Torah Umadda (/tɔːrɑ umɑdɑ/; Hebrew: תּוֹרָה וּמַדָּע, "Torah and knowledge") is a worldview in Orthodox Judaism concerning the relationship between the secular world and Judaism, and in particular between secular knowledge and Jewish religious knowledge. The resultant mode of Orthodox Judaism is referred to as Centrist Orthodoxy.


Torah Umadda is closely associated with Yeshiva University. The actual philosophy underlying the combination of Torah and secular wisdom at Yeshiva University was variously articulated, first by Bernard Revel, by his successors Samuel Belkin and Joseph Soloveitchik, and most recently, and formally, by Norman Lamm. Although its roots go back to 1886, it was only in 1946 that the University adopted "Torah Umadda" as its slogan. (In 2005, Yeshiva University president Richard Joel initiated a campaign to append the phrase "Bringing wisdom to life", as a "tag-line" to the university's motto.)[1] Today, Yeshiva University publishes the Torah Umadda Journal which "explores the complex relationships between Torah, the humanities, and the natural and social sciences", as well as studies on related topics in the Library of Jewish Law and Ethics (with Ktav Publishing House).

The phrase itself is thought to originate with Jonathan Eybeschutz, who mentions "Torah u-Madda" in his Yaarot Devash in at least sixteen places.[2] This use of "Madda" as "secular knowledge" is, however, recent. In Rabbinic literature, "secular knowledge" is usually[3] referred to as chokhmah חכמה‎. The first book in Maimonides' compendium of Halakha, the Mishneh Torah, is entitled "Madda" מדע‎ - there, though, the term refers to knowledge of the fundamentals of Judaism. "In the first book I will include all the commandments that are principles of the law of Moses and that a man should know before all else, such as the Unity of God and the prohibitions related to idolatry. And I have called this book Sefer ha Madda the Book of Knowledge."

Torah and Madda is also the doctrine of the Vilna Gaon as stated in Sefer Kol Hator, that the torah is incomplete without knowledge of the 7 wisdoms.[4]


Torah and secular knowledge

In the view of Torah Umadda, "Jewishness and Jewish faith ... and the universal concerns and preoccupations of humanity" are not "fundamentally inapposite"; Judaism and culture are, "in essence part of one continuum". Jewish knowledge and secular knowledge, Torah and Madda, do not, therefore, require "substantive reconciliation";[5] in fact, the study of Torah with other knowledge results in a heightened and enriched Judaism. As articulated by Rabbi Norman Lamm:

"Torah, faith, religious learning on one side and Madda, science, worldly knowledge on the other, together offer us a more over-arching and truer vision than either one set alone. Each set gives one view of the Creator as well as of His creation, and the other a different perspective that may not agree at all with the first ... Each alone is true, but only partially true; both together present the possibility of a larger truth."[6]


Although Torah Umadda regards science and religion as separate, where the "wisdom of the world" maintains its own significance, it nevertheless conceives of a synthesis between the two realms. In this understanding, "synthesis does not refer to a logical unity of the theories of science, democracy and Judaism"; rather, the idea of synthesis has a psychological and a sociological meaning. Here, the "individual has absorbed the attitudes characteristic of science, democracy and Jewish life and responds appropriately in diverse relations and contexts."[7]

We prefer to look upon science and religion as separate domains which need not be in serious conflict and, therefore, need no reconciliation. If we seek the blending of science and religion and the integration of secular knowledge with sacred wisdom, then it is not in the subject matter of these fields but rather within the personality of the individual that we hope to achieve the synthesis.[8]

Given this conception, the realization of Torah Umadda may find "different legitimate expressions in each individual."[9] In his book Lamm explores six separate models of Torah Umadda, including those presented by Maimonides, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Abraham Isaac Kook. The philosophy recognizes the challenge this is likely to pose to its adherents, and posits a framework in which "the confrontation between Judaism and secular culture results in heightened creativity within Judaism."[10]

Centrality of Torah

Despite its acceptance of both Torah and secular knowledge and culture, Torah Umadda prioritizes a Torah outlook and Torah knowledge, and in its practice requires strict adherence to Halakha (Jewish law). Torah Umadda demands "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."[9]

In the words of Rabbi Lamm, "Torah Umadda does not imply ... coequality. Torah remains the unchallenged and preeminent center."[11][12][13] It is noted that "Torah Umadda can only be viable if it imposes strict limits on freedom of thought in areas that may challenge fundamental Jewish beliefs."[14] However, as regards observance of Jewish law, "Not a single fundamental of Judaism has been disturbed by us, we adhere to the same ikkarim (principles of faith), we are loyal to the same Torah, we strive for the same study of Torah and observance of mitzvot that our parents and grandparents before us cherished throughout the generations."[15]

Other paradigms

Another model of Torah Umadda,[16][17] less emphasized in Modern Orthodox literature, de-stresses the intellectual role of Madda. Rather, to some degree, "the theories and methods of secular disciplines [can] be used to secure not intellectual ends, but practical ends in [daily life]." God's blessing to Adam and Eve "Fill the land and conquer it" (Genesis 1:28) is interpreted by Rav Soloveitchik (as well as Samson Raphael Hirsch and Isaac Breuer) as a positive mitzvah calling man to develop and improve God's world; this mitzvah of creative activity expresses the divine image in all branches of human culture.[18] Thus, secular knowledge enables the religious Jew "to fulfill the biblical mandate of "Fill the land and conquer it" ... to carry out their responsibilities to others and, further, by increasing the modalities for improving human welfare, to expand the range of these responsibilities; and, finally, to fulfill the mandate of imitatio Dei." See further under Joseph B. Soloveitchik § Torah U'Chochma synthesis and Divine providence in Judaism § Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Centrist Orthodoxy

Centrist Orthodoxy is the dominant mode of Modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States and the western world; it is also influential in the Modern Orthodox movement in Israel.


Centrist Orthodoxy's weltanschauung[19] (Hashkafa) is characterised by "education, moderation, and the centrality of the people of Israel."[19] In general, differences between Centrist Orthodoxy and other Orthodox movements (both Haredi and Modern - e.g. Open Orthodoxy) result from the particular emphasis placed on each of these characteristics; see further discussion under Modern Orthodox Judaism.


Further information: Divine providence in Judaism

Madda entails "worldly involvement" in addition to its intellectual component - and places a high value on contribution to general society. Adherents of Centrist Orthodoxy are thus well represented, proportionately, in the professions and in academia[20] - and to some extent in politics. Members of Haredi communities, by contrast, will typically not undertake any post high school secular education (except for specific exceptions for livelihood purposes), and will, in general, minimize involvement with the secular.


For Centrist Orthodoxy, moderation "is the result neither of guile nor of indifference nor of prudence, it is a matter of sacred principle ... it is not the mindless application of the arithmetic mean... [rather] it is the earnest sober and intelligent assessment of each situation... [Thus], moderation issues from a broad weltanschauung rather than from tunnel vision."[21] This moderation, "seeking what is allowed rather than forbidden", is manifest in three ways. Firstly, along with the Haredi community, the ideology demands adherence to the halakha; however it is not insistent that strictures (chumras) are normative, rather, these are a matter of personal choice[22] (see 3.1 and 4.1 under Modern Orthodox Judaism). Secondly, relative to the Haredi community - but less so than in non-orthodox communities - women are starting to play a public role within the community[23][24] (in roles other than strictly religious).[25] Thirdly, the movement will engage with the broader Jewish community, as discussed below, and with the secular world, as opposed to the Haredi approach of minimizing such contact.

Centrality of the People of Israel

All Orthodox ideologies place a high value on ahavat yisrael (love of ones fellow Jews) and all regard the Land of Israel as holy - and residence there as a mitzvah. However, for Centrist Orthodoxy, the "People of Israel", additionally, play a central role. The resulting difference, relative to other philosophies, manifests in two ways. Firstly, involvement with non-orthodox will extend beyond "outreach" - in which many Haredi organisations engage - to continued institutional relations and cooperation (despite the "deviationist violations of Torah and Halakha" of the non-orthodox). Secondly, Centrist Orthodoxy places a high national, as well as religious, significance on the State of Israel. Centrist Orthodox institutions and individuals are therefore Zionist in orientation, and rates of Aliyah (immigration to Israel) from this community are high relative to others;[26] study in Israeli Hesder Yeshivot is also common. Thus, although Centrist Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism are not identical, they share many of the same values and many of the same adherents.[27]


The institutions of American Centrist Orthodoxy include:[28]

Relationship with Torah im Derech Eretz

See also under Azriel Hildesheimer, Modern Orthodox Judaism and below.

Torah im Derech Eretz—"Torah with worldly involvement"—is a philosophy of Orthodox Judaism concerning the relationship between Torah Judaism and the modern world, first articulated by Samson Raphael Hirsch in c. 1840. In some senses Torah Umadda and Torah im Derech Eretz are similar. Both value the acquisition of secular knowledge coupled with adherence to halakha; both, additionally, emphasise worldly involvement. In fact, Torah im Derech Eretz is sometimes put forward as one paradigm upon which Torah Umadda (and Modern Orthodoxy in general) is based.

At the same time though, the two are distinct in terms of emphasis. Whereas Torah Umadda maintains two separate realms—religious and secular—and accents the idea of (psychological and sociological) synthesis, "Rabbi Hirsch's fight was not for balance and not for reconcilement, nor for synthesis and certainly not for parallel power, but for domination—for the true and absolute domination of the divine precept over the new tendencies" (Isaac Breuer, Hirsch's grandson).

Another difference is that Torah Umadda does not disavow communal partnership with the non-Orthodox Jewish community, whereas for Rabbi Hirsch "Austritt" (the Halachic requirement to have no official ties with non-Orthodox communal institutions) was a defining characteristic of his community, and a major theme in his writings.

While these distinctions can seem subtle (particularly the first), they have manifested in markedly divergent religious attitudes and perspectives. In fact, Shimon Schwab, leader of the "Breuers" community in Washington Heights, has been described as "spiritually very distant" from Torah Umaddah.[33]

Note further, that given both of the above, some have proposed that today, followers of Torah Umadda in fact assume a "non-Hirschian position", resembling more closely that of Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer.[34]


Haredi Judaism

Critics of Torah Umadda, particularly within Haredi Judaism, see the complementarity of Torah and secular knowledge proposed by the philosophy as suggesting that the Torah is not of itself whole or complete. In their view, Torah Umadda is thus premised on a flawed appreciation of Torah. Furthermore, they believe that Torah Umadda is problematic in that its synthesis allows for an "encroachment" of the scientific worldview on Jewish theology. Torah Umadda thus represents a dilution of the "pure sanctity" (taharat hakodesh) of the Torah.[35]

Hasidic Judaism

Criticism by Hasidic groups includes an additional Kabbalistic dimension. Here, since the doctrine of Tzimtzum is understood to imply that since the physical world in fact conceals the existence and nature of the creator, study of the natural world will be unlikely to deepen one's appreciation of God or understanding of Torah (see Tzimtzum § Inherent paradox; also, Judah Loew ben Bezalel § Jewish philosophy). A further consideration - in common with the Haredi view - arises in that the role of the Jew in this world is understood, primarily, to be concerned with fulfillment of the Law and study of Torah: "[One should] live by the light of these three things: love of God, love of Israel, and love of Torah" (Baal Shem Tov).[36] Thus, the study of secular ideas and devotion of time to secular activities not directly for the sake of Torah - or as is necessary for supporting oneself - may constitute "spiritually damaging behavior". The sciences in particular are considered problematic:

"Occupying oneself with the sciences… is… included in the category of engaging in inconsequential matters insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned… Moreover, the impurity of science is greater than the impurity of idle speech… Thus this is forbidden unless one employs [this knowledge] as a useful instrument, viz., as a means of [earning a livelihood] with which to be able to serve God… or unless he knows how to apply them in the service of God or to his better understanding of His Torah [i.e., in the manner of] Maimonides and Nachmanides…" (Tanya: Likutei Amarim, 8[37])

"The main cause of the weakening of faith in our sages, is the attribution of [value] to secular knowledge... whereas, being based on philosophy or on the study of nature, as opposed to that which is true and eternal, this knowledge is in fact spiritually valueless ... further, pursuit of this knowledge is often motivated by physicality..." (Etzot Yesharot: Moadim) "...It is [thus] a major prohibition to study "investigative" works – particularly since several difficulties relating to [His essence] are impossible to address naturally (see re. Tzimtzum, above)…. [Thus] scholars of nature (i.e. scientists) who wish to demonstrate that everything is explicable through nature… in fact “prey” on many of us… and it is therefore forbidden to review their books…" (Likutei Etzot: Hakirot)


As above, critics within Neo-Orthodoxy, the movement directly descended from Hirsch's Frankfurt community, claim that the equality between Torah and secular posited by Torah Umadda in fact results in a diminution in the status of Torah - and a misrepresentation of the teachings of Rabbi Hirsch: "even to suggest that anything can be parallel to Torah is a blasphemy of the highest order".[38] The distinction between the two approaches, though subtle, manifests in markedly divergent religious attitudes and perspectives; as above, Shimon Schwab, second Rabbi of this community in the United States, is described as being "spiritually very distant"[34] from Yeshiva University. See also under Torah im Derech Eretz § Interpretation where Hirsch's commentary on Deuteronomy 6:7 is quoted; here, echoing the above Hasidic critiques, he explicitly cautions that "We are not to study Torah from the standpoint of another science or for the sake of that science."

Religious Zionism

The philosophies of Torah Umadda and Religious Zionism are not in any direct conflict, and generally coexist[27] sharing both values and adherents. However, more conservative Religious Zionists differ with Torah Umadda in its approach to secular knowledge.[39] In this view, engagement with secular ideas and situations is permissible and encouraged, but only insofar as this benefits the State of Israel. Here, then, secular knowledge is viewed as valuable for practical ends, though not in and of itself. Thus, for example, in contrast to Torah Umadda, the study of literature and the humanities is discouraged here, whereas the study of engineering or medicine (and with subsequent practice in Israel) is deemed to be valuable.

Modern Orthodoxy

Within the Torah Umadda camp itself,[2] there are those who question whether "the literature on Torah u-Madda with its intellectually elitist bias fails to directly address the majority of its practitioners"; further, there are suggestions that "the very logic of the practice is far removed from the ideology" ("The community works with an ideology of Torah combined with a suburban logic of practice"). The contention here is that the "Torah u-Madda suburbanite" does not in reality engage in secular studies in order to achieve the intellectual synthesis described above, but rather "view[s] a college degree as the gateway toward professional advancement." Thus, although Torah Umadda may allow students at Yeshiva University "to navigate the use of their college years", it may not provide a directly applicable theology for the contemporary Modern Orthodox family. See also Modern Orthodox Judaism § Sociological and philosophical dilemmas.

In The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart writes that while the motto of Yeshiva University is Torah Umaddah, many Modern Orthodox leaders have abandoned that intellectual openness "in favor of an insularity that bespeaks both fear and insularity: fear that Orthodox Judaism cannot survive a dialogue with the outside world and arrogance that the outside world can add nothing of value to the world of Torah."[40]

See also



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  4. ^ Kol Hator sha'ar Be'er shevah part 2
  5. ^ Norman Lamm, Torah Umadda pp. 142–43
  6. ^ (Norman Lamm, Torah Umadda, p. 236)
  7. ^ "" (PDF).
  8. ^ Samuel Belkin, inaugural address, 1943
  9. ^ a b Archived 2007-03-08 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. "Q & A - WITH RABBI RISKIN". Ohr Torah Stone. Archived from the original on March 25, 2004. Rav Soloveitchik [...] profoundly believed that the confrontation between Judaism and secular culture results in heightened creativity within Judaism.
  11. ^ Lamm, Norman (1995). "64" (PDF). In Isaacs, Ronald H.; Olitzky, Kerry M. (eds.). Critical Documents of Jewish History: A Sourcebook. p. 304. ISBN 1568213921. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  12. ^ Lamm, Norman (1986). "SOME COMMENTS ON CENTRIST ORTHODOXY" (PDF). Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 22: 5. Retrieved 4 October 2017. For those of us in the Centrist camp, Torah Umadda does not imply the coequality of the two poles. Torah remains the unchallenged and pre-eminent center of our lives, our community, our value system. But centrality is not the same as exclusivity...
  13. ^ Lamm, Norman (2002). Seventy Faces: Articles of Faith, Volume 1. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. p. 46. ISBN 9780881257687. Retrieved 4 October 2017. For those of us in the Centrist camp, Torah Umadda does not imply the coequality of the two poles. Torah remains the unchallenged and pre-eminent center of our lives, our community, our value system. But centrality is not the same as exclusivity...
  14. ^ "".
  15. ^ Norman Lamm, Some Comments on Centrist Orthodoxy.
  16. ^ Rabbi Ronnie Ziegler: Introduction To The Philosophy of Rav Soloveitchik: The Need for Action
  17. ^ Dr. David Shatz: Practical Endeavor and the Torah u-Madda Debate
  18. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2005-03-13. Retrieved 2005-04-20.
  19. ^ a b "Here is your document: Some Comments on Centrist Orthodoxy".
  20. ^ "" (PDF).
  21. ^ Lamm, N. (1986). "Some comments on centrist Orthodoxy". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 22 (3): 1–12.
  22. ^ "Search Page".
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  24. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2005-11-20. Retrieved 2005-09-23.
  25. ^ Archived 2005-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "".
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ "American "Centrist" Orthodoxy".
  29. ^ "".
  30. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2005-08-03. Retrieved 2005-08-01.
  31. ^ "".
  32. ^ "National Council of Young Israel - Welcome to the National Council of Young Israel". National Council of Young Israel.
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^ "הרש"ר הירש כמורה דרך לדורנו / פרופ' יהודה לוי".
  36. ^ "".
  37. ^ "".
  38. ^ Archived 2005-11-09 at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ "Religious Zionism Revisits Israel - Zionism and Israel".
  40. ^ Beinart, Peter (2012). The Crisis of Zionism. ISBN 9780522861761.



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The Library of Jewish Law and Ethics