Two weeks ago, the Five Towns Jewish Times ran an article by Avi Meir in which he argued for a more open-minded attitude in the yeshiva world towards secular knowledge (link). In the course of his essay, he made sure to reject Dr. Norman Lamm's formulation of Torah U-Madda (from his book of the same name, p. 236):
Torah, faith, religious learning on one side and madda, science, worldly knowledge on the other, together offer us a more overarching and truer vision than either one set alone. Each set gives one view of the Creator as well as of His creation, and the other a different perspective that may not agree at all with the first… Each alone is true, but only partially true; both together present the possibility of a larger truth.In the latest issue, Dr. Lamm's son-in-law, R. Mark Dratch, wrote a letter disagreeing with Avi Meir's understanding of this passage (link):
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No, Dr. Lamm does not equate Torah knowledge with secular knowledge. Dr. Lamm, like Mr. Meir, sees all wisdom as a means to appreciating the “nifla’os haBorei, the wonders of the Creator.” And as for viewing madda “as a separate area of knowledge requiring synthesis,” we all make havdalah every Saturday night and declare “haMavdil bein kodesh l’chol”!To this, Mr. Meir responded:
As to what Dr. Lamm meant by this comment, Rabbi Mayer Schiller pointed out in his article “Torah Umadda and the Jewish Observer Critique: Towards a Clarification of the Issues” (Torah U-Madda Journal, vol. 6, 1995–96), that Dr. Lamm’s statement that each is only partially true “seems to run counter to many statements of [Ch]azal, who see all wisdom as being present in the Torah. Accordingly, although Dr. Lamm’s choice of words might be seen as lacking in traditional reverence, he was merely stating the truth as we perceive it… Thus, the phrase ‘partially true’ refers not to any (G-d forbid) falsity in the Torah, but to the fact that for the average man Torah truth is limited to what the texts themselves reveal” (p. 122).
Dr. Lamm’s words as they were originally written are quite clear and well understood. His view of Torah as “only partially true” has been reinterpreted and re-explained on numerous occasions and, quite frankly, these explanations do not coincide with the clear “authorial intent” of the words in context.
I would like to disagree with both Mr. Meir and R. Dratch. I agree with R. Dratch that a complete reading of the relevant chapter in Dr. Lamm's book makes it absolutely clear that Dr. Lamm was only saying that Torah and Madda (secular knowledge) are different perspectives of the truth, and not that either is untrue in any way. Nor is there anything in the book to equate Madda with Torah.
However, I disagree with what R. Dratch and Mr. Meir both say -- that everything is in the Torah. I think this is clearly incorrect. R. Dratch seems to say that everything is in the Torah but people, due to their failings, are often unable to extract it. Does anyone really believe that Quantum Mechanics can be found in the Torah? The nature of the Circulatory System? Law of Large Numbers? Maybe those who believe that the Chazon Ish could perform brain surgery without any training but I'm not among them. I absolutely reject the idea that a big enough Torah scholar -- perhaps Moshe -- is capable of building a nuclear reactor without studying any secular science.
(See also this post.)