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I heard someone once mention that chazal tell us that it is a mitzvah to review, know, or study secular history. Is that true?

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Devarim 32:7 –  Double AA Jul 1 at 3:16
    
@DoubleAA that verse seems to refer to jewish history –  ray Jul 1 at 8:00
    
Hi CT. I have heard of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that don't even teach about the holocaust. I don't know this as a fact but I suspect that there is truth to your OP. History, just like science, is often in conflict with Torah. Anything that the rabbi's see as threatening to Judaism would be rejected. –  JJLL Aug 4 at 0:45
    
JJLL, do you KNOW for a FACT that ultra-Orthodox yeshivas don't even teach about the holocaust? You also mentioned "Anything that the rabbi's see as threatening to Judaism would be rejected." See Torah, Chazal & Science by by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman - amazon.com/dp/1600912435/… –  Chiddushei Torah Aug 4 at 18:20
    
Hello CT. I concede that I may be wrong about the Holocaust studies. Concerning Rabbi Meiselman's book, I have read it and I stand by my opinion. Keep in mind that I did not say all rabbi's are against secular studies. My former rabbi told me the yeas hives associated with his sect don't teach secular subjects until sixth grade. How many heredim attend college other than the handful who attend the specialized programs set up for Orthodox Jews in conjunction with University of Bellevue (WA) and others who credits for seminary or yeshiva studies. I have a friend whose son attends Touro College.. –  JJLL Aug 4 at 21:58

3 Answers 3

In several places, I've seen people reference the pasuk, זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר-וָדֹר (Devarim 32:7), as a general imperative to study history, but this isn't stated explicitly in Chazal or Rishonim, (and by only one posek, see below) as far as I'm aware. Instead, they do prohibit reading ספרים חיצונים (see Sanedrin 100b), which the Rambam (on Mishnayos; intro to Cheilek) believes includes books of דברי הימים, which is usually understood to be equivalent to historical works. Many poskim (such as the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 307:17, and the contemporary work "The Shabbos Home" by R. Simcha Cohen, pg 57) seem to adhere to this view as well, and prohibit reading works of history.

On the other hand, R. Yaakov Emden writes (Mor U'Ktziah O.C. 307) regarding books of Jewish history, specifically Shevet Yehudah, that נכון וראוי לכל איש יהודי לעיין בו ולידע עניניו, and he says that the final book of Josephus' War of the Jews should be read around Tish'a Be'Av time. While he sees value in appreciating Hashem's guidance of the Jewish people through history, he doesn't quote the pasuk above, and writes specifically that there is no value in studying general world history (though he does say that one may read from them when leisure is appropriate, לעתות הטיול כדחליש לבא מגרסא). This passage is quoted approvingly by a teshuvah of the Maharitz Chajes as well. Importantly, it seems like the Mishna Berurah (307:58) agrees as well, as he writes that Sefer Yosipon, Yuchsin, and Shevet Yehudah are all appropriate reading, as they cause one to increase his fear of Heaven.

Several modern poskim have seen more of a value in studying history. R. Hirsch, in his commentary to the pasuk in Devarim 32:7 does indicate that the Torah is telling us to study history, and like, R. Yaakov Emden, to do it "with the ears of Isaiah", with an eye towards looking for Hashem's guidance of historical events. An even more positive view is expressed by R. Chaim David Halevi in Shu"t Aseh Lecha Rav (4:6) where he writes that there is indeed a mitzvah to study history, both as fulfillment of the pasuk above as well as Yirmiyahu 6:15. He also writes that we can extrapolate from the numerous places where the Torah tells us to remember specific events (such as Egypt, Sinai, and the events surrounding Miriam) that the Torah wants us to be conscious of our past.

The Chazon Ish (Emunah UBitachon 1:8) also writes beautifully, דברי הימים וקורות עולם הם מאלפים הרבה את החכם בדרכו ועל תולדות העבר ייסד אדני חכמתו - "words of history and world events are highly educational in showing the way to the wise, and upon the happenings of the past should wound build the foundations of his wisdom".

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Nice work. Had i known this was coming i wouldn't have commented! –  user6591 Jul 1 at 18:05

Divrei hayamim shel medinos acheiros is called sifrei chiztoni by the bartenura in the begining of cheillek and in hilchos shabbos the shulchan aruch reffers to it in similar terms, so if anything, the burden of proof would be to say that its not an aveira to read.

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Remembering Sinai The ramban counts the rememberance of the event of Sinai one of the 613 biblical commandments Based on the verse רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ וּפֶן יָסוּרוּ מִלְּבָבְךָ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ: יוֹם אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתָּ לִפְנֵי האֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּחֹרֵב בֶּאֱמֹר ה אֵלַי הַקְהֶל לִי אֶת הָעָם וְאַשְׁמִעֵם אֶת דְּבָרָי אֲשֶׁר יִלְמְדוּן לְיִרְאָה אֹתִי כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הֵם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה וְאֶת בְּנֵיהֶם יְלַמֵּדוּן:

`הכתוב הזה לפי דעתי מצות לא תעשה, הזהיר בה מאד, כי כאשר אמר שנזהר בכל המצות ונשמור החוקים והמשפטים לעשותם, חזר ואמר רק אני מזהירך מאד להשמר ולשמור עצמך מאד מאד לזכור מאין באו אליך המצות, שלא תשכח מעמד הר סיני מכל הדברים אשר ראו שם עיניך הקולות והלפידים את כבודו ואת גדלו ודבריו אשר שמעת שם מתוך האש, ותודיע כל הדברים אשר ראו עיניך במעמד הנכבד ההוא לבניך ולבני בניך עד עולם.

Remembering the exodus from egypt Some regard as a biblical commandment based on this verse - לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ: (דברים ט"ז)

Remembering what amalek did to us The sefer Hacharedim counts this as one of the 613 Based on the verse זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחַרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים: וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח: (דברים כ"ה

**Remembering the golden Calf ** זְכֹר אַל תִּשְׁכַּח אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִקְצַפְתָּ אֶת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמִּדְבָּר: (דברים ט'). According to the Ramban, one of the 613

Remembering the incident with Miriam זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְמִרְיָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: (דברים כ"ד According to the ramban one of the 613

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