Thursday, August 24, 2023

Learning from a teacher who is not fit

 Maharal (Nesivos HaTorah 1:14):It is prohibited to learn from a teacher who is not fit. However, this is not a valid objection since the prohibition applies only to learning from a heretic in person. It is only close personal contact that is prohibited and thus reading a book composed by a heretic would not be present this problem. Nevertheless the question remains whether it is permitted to study their books when they contain attacks against the Torah concerning such thing as the Creation of the world, G‑d’s knowledge, survival of the soul after death and whether the World to Come exists. Perhaps they should be prohibited because they might be a harmful influence? ... However Avos (2:14) says that one must know how to respond to heretical views and if one has not been exposed to heresy how would it be possible to respond to these views? Obviously, it is necessary to be aware of the views of heretics. However, this is obviously permitted only if the intent is to learn their views in order to be able to refute them. If he has this motivation, then it is permitted to read their books and there is no need to avoid them out of the concern of being influenced. However to learn their books and quote their views in order to explain Torah when these heretics have no portion in the Torah—the name of the wicked is to be obliterated... Recently these types of heretical works have circulated and they have negatively influenced people even concerning the foundations of faith... However, if the discussion found in these works supports and reinforces the words of our sages then it appropriate to accept. However if it against our sages even in the slightest, G‑d forbid that it be accepted at all. The general rule is to study their words in order to be able to refute their criticisms…. One should always be careful and diligent with his entire being to establish the truth. This is what our Sages commanded forcefully that one should be very diligent in their studies to learn what to reply to the heretic… It is obvious that this is not limited to Greek philosophy in which they analyzed things entirely with their intellect. In fact, it is a caution to be very diligent and to think carefully to be able to reply to their assertions in order to establish the true religion…


  1. I think one should approach it like this: who wrote the book and why? Who's reading the book and why?
    For example, James Kugel. It's well known that he's a heretic who wants to keep calling himself Orthodox even as he abandons the fundamentals of Torah Judaism to assuage his guilty academic conscience. So should his books be forbidden? Someone who is knowledgeable about the subject and wishes to know what the academics are saying in order to develop suitable refutations to their arguments probably should read his book. Someone who's having problems with the authenticity of Torah and doesn't have the background probably shouldn't.
    After all, Rabbi Meir continued to learn Torah from Acher but he kept the fruit and spit out the pits. He knew his capabilities.
    And just a reminder - the Chasam Sofer owned and learned a copy of Mendelsohn's Biur on the Torah.

  2. When Berel was commenting here a couple of years ago, he told a story ( hwo reliable, i don't know) that Rav Kook was staying in London , and they found a copy of the NT under his pillow.
    If thsi story is credible - it is not big deal - as the Sages ahve to be conversant with Avodah zarah, and know what to answer to heretics. Rambam refers to teh Koran and NT, whereas Saadia Gaon actually brings some Koranic ideas into his perush al haTorah.
    Bottom line, some rabbis need expertise in the major religions, as it can be a challenge, and sadly attarcts many Jews to them.

  3. OK, next scandal is out

  4. It would seem that as long as a stigma is associated with the author, that reading his books makes the issue of the stigma acceptable. Even if the reader hasn't heard of the stigma, it would be expect to have the same effect retroactively upon become aware of it. In other words, reading the books is quite problematic, even if they are completely clean and worthy on their own merit.


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