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Torah Perspectives on Secular Education: Navigating the Path of Wisdom

Written by שי טחן, 12/12/2023


Torah Perspectives on Secular Education: Navigating the Path of Wisdom

 Rabbi Shay Tahan

After addressing the concerns of attending non-Jewish colleges and universities, let's explore the Torah's perspective on studying secular subjects in a “kosher” environment, such as at Jewish educational institutions.

The Talmud(קידושין כט,א)  explicitly outlines the dual responsibilities of parents—to impart both Torah knowledge and a profession to their children. The concept of a profession, in this context, encompasses any skill or knowledge that enables an individual to sustain himself and his family in life.

Rebbi Yehudah(קידושין ל,א)  goes so far as to equate a father who neglects to teach his child a profession to a father instructing his child to become a bandit. Rashi elucidates that the rationale behind this comparison lies in the potential outcome: if the child lacks a profession to sustain himself and his family as an adult, he may resort to illicit activities and deception to secure a means of livelihood.

The Talmud's recommendation (ברכות סג,א)  to teach a profession that is "easy and clean" is generally understood to imply something more academic rather than manual labor. This is not to suggest that manual labor is unacceptable, as Chazal(פסחים קיג,א)  mentioned that one should even work in menial jobs, such as skinning dead animals. However, the underlying idea is that it is preferable to pursue a profession that is clean and relatively easy whenever possible.

The task of teaching a child a profession is not to be taken lightly; it is a commandment that holds significance to the extent that it can be imparted even on the holy day of Shabbat. Chazal (כתובות ה,א) assert that one may teach his child a profession on Shabbat. While secular studies are generally to be avoided on Shabbat, as the Shulchan Aruch(סימן שז סעיף יז)  states that one is forbidden according to some opinions, from studying subjects other than Torah on Shabbat, teaching a child a profession is considered a Mitzvah, rendering it permissible.

There is an additional advantage to learning various wisdoms, as the Vilna Gaon emphasized that studying other disciplines, like algebra, can aid in comprehending many Torah subjects more accurately. It is essential to acknowledge that even within this perspective, considering the Torah as the primary wisdom and the purpose of our life, Torah should take precedence in our studies, with other subjects serving as supplements to enrich our understanding of Torah.

The command to teach a child a profession isn’t literal—that the father himself should sit and teach his son, even though, as mentioned, educating a child is indeed a Mitzvah. Instead, the father's task is to ensure that his son receives the necessary education. This may involve finding him a tutor or sending him to a school that will prepare him for life.

If a child expresses a desire to learn Torah and the father recognizes the potential for excellence, it is advisable to either personally teach him Torah or enroll him in a yeshiva that suits his needs. Rabbi Nehorai mentioned that while the Halacha suggests a father teach his child a profession, he personally instructs his son exclusively in Torah without incorporating any secular studies.

This aligns with the ruling of many poskim, who write of the importance of a person who decides to dedicate his time and life to study Torah. For such a person, the Rambam (סוף הל’ שמיטה ויובל) writes that the Torah promises him to be able to have his livelihood and provide for his family, the famous words of the Rambam: “Not only the tribe of Levi, but anyone in the world whose spirit generously motivates him and understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before Hashem to serve Him and minister to Him and to know Hashem, proceeding justly as Hashem made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. Hashem will be his portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world, like He provides for the priests and the Levites. And thus David declared [Tehilim 16:5]: ‘Hashem is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot.’"



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