Thursday, February 28, 2008

Torah U’Mada: Models and Perspectives

There has been some debate recently about the exact nature of Torah U’Mada. Torah is the word of God as written in the bible and expounded by the sages. Mada is the accumulated knowledge of mankind. That there is a debate is understandable considering the fact that it has only relatively recently been defiend as an independant Hashkafa …although it has probably existed undefined from the very beginnings of creation.

But the attempt to define it as a Hashkafa had never been attempted until about 20 years ago. I’m not even sure that there is a universal definition of this Hashkafa. Definitions range from a rather loose interpretation along the lines of Rav Hershel Shachter to a complex and detailed one of Dr. Lamm and Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik (affectionately called Rav Ahron by his students).

If I am not mistaken Rav Hershel Shachter’s definition was given 20 years ago in response to then sitting Yeshiva University president, Dr. Norman Lamm’s Torah U’Mada project. Rav Shachter is purported to have said simply that Torah U’Mada simply means the study of Torah and Mada in the same building.

Dr. Lamm, on the other hand wrote a book on the subject. He tried to clarinfy in detail what he thought it is…as an independent Hashkafa. Until that time Torah U’Mada was pretty amorphous. Dr. Lamm never came out with a conclusive definition either. But he brilliantly took various models and applied the perspective of each.

The models he used among others were philosophies of either individuals or existing movements. The Rambam, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, The Vilna Gaon, and Chasidus come to mind… each with their own unique contributions to the subject. Dr. Lamm’s own preference was the Chasidic model.

I am not going to go into the various models because that would take an entire book. Suffice it to say that for me, these models provided tremendous insight as to how to view the two worlds of Torah on the one hand, and Mada on the other.

Aside from writing a book on the subject, Dr. Lamm initiated other projects to promote Torah U’Mada as an independent Hashkafa. One of those was the creation of the Torah U’Mada Journal. That project was undertaken by Rabbi Jacob J. Schechter who did a magnificent job in publishing articles dealing with many issues from a Torah U’Mada perspective.

Anther thing he did was ask my Rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, to give his own analysis of Torah U’Mada. Rav Ahron has provided us with five perspectives* from a Halachic standpoint.

Perspective number one: The study of Mada as a supplement or compliment to Torah that is necessary to achieve Ahavas HaBorei, the love of God.

Perspective number two: The study of Mada as a means to achieve Yishuv HaOlam, that is, to build up and strengthen the world.

Perspective number three: The study of Mada as a medium for self fulfillment that is the ability to achive ones own specific full potential in life serving God.

Perspective number four: as an indispensable means of a full understanding of Torah and for the application of Halacha to the multifarious vicissitudes of life.

Perspective number five: The study of Mada as a means of inspiring others, both Jews and non Jews with the beauty of Torah.

This last point is derived from the Rambam in a letter to Rav Yehonasan HaKohen that secular studies were L’Haros Ha’Amim V’Hasarim Es Yofeh Ki Tovas Mareh Hi – to inspire the nations with the beauty that is inherent in the Torah. The term ‘nations’ include our own – Am Yisroel - especially today when there are so many Jews who have no idea of the beauty of Torah.

My own views on this subject are a combination of all of the above plus my own rational thought on the subject derived from them. I have taken elements from the various models described in Dr. Lamm’s book, and the five perspectives of Rav Ahron. And though I stated my basic views on the subject in a comment thread, it is worth repeating here:

Torah U’Mada is the 'two towers' approach. Torah is one tower and Mada the other. Torah has the higher value but Mada has high value in its own right. Each is worthy of independent study and each impacts on the other. But the study of Mada alone, i.e. the study of all of mankind's accumulated knowledge about the natural universe and the study of mankind's contribution to all facets of human existence... is seen as worthy endeavor since it is all part of God's creation.

It is a way of understanding and appreciating God. It is a way to better understand His Torah. It is a way of building up the world. And it is a more all encompassing way of finding one’s true purpose in life.

*Taken from Logic of the Heart Logic of the Mind.