By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 13, 2010

The Yeshiva University school of modern Orthodoxy uses the term Torah umadda to encapsulate its vision of the relationship between Judaism and the secular world. Referring to these two realms, its Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm wrote, "Each alone is true, but only partially true; both together present the possibility of a larger truth." The approach aims at a synthesis between the worlds of Torah and secular wisdom.

Madda means science in modern Hebrew. Science and madda are rooted in ancient words for knowledge - science in the Latin and madda in the Hebrew.

Upon his coronation, King Solomon asked God for wisdom and madda to lead this people (II Chronicles 1:10). God praises him for not asking for wealth and honour but rather for "wisdom and madda to be able to govern My people". From these verses, it seems that madda in the Bible means a type of practical knowledge. You need wisdom plus madda in order to govern.

With madda meaning applied knowledge in the Bible, it was considered to be the perfect term for science.

Unlike the related modern Orthodox slogans of Torah im derech eretz, Torah umadda is not an ancient phrase; it seems to have been first used by Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz in the 18th century.

Many have questioned whether Torah umadda can be an livable ideal outside of a small intellectual elite. Yeshiva University is therefore considering introducing "wisdom for life" as a tagline beneath its Torah umadda motto.

Last updated: 11:13am, May 13 2010