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I remember hearing from Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi that HaShem created two Torahs, one the Oral and Written and the other the natural world. My question is, when is it a positive mitzvah to study science and philosophy? I know that it can be justified vis-a-vis earning a parnassah, or saving a life. That is, in order to fulfill a primary mitzvah. I have also heard that it is a mitzvah when used for a holy purpose, e.g. to defend and support Torah ideas. But is that where the obligation to learn science, i.e. HaShem's creation, ends? Sometimes, learning science for its own sake helps to acquire greater depth in understanding.

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A very famous tradition, stats that Hagr"a said:

מי שחסר לו יד אחת בחכמות העולם, חסרות לו עשר ידות בחכמת התורה

One who miss one measure (of understanding of) the world's science, is missing ten measures (of understanding of) Tora.

You can google this parse, it's everywhere.

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My Rav in a prominent Toronto Lubavitch shul mentions the importance of understanding science in understanding Halacha. He answered me because of my need to convince a group of 12-14 Orthodox boys’ schools of the validity of my science classes that I teach. The Rav gives examples of how shabbos laws for recent inventions require an understanding of science, e.g. that the prohibition for fluorescent lights and conventional lighting are due to the transgression of different melochos, boneh and maveir, respectively. As such, it is a condiment to Torah, according to Pirkei Avot. Also, it is preparation for Torah and mitzvot for many who are not observant. It is one of the highest mitzvot to bring a Jew back to HaShem. Reconciling apparent discrepancies between Torah and science is key today.

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Rabbi Goodman writes in his Maimonides book that Maimonides felt that “the natural world bears the fingerprints of the Creator, and therefore studying its laws [of nautre] is a fulfillment of the positive commandment, “You shall love the L-rd your G-d.” Thus Maimonides considered it a mitzvah to study science.

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Real good fundamental science could not contradict the Torah, but the practical results often become visible only later on, sometimes in many years and even centuries. Some of the results may be beneficial for understanding the Torah and for our health and prosperity. Some - will be harmful to humanity and even destroy our civilization, and our planet. I think only HaShem knows it precisely.

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  • You have not provided an answer to the question. Rather you have contributed some thoughts on the topic which might be better as a comment. Sep 10, 2023 at 20:51
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According to Moses Maimonides, as is discussed in Mishnah Torah, Sefer HaMada, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, chapter 2, it is essential to study science in order to have a place in the world to come. Maimonides was an advocate for the improvement of science for humanity's sake. He taught that the Torah was revealed for three essential reasons: to improve society, improve the self, and share some truth, since in every generation there are some non-Jews who hold more knowledge than us.

While it is perfectly fine to study science and improve our lives here on earth, as is our duty to repair the world, it is futile to study mysticism as it is baseless in the Torah. This is a hard fact for most people to accept but an essential one.

This is why the rabbis were cautious about the study of esoteric study and called it dangerous. They wrote in the Mishnah Chagigah 2:1, that “Whoever ponders on four things, it is better for him if he had not come into the world: what is above, what is below, what was before, and what will be hereafter.” These were the four subjects that interested all mystics. What is certain is that the rabbis were afraid of the public learning these things that were mysticism. Because the Torah does not prohibit what is true; but what is false. See Ibn Ezra commentary.

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The Ramchal explains reasons to learn sciences in his work Derech Chochmah about how to go about learning as a whole. I have not found the sefer online, and it is hard to find in print and long-winded, relativity, so it is difficult for me to bring a full quote.

To summarize, the study of science is categorized as a study that does not directly lead to understanding G-d. Studying some sciences is needed for the proper fulfillment of mitzvos, such as geometry for calculating the appearance of the new moon, the laws of kilaim (planting two species near each other) and techumin (Shabbos boundaries). Some are necessary for one's livelihood. But one should be careful about studying sciences, for even though one thinks that he is trying to work towards a propose, he might by just following his intellectual curiosity. Also one could find the same benefits from learning Torah, of one delves deep enough.

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Always, or at least whenever you can or whoever is capable. It is a Mitzvah to study science because Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) felt that people should develop themselves and society. People need to go beyond the Torah, to study science and history.[1]

Maimonides wrote, that people should look forward not backward, for we have eyes in front of our faces and not behind our ears.[2]

Rabbi Abraham-Yitzhak Kook, a mystic, also felt that revelation did not cease. It is ongoing. Revelation did not stop with Sinai and the prophets. Revelation is in the hidden work of science revealed to man in a subtle way. Rabbi Ephraim of Sudylkow, the grandson of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov wrote that:

"Torah is interpreted in each generation according to what that generation needs...," and that, "One who denies this is like one who denies Torah, G-d forbid.”

The Vilna Gaon also felt that people should study the sciences, writing that at 70 CE Judaism died but was resurrected during the enlightenment.

Additionally, the Bible (Genesis) states that people were made in the image of G-d (that image is the intellect).

[1] Guide 1:1, 3:27, and elsewhere.

[2] In his book on the physician Hypocrites.

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    What's wrong with this answer?
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 25, 2019 at 4:39
  • "It is a Mitzvah to study science because the Rambam felt that people should develop themselves and society." Where? In your other answer (to this question) you at least bring a specific place. There also you misquote, leaving out the whole point of learning science as given there, which is to come to love and fear G-d.
    – Mordechai
    Nov 25, 2019 at 6:06
  • @Mordechai The source can be found in my other answer. Also, Rambam has a problem with the command to “love” and “fear” G-d. How can an emotion be a command? Rambam therefore, reinterprets it to mean to learn about G-d. But we cannot know anything positive about G-d. Rambam again reinterprets it to mean that we should learn about G-d’s creations, the laws of nature, in other words, science. The reason for this is that it will help us live our lives more correctly, thus he calls it a Mitzvah.
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 25, 2019 at 6:19
  • Source Guide 1:1, 3:27, and elsewhere.
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 26, 2019 at 23:32
  • I appreciate that answer. Thanks for providing clear sourcing. Can you tell me where the quote by Rabbi Ephraim of Sudylkow is from? Dec 29, 2019 at 4:28
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My answer addresses the question of whether studying science can be a Mitzvah on its own:

  1. Studying medicine to cure people or studying science to resolve a Halachic issue can be called הכי תמצי (an instrument) for other Mitzvos (Rambam's view).

  2. Studying "pure" science cannot be a Mitzvah on its own or as a branch of learning Torah because it contradicts its essence: traditionally, Torah's knowledge comes from above - it was given to Moses and passed on by Rabbis, but the scientific knowledge comes from below, from gathering empiric facts and formulating theories.

    This is the reason Sages prohibited studying science on its own, stressing the difference between the Jews that are dedicated to studying the "Eternal" and "absolute" truth and Gentiles that are dedicated to the Earthy and relative one.

    Another important distinction is that studying the Torah aims to improve the higher Jewish soul of ours in order to promote us in the world to come, while studying science aims to improve our bodily experiences, our standards of living in this world only.

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  • I haven’t heard this before, where is it from?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Jun 14, 2019 at 15:31
  • Thank you for an awesome answer. But what if the study of science, vis-a-vis psychology, biology and physics, can improve our fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvot? Jun 14, 2019 at 20:36
  • As I said - it is unclear what you ask in the first place - if it is a tool for learning Torah - nobody argues. I thought your question was about studying science in a theoretical way.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 15, 2019 at 18:29
  • I think my original question is clear enough and your answer addressed it sufficiently. The follow-up is simply this: when studying science to fulfill a mitzvah, is the former considered a mitzvah only when the final mitzvah is done (e.g. act of kindness or whatever), or it is a mitzvah throughout the process preceding the fulfillment of the mitzva. Jun 16, 2019 at 22:47

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