What is Torah? Is it just the corpus that we customarily refer to as such, Tanach, Mishna, Gemara (Bavli and Yerushalmi) and the commentaries on them followed by the Possekim and their writings? Is that “Torah” an independent kind of knowledge that creates its own reality? Or is Torah a fully integrated system of Halacha, Kiyum Mitzvot, science, philosophy and a way of life and thinking? If we were to ask this question and poll Bnei Yeshivot in
I believe that this position is a distortion of what Torah is and is at the root of most ills of our contemporary frum society. It puts people in a state of mind where the Torah and Halachot they learn and their way of life are at odds. We have to live in a physical world that operates on scientific principles which to these poor people are anathema. They therefore build a wall between these two worlds, they become schizophrenic and we therefore witness religious people who do not see that Torah is a way of life. To them all religion is a ritual that has nothing to do with how they live and operate in the outside world. They are two separate and different universes. Mashgichim in Yeshivot and Rabbanim in the community preach, focus on the symptoms which they cannot avoid seeing and reacting to, knowing instinctively that there is something wrong in the behavior of their flock but they themselves do not see the real problem. How many times have we heard the pronouncement that Torah and Yisrael are above or outside nature – Lema’alah min hateva? As long as they will educate, insisting on this flawed understanding of what Torah teaches, they are missing the point and misleading one or more generations. Without integrating the two worlds, seeing them as one, the malady will persist.
I was following a private email list discussion on the subject of the Torah Umaddah (TuM), Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) and Chareidi philosophies, and one of the participants, Dr. Noam Stadlan, made the following extremely lucid and clear statement about what Torah is that I believe needs to be publicized. I post it here with his permission.
“I am sorry to say that I had to take a lot of TUMS when I read the discussion [on the thread by one member] of TuM. Nature is Hashem's way of making His world understandable to man. Without the laws of nature (and by definition the science that is necessary to explicate, understand, and apply those laws), we would not know that the apple that fell down off the tree yesterday will still fall down off the tree today, and tomorrow, etc. There would not be any dependable consistency in the world.
There is no inconsistency in believing in evolution to some extent [I am not sure why limit it by “to some extent” – DG] and also in Orthodox Jewish dogma. TuM means believing that there is intrinsic value to science, art, literature, and to many other fields of human endeavor. That understanding the laws of nature is a way to understand HKBH, because He created those laws. TuM mean believing that Torah and nature are all part of what Hashem created, and there do not have to be inconsistencies or conflicts. We may look at nature differently than Chachmei haTalmud, but if they had modern science, they also would look at nature differently than they recorded in Shas. … is finding conflicts where TuM does not find them. This is not a 'science first' approach. It is a belief that they do not conflict, and if they seem to conflict, it is because we do not know enough to realize they do not. It does not mean that we throw out the science, or throw out the belief. We can wait for more information. As they say, no one ever died from a kasha.
The Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (second Perek I think) discusses how to achieve belief in God, and he begins not by recommending Talmud Torah, but by looking at the world. He could be thought of as a TuM kind of person. He studied science, astronomy, philosophy, and tried to apply what he knew of nature. He realized there was value in all of that, to the point he incorporated it in his approach to Yddishkeit. (Obviously Aristotle and Moslem philosophers are prominent influences. Platonic astronomy figures prominently in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah as well as discussions of spheres, etc)
Finally, if one is viewing TuM, it makes no sense to look at a population of people who barely know the term, much less have an idea of what it means and stands for. Being Modern Orthodox does not automatically mean that one is an advocate of Torah Umaddah. One can be Modern Orthodox and not really have a thought-out philosophy (like me not too long ago). One can legitimately be concerned that a philosophy is not retained by a community, or is not propagated, but the reality is that those who think about TuM, and are advocates of TuM, are likely to produce children who are TuMnicks.
On the other hand, those who are MO in practice but do not think deeply about the philosophy behind their actions, are probably less likely to produce practicing children. Lumping every MO person into the TuM category just because it may be the closest to what he or she practice is not an accurate way of measuring the success or failure of the philosophy.”
Dr. Stadlan has presented what to me is a most lucid description of what Torah and Avodah means. Torah is everything we know about God, starting from His Mitzvot to His world and the existence He gave us. It is the goal of Yddishkeit to integrate all this information, knowledge and actions and use it to worship God – Avodat Hashem – by emulating His ways.