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When I was in elementary yeshiva, I had to read both The Iliad and The Odyssey. Both these books focus on Greek mythology, specifically the Trojan War.

Sefer HaChinukh 426:1 says:

שלא לחן ולרחם על עובד אלילים - שלא נחמל על עובדי עבודה זרה, ולא יישר בעינינו דבר מהם, כלומר, שנרחיק ממחשבתנו ולא יעלה על פינו שיהיה במי שהוא עובד עבודה זרה דבר תועלת, ולא יהיה מעלה חן בעינינו בשום ענין, עד שאמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה (ע''ז ז א) שאסור לומר כמה נאה גוי זה או מה נחמד ונעים הוא, ועל זה נאמר (דברים ז ב) ולא תחנם, ובא הפרוש על זה לא תתן להם חן, כענין שאמרנו. ויש מרבותינו שלמדו מלא תחנם, לא תתן להם מתנות חנם, והכל שרש אחד. ובירושלמי דעבודה זרה (פ''א ה''ט) אמרו לא תחנם, לא תתן להם חן, בלא תעשה.

Synopsis of part of the above:

From the verse in Deuteronomy 7:2 which says (at the end) "Do not show favor (grace) to them", this means that we should distance our thoughts and it should not enter our speech regarding an idol worshipper, any use to us, and it should not even find any favor in any manner.

Furthermore, the rabbis of blessed memory said that we should not say, "How pleasant and enjoyable this nation is."

Does this mean that we are prohibited to read any of the writings that discuss foreign gods, such as Greek mythology? What if, as when I was in elementary school, the teacher forces you to read it as part of the class, but you gain no pleasure at all from doing so? (At the time, I thought both books were painfully boring!)

  • Your yeshiva presumably thought it was mutar, or they would not have permitted teaching it. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 3 '15 at 22:31
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt That's speculative - esp. since we're talking about many decades ago. Even in hindsight, I could not vouch either way for the principal's halachic rulings. Just because he permitted it does not mean that it was halachically permissible. Alas, the principal now has a nice fancy abbreviation after his name. – DanF Aug 4 '15 at 2:53
  • It would be much simpler to call these works sfarim chitzonim and ban them based on that. The chinuch you've presented seems a roundabout way of addressing this. – user6591 Aug 4 '15 at 12:06
  • FWIW, I've seen Christian scriptures in the studies of Orthodox rabbis I know, as well as the Qu'ran, neither of which are accepted as valid according to our tradition. I have seen the Homeric books in the libraries of many religious Jews. And what about Shakespeare? Shakespeare is so full of dirty humour, obscenity, classical mythology (Cæsar and Antony & Cleopatra come to mind), and other problematic elements! – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 4 '15 at 12:29
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt I got your point. But that is a view directed more at a general problem of "tzniut", "lashon naki" or however you want to call it. Many yeshivot include Shakespaere, Huck Finn (he uses "racial" language), etc. As u previously stated, some rav is permitting it, and it's not just isolated. My question relates more directly as to whether doing so violates "Lo Techanem", as described above. My goal is not to challenge a rav or menahel's (in)decision. I'm past that point (and I'm glad that I am.) – DanF Aug 4 '15 at 13:10
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The Yerushalmi (sanhedrin 17a) brings the opinion of R Akiva,

הקורא בספרים החיצוניים כגון ספרי בן סירא וספרי לענא [אין לו חלק לעולם הבא], אבל ספרי המירס וכל הספרים שנכתבו מכן והילך - הקורא בהן כקורא באיגרת.

Since we don't find a Tanna that disagrees with R Akiva on ספרי המירוס, we can assume that the sages all agree that it is permitted to read the books of Homer. See also chullin 60b, yadayim 4:6 (המירם) where the sages mentions the book of Homer, it seems like they were quite familiar with his works.

For the identification of המירוס with Homer see this link http://www.daat.co.il/daat/history/yahasam-2.htm... also Tiferes yisroel yadayim ibid.... the link also explains why the books of homer are ok though it mentions the name of foreign greek gods.

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