Torah Study - Prioritized
I've noticed that some Orthodox Jews downplay the need for secular knowledge. They don't seem to talk about the need for computer technology, artistic inclinations, or national defense. There seems to be a singular focus on Torah study, to the exclusion of the other topics. Why?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
While you are correct that Torah study gets top priority, it is incorrect to say that other topics are not studied. Besides the fact that Torah study (e.g. the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law) itself is packed with cases involving geography, mathematics, and engineering, there is also extracurricular activities. My son studies martial arts, my daughter is an accomplished painter, and another son plays the electric keyboard.
As for why Torah study gets top priority, the issue in my opinion is an educational one.
The Orthodox community has taken upon itself the task of creating a generation of Torah scholars that can serve as decisors of Jewish law and arbiters on religious courts. This requires intensive Torah study (approx. 10 hours a day) for decades, in order to achieve the level of scholarship necessary to be a true Torah leader of the Jewish people.
In order to influence young people to dedicate their lives to Torah study in today's materialistic society, the message of the importance of Torah study must be repeated and repeated.
While the things you mentioned are certainly important, sometimes when one educates, it is necessary for the message to be boldly singular in order to insure the full impact of the message. When many things are given importance, we run the risk that the priority of Torah study gets diffused in the minds of the students.
In the United States for example, where it more widely accepted for young observant people to choose secular careers, there are many brilliant Jewish minds that have been lost to the world of Torah erudition. Some of these could very have been future Torah sages had they been raised in an environment where the supremacy of Torah study over other ventures had been emphasized.
Once someone has achieved a very high level of Torah scholarship, it is precisely then that he can absorb secular wisdom with the proper perspective.
Maimonides clearly states (Laws of Sanhedrin 2:1) that great rabbis "must also know secular subjects like medicine, mathematics, astrology and astronomy. They must also be familiar with magic and idolatry, in order to know how to judge such cases." Today, great rabbis are constantly making crucial decisions in the areas of medical and business ethics, and dealing with technological developments.
I hope this helps clarify.