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The Mishna in Sanhedrin 10:1 says

וְאֵלּוּ שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.... רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר, אַף הַקּוֹרֵא בַסְּפָרִים הַחִיצוֹנִים

These are the ones who do not have a share in the world to come...Rabbi Akiva says: Even someone who reads "outside books"

Do the works of the Apocrypha 1 fall under the category of "Outside books?". This being said, is it permissible to read the works from the Apocrypha? Is this any worse than reading secular fiction or would this be compared to learning from another religion?


1 by which I mean books considered to be included in tanach but were rejected

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  • Sourcing your assumptions would improve this post. For example, you assume that it is forbidden to learn from another religion. Why do you think that this is the case?
    – mevaqesh
    Jun 18, 2017 at 19:36
  • Edited. I heard based on this mishna it is not permitted to do so but I have to get see sources to verify Jun 18, 2017 at 20:10
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  • Apocrypha, as I've heard it used, refers to works such as those listed here and here and sometimes even Tehillim 151 and 152-155. Are you referring to such works, or are you referring to something else? Please edit to clarify. (Note that Ben Sira is on that list - see @Bach's answer below.)
    – DonielF
    Jun 19, 2017 at 4:25
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    I will have to dig up the Rambam, but I believe he says that learning other religions' works is permissible so long as it's to learn knowledge, not to convert. Probably in Hilchos Avodah Zarah. I don't see why Apocrypha should be any worse. If I find it, I'll post it as an answer, bli neder.
    – DonielF
    Jun 19, 2017 at 4:26

4 Answers 4

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There is one place in the Talmud where Rabbi Akiva states that it is heretical to read from the "outside works"; this was understood by some to refer to the apocrypha. Yet he may have been referring to other books, possibly even some of the books that later become part of the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] For more details consult the Encyclopedia Judaica's section on "Apocrypha".

In either reading, his view was not accepted as law, and many other sages of the Talmud and midrash felt free to read and discuss the works of the apocrypha, especially the Wisdom of Ben Sira [aka Ecclesiasticus] and Maccabees. Note that even one of Judaism's most beloved holidays, Chanukah, is based on the events described in I and II Maccabees. For some examples of rabbinic discussions of apocryphal works, see the following rabbinic sources:

Talmud Yerushalmi: Hagigah 2;1, 47C; Berakhot 7:2, 11b

Talmud Bavli: Hagigah 12b, 13a; Berakhot 48a; Shabbat 21b; Yevamot 63b, Ketubot 110b, Bava Batra 98b

Midrash: Genesis Rabbah 91:3,

Responsa of the Rishonim: Tosfot Eruvin 65b; Ritva Eruvin 65a; Rashba Eruvin 65a; Meiri Nidda 16b

Nahmanides quotes "The Wisdom of Solomon in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah. "The Wisdom of Solomon" is also cited in "Livnat HaSapir", a Torah commentary attributed to David ben Judah HeHasid. The midrash collection "Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer" makes use of the apocrypha.

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The Gemara in Sanhedrin (100b) explains that the Mishna refers to ספרי מינים, and that this is what the Chazal mean by ספרים חיצונים. R Yosef adds that Ben Sira is included in this prohibition, though it is unclear why it was banned (the gemara itself seems to ban it on the grounds that it contains folly and that reading it is a waste of time. However note that the quotations the gemara brings from Ben Sira to discredit the entire book (Sanhedrin ibid זלדקן קורטמן) are not found in our version of the Ben Sira. Some hold that the book of Ben Sira the Chazal were talking about was a corrupted version of the original one we have nowadays. Proof to this theory is that they are quoted in Aramaic whereas Ben Sira was written in Hebrew. If this is true our Ben Sira would not be problematic anyways, since it doesn't contain any folly, only words of wisdom).

It would seem that according to the Gemara there is no problem with the Apocrypha, only with sifrei minim which include books that promote a certain Atheistic/Paganistic ideology (according to some even books on Christian ideology are banned). The only exception is Ben Sira which is explicitly prohibited by R Yosef (however see R Yosef's other statement that the good parts of the book may be publicized during one's lecture). Also see Tiferes Yisroel (ibid) that even Ben Sira is not problematic as long as its not read on regular basis (דרך קבע). The Ritva (Bava Basra 98b) seems to concur with this psak.

(It is possible that the reason Ben Sira was prohibited [to read regularly], is because Chazal were worried it would enter the Jewish canon and become part of the holy scripture [Tanach]. In order to ensure that Ben Sira does not get the same respect as the other holy books, Chazal banned it [see Niddah 16b, Eiruvin 65a and Tosfos there. It seems like Chazal were well versed in Ben Sira and sometimes even learnt Halachos from it]. In Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 11:1 we even find that the books of Ben Sira are worse than the books of Homer! This seems to be the only rational explanation as to why Chazal would be harsher with Ben Sira than with the Iliad).

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  • Why wasn't the mon di'is lei maabarta bidiknei a satisfactory reason?
    – user6591
    Jun 19, 2017 at 0:19
  • @user6591 its hard to understand why one problematic line would disqualify an entire book full of wisdom and ethics.
    – Bach
    Jun 19, 2017 at 1:27
  • That one line proved that it was not written with ruach hakodesh. But your comment is in line with the next opinion in the gemara. Read the good ideas found there.
    – user6591
    Jun 19, 2017 at 2:05
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    @user6591 "That one line proved that it was not written with ruach hakodesh." Not being written through divine inspiration is one thing, whereas banning the entire book is another thing!
    – Bach
    Jun 19, 2017 at 13:28
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Bach
    Jun 19, 2017 at 13:47
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In a lecture from Rabbi Ari Lamm (which I cannot currently find on yutorah.org) he explains that the gemarah is discussing reading in order to influence one's religious practice.

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  • This should be in a comment, not an answer since you don't have the sources and because this is included in sifrei minim (cited in my answer).
    – Bach
    Jun 19, 2017 at 14:12
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    @bach that is false. Answers don't need sources, and he provided one anyway.
    – mevaqesh
    Jun 19, 2017 at 14:40
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Part of the apocrypha was used as the basis for two important parts of the Jewish liturgy. In the Mahzor [High Holy day prayer book], a medieval Jewish poet used Ben Sira as the basis for a beautiful poem, Ke'Ohel HaNimtah. This is a closing piyut in the Seder Avodah section, in the Yom Kipur Musaf. It begins "How glorious indeed was the High Priest, when he safely left the Holy of Holies. Like the clearest canopy of Heaven was the dazzling countenance of the priest" (This can be seen, for example, on page 828 of the Birnbaum edition of the Mahzor.] The Conservative Mahzor replaces the medieval piyyut with the relevant section from Ben Sira.

The apocrypha is believed to form the basis of the most important of all Jewish prayers, the Amidah [the Shemonah Esrah]. Ben Sira provides the vocabulary and framework for many of the Amidah's blessings, which were instituted by the men of the Great Assembly. For more information, see these works:

Joseph Heinemann "Prayer In The Talmud" (Berlin, 1977), p.219 "Amidah", Encyclopedia Judaica, 1971 Reuven Hammer "Entering Jewish Prayer" (Schocken Books), p.86, 309.

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  • Although your post is impressive it does not answer the question in any way. Mi yodea is a question and answer site, thats why i downvoted your post. However, your other post answers the question fairly well. Consider combining these two in one post.
    – Bach
    Jun 23, 2017 at 1:25
  • "Although your post is impressive it does not answer the question in any way" Huh? It very specifically answered the question, in detail. It just didn't happen to do so from a Haredi-only way. That's no reason to downvote it. Aug 1, 2018 at 18:10
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    IndependentThinker the fact that some jewish poets incorporated ben Sira in their works does not prove ipso facto that the apocrypha is permitted according to Halacha, but I will retrieve my downvote. Also your statement that the men of the Great Assembly incorporated ben Sira is surely erroneous as they must have flourished a few hundred years before ben Sira did.
    – Bach
    Aug 2, 2018 at 23:38

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