What justifies a yeshiva bachur's study at university?

I am certain that I posted this story at some point on the WordPress blog I had. But as that has been obliterated, I will beg the indulgence of those who remember it and repeat it here. My grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet a"h, was a talmid in Telz in Lithuania. He wished to attend university and asked permission from the Rosh Yeshiva to do so. The Rosh Yeshiva granted his permission on the condition that he would leave as soon as he called upon him to do so. When my grandfather got to the end of his studies but was yet short of achieving the degree, the Rosh Yeshiva took him up on his promise. My grandfather asked why he was asked to break off at just that point. The Rosh Yeshiva answered that his permission was for the sake of learning the university subjects -- not the degree. Today, of course, we reverse this completely with numerous places offering frum people short cuts to degrees, as instanced by the program I mentioned in http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/05/quick-is-not-right-in-context.html

Now I do have a theory that there was a change in attitude toward secular subjects post-Holocaust. I think that the subjects of literature and other aspects of culture were regarded as enhancing in a way they are usually not today. However, the notion that education is only justified because it will lead to great income potential is not symptomatic only of the frum world but of modern American attitudes. Hakesef ya'aneh es hakol.


Chaim B. said…
>>>Now I do have a theory that there was a change in attitude toward secular subjects post-Holocaust.

What about the war against the haskalah which pre-dates the Holocaust? True, it was in large part objection to the new "academic" study of Judaism which fueled that war, but objection to the entire idea of Jews participating in open society played no small role. Was R' Yisrael Salanter's reaction to Berlin so different than the reaction of various gedolim to our society? (And that is not a rhetorical question - I am not sure of the answer.)
Ariella said…
I should think there were always staunch upholders of the "Torah only" camp, and there always is the problem of giving up Torah learning to pursue something else -- bittul zman. However, you also had the Hirshian idea of Torah im derech eretz (which includes culture) and his approach to education really served as a model for Sarah Shnirer when she set up the Bais Yaakov school.

When I read the bio of her, I noticed that the author downplays the appreciation of secular studies like one girl's devotion to literature that crops up in some of the anecdotes. The author is seeing things through the lens of the mass destruction of the Holocaust (and who can blame her?) so that all that was associated with the people in Europe who perpetuated the atrocities can no longer be admired. It is rather like the idea behind the ban that used to be in place on music by Wagner in Israel. But the fact is that these frum girls read and attended lectures on secular subjects, and not just practical things like accounting.

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