Why I Read Philosophy, History, Literature, Etc.

What does the religious Jew gain from exposure to the humanities? Is it better to focus one's energies on the objective and seemingly value-neutral fields of the hard sciences, or is there something especially significant about the humanities? Rabbi Carmy contends that exposure to the humanities "expands the range of our language and the amplitude of our thought." History allows us to see beyond our immediate social context and imaginative literature offers us new perspectives from which to "grasp our experience." Such knowledge fulfills both the religious mandate to know God, as manifest in the ongoing history of His created order, as well as enables the self-understanding crucial to any attempt at teshuvah and character development. Rabbi Carmy criticizes the view that would limit broader exposure to the sciences as Judaism teaches that the world within man is far more important than the world around him. Furthermore, the sciences themselves are not value neutral and exposure to literature can help free us from the mechanistic and deterministic assumptions of modern science. Finally, he points out that just as with regard to all other strategies, exposure to humanities does not in and of itself guarantee a refined character, but can be a window for educational intervention.

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Yeshiva College Commentator 1982, with permission.)

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