How Much Secular Learning Does A Rabbi Need?

At the Hungarian Jewish Congress of December 14, 1868, German Modern Orthodox rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer said it would not be a problem if the government required rabbis to have a secular degree. That would be the law of the land and the Jew is expected by Torah law to follow the laws of the land as practiced where he dwells (providing those laws are not against Torah).

Hungary spawned all sorts of Jewish extremism, including the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

To Rabbi Hildesheimer, to fight Reform Judaism, Orthodox Jews need rabbis with secular doctorates.

A Hasidic rebbe, the Ardmo of Liska, said that the only secular learning a rabbi needed was to be able to read the Latin alphabet well enough to sign his name.

There was a vote and the extremists won.

(From the second lecture on the Rabbi Abraham Samuel Sofer (Ketav Sofer) for Torah in Motionby Orthodox rabbi and history professor Marc B. Shapiro.)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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