Q & A - WITH RABBI RISKIN
Q: How can we be sure that our outlook asModern, Torah u'Maddah, Torah and Derech Eretz, etc. is not just our being influenced by and enamored with Western values and then applying that to Torah, even if it seems to fit perfectly? Are there truly "truths which are self-evident" or are values only legitimate if we have a source in the Torah? Do you think the Rav would have held the same views and come to the same conclusions if he did not go to the University of Berlin? And since his Derech became so different from Reb Chaim, do you think Reb Chaim would have agreed with the Rav, accepted the differences as "ayloo ve-ayloo divrei elokim chaim,"or regretted that the Rav went to university in the first place?
A: The best way of knowing whether Torahu'Maddah, Torah and Derech Eretz is valid or not is by looking carefully at the Sages of the Talmud and the religious authorities throughout the generations. First of all, the Mishnah in Avot itself teaches, "It is proper for Torah to be joined by Derech Eretz," which in that context means a profession. The Talmud Bavli (Berachot 35) concludes that it is necessary to have a profession. And the sages of the Talmud themselves were all artisans, businessmen or doctors. The Ramban and the Rambam were both doctors; Rashi manufactured wine, hence it seems clear to me that combining Torah with a profession - and therefore getting the necessary degrees which enables one to have a profession in most cases - is a clear Jewish value.
As far as studying foreign cultures alongside of Judaism, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi knew Greek extremely well, the language as well as the philosophy. The Rambam was expert in Aristotle and even quotes him often (his famous work on Avot, Shmone Perakim, is a restatement of Aristotles Nichomachean ethics). Rav Soloveitchik - who was at the University of Berlin at the same time as was Rav Hutner - profoundly believed that the confrontation between Judaism and secular culture results in heightened creativity within Judaism. Certainly there are many rabbinic sages in the last 200 years who will disagree with university studies, including Reb Chaim, but there are many role models on the other side, whom I believe represent the major opinion in our 4,000 year long tradition.
If you have a question for Q & A, send it to email@example.com . We cannot guarantee that all questions received will be answered in this column.