Ami Magazine recently highlighted the story of a ben-Torah who, nebach, lost his emunah. His wife wrote a letter to the magazine documenting the events which led to this unfortunate state of affairs. She writes as follows:
Of course I noticed the telltale signs. I watched with great concern as my kollel husband no longer resembled his peers. I inwardly cringed as books, radio, Internet replaced the Talmud, Chumash, sefarim.
Rabbi Slifkin makes the following comments:
The situation with this husband and wife is, of course, sad. But what I personally find especially painful is how some of this tragedy is so unnecessary and possibly made worse by the wife. Was it such a tragedy that he brought secular books into the home?
Apparently so! First of all, the wife was referring to a general trend of replacing Torah learning with secular books, radio and Internet. Second of all, yes, secular books are eminently capable of dragging a person off the path of emunah! The gemara in Chagiga (15b) relates that the great sage Elisha ben Avuya went off the derech because he was influenced by Greek culture (he was always whistling Greek tunes) and Greek attitudes (books of heresy).
Secular books are, for the most part, anti-Torah; they contain the attitudes of the gentile nations which are diametrically opposed to the attitude of the Torah. Even innocuous books, such as those on science, are tainted with the attitudes of the goyim. It is extremely dangerous for an innocent ben-Torah to start taking unwarranted and unsupervised excursions in the fields of gentile literature. Human beings, all human beings, are extremely impressionable and thus it is a sakana gedolah to allow oneself to be exposed to foreign ideologies. This is the most obvious lesson that can be learned from this Ami article.
(I'll bet she doesn't know that Rav Dessler studied Uncle Tom's Cabin.)
This comment was particularly distasteful to me. Rav Dessler studied secular disciplines under the close supervision of his father and his Rabbeim in yeshiva. Like the aforementioned gemara in Chagiga mentions (regarding learning from one who is tainted by heresy), it is indeed possible to “extract the kernel and discard the chaff” but only under certain circumstances. By no means can it be used as a blanket heter to read secular books indiscriminately; i.e. without any discretion or supervision.
She cried so terribly when he attended a conference on evolution? Goodness, it's not as though it was a conference on Bible criticism or atheism!
It was worse! If an innocent ben-Torah makes the tragic mistake of attending a conference on evolution, it is like attending a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined! He would have been better off visiting a house of ill repute! Far better. A conference on evolution is populated one hundred percent by atheists, Bible critics, and every other form of human degradation. Everyone there is no doubt an avowed enemy of Hashem and His Torah. Rabbi Slifkin’s comments demonstrate that, unfortunately, he has lost any semblance of sensitivity to the dangers of being influenced by gentile attitudes.
What an unfortunate attitude. There is nothing more incompatible with the Torah than evolution. Even Avodah Zara is preferable. This is not my attitude. The Rambam states that atheism is worse than Avodah Zara. And evolution is nothing but atheism dressed up in scientific garb. Any Orthodox Jew who attends conferences on evolution is taking his life in his hands. Even if he manages to hold on to his emunah, he is tainted. No less than the garbage man who reeks to high heaven even though he is cleaning out the garbage.
There are many fine, frum, OrthoDOX people who attend conferences on evolution, which is not at all incompatible with Torah.