Isn't it the case that the Rambam, for one, thought that astronomy, medicine, mathematics, for examples, were a part of Torah knowledge? At least the line for him is not simple and clear cut (eg see discussion here: https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/bereshit/kavet.html, where Rambam's reading of מה רבו מעשיך כלם בחכמה עשית is relevant).

(If one takes this approach today - we have sciences of society, of the mind, of computers and so on. Science of weapons. One wants to distinguish between creation and destruction).

Anyway, Character A wants to make a blessing, on understanding the profundity of what Greta Thunberg, the climate activist is saying and doing. Goes to the siddur. Says שנתן מחכמתו לבשר ודם. Lovely, but is this right? Why not שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו? I feel that the latter is more appropriate. Her work engages one's feelings about creation, in the sense of awe.

But then am I naive in thinking that בראשית ברא is an awesome account of creation anyway? Rather than an anticipation of a fight over ארץ ישראל? Perhaps/of course how to read that is also contested. Perhaps, for some, this has more to do with נוח.

Anyhow, where might I find my question, which is about which blessing to say, discussed?

  • You're asking if a non Jewish scholar's scholarship is related to Torah, and maybe even are suggesting all matters of science/mathematics are related to Torah, why don't we make the same blessing as we do to a Torah scholar?
    – robev
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:25
  • Even if science/mathematics are related to Torah, they are not "Torah". Would you suggest making a blessing on the Torah before learning teachings from Newton or Einstein?
    – robev
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:26
  • 2
    I don't understand your question. Edit down to two lines or so.
    – Shmuel
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:26
  • Though I understand that the Torah demands that we study secular science as well as religious studies to perfect the world and enter the messianic age (World to Come).
    – Shmuel
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:28
  • @robev In answer to your 1st comment, the reason why you don't make the blessing for a Torah scholar on a scientist, is because Torah distinguishes between those 2 types of wisdom. The 'lower level' wisdom is called 'Natural Wisdom' (חכמה טבעית),while 'upper wisdom' is called 'G-dly Wisdom' (חכמה אלהית). Both are rungs on the 'ladder' of Yaacov's dream connecting the Heavens & the Earth. See Sefer Torat HaOlah, section 3 by the Rema, z"l. (Author of the Mapah to Shulchan Aruch) Sep 11, 2019 at 17:52

1 Answer 1


אם יאמר לך אדם: יש חכמה בגוים - תאמן... (ואם יאמר לך אדם) יש תורה בגוים - אל תאמן

מדרש איכה רבה פרשה ב סימן יג

If someone tells you there is wisdom among the nations - believe them. (If someone tells you) there is Torah among the nations - do not believe them.

The Midrash draws the distinction between Torah and Chachma (wisdom), in that wisdom can be found among all the nations, but Torah is only found among the Jews. But how exactly is Torah defined such that we can says it is something that is found only among the Jews?

A further question: Chazal say:

אם אין יראה אין חכמה

משנה אבות ג יז

If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.

We just said wisdom is something that can be found among the nations, how can we now say that wisdom cannot exist without fear? Are we to believe that all the scientists and thinkers of the world are G-d fearing people?

Perhaps the following understanding can answer these questions:

When Chazal say that if there is no fear, there is no wisdom - they are not necessarily referring to fear of G-d, but rather any fear. Wisdom is always an outgrowth of fear. In order to have something wise to say on any topic, one must be afraid of the repercussions of being wrong. In as much as someone is not afraid of being wrong, there is little motivation for them to think deeply or correctly. For scientists, this may come in the form of peer review of their work, or their fear of damaging their reputation, or their fear of failure. For businessmen, this may come in the form of fear of losing their money or missing out on big deals. In cases like these, Chazal say that you can trust their wisdom, provided that there is some fear behind it. (This is evident from the fact that Chazal will trust a non-Jewish chef to taste to see if a non-kosher ingredient has fallen into a pot of food, since he is afraid that his reputation is on the line if he gets it wrong.)

When it comes to Torah, however, the motivating fear is fear of G-d. One's insight in Torah is only worth as much as they have fear that one day they will stand in front of their creator and have to justify their actions and their reasoning behind their decisions.

Often secular wisdom is necessary in order to keep the Torah properly and make correct decisions. In these instances, one's learning the secular subject may be motivated by the fear of one day standing in front of G-d and needing to justify one's actions. In this case, that secular wisdom may be considered Torah in as much it is motivated by fear of G-d, like in the Rambam's case. Greta Thunberg, on the other hand, is likely not motivated by fear of G-d, but rather fear of climate change, which would put her squarely in the realm of Wisdom and not Torah.

On the other hand, one may develop insights in Torah, not based on fear of G-d, but rather because of fear of losing their reputation in the Jewish community. In this case, perhaps it would not be called Torah, but rather merely wisdom.

According to this, the Bracha that you make on a Torah Scholar is particularly apropos: שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו

Torah is the wisdom which is an outgrowth of fear of G-d, as opposed to other wisdom which is the outgrowth of other fears.

  • The question went through a number of iterations while I was typing this answer. I suppose at this point, this answer doesn't really answer the final question of "where might I find my question ... discussed?" To that, I answer: "here"
    – Silver
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:37
  • I like your answer. Though "fear" and "love" is an emotion, how can we apply an "emotion" to G-d? I think the Rambam answered this well. That fear and love mean to know G-d. But we cannot know what G-d is or what G-d is doing. So we must know about G-d's creations, natural law. So this would imply that scientist and biologist who study the natural world are also afraid because if they mess up, they are failing in knowing G-d's essence, the "love" and "fear".
    – Jonathan
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:40
  • @Jo Interesting, perhaps what I mean by fear of G-d, is really what is referred to as fear of Shamayim. (If one can draw a distinction between the two) There is certainly a real fear that can exist that a person will stand before judgement in front of G-d after he dies. One can argue if that is considered applying an "emotion" to G-d or not.
    – Silver
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:41
  • @Jonathan Are you suggesting that all scientists are really motivated by a subconscious fear that they will not know G-d's essence, despite some of them denying the existence of G-d? I think the proof that this is not true is that we see that if you remove some of the external fears the quality of work goes down, for instance in journals that are not peer reviewed. If they were really motivated by knowing G-d, whether people are reviewing their work or not should be irrelevant
    – Silver
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:49
  • I agree that they are two distinctions to the scientists who "fears" in manipulating G-d's creations and be judged by the scientific community and the layperson who "fears" in the merits of their good deeds and bad deeds and how they will be judged by G-d. Though I do not think G-d has an emotion. That is to say, I do not think G-d gets angry when you make a sin. I think G-d prohibits us from doing certain things like sin because it harms us. Surely G-d is not affected by the sins we do. Also, we can learn from sin.
    – Jonathan
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:51

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