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Background

You're browsing your local library's Judaism section. There are various books on matters related to Judaism, Jewish law, and the Torah.

Some of these books are written by Jewish authors who are not Orthodox. The authors do not follow all of Jewish law.

My questions

A.) Is it okay to read these books, and to learn whatever Torah thoughts they may contain?

B.) Is it advisable?

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  • judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/30105/… - related
    – bondonk
    Commented May 23 at 6:40
  • he.wikisource.org/wiki/…
    – Joel K
    Commented May 23 at 7:34
  • Ibn Ezra profoundly disagreed with Karaism, but still read the works of Karaite scholars, and quoted them approvingly in cases where he agreed with their interpretations. Of course, not everyone agreed that Ibn Ezra's approach was correct...
    – Joel K
    Commented May 23 at 7:39
  • Look in Chagigah 15b
    – Harry
    Commented May 23 at 10:49

2 Answers 2

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Summary

It's almost always unwise to read such books. But not always.

Please read on.

Details

One can find sources which argue both ways. Here's an answer from my own experience.

In my yeshivish upbringing, I was shown the sources and logic that one should definitely not read such books. There are many risks. For example:

  • One might fall for a false idea.
  • One might absorb the cynicism towards Torah inherent in the book.
  • Being exposed to forbidden material, or at least highly inappropriate material, for a Ben Torah.
  • Being exposed to temptations.
  • Protecting the innocence and holiness of one's home and children.
  • Protecting the integrity of the authentic Torah tradition (mesorah).
  • Et cetera.

I haven't changed my mind on any of these things.

I've also seen another approach, in this case Chabad. (But see also this very related question for other approaches.) Consider Chabad's philosophy nowadays, doing their various shluchot and mivzoiyim. Therefore, they try to teach resilience, for their inevitable dealings with the outside world. They correctly point out: Although all of the above risks are real, the Torah is meant to refine us. And so, we must refine ourselves, so that we can handle and even elevate the outside world. Therefore, we must build our ability to not just distinguish, but recognise, the difference between good and bad, b'daat.

I, too, have come to agree that this is necessary. It takes a religious dedication to good over bad, and true over false. It also takes constant improvement in our ability to recognise the difference.

I don't think that any authority which argues either way on your question would dispute any of the above. The conundrum boils down to: How can we know if we are good enough?

There's nothing wrong with saying we will never be "good enough". We can seek advice from our own mentors, loved ones, and friends, in the context of our own situation and mission in life. They can advise us on whether or not to read these books l'chatchila. It's very probable that the answer strongly leans towards No, unless there is a very pressing concern. However, we shouldn't also say that, because we will never be good enough, we shouldn't even try. We should always aspire to be the kind of person who can read any book and remain holy. Just in case it is ever needed of us, due to some pressing concern.

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Definitely not advisable. They are most likely to contain ideas antithetical to Torah. Better to use your time studying Torah, instead of studying interpretations twisted to go against the Torah.

This addresses the person who writes such things. Someone who interprets the Torah in a way that's against Jewish law has no share in the world to come. (Source: Pirkei Avot 3:11.)

This addresses what may happen to someone who believes the wrongful teachings. Avtalyon said: Sages, be careful with your words. For you may be penalized with exile, and be banished to a place of evil waters. The disciples who follow you there will drink and die; consequently, the name of heaven will be desecrated. (Source: Pirkei Avot 1:11.)

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