The Commentator
Volume 67, Issue 7
December  31, 2002
Tevet 5763


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Volume 67, Issue 7

What Does Torah U’Madda Mean to You?
Compiled by Tzvi Kahn

Last year The Commentator began a new section aimed at gauging the views of various Roshei Yeshiva concerning Torah U’Madda.  This year, The Commentator is pleased to resume that feature – every issue, we will interview two or three Roshei Yeshiva and/or Yeshiva professors about what Torah U’Madda means to them, in an effort to shed some light on the nebulous buzzword that constitutes the raison d’être of our beloved university.  Comments by and debate among our readers are, as always, welcome and encouraged.  Letters to the editor can be sent to

Rabbi Zevulun Charlop (Max and Marion Grill Dean, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Dean  Yeshiva University’s Yeshiva Program/Mazer School of Talmudic Studies):

When I think of Torah U’Madda, I think of it particularly as it relates to our Yeshiva.  Possibly the first law of Torah U’Madda, in our context, is that it allows for variations on the same theme.  Torah U’Madda implies, within the totality of Jewish aspirations, the acceptance – and, indeed, perhaps the indispensability – of both Torah U’Madda, but with the unquestioned allegiance to the primacy of Torah, and that the apprehension of all other intellectual disciplines must be rooted and viewed through the prism of Torah.  The realization of this equation may find different legitimate expressions in each individual.

Dr. Will Lee (Associate Professor of English; Director of Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program of Yeshiva College):

Various models of Torah U’Madda compete not only within President Lamm’s book but also within our university: Torah plus making a living, Torah plus science, Torah plus the best of general knowledge, Torah as ultimately compatible with secular studies, and many more.  My own interpretation of Torah U’Madda calls on all of us to live up to our semi-paradoxical name: Yeshiva University.  We should aim to be 100% a yeshiva, the basis of students’ core values, and 100% a university, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

Each student who concentrates on the resulting conflicts will maintain a Torah center of gravity while being exposed to knowledge fully recognizable in the world beyond the yeshiva, not censored or tailored or compromised or fractured or misrepresented knowledge.  Certainly it’s better if faculty members make an effort to understand this community and its values as fully as possible and to remain sensitive to students’ beliefs and practices.  Students should have and judiciously exercise the right to “halachically (as opposed to conscientiously) object” if a course asks them to do something they consider religiously forbidden.  They should also accept the consequences, if any, in terms of grades.  Professors should honor that right and listen respectfully to a student's explanation of why it applies in a particular case.

In cases of equal qualifications, it’s desirable in most but not all cases to hire an Orthodox faculty member.  But not nearly enough YU and other Orthodox students are going to graduate school, so that the best person for most of the jobs we advertise is unlikely to be Orthodox.  By the best person I mean the one who best represents and communicates knowledge, skills, issues, and ideas in his/her field or fields.

Might some courses be so halachically problematic that no one should teach them here?  My theoretical answer is no, but my pragmatic answer is yes.  A course with no students doesn’t do the university much good.  In ambiguous cases – that is, where halachic authorities disagree about the what and the how – the yeshiva will want to err on the side of prohibition, and the university will and should want to err on the side of offering the course.

Many students and some non-students here seem to think that we should minimize conflict and disagreement, whether within religious circles or between religion and general knowledge.  On the contrary, we should welcome debate and conflict as long as we maintain respect and as long as we try to understand the other side or position.  Let’s try to think of the messy result as education.  The more passionately young men and women care about their specific practices and beliefs, the more difficult it is to respect or tolerate or understand difference and otherness, but with effort they can, and so can we.  It would be a shame to be less tolerant toward differences within this community than toward otherness outside it.  Toleration, respect, and understanding, of course, don’t at all mean agreement or empathy, let alone the least common denominator among beliefs.

Rabbi Michael D. Shmidman (Dean, Undergraduate Jewish Studies):

If I had it my way, my motto would have been Toras Chaim, which means to me not only a living Torah, but a Torah for the living.  The phrase Torah Umadda infers that there are two separate values that can and should live together.  I look upon the Torah and its values and teachings as being broad enough to incorporate all that is decent and proper in human life – i.e., work, family, communal responsibility, etc.

If you contemplate “Torah Umadda,” one could say they are two separate values, but that one can incorporate the other wisdoms as well within the realm of Torah.  I see the world through only one overriding wisdom and ethic: Torah. For me, a bachur [young man] who goes to college – that’s part of his Torah too, if we recognize that he’s going to college to make a living, raise a family, and that his other pursuits, including going to college, are part of a Torah way of life, which includes marriage, job, community, tzedaka [charity], and chesed [acts of goodwill].

Quite obviously, one can’t live his life based upon Torah values unless he knows what the Torah says, so learning Torah and living Torah is a lifetime pursuit.  One remains a ben Torah [son of Torah] all his life, so he can live like a ben Torah.  Being a ben Torah is a lifetime experience, not just an experience that lasts while being in college.

What do you think? Click here to send a letter to the editors.
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