Monday, August 31, 2009

Rav Elchanan Wasserman On Learning "Outside Knowledge" Part I (The Job)

In Koveitz Shiurim siman 47, Rav Elchanan relates a question that was asked to him from a "Known Country." This was most likely Germany since it was mainly German Jews that went to college and dealt with "Outside Knowledge." He says,

Question: "Is it permitted to learn (or delve into) Outside Knowledge, and in which way can this heter (permission) be used?

Answer: This question is divided into many parts.

1) If this delving or learning leads one to read books that are kefira (minus) then this learning is forbidden. This is because someone who learns from books that are kefira (denial of Jewish beliefs) transgresses the sin of "Do not turn your heart after others and do not turn to other gods." This is brought down in the Rambam in perek 2 in hilchos avoda zara referring to books of idol worship. (Rav Wasserman thinks) that there is a kal vichomer for books of kefira that we have to be even stricter on them than idol worship because by idol worship there is a bais din (court of law) decision, one needs warning, and if someone runs after idol worship to serve it we are not allowed to save him through his soul (kill him to prevent him from worshipping idols). However, by kefira, bais din (court of law) is not needed for action. (Therefore, Rav Wasserman concludes that books of kefira are worse than books of idol worship.)

2) If one does not need to read books of kefira, but needs to learn in University with non-Jews and a man sees that this causes his children to become close with non-Jews and follow their ways, this is a transgression of the negative commandment of "Guard yourself so that you should not follow after them." The Torah commands us to remain separate in all types of ways. The Rambam says in perek 11 in hilchos avoda zara that the reason our forefathers were able to leave Egypt was because they did not change their names, language or clothing.

3)So now, if this learning does not lead one to learn kefira or to become close to non-Jews and the reason this person is learning this "Outside knowledge" is to get a job and support his family through this then there is no Issur (it is not forbidden) at all!!! In fact, to learn a trade to support one's family is a Mitzva (commandment)!!!

Hopefully I will discuss Rav Wasserman's feelings on learning secular knowledge for the sake of secular knowledge, but right now I just want to focus on his ideas about learning secular knowledge in order to get a job.

Rav Wasserman says that there are two foreseeable problems with going to University, learning kefira (like bible studies) and assimilation. It is funny that this is true just as much today as it was in the 20's and 30's. Just like there was rampant assimilation occurring in Germany between WWI and WWII so too nowadays there is a high rate of assimilation. This is why it is so important that Jewish schools exist throughout a person's education. We need day schools, high schools and even colleges where not only are secular subjects taught for us to be able to get jobs and live in society, but also a Judaica curriculum as well.

In an Era of assimilation Jews have to be exposed as much as possible to Jewish life and lifestyle. This is why I think places like Touro and YU are so important, because they offer secular subjects, that help prepare for getting a job, as well as Judaica subjects. Now, that is not to say that these places are perfect, but at least they are a step in the right direction. (Personally I think some places are better than others. YU might teach some classes in an inappropriate way, but the general idea of being in a college where there are many Roshei Yeshiva and religious Jews is amazing.) It boggles my mind that some people would send their Yeshiva bochers to secular college, whether it be state or otherwise, when we have these great institutions available.

I would call Rav Wasserman one of the top Charaidis that lived in the modern world and even he says it is a MITZVA to learn a trade and get a job! What does that tell you? It tells me that anyone that lives in a community where working for a living makes your son not get into a Yeshiva, or ruins shidduchim should think twice about what type of Judaism they practice.(Sorry that was just a little rant)

So, just to sum up Rav Wasserman's main points: 1) Learning kefira is never acceptable (except for something that will be mentioned in another post) and 2) Assimilation is a big concern for Jews. Therefore, a person should be very careful about where they send their kids to college and think, "What type of situation am I putting my son or daughter into?" If you can not be sure about their spiritual safety then you probably should not send your kid to that school.

This brings me to another point, professional schools. Now that we have talked about grade school, high school and college, what about professional school? There is no way for a Jew to go to a professional school that is only Jewish or has a lot of Jewish influence is there? This is where I think a community within the school is important. It is important to go to a Medical School, Dental School, Optometry school and so on with a solid group of Frum yiddin. It is not as important as undergraduate school, but it is certainly helpful. If one can't do this then it should still be fine, but it does seem much harder.

The bottom line is that we as Jews need to keep our identities as Jews. Our culture and religion is important and something that we should try and conserve. This is what Rav Elchanan Wasserman is telling us, kefira books can influence a young and impressionable mind in the wrong way and so can peers that do not share the same values. Non-Jews are not bad or wicked, but they have completely different values than Jews. The culture is different. That is not to say that one should not be nice and friendly with them according to Rav Wasserman, but a Jew must keep his or her separate identity and not assimilate into the crowd.


The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

So much of what gives a Jew confidence when in the outside world comes from the home. Ghetto Judaism that avoids confrontation and the hard questions doesn't last at university. More modern Judaism that allows for interaction with the secular world on Jewish terms does much better.
Indeed, Rav Wasserman sounds much like Rav Hirsch and his Torah im Derech Eretz philosophy in this post.
Also remember that the "Work is assur" philosophy is relatively new. Until WW2, kollels were reserved for the brightest of the bright. Everyone else was told that he has a responsibility to support his family and not live on charity.

E-Man said...

The difference between Rav Hirsch and Rav Wasserman is that Rav Wasserman goes on to say that learning philosophy (or secular subjects) just for the sake of it is bittul Torah and therefore assur.

I am not sure where the whole "it is assur to get a Job" mentality comes from. Clearly not the Great Rabbonim from before WWII as we have shown here.

Deborah Shaya said...

REMOVAL OF SOURCES OF TUMAH, and AVODAH ZARAH (spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging) FROM YOUR HOME/LIFE:


We are specifically commanded against idolatry, in the SECOND COMMANDMENT of the Asseret Hadibrot:

‘Do not have any other gods BEFORE ME.’

‘Lo yiheyeh lecha elohim acherim AL PANAI.’

And: ‘Do not represent (such gods) by any CARVED STATUE OR PICTURE of anything in the heaven above, or the earth below, or in the water below the land.
Do not bow down to (such gods) or worship them. I am G-d your Lord, A JEALOUS G-D, who demands EXCLUSIVE WORSHIP.
Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for (their) descendants, to the third and fourth (generation).
But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands (of generations.)'

‘Lo ta’aseh lecha PESEL, vechol temunah asher bashamayim, mima’al va’asher ba’aretz, mitachat va’asher ba’mayim, mitachat la’aretz.
Lo tishtachaveh lahem, ve’lo ta’avdem, KI ANI HASHEM ELOKECHA, KEL KANAH, poked avon avot al banim, al shileshim, ve’al ribe’im, le’sonay.
Ve’osseh chessed la’alafim, le’ohavai, u’leshomrei mitzvotai.’ (Parsha of Yitro, Chapter 20, verses 3-6)

Hashem, our G-d, is a very “jealous G-d” who demands “exclusive worship.”

Deborah Shaya said...


Do not go into any of the following, as they are all places of idolatry, and AVODAH ZARAH (literally ‘strange worship’). They deny the Sovereignty of Hashem, the One G-d, and Creator of the World.

- Churches
- Buddist temples
- Hindu temples
- Sikh temples
- Greek temples
- Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.
- Freemasonry

There is a lot of TUMAH in them (spiritual ‘uncleanliness’ which can affect a person has veshalom, physically and spiritually in different ways). Always walk to the opposite side of the road rather than walk directly past one of these buildings e.g. a church.

If any Jew is a “Freemason,” this too is based upon Avodah Zarah. He/she must stop going to such a place, and associating with “freemasons.”


These are graven images. They should IMMEDIATELY be removed from your home and discarded, no matter how much they might have cost, or the sentimental value attached to them. They are a strong source of Tumah.

Deborah Shaya said...

3. Tefillah/Prayer – in the synagogue, and at home.

(a) There should be NO IMAGES whatsoever, inside any synagogue.

There should be NO IMAGES of
inside any synagogue.

Any images of a person, animal or object should be REMOVED immediately, and ENTIRELY out of the synagogue or shteibl. No matter how large or small they may be. This is against the Halachah.

(b) When praying at home, a person should endeavour to pray in a room which does not contain any images or paintings of a person, animal or object.

Deborah Shaya said...


These are a strong source of TUMAH, and bring in a lot of negativity into the home. These books and magazines negatively affect those who live in that home.

Go through every book in your home very carefully, and check for the following. If it falls into one of these categories, or you have doubt about it – sort them out into a pile, and then DISPOSE of these books as soon as possible, and take them out of your home. Or at least take them out of your home and put them in a shed if you can.

It is a very great MITZVAH to remove such sources of Tumah from your home. If some of these books were expensive – discard them anyway, and put aside how much they cost. They are a form of Avodah Zarah, and should be removed immediately.

• Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

The following are some examples:

(a) ‘New Age’ books – (e.g. Indian authors, ‘Shambhala’ publications)

(b) Philosophical books (e.g. by Indian writers such as Deepak Chopra etc)

(c) Yoga/Tai Chi books (qi gong)/yoga magazines &leaflets; tai chi (qigong) magasines & leaflets – these physical exercises are based upon AVODAH ZARAH, and come from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. Practicing yoga or tai chi is therefore harmful to a Jewish person – spiritually, and therefore physically.

Have Emunah in Hashem to find another alternative form of exercise.

(d) Meditation books - by non-Jewish or unorthodox Jewish writers.

Buddism abounds with “meditation.”

Meditation is only for Prophets – it is not for the ordinary man or woman.

(e) Books that appear ok – but contain many idolatrous images and drawings e.g. mathematical or philosophical books interspersed with pictures of dragons; snakes; mandalas; crosses; ‘third eyes’; hindu gods; hindu goddesses; buddas; tibetan gods; egyptian gods; greek gods; stone/gold idols etc etc – THESE SHOULD ALL BE REMOVED IMMEDIATELY FROM YOUR HOME.

Deborah Shaya said...

5. (a) Written “Requests” of the Igrot/Igros (letters of advice written to other people by Rabbi M. Schneerson tz”l during his lifetime);

(b) FAXES and LETTERS “SENT TO” Rabbi M. Schneersohn tz”l after he passed away in 1994 – at the Bet HaChaim (incorrectly referred to as the, “Ohel” by Lubavitch)

(c) Any other written “communications with” tzaddikim at the Bet HaChaim (cemetery), who are not physically alive.

These written requests should all be destroyed. However “nice” or “comforting” or “accurate” the “reply you received” was; or whatever “bracha you received;” or “whatever the date of the letter was;” – these writings should be destroyed. They are pure Avodah Zarah.

There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person’s tefillot (prayers) and Hashem.
If a person chooses to use intercession instead of praying directly to Hashem, this is completely Assur, and forbidden.

Deborah Shaya said...


If you have taken holiday photographs of e.g. Buddist temples, whether on the outside or inside, these are a source of Tumah, and should be discarded. Similarly for buddist celebrations.

These places of AVODAH ZARAH completely DENY THE SOVREIGNTY OF HASHEM, the One and Only G-d, and Creator of the World. They should not be in your home.

The same applies to photographs of:
- Churches
- Hindu temples
- Sikh temples
- Greek temples
- Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.

Sort through your photographs, and discard those that relate to Avodah Zarah.

However attached you may feel to these photographs, they should be discarded, as they completely deny the Sovereignty of Hashem.

• Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

7. Discard any other items related in any way to Avodah Zarah. No matter how small and insignificant, or however large e.g. bookmarks with pictures of churches; jewellery and accessories.


1. Do not go into any places of idolatry.

2. Discard and remove from your home all stone/wood sculptures e.g. sculptures of:
(a) the human form (“nudes.”)
(b) the human face
(c ) statues – of the human form in particular.

3. Books – discard and destroy all books relating to Avodah Zarah.

4. Photographs – discard and destroy all photographs of Avodah Zarah.

5. Discard any other items you have relating to Avodah Zarah e.g.jewellery.

Deborah Shaya said...

HOW TO DO TESHUVAH FOR AVODAH ZARAH – once you have removed all sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah from your home/life.

1. Say the KETORET twice a week at least (Tefillah, prayer).

The Ketoret has great Kedushah, (holiness) and power to transform all negatives into positives. Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

If you can say it every day, including Shabbat, this is even better. You can say it as many times as you like during the day.

The Ketoret is said formally 3 times a day in total: twice in the Shacharit, and once during the Minchah prayer.

2. Decide on an amount to give to TZEDAKAH, (charity) in Israel, so that it ‘hurts you’ a little bit. Give to a proper registered charity, such as a hospital or emergency services.

Deborah Shaya said...

3. MEZUZOT – (Positive Mitzvah, commandment in the Shema – affirming that G-d is ONE, and warning against idolatry.)

Check that:

(a) You have properly affixed a mezuzah on EVERY DOORWAY which needs a mezuzah. This includes archways, patio doors, folding doors, side doors to garden, garden doors.

(b) If any places in your home are lacking a mezuzah, purchase one as soon as possible from a qualilfied Sofer (Scribe), and put it up as soon as possible.

(c) Check that ALL your mezuzot are kosher, as soon as you can. These should be given to a qualified Sofer (scribe) for checking.

(d) Mezuzot should ideally be checked ONCE A YEAR.

4. Travel to the KOTEL in Israel. If you can travel with a group of people who are going for the purposes of Teshuvah, this is even better. The purpose will be to pray, (Tefila and Teshuva), and ask Hashem, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, for His forgiveness, for mechilah.

If a group can be arranged, this will be a greater mitzvah for everyone who joins. If you can go individually to the Kotel, in the meantime, before the group travel, this is also very good.

5. When you have done 1-3 and/or 4 above, (summarised below as well), you should obtain the special BERACHA, (bracha, blessing) of someone who is known to be a TRUE KOHEN/COHEN. This will bring Hashem’s brachot of the material and spiritual blessings directly into your life.


1. Say the Ketoret – at least twice a week.
Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

2. Give Tzedakah to recognised charity in Israel

3. Mezuzot - Have you affixed a mezuzah on every doorway?
- Have you checked that all your mezuzot are kosher?

4. Kotel in Israel – in a group (and individually, if possible)

5. Bracha of a true Kohen/Cohen.

E-Man said...

What is the point of posting all this stuff on my blog? It has nothing to do with the post.

Deborah Shaya said...

You wrote:

"If this delving or learning leads one to read books that are kefira (minus) then this learning is forbidden. This is because someone who learns from books that are kefira (denial of Jewish beliefs) transgresses the sin of "Do not turn your heart after others and do not turn to other gods." This is brought down in the Rambam in perek 2 in hilchos avoda zara referring to books of idol worship."

What I have written are the practical steps to help someone who may have been misled to "outside knowledge" and avoda zara, which is against the Torah - and how to take the practical steps of Teshuvah.