The Talmud [Menachot 99b] tells us that someone asked Rabbi Ishmael, “May one such as myself, who have studied the entire Torah, learn Greek philosophy [chochmat yevanit]?” The rabbi noted that the Tanach says that you must meditate on the Torah day and night [Joshua 1:8]. So he concluded: "Therefore, go and find a time that is neither day nor night, and at that time you may study Greek philosophy!" Obviously, he was telling him to take a spaceship and go far, far from the solar system, where there is no day and no night, and there, in the middle of nowhere, he could study Greek philosophy to his heart’s content. My halachic question is: How far must he be from the nearest star?

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closed as off-topic by Double AA Mar 4 '18 at 0:31

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    It seems clear he is talking about bein hashemashos – SAH Feb 21 '18 at 23:32
  • @SAH I thought of this too, but, I can post just one idea. Make yours an answer. – DanF Feb 21 '18 at 23:47
  • I think ben hashmashot is definitely either day or night, but which it is is a matter of dispute. – Maurice Mizrahi Feb 22 '18 at 0:24
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    @SAH No problem. I take umbrage that you didn't view it as my generosity to you. – DanF Feb 22 '18 at 2:44
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    @SAH Anything celestial or meteorological is fascinating. IY"H, I'll have a look. Thank you. – DanF Feb 23 '18 at 4:00

To understand when Greek Philosophy may be studied we must figure out what was meant by day and night. There is a very early Scriptural source that tells us what day and night are.

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד

And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Mechon Mamre)

Thus, what R. Yishmael meant was that one can study philosophy at a time when there is neither light nor darkness. Now this brings us to the old philosophical debate about whether darkness is the opposite of light, or merely the absence of light. If the former, there could conceivably be a time at which there is no light and no darkness. According to the latter view, though, there can not exist such a time because a lack of light is automatically darkness.

The textual evidence in the Talmud does not indicate which school of thought R. Yishmael belonged to. If he belonged to the "opposite" camp then he was possibly allowing philosophy at certain times. If he belonged to the "absence" camp then he must have been saying that philosophy is never allowed.

Although the Talmud remains vague, we have a direct ruling from one of the earliest post-Talmudic sources. R. Saadia Gaon in Emunos V'deios Treatise I writes as follows:

Yet I cannot remain content at this point with all that I have mentioned until I have made it clear that this thing to which these proponents of dualism adhere so firmly – I mean [what they call the principle of] darkness – is not a principle opposed to that of light, but merely the absence of light. (Rosenblatt translation p. 64)

In Treatise II he states this again:

Ignorance, on the other hand, has no such source from which it is derived, being merely the absence of knowledge, as we explained in the matter of darkness that it constitutes the absence of light and not its opposite. (Rosenblatt translation p. 89)

Thus, we have a clear ruling from R. Saadia Gaon that there can be no such time where there is neither light nor darkness. As such, one is never permitted to study Greek Philosophy (which probably includes parts of the very Emunos V'deios from which this ruling is derived).

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    Does a downvote on a Purim Torah answer mean that it is not sufficiently "Purim Torah"? Or does it indicate that there is an actual flaw in the answer? – Alex Feb 22 '18 at 0:56
  • Who knows around here... +1 – SAH Feb 22 '18 at 3:00
  • Way to go R. Saadia Gaon for coming down on the same side as modern physics! – Mike Feb 22 '18 at 5:05
  • The answer is seriously flawed. You conclude that one is never permitted to study philosophy, and yet you start your question with an "old philosophical debate" (+1) – b a Feb 22 '18 at 9:29

Let us take a closer look at the actual Talmudic text.

צא ובדוק שעה שאינה לא מן היום ולא מן הלילה ולמוד בה חכמת יונית

Go and search for a time that is not not of the day and not of the night, and learn in it Greek Philosophy.

The double negative clearly indicates that R. Yishmael is saying to find a time that is either day or night and learn philosophy. I.e. philosophy can be learned at any time.

  • Good read, but your conclusion does not follow logically: "not not of the day and not of the night" means only day, and not night! – רבות מחשבות Feb 22 '18 at 0:45
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    @רבותמחשבות It depends on order of operations. Is the first "not" modifying "not of the day", or is it modifying "not of the day and not of the night"? My answer maintains the latter. – Alex Feb 22 '18 at 0:49
  • then I think you should bold the second not, and perhaps put "not of the day" and "not of the night" in quotes – רבות מחשבות Feb 22 '18 at 0:52
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    Actually, ~(~A&~B) <--> A v B so you can pick at least either night or day for study. See Reb Demorgan's responsa for details – Double AA Feb 22 '18 at 0:53
  • @DoubleAA What does "v" represent? – Alex Feb 22 '18 at 0:54

I am taking issue with your quotation where you said, "Therefore, go and find a time that is neither day nor night, and at that time you may study Greek philosophy!" Rabbi Yishma'el is talking about a time, whereas your question is asking about a place. That contradicts what Rabbi Yishma'el was saying.

So, I will answer regarding when that time is. He is clearly referring to the Mashiach, of which Zacharia 14:7 says that this will be a day which is neither day nor night. At that time, he can study Greek philosophy.

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    "this will be a day which is neither day nor night" anyone else find that funny? – רבות מחשבות Feb 21 '18 at 23:50
  • @רבותמחשבות It may not offer a huge chuckle, FWIW. But, maybe look at my last sentence. I don't think one cares to study Greek philos0phy, then. Here, the word day, refers to a time period, not light. – DanF Feb 21 '18 at 23:56
  • I get the joke. I also realize that the Passuk says that ( a day which is neither day nor night). – רבות מחשבות Feb 21 '18 at 23:59

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