdom. There is no reason to say that even though this is complete wisdon, one should still not abandon the Torah, as it says "And you shall meditate on it day and night" (Josh. 1:8)...

But it seems that Greek wisdom there [Menachos 99b] refers to wisdom that has no connection to Torah at all, like the wisdom of rhetoric and parable. This wisdom has no relation to Torah at all, and it says "And you shall meditate on it day and night." However, it is certainly permissible to study the wisdoms to determine the reality and order of the world... However, words of wisdom are not forbidden because this wisdom is like a ladder by which to ascend to the wisdom of Torah...

From here we learn that a man should study anything to determine the nature of the world -- and is obligated to do so -- for all things are the work of God and one should understand them and recognize through this his Creator...
In other words, not only is one permitted to study science but one is obligated to do so. (Although one may not learn directly from a heretic; only from his books and in order to respond to heretics. But from an Orthodox teacher -- such as in Yeshiva University or Touro College -- there is no problem at all.)

In that passage in Nesivos Olam, the Maharal addresses all of the talmudic and midrashic passages raised in the Chiddushei Aggados to Menachos. I am at a loss as to how to explain this contradiction.

R. Alan Kimche points out ("The Maharal of Prague on Combining Torah Learning with Secular Study," Le'ela 48 [1999]) that three of the Maharal's top students seem to have positive attitudes towards secular sciences: R. Mordekhai Yaffe (the author of the Levushim), R. David Gans, and R. Yom Tov Lipman Heller (the author of Tosafos Yom Tov).

(See also these posts: I, II, III, IV, IVb

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