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Some secular books have a hefty amount of wisdom that we find in our Torah sources. For example, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a lot of almost verbatim lessons from Pirkei Avos, although the author is not basing himself on Torah sources.

I am assuming that these lessons in Jewish sources are considered Torah. Is that assumption incorrect, and if not, how does this fit with "אם יאמר לך אדם… יש תורה בגוים אל תאמן" ("If someone tells you… there's Torah among the nations, don't believe", Eicha Rabba parasha 2)?

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see this judaism.stackexchange.com/a/28786/1857 –  ray Mar 19 at 21:16

3 Answers 3

The way that I understand the difference between Torah and 'Chochma' (wisdom), is mainly a difference in source. 'Torah knowledge' refers to knowledge that is sourced from the Divinely given Torah (Written and Oral). Wisdom is sourced in human logic and experience. (Maharal, Netzach Yisrael ch. 31)

Therefore, non-Jewish wisdom might come to similar or even the same conclusions, even about moral issues (see Maharal Tiferes Yisrael 41 and Shem Mishmuel Rosh Hashana 5676) but depending on their source one will be called Torah and the other 'wisdom'.

Another point that I haven't seen anywhere but I assume to be true is a matter of context or framing. If a secular book quotes a statement of the Torah as part of a collection of wise sayings or the like, that also wouldn't be called Torah because while the book may source it as "Ethics of Fathers" or the like, the statement isn't being quoted as divinely given knowledge, but as part of a collection of human wisdom/experience, and is therefore no different than other wisdom based on human experience.

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To clarify: No Torah among the nations simply means they won't have it as a revelation? –  YeZ Mar 20 at 3:21
@YEZ, yes, that is how I understood the above-mentioned Maharal (Netzach Yisrael), but if you can read it closely. It might also be the case that they wouldn't understand it or misunderstand it, but I don't think that's the Maharal's intent. Unfortunately R. Hartman hasn't published Netzach Yisrael yet for me to find his interpretation so fast. –  Matt Mar 20 at 3:25
or, more likely, for him to tell you the 9 other places where the Maharal says a similar thing. –  YeZ Mar 20 at 3:38

one of my Rebbis once told me (i think based onthe netivot shalom) that when you read something you are getting also getting hashpaah from the soul of the author. the words are not detached from the author.

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Shulchan Aruch O.C. 307:17 seems to hold books of secular wisdom are a shabbos problem, not across the board. Why wouldn't they be universally problematic due to the hashpaah of the author? (+1 but I would really like a source) –  YeZ Mar 19 at 21:49
@YEZ this is a mystical thing. related to the prohibition of not looking at the face of a rasha which is also due to a hashpaa of his soul. –  ray Mar 19 at 22:03
See the second paragraph here in the name of R' Chaim Volozhiner. More tangentially, see the end of R' Moshe's responsum here (Igros Moshe OC II, 17) regarding success in Torah. –  Fred Mar 19 at 22:37
@YEZ the reason it's not asur in the shulchan aruch is because you cannot ask the masses to not read any secular books. too many people are forced into this for parnasa reasons or whatever. but it clearly damages one's hashkafa/daas torah as this link shows judaism.stackexchange.com/a/28786/1857 "without any mixture..." –  ray Mar 20 at 5:59

The author is still making the statements based on logic and not on acceptance of the Torah. Thus it is a matter of the second part of that statement

חכמה באומות תאמין

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Intentions make the same moral lesson chochma? Does Torah B'umos al taamin mean they can have the same emes but won't have good intentions? –  YeZ Mar 19 at 21:05
@ray that is a halacha in kedushas sefer. I make a birkas haTorah before learning the gemara printed by some goy (as far as I know). –  YeZ Mar 19 at 21:24
@YEZ right but you can't burn the gemora. why the difference? –  ray Mar 19 at 21:27
@ray That's kind of my question in this thread... Why does the agenda of Torah wisdom define it as Torah if it is the same information? And who happened to write it down does not matter, as per my gemara example. –  YeZ Mar 19 at 21:30
@YEZ one of my Rebbis once told me (i think based onthe netivot shalom) that when you read something you are getting also getting hashpaah from the soul of the author. the words are not detached from the author. –  ray Mar 19 at 21:32

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