Harav Geldwerth on Synthesis

The Chanukah edition of Prime (December 16), which featured two articles by prominent Rabbanim, helped enlighten the readers with some important aspects of the Yom Tov. Thank you for featuring such wonderful pieces for our reading pleasure.

Harav Lipa Geldwerth, shlita, ended with the idea that the synthesis of other chochmos with Torah is following the path of the Yevanim, while incorporating knowledge in order to come to a psak is needed.

Could we ask Rav Geldwerth to expand on this distinction and help clarify what is considered an undesirable synthesis, and what is a necessary incorporation?

Thank you,

Velvel Moseson, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Harav Geldwerth responds:

Thank you so much for your interest in the Hamodia interview with regard to Hellenism. With respect to your request for elaboration on the distinction made between “synthesis” and “incorporation,” allow me to posit the following:

Synthesis in this context, by definition, means “the combination of ideas to form a theory or system.” This implies that the relevant concepts and true ideas in one element [A], when added to a second element [B] (which was lacking or deficient in that very regard), results in forming a new compound, [C]. If this is applied to our topic, then let us say, that external knowledge being element A, when applied to Torah, being element B, we are — chalilah — thereby presupposing it to be deficient in those essential properties which exist in element A. This construct is the antithesis of the passuk in Tehillim (19:8), “Toras Hashem temimah — The Torah of Hashem is perfect”; and of the words of the Navi (Iyov 11:9), “Aruka mei’eretz middah u’rechavava mini yam — Its measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.”

In addition, we are clearly propounding that we are ultimately creating a new product, C. Once again, this in itself is in contradiction to the ninth Principle of Faith of the Rambam: “I believe with complete faith that the entire Torah that we now have will not be changed, and that there will be no other Torah given by the Creator, blessed be His Name.”

For this does not merely generate a better-understood, Torah, but an enhanced or upgraded one. Such a conception of Torah is undeniably sacrilegious.

This proposition of synthesis stands in contradistinction to one’s amassing scientific or historic knowledge and material which, when examined through the lenses of true Torah erudition, are illuminated by the truths and light of the Torah and processed as a deeper understanding of Torah itself. This information is not, chalilah, a complement to what would be an incomplete chochmah, but key to comprehending the Torah itself. The translator of Euclid’s Geometry to Hebrew cites in his introduction to what he claims to have heard from the Gra, zt”l: “That which one lacks in other fields of knowledge finds him wanting a hundredfold in Torah, since the Torah and knowledge are linked.”

This is more clearly expounded on by the Gra himself in his peirush on Mishlei (86:84) and elsewhere, with regard to Hadan din emes l’amito — one who arrives at a true verdict (111).

This means that the chochmos allow him to understand the Torah more completely, not that the Torah itself is freshly “complemented.” This is so simply because the Torah is all-encompassing, and we are limited and are at a loss to comprehend hithertofore obscure aspects of the Torah which would elude the student without this input. This “input,” in turn, can makes one’s understanding of Torah clearer.

It is critical to distinguish between that which our comprehension of Torah becomes clearer, not, chalilah, the Torah itself becomes a more complete entity. Thus, all else is incorporated into our understanding of what the Torah intends; otherwise, it is a foreign and consequently extraneous element to true, pristine Torah ideals and ideas.

It is a din in the gavra, not the cheftza — it is a means to enhance the person, not the object.

This is, undoubtedly, the meaning of the inclusive phrase, “Torah im derech eretz,” as opposed to similar but distinct expressions which may be exclusive by their definitions.

I hope this has been helpful, and thank you again for reading and sharing. n