Limudei Kodesh, Limudei Chol and Our Children’s Literary Skills


kids-boys-yeshivaBy Sara Dafner,

I read with interest the “Readers’ Matzav” submission here on about helping people find jobs. I read the comments section with even more interest.

The one consensus that seems to emerge from both the submission and the comments is that a large number of young frum adults are sorely lacking in basic language skills.  My goal here is not to discuss why.  I would, however, like to suggest a tip.

Those who argue that the general mindset is not going to change are probably right.  And there is good reason for that.  At the end of the day – quite literally, actually – limudei kodesh are more important.  We do not want to give our children – the boys or the girls – the impression that what’s really important is their secular studies.  This is a tough tightrope to walk; to impress upon our youngsters the value of their secular studies, particular English and math, while impressing upon them even more that there is nothing of more value in the world than their Torah studies.

There is, however, something that we parents can do to help build our youngsters’ language skills and improve their vocabulary and spelling.  Significantly.  And without making any major changes in their schools’ curriculum.

Encourage your children to READ.

Reading, beyond being a great way to teach your kids to spend their time, brings with it a wealth of side benefits.  It broadens vocabulary, imparts proper sentence structure and teaches correct spelling.  How?  Because children see new words and learn their meaning in context.  Just reading, again and again, sentences that are written correctly and maybe even well, helps kids to write correctly when the time comes for them to put pen to paper.  And when the brain sees words spelled accurately, over and over, it remembers how to spell those words later on.

Reading also encourages thinking.  It stimulates the imagination.  It takes children out of their world and allows them to taste the human experience.  It provides an extremely productive way for them to spend their free time, away from all the electronic gadgets.  And, if you help your kids to select their books well, they can also learn a lot on the way.

Your child may protest that he doesn’t like to read.  Some kids don’t.  That doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t be encouraged to do it anyway.  It might just be a matter of finding the right incentive.  One of my sisters used to hate to read.  My mother worked out some kind of reward system if she read a certain number of books per week.  My sister did it.  Today, she loves to read.  But even if she hadn’t learned to like it, she still would have gotten all the benefits of reading.

There are those who will say that the frum world doesn’t have enough quality literature, and for our kids to reap all these benefits they’ll have to read secular books.  To which I say – not so.  You can control what your kids read.  Our “oilem” has a lot of quality books to offer.

Might you have to accompany your children to the library or bookstore in order to find those quality books, or in order to make sure that the books your children choose are in line with the values you want in your home?  Definitely.  That’s part of being a parent.  No one ever said it would be easy.  But if you want to do the minimum you can to reinforce crucial skills that your children are going to need one day, then it’s well worth the investment.

{By Sara Dafner,}


  1. Our oilem has almost no quality books to offer. By quality books, I mean books that are well written, free of grammar, syntax and usage errors and containing a storyline that could in any way classified as literature.

  2. Important article,

    However as well intentioned as it may seem there is a fundamental flaw in the author’s reasoning.

    “At the end of the day – quite literally, actually – limudei kodesh are more important. We do not want to give our children – the boys or the girls – the impression that what’s really important is their secular studies. This is a tough tightrope to walk; to impress upon our youngsters the value of their secular studies, particular English and math, while impressing upon them even more that there is nothing of more value in the world than their Torah studies.”

    Math and English are not secular studies. Math is the language of Nature -Teva. How many Mitzvos can we name that requre basic and advanced math skills. Ma’aser, Terumah, Kidush Hachodesh, Sefiras HaOmer, calculating Zmanim for Davening, dimensions of a Mikva, Hilchos Eruvin and many more.

    As far as English is concerned. No one would claim that is a secular website yet all discussions are conducted in English. Indeed the explosion of Torah works in today’s day and age is largely in English.

    History is also not a “secular” subject. The more we learn about history the more we learn about ourselves. Indeed it is a Mitzva to learn History Devarim 32:7

    No one is advocating the study of humanities art, or fashion which are truly secular. but let’s keep things in perspective and not marginalize those studies which are adjuncts to Torah study. Math, Science, History and knowing how to read and write. (in English)

  3. We are much better at articulating problems than proposing solutions. The level of reading, writing, reading comprehension skills, and conceptualization skills that is now required for most jobs is very great. The days of just knowing the basics and getting the rest with On The Job Training is gone at this time.
    To meet these demands that Tzibur must confront these realities and decide that frum people do not need a “broad” skill set and should just get a piece of paper that is a “degree” or create a mechanism to enable frum young people to cope with the “new normal” This issue is not addressed in our periodicals, or at conventions, and we are falling prey to the false belief that the government, Uncle Shmuel, will also provide the basic safety net.
    We need to seriously examine, with the Gedolim, whether vocational training, such as PCS accounting courses is a solution for many people, or just for a few very bright, motivated people and come up with a new paradigm to address these issues

  4. While your intentions are pure, reading is not enough. Spelling, grammar, writing skills, sentence structure cannot be developed with reading alone. You could send your child to a schools which value secular education. My sons’ yeshiva in Brooklyn does a fabulous job, thanks to the professionals who teach them.

  5. It is shameful that the number of Bnei yeshiva who can communicate in the vernacular either orally or in writing is disappearing. For those who eventually will try to find employment in the secular world , the inability to communicate effectively almost universaly puts the applicant at a disadvantage. Writing a resume and interviewing skills are essential. while speaking “yeshivishe” is fine for communicating Torah thoughts to one’s peers, it will get you nowhere when you try and speak with a future employer. Likewise , for future mechanchim who look to teach “out of town” theer is a high liklihood that you will speak to baale batim or need to speak to secular Jews. Again your ability to communicate effectively will reflect on you and the Torah in many peoples eyes.

  6. The Kindle or other e readers have shown to take kids away from the television and keep them busy for hours. I myself have been reading much more often and much greater quantities since I’ve had one. There is no reason to avoid “secular” books. Many of them have messages as strong or exactly the same as Torah in terms of propriety. They are satisfying as well.

  7. The author of this artical it seems, leaves something to be desired when when it comes to writing english. His grammer and sentence structure is atroucious.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with the author that reading is a great way to overcome the obstacle of our children’s lack of proficiency in rudimentary communication and “teva” skills. As many comments have already pointed out, there are very few books available to the velt that can provide out children with much needed vernacular, diction, and basic knowledge.

    This is simply another element that one must consider when reflecting on the nature of secular education in the velt. Many parents do not have the wherewithal to cultivate a rudimentary secular education skill set simply because they were not afforded such an education themselves. Thankfully, we have the gedolim to decide on these fundamental and critical matters. The weight of our community rests on their shoulders and their Torah hadracha and siata dishmaya. It is my tefila that the derech that we have chosen to educate our children is the proper one and that those with other hadrachos who follow their traditions from their rabbeim aren’t for us.

  9. I totally agree with this brilliant author. He is right it is totally unimportant to be able to read,write or spell in that goyish language english. After all learning to speak and write in english will lead to nothing more than be able to get a job and earn a living.

  10. the writer takes it as a given that ‘limudei kodesh’ are more important than secular studies.

    while this is certainly true for boys (who have a chiyuv of talmud torah), is this really so ‘poshut’ for girls? after all the gemara says that teaching a girl torah is like teaching her ‘tiflus.’

    especially today when many women support their husbands learning in kollel, perhaps it is actually much more important (from the perspective of furthering the husband’s learning, which is the ‘ikkar’) that the girls should spend most of their time getting a very good secular education so that they can support their husband’s learning through better jobs?

  11. I dont understand what the issue is. just look at what the rosh yeshivas of the past and cutrrent who we quote did. Rav gifter had a full program high school. Rav elya svei had a full program high school. Rav hutner had a full program high school . Rav pam had a full program high school. are we better them? we have no problem quoting them when it comes to limudei kodesh yet when it comes to limuday chol we turn away from them? Rav Avrohom chaim levine from chicago has a full program high school .

  12. I was Davening in a Bais Hamedrish Friday Night, when I noticed an advertisement, on one of the Dvar Torah sheets being given out by one of the local Torah Mosdos: LEARN TO READ AND WRITE,A SECOND TIME, YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS WILL BE SO PROUD OF YOU: these situations are becoming more and more evident, in Chadorim and Yeshivos, where Lemudei Chol is being taught less and less.
    Later on in life as one Chasideshe Yunger Man said to me: He had a TEINA to his father, as to what was he thinking, when he sent me to a Yeshivah where no English was taught: and I’m not talking about History or Geography, I’m talking about learning how to read and write and a little Mathematics. As was told by Ben Braffman, there were married couples who couldn’t even sign their name in court.

  13. I would like to thank all those who took the time to comment, and also to respond.

    First of all, to clarify: I was not in any way trying to say that encouraging children to read will in and of itself develop reading, writing and other language skills. My point was that encouraging children to read reinforces these skills and gives them a real boost. Additionally, I did not meant to insinuate that secular studies are not at all important, or that skills like math, writing and subjects like history are not crucial elements in a Torah education. (Incidentally, in many chadarim here in EY, these subjects are not called “limudei chol” but “limudei ezer lakodesh”.) My intention was simply to suggest a way of bypassing certain facts on the ground that may or may not be subject to change.

    Secondly, I still maintain that there are quality books to be had in our “velt.” Books by authors like Yaffa Ganz, Miriam Stark Zakon and Shmuel Blitz are good examples for younger children. For older kids, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, Miriam Elias, Libby Lazewnik and Rabbi Yechiel Spero are among the authors that can be added to the list. These are all examples of quality writers. (I’m sure there are more, but I am long out of that age range and since I live in EY, my children read in Hebrew.) Is there a need for more? DEFINITELY. But quality books do exist.

    Thirdly, to those commenters who feel that my sentence structure and grammar are atrocious, I invite them to please post examples. This article was written at about 2:00am; I am definitely open to criticism.

    Thank you.

  14. What an important issue.
    A serious question to consider: In what language are the “new generation” of “yeshivah students” proficient?


    In Machsheves Yisroel the category of “Human” is called “Medaber” (“Animal” is “Chay”; “Vegetable” is “Tzome’ach”; “Mineral” is “Domem”).

    Targum Onkeluss on “…vayipach be’apov nishmas chayim…” translates the last 2 words as “ru’ach memallelah” (“speaking spiirit”).

    When a child is playing with toys of shape and color selections, it is preparing the brain cells for the ability to analyze the finer, deeper, and even abstract concepts in Torah.

    What was “Chochmas Umoss HaOlam” changed after 1740 (a year which the Zohar says will bring “the opening of the gates of comprehension”). The Newtonian science of rigid testing of theories (which is what Chomas HaUmoss was, with anecdotal evidences) led to what Rabbi Kantor calls (in his Codex Judaica year-by-year Torah history) “Chochmas HaTevah”. We all benefit from this (medical advance; technology; etc.) Chochmas Umoss HaOlam (or Akum) survives in such fields as evolution, anthropology, cutting edge physics, etc. (And in fact these “sciences” are beliefs, and THE kochavim and mazalos of our era.)

    It is my belief that the language skill deficiency (in all languages for the average product of “the system”) and the lack of rudimentary social graces, leads to a “lower class” life and/or person. when one is totally ignorant of something (a group of people; a procedure etc) then one judges it with greater denigration than warranted by its apparent lower status. Racism is the prime example, but the deniigration of a “yedia’s ha’olam” is also, if less crass.

    It is my conviction that many of the hours avoided from “secular studies” are spent in return, by trying to understand various and different concepts in Torah. The ratio however, is definitely not one-to-one.

    Would it be too much to dream the following: for some donor to sponsor a “think-tank” of full-time “elders of the world of chinuch” representing all factions of Torah Jewry, to develop strategies (including finances) which will then be presented to Torah leaders.

  15. Reading is important. More important is parental attitude toward “Limudei Chol”. You can have the most qualified staff, but you can only lead ‘the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it’.
    By the way – I love the “limudei ezer lakodesh” label!

  16. Even if the books you listed can qualify as quality literature, a good reader would be done with that list in about three months.

  17. Questions for #2

    What are you including in “humanities”?

    None of the math I studied in high school (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) is of any use to me in my avodas Hashem or daily life. How do you justify frum children spending years studying this material, particularly boys who have to be careful about the mitzva of Talmud Torah? How many frum men are using their knowledge of math for “Ma’aser, Terumah, Kidush Hachodesh, Sefiras HaOmer, calculating Zmanim for Davening, dimensions of a Mikva, Hilchos Eruvin” other than rabbonim who specialize in these matters?

    Does the mitzva to study history that you quote from Devarim apply to Roman and Greek history, American History? Or is the pasuk enjoining us to remember our own history? Are you advocating the study of Jewish history exclusively?

    I had frum science teachers and don’t recall any of them teaching science from the perspective of Shaar Ha’Bechina.

  18. ??? ????? ?????? ????? ????? ???? ????? ????? ???? ????? ??? ????? ????, ??? ????? ?????? ????? ????

    Occupying oneself with the sciences of the nations of the world is likewise included in the category of engaging in inconsequential matters insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned, for in studying the sciences of the nations, too, one is guilty of neglecting Torah study, as is explained in the Laws of Torah Study.11

    ???? ???, ????? ?????? ?? ???? ?????? ?? ????? ????? ?????

    Moreover, the impurity of the science of the nations is greater than the impurity of idle speech;

    ????? ????? ????? ?? ????? ????? ???? ????? ?????? ??????

    for the latter clothe and defile only the emotions [which emanate] from the holy element of ruach (Air) within his divine soul,

    ?????? ????? ???? ??????? ????? ????? ????? ???? ??? ??????? ?? ????? ??????, ??????

    [by tainting them] with the impurity of kelipat nogah contained in idle speech (which is derived from the evil element of ruach (Air, which is one of the components) of this kelipah in his animal soul), as mentioned above.

    The G?dly soul and the animal soul are both composed of four spiritual “elements”: Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The emotions, such as love and fear, which one expresses in idle talk, emanate from the element of Air. Thus, idle speech defiles the emotional attributes of the divine soul, which emanate from the holy element of Air, by using them in the service of the animal soul’s element of Air, i.e., its emotional attributes — which are “impure”, since they derive from kelipat nogah.

    ??? ?????? ???? ??????, ???? ??? ???? ???? ??????

    [Idle speech does] not, however, [defile] the levels of ChaBaD (the intellectual faculties) in his soul, for it is but words of foolishness and ignorance,

    ??? ?????? ???? ???? ?????? ???? ??

    since even fools and ignoramuses can speak that way.

    Since these are not intellectual matters, the intellect remains uninvolved and untainted.

    ?? ???? ?? ????? ?????? ??? ????? ????? ?????? ???? ?????? ??????, ?????? ????? ???? ??????? ???

    Not so in the case of the science of the nations; thereby one clothes and defiles his divine soul’s faculties of ChaBaD (intellect) with the impurity of the kelipat nogah contained in those sciences,

    ????? ??? ?????? ????? ?????? ??????? ?? ???? ??????, ????? ?????? ???

    whither they (the sciences) have fallen, through the “shattering of the vessels,” out of the “hinder-part” of Chochmah of holiness, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Wisdom.

    Thus the study of these sciences contaminates the intellectual faculties of the G?dly soul, and it is therefore much worse than idle speech, which contaminates only the emotional faculties,

    ??? ?? ?? ???? ???? ????? ????? ??, ?????? ??? ??????? ??? ????? ????? ??

    unless one employs them (these sciences) as a useful instrument, viz., as a means of earning a more affluent livelihood with which to be able to serve G?d,

    ?? ????? ?????? ??? ?????? ?? ?? ??????

    or unless he knows how to apply them (the sciences) in the service of G?d or to his better understanding of His Torah; e.g., he utilizes mathematics to better understand the laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon.

    ???? ???? ?? ?????? ?????? ??? ?????? ????? ???

    This is the reason why Maimonides and Nachmanides, of blessed memory, and their peers, engaged in them (in the sciences — since they were able to utilize this knowledge in the service of G?d and Torah).

    Tanya chapter 8

  19. I’d like to expand on what the writer has expressed. Understanding the written word with all the nuances and subtleties inherent in appropriate usage of sophisticated vocabulary forces the reader into very exquisite thinking patterns which will prove beneficial in both Kodesh and chol.

  20. There is a list of non Jewish reading material that is OK for our children to read. Obviously, to each there own when it comes to parents censoring what their children are reading. However, it is a good starting point in finding proper reading material. My, nieces and nephews are voracious readers, and their parents cannot find enough Jewish reading material. This list helped tremendously, for finding reading material for them.

  21. I recently applied to a college program, a step that is obviously more and more common these days, in search of a direction of parnassah. One of the requirements for application was the GRE, an exam that rigorously tests language and math skills, and can say that I was tremedously thankful for the secular education in Yeshiva Torah Temimah (and even the Regents exams) in NY, that I was probably not so excited about at the time I was in Yeshiva. Without that experience I highly doubt I would have gotten the grade that I did. While the necessity for all the knowledge covered might not have been intrinsically necessary for life, the fact that it afforded me an opportunity for (be”H) eventual parnassah gives it value regardless.

  22. When people commit crimes because they are so sheltered and uneducated that they don’t see the difference between a little bucking the rules or a felony- we are in big trouble.
    I am referring to a specific incident which, BH, has not reached the frum news sites. Someone caught buying and selling cigarettes for profit. He was raised speaking yiddish, did not fully understand the severity of his crime and ended up in jail. He’s an otherwise “ehrliche” guy and I honestly believe that if he could read and write English, he would never have gotten into this.