American Orthodoxy

Reclaiming Torah u-Madda: A Symposium

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Symposium Contributions: Elana Stein Hain, Stuart Halpern, Yisroel Ben-Porat, Sarah Rindner, Erica Brown, Shalom Carmy, Leah Sarna, Tzvi Sinensky, Yaakov Bieler, Moshe Kurtz, Elinatan Kupferberg, Olivia Friedman, Margueya Poupko, Noah Marlowe, Letters to the Editor 12 | Download Full Symposium


Since its inception in September 2016, The Lehrhaus has become a center for conversations in the Modern Orthodox community and beyond. Over the past five years, we have served as a vibrant forum for a variety of issues, including the status of gedolim, the OU’s statement on women’s clergy, the religious implications of COVID, and other timely topics. This year, we are excited to announce the launch of “Reclaiming Torah u-Madda,” a symposium that we hope will generate thoughtful reflection, dynamic discourse, and vibrant discussion.

The notion of Torah u-Madda—that Torah and secular studies can enrich each other—has been a byword in the Modern Orthodox community for decades. Its importance is self-evident. Nonetheless, we ought to give more thought to how we got here, the challenges that have arisen, and how the meaning of Torah u-Madda continues to evolve over time.

One cannot separate Torah u-Madda from its origins at Yeshiva University.[1] R. Dr. Bernard Revel, the founder of Yeshiva College, used the terms Torah and Madda in a 1915 letter to denote the Yeshiva’s unique educational mission. R. Dr. Samuel Belkin, YU’s second president, spoke of the need for synthesis and integration of the two halves of a YU student’s educational experience. In 1946, Torah u-Madda was first featured on YU’s seal. Throughout the decades, Torah u-Madda’s advocates tried to define its contours. R. Aharon Lichtenstein wrote a programmatic essay in 1961 in The Commentator, YU’s student newspaper. In 1986, R. Dr. Norman Lamm, YU’s third president, founded the Torah u-Madda project, a long-running campus lecture series, and he published his eponymous book Torah Umadda in 1990.

It’s telling that the discussion about Torah u-Madda often centered around defending the legitimacy of such synthesis in the first place. R. Lamm’s book explored several models for fruitful interaction between kodesh and hol, favoring an approach based on hasidic thought, but only after responding to traditional objections to the entire enterprise of Torah u-Madda. Several of the essays in the first issue of the Torah U-Madda Journal, founded as part of R. Lamm’s project in 1989 and edited by R. Jacob J. Schacter (a consulting editor at the Lehrhaus), grappled with whether secular studies ought to be of more than mere instrumental value so that one could obtain a profession. Indeed, as a roadmap for the YU student, Torah u-Madda was never easy to implement. Students complained of compartmentalization from day one. It is one thing to wax poetic about synthesis in the abstract and quite another to experience it when struggling with a challenging dual curriculum.

Over time, difficulties with Torah u-Madda mounted as interest in the liberal arts diminished nationwide. In 2020, R. Lamm, Torah u-Madda’s most consistent champion, passed away. In the wake of his death, historian Lawrence Grossman published “The Rise and Fall of Torah U’Madda,” the title of which speaks volumes about the perceived decline of the idea. In July, the Torah U-Madda Journal ceased publication.

Yet despite these challenges, Torah u-Madda has not disappeared. It remains as relevant as ever, continuing to animate contemporary discourse in the community. In the past couple of months, Tradition Online launched a new series grappling with the “Great Books” controversy, while the Shalom Hartman Institute ran an episode in their “Identity/Crisis” podcast reflecting on the legacy of R. Lamm (featuring the voices of several contributors who will appear in our symposium). Torah u-Madda may have begun at YU, but it has become much more than the programmatic ideology of a single school. It remains an instantly recognizable slogan in the Modern Orthodox community at large.

Furthermore, although it sounds trite, every religious Jew navigates the encounter between Torah and the modern world on a daily basis. Indeed, the debate over the legitimacy of receiving some secular education has all but evaporated, even in parts of the more right-wing Orthodox world. We Jews are more secure in our engagement with modernity than we were 30 years ago or perhaps ever in history. But such engagement brings new challenges. One today might not be reading Wordsworth’s poetry to better appreciate the wonders of creation or studying human nature by way of Shakespeare—as R. Lichtenstein might have hoped[2]—but people are online all the time, imbibing or contributing to the best and worst of what our age has on offer. The ubiquity of the internet—from Twitter to TikTok—highlights our inability to disengage from modern trends, even if they can easily become detrimental to civil discourse and religious growth. Culture comes in the door whether we ask it to or not. Thus, the need for exploration and religious guidance is as stark as ever. Can everything be integrated into a Torah worldview?

For the challenges of synthesis remain. We learn Torah on a scale perhaps never before seen, with the Talmud at our fingertips. At the same time, we have risen to the pinnacles of worldly success; our careers take us from towering financial centers of steel and glass to the halls of Congress. And yet, perhaps these aspects of our lives are more bifurcated than ever before. If Torah u-Madda is to be reclaimed for the twenty-first century, we need to explore its role in today’s complex, fractured world and the new avenues through which we can derive meaning from the relationship between the Torah’s timeless wisdom and the best of what the culture around us can offer.

This symposium, which draws on the wisdom and talent of diverse voices within the community, explores the past, present, and future of Torah u-Madda. To highlight some of what is to come: what are the challenges unique to pursuing Torah u-Madda today? Have we as religious Jews gone too far in adopting the cultural consensus? Do women have the same opportunities to seek a Torah u-Madda synthesis as do men? Can Torah u-Madda justify the teaching of Torah ideas on the global stage? Can it sanction the study of Christianity? What can we learn, if anything, from science fiction and fantasy literature, games, and movies? What wisdom can we glean about Torah and modernity from the writings of the late Lord Jonathan Sacks? Are the boundaries between Torah and Madda more fluid than one might have supposed?

In addition to the solicited contributions, we welcome any submissions relevant to themes of Torah u-Madda broadly defined. You can write a full-length article or a response to one of our authors, or weigh in with a shorter letter to the editor (click here for our submission guidelines). Feel free as well to follow us and chime in on social media: FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and now Instagram as well! Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we will post installments in the symposium, so please check back frequently at this page. Each contribution will contain a link back to the main symposium page.

Join us in reclaiming Torah u-Madda today!


Yosef Lindell on behalf of The Lehrhaus Editors

[1] The history of Torah u-Madda is recounted in Jacob J. Schacter, “Torah u-Madda Revisited: The Editor’s Introduction,” Torah U-Madda Journal 1 (1989), 1-22, and Lawrence Grossman, “The Rise and Fall of Torah U’Madda,” Modern Judaism 41:1 (2021), 71-91.

[2] See Aharon Lichtenstein, “Torah and General Culture: Confluence and Conflict,” in Judaism’s Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration? ed. Jacob J. Schacter (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997), 242-50.

Symposium Contributions

Serpentine Psychology and Booming Babel | Read Now

One Life to Live: Torah u-Madda Today | Read Now

The “Judeo-Christian” Tradition at Yeshiva | Read Now

Torah u-Madda
for All? | Read Now

Torah u-Madda
Thirty Years Later
| Read Now

The Utilitarian Case for Torah
| Read Now

Torah u-Madda or Torah u-Movies? | Read Now

Torah u-Madda’s Moment | Read Now

Madda or Hokhma? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the
Integration of Jewish
and General Studies
| Read Now

It Will Be Torah and I Am Compelled to Study It: A Philosophy of Madda as Hiddushei Torah?
| Read Now

Bringing Back Torah u-Madda
| Read Now

Sanctifying the Secular: A Torah u-Madda Approach to Popular Culture
| Read Now

Truth in Fiction: Pursuing
Torah in Secular
| Read Now

The Dark Side of Torah u-Madda: Chaim Potok and Core-to-Core Cultural Confrontation
| Read Now