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Belief #6 - Reading Apikorsus

Very important! If one would like to increase his level of belief in Hashem one must avoid reading any literature that expresses ideas that are contrary to our beliefs. NOT because they are true, but because people are influenced by what they read and hear. Witness how many people believe that the holocaust never happened, how many people believe that the world is flat and the list goes on and on.

Even if one doesn't completely embrace the beliefs espoused by heretical literature it makes a harmful impression on the mind and soul. [See Rambam, Avodah Zarah 2/2]

If it is necessary for whatever reason - consult a rabbinic authority.

i find that reading a different perspective helps me understand and appreciate my own even better.

also, how do you define apikorsut?

"Even though you (may/should?) learn the beliefs of the nations in order to know what to respond to (the Epikorsim), safeguard yourself that you do not internalize any of the things that you learn from their beliefs". - Rambam, Commentary on Avot 2:16

There is an imperative to be familiar with the beliefs of "Epikorsim" in order to be able to respond to their challenges. And though Rambam cautions the reader to be careful, he in no way (at least here) prohibits this.

So at least in certain contexts, reading literature that expresses ideas that are contrary to our beliefs does not seem to be forbidden.

(And of course, some people are over-Zealous when applying your recommendation - according to this, some would say that The Making of A Godol by Rav Nathan Kamenetzky and all of the books of Rav Nosson Slifkin must be burned).

Witness how many people believe that the holocaust never happened, how many people believe that the world is flat and the list goes on and on.

I think that the people who deny the Holocaust do so our of Hatred of Judaism, not simply because of something that they read. And how many people today believe that the world is flat? Adaraba, if all I read was Chazal and Maharal, I might very well get the impression that the Sun revolved around the Earth!

B'Kavod Rav, I am not in favor of reading heretical writings just for the fun of it, but I am not so sure that I can agree with the complete ban that you espouse (see Rambam and Avot, above) or the reasons that you use for justifying this position. Although one must be careful, there are sometimes worthwhile reasons to read literature that does not completely jive with Torah thought. I cite the footnotes in the back of Halachic Man by Rav YD Soloveitchik, which draw from the following sources, among others: (in addition to traditional Rabbinic and Jewish sources): Heraclitus, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Kant, Hermann Cohen, David Hume, William James, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Galileo, Newton and more. These authors are not writing from a Torah perspective, and some of them express some ideas that are contrary to our beliefs. Yet they are not devoid of value, and judging from the fact that Jewish religious scholars refer to them, there does not seem to be a blanket prohibition on reading their works.

Thank you Ari and Yaakov!

I agree with both of you!!! If someone is reading apikorsus in order to strengthen his own belief it is definitely permitted. That is what I meant when I added the caveat at the end of the post to consult with a rabbinic authority. He would say that in such instances it is permitted.

However, in order to do so one must first have a strong foundation [both intellectual and emotional] in Torah. Most people today DO NOT! The average "black hat" yeshiva person can "say over" a Rav Chaim or even "shlug up a ktzois" but has not been taught [by no fault of his own] very much Jewish philosophy or theology. The average "modern orthodox" kid can't even learn Gemara with much proficiency [at least until he studies in Israel for 2 years].

If such people study views contrary to our beliefs they are liable to believe what they read because a] they don't even know that it is contrary to our beliefs, or b] it sounds convincing and they don't have the Torah ammunition which would answer heretical claims.

If a person is firmly grounded in Torah and finds spiritual benefit [for kiruv of others or himself] in studying heresy then it would be recommended. However the masses are simply not on that level. One example: How many Jews are well versed enough in Torah and science to fully grasp all of the issues related to the question of the age of the universe from the perspective of both? I personally am NOT EVEN CLOSE.

Also, many people will read such literature to satisfy intellectual curiosity, because they are bored or to satisfy a college requirement. For that, there is no hetter [Limiut Yidiasi].

I personally have read quite a bit of apikorsus in my life [based on the heterim stated above] and until this day I have trouble
eradicating the poison from my system.

I also think that there is a difference between reading Rav Soloveichik or any Torah literature which incorporates secular ideas and "pure apirkorsus." In the former case the teacher is instructing the reader what to accept and what to reject ["haomer yesh chochma bámim - taamin"]. In the latter case the lines between muttar and asser are not merely blurred but don't even exist. Not everyone is on the level of Rebbe Meir "tocho ochal, klipaso zarak".

Yes indeed - PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY READ. Maybe not always 100% but the written word posesses tremendous power. It is a fateful error to underestimate that power. People want to believe that the holocaust didn't happen because they hate Jews. So if they read such a claim they will embrace it. People also want to fully enjoy their bodies. Believing that the Torah is [chas v'shalom] a fairy tale will furnish such pleasures. Our lack of objectivity makes study of heresy even more perilous.

What is Apikorsus? Here you have to be careful because branding an author an apikorus if he is not will cause unjust public humiliation of a fellow Jew. In Judaism we call that murder! Also branding a certain idea is "heretical" when it is really not, will cause people who find it hard to believe otherwise to stray from the path.

But their are certain ideas which all traditional Jewish literature has accepted. Our choseness, the divinity of the Torah etc. Finding one vaugue opinion of a fouteenth century businessman which runs contrary to everything Jews have believed for centuries [as some scholars are wont to do] does not count!!

Sof davar, one must be a sincere seeker of G-d, find Talmidei Chachamim who are well versed in these issues with whom to discuss any problems or questions and to never forget that just because we don't understand something, that doesn't mean that it is not true.

Thanks again for your comments!

While I am more pro- than against and would rather not get involved in a debate that has been raging way longer than I have breathed the breath of life, your citation has left me no choice but to make a brief comment:

Do not use Rav Soloveitchik zt"l as your posterchild. That he studied mathematics, philosophy, etc. does not legitimize those endeavors. Again, I am not cheering for those who would disallow reading all of this material, but using the Rav as an example is just silly. When will people get over the fact that there are people in the world leagues beyond them? You are not the Rav, I am not the Rav, he is not the Rav; tautologically only the Rav was the Rav. Just because
he was a בקי in Hermann Cohen does not mean that you should be.

Note: I am not talking about the canned argument that the Rav already knew כל התורה כולה before he set out to university, and thus was not affected by what he learned, because I disagree with it. I am sure that his education gave him new perspectives and understanding, but that does not mean it undermined his תורה perspective. If anything, it most likely supplemented it, either in a whollistic way or when used as a sounding board.

I think when rebbe states "...one must avoid reading any literature that expresses ideas that our contrary to our beliefs," he is making a very bold statement and a very difficult statement. Alas, it is a very true statement as admit it or not we humans are like sponges we soak in whatever we read even if we think we can filter certain things out. I myself would have had taken issue with that statement some years back but I do not now, but I truly understand why people have difficulty with this statement. If I was more articulate I could explain this better but I am not. So here are two 3 words for you: TORAH IS EMETS. and when you have the emets you don't need to understand Christianity or Islam or Buddism or other cultures. (I believe as rebbe said that this klal is for the masses like myself, but Rav Avigdor Miller Z'tl asked rabbanim if he could learn about other cultures in order to show their foolishness. Rav Avigdor Miller himself was a teacher of thousands and he felt he should ask his Rav if he could learn appikorsis- so how much more so should we be careful not to learn apikorsus without consulting a rabbinic authority)

About my "some people still believe that the earth is flat" - google "flat earth society" sit back and enjoy. They are sure of themselves.

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  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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