There has been a trend of extremism in Aleppo for a long time…
The Aleppo Syrian [Jewish] community burned this book [a Torah commentary quoting Christian and Egyptian sources].
The Hertz Pentateuch quotes non-Jewish scholars to illuminate the Torah.
We think of the Sephardic world as more open-minded but you have extremism [in places such as Aleppo].
These rabbis in Aleppo opposed secular studies in their entirety. They are very unusual for the Sephardic world. The Sephardic world is usually very open to secular studies.
R. Elijah Benamozegh said that Torah and secular studies could not be kept as two religious spheres because that would create religious doubt. If you tell people you can’t study secular matters and they become convinced that secular studies are true, then you become convinced that Torah is false.
Light blinds people who have been in darkness for a long time. You have to be exposed to it gradually. When secular studies reach areas where people have not been exposed to it, it is like they are coming out of a cave and it leaves them to reject tradition. That is what happened in Eastern Europe [at the turn of the 20th Century], within the space of a generation, so many rejected tradition. In Germany, where Hirsch‘s system was underway, there was very little attrition.
You have to train people as to what the outside world has to offer, the good and the bad.
Once the French moved into Algeria in the 19th Century, very quickly religious [Jewish] society collapsed. What happened to Sephardic populations when they moved to Israel? Take Yemenites. Every Yemenite in 1948 was Sabbath-observant. I dare say that in the thousand years that Jews lived in Yemen, you did not have five murderers. Now every year in Israel you have at least five Yemenite murderers. You take people with no exposure to the modern world and throw them into it, they can’t deal with it.
There was a Chief Rabbi in Rome who had himself cremated and buried in the Jewish cemetery.