Photo Credit:
Bernard Revel, the 1st President of Yeshiva University

Rabbi Weinberg’s indignation is well placed here. How ironic it is that it is Rav Yaakov’s son in law making this comment. R’ Yaakov famously quoted Shakespeare to his students. And he was surprised that they didn’t recognize that he was quoting Shakespeare.

The problem is not so much that there are people on the right who have this attitude. These are obviously people who condemn anyone who sees value in secular studies. For example. When Rav Aharon Lichtenstein famously said that his education in English literature helped him understand certain portions of Tanach better. He was disparaged by one particular Rosh Yeshiva in Israel. One who should have known better having been educated in an American Yeshiva where he no doubt studied Shakespeare.

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What seems to be the case is that this attitude is now so heavily ingrained by the right that they take it for granted. They teach it to their children. They teach it to their students. There is no counter to it. No exposure to those who place value on the positive aspects of secular culture. I can’t imagine someone with this attitude ever quoting Shakespeare to his Shiur, let alone expressing surprise when his students didn’t recognize it.

Attitudes like this one expressed in media like Hamodia will no doubt go unchallenged unless they publish Rabbi Weinberg’s letter or one like it. This is the kind of subtle prejudice that is even more harmful than the overt prejudice you often hear in certain Yeshivishe circles.

Overt prejudice can easily be recognized and dealt with. But the kind of subtle prejudice expressed by Rabbi Diskind in that article becomes internalized by young students without them even being aware of it. It then becomes amorphously sourced “Daas Torah.” Especially if the person expressing those attitudes develops a close relationship with his Talmidim.

And this attitude gets regurgitated to the next generation by those Talmidim as they enter Chiunch themselves.

This kind of rhetoric – both overt and subtle – must stop. There is no excuse for denigrating secular studies which includes poetry by Bialik. I recall that Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Keller – a Kanoi in his own right – defended Limudei Chol in a Jewish Observer article a few years ago – saying that there is nothing wrong with it – in response to those who were putting it down.

In my view this phenomenon is nothing more than a continued “move to the right” which I believe is being fueled by the Israeli Charedi mindset. If this trend continues, the right will end up digging a hole so deep that they will never be able to climb out of it.

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