I'm in the midst of reading Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's Torah UMadda- quintessential reading for any Modern Orthodox Jew, incidentally. If you want to understand the history of the Torah U-Madda philosophy, why exactly you are allowed to go to college, why others disagree with your point of view and so forth, this is the book for you. I found the following passage to be particularly interesting.
Perhaps the key to the solution lies in a famous story recorded in Shabbat 33b concerning the threatened arrest by the Romans of R. Simeon bar Yohai and his son, R. Elazar. Father and son were forced to stay in a cave for twelve years, during which time they studied Torah and survived by the fruit of a carob tree. When they emerged, they were scandalized by the "normal" behavior of their fellow Jews, who engaged in worldly pursuits and neglected the transcendental demands of Judaism; whereupon a Heavenly Voice ordered them back to the cave. Their level of sanctity was too great and constituted a threat to Jewish society. Twelve months later they were again permitted to leave their cave, and this time the father became reconciled to the world, declaring that the two of them alone would suffice for the rest of Israel (in completely fulfilling the high demands of constancy in the study of Torah). Eventually, the son too joined the father in a new-found appreciation of "ordinary" Jews and their far less intense way of showing their love of the mitzvot.
This story hints at a basic change in attitude by R. Simeon bar Yohai. It is reasonable to assume that his view of hoi polloi,, highly elitist from the start, was powerfully enhanced and reinforced during his isolation in the cave, and that this view was radically altered by his experience upon emerging.
With the above in mind, we may summarize the views of the different Tannaim and Amoraim so as to eliminate the obvious contradictions mentioned. (The reader is reminded once again that the discussion and analysis is not being repeated here; only the conclusions are presented, and of them only those relevant to our theme.) R. Ishmael holds that the commandment to study Torah must be pursued at all times, "by day and by night," save for those times that must be devoted to "normal" living, by which he intends primarily the earning of a livelihood. Hence, the study of "Greek wisdom" is prohibited, since it does not fall within the parameters he set. Such study is therefore to be shunned as bittul Torah.
R. Simeon bar Yohai is consistent in his view that biblically, mi-de'oraita, the mitzvah to engage in the study of Torah is fulfilled by the minimum of studying one chapter in the morning and one at night. Beyond that, however, he originally held that as a matter of policy this would ultimately lead to the wholesale neglect of Torah, and he therefore insisted on legislating a seyag or special regulation requiring the study of Torah constantly, and not even agreeing to a dispensation for pursuing a livelihood. But after his experience upon leaving the cave and hearing the reproach of the Divine Voice, R. Simeon bar Yohai changed his mind and abandoned the seyag he had earlie rproposed. He now held that the original biblical law on the study of Torah was adequate even from the point of view of public policy and rabbinic legislation. (The passage in Berakhot would then be dated before his sojourn in the cave, and the one in Menahot after he left it.) R. Yohanan, who reports this postfugitive opinion of R. Simeon bar Yohai, determines, however, that given the situation in his own day it is best not to impart such information to the masses who might misuse it, whereas Rava is clearly satisfied to accept the (new) view of R. Simeon bar Yohai publicly and without any dissembling. Abaye, commenting on the Berakhot passage, clearly sides with R. Ishmael in rejecting the radical seyag of R. Simeon bar Yohai, holding that it is impractical as public policy for the masses.
The third opinion is that of R. Jonathan, who denies that the verse intended any obligation to study Torah all the time; it is a blessing, not a commandment. Apparently, he will agree with the view of R. Simeon bar Yohai after the cave experience; that is, that a chapter by day and a chapter by night suffices to qualify for the general biblical mitzvah of Torah study (and this law is not related to the verse in Joshua). Rava, therefore, may be said to side with either R. Simeon bar Yohai in his postcave period, or with R. Jonathan, there being no practical difference between them. Accordingly, there is no obligation to study constantly (that is, one must study constantly, but "constantly" is now redefined as meaning every day and every night, not all day and all night); and there is therefore no banning of Greek wisdom, which prohibition was predicated upon the obligation to study Torah all the time.
With this in mind, we may summarize the talmudic opinions adumbrated in this chapter and draw the relevant conclusions.
For R. Ishmael, any activity not including the study of Torah, other than the basic necessities for human existence and the pursuit of a livelihood, was considered bittul Torah, for such time must be devoted to the study of Torah. Because all one's time must be devoted to the study of Torah, there is no relevance to the concept of keviat ittim le'torah, setting aside regular times for study. Greek wisdom is therefore unacceptable (because of bittul Torah, not because of heresy.) This view was apparently espoused by Abaye. Thus, working for a living is acceptable; the study of Madda is not.
For R. Simeon bar Yohai, bittul Torah as a biblical law applies only to one who fails to fulfill the minimum requirement of one chapter by day and one by night. His precave view was that any activity, including working for the basic necessities of life, involves the rabbinic transgression of bittul Torah. Hence, not only the worldly intellectual pursuits but also ordinary working for a living is prohibited as an act of bittul Torah. His later view reverts to the biblical law that establishes the minimum of two chapters, as mentioned. This view considers both working to support oneself and the intellectual pursuit of Madda as acceptable, provided there is some form of ongoing daily study of Torah.
For R. Jonathan, one must establish a daily regimen of Torah study (keviat ittim le'torah); should he violate that routine (which minimally should be one chapter by day and one by night), he is guilty of bittul Torah. (This accords with the later view of R. Simeon bar Yohai.) Rava agrees, as mentioned, both with this point of view and with the later view of R. Simeon bar Yohai, there being no difference between them. R. Yohanan agrees with Rava, differing only on policy regarding the publicizing of this ruling among nonscholars. Madda is therefore acceptable, as is engaging in work in order to sustain oneself.
Now, the "Torah only" school opts either for the opinion of R. Simeon bar Yohai (which we have interpreted as limited to his experience before emerging from the cave, and reflected in Berakhot), thus prohibiting not only secular studies but any form of working for a livelihood; or for the ruling of R. Ishmael, thus banning Madda but permitting the earning of a livelihood.
I really like Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's use of Shabbat 33b. When R' Shimon bar Yochai and his son emerged from the cave, they saw a man plowing and sowing. Alarmed and upset that this man engaged in mundane activity rather than Torah learning, everything they cast their eyes upon burned up. For this, they were sentenced to return to their cave so that they could learn how to interact with the world in a positive way. When they emerged the second time, whatever R' Shimon bar Yochai's son wounded with his eyes, R' Shimon bar Yochai healed. They then saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle to commemorate 'Shamor' and 'Zachor' and realized that the commandments of God were nevertheless precious in the eyes of these people. Thus were they comforted.
I think this is a perfect analogy for the interaction between the more fiery elements of the Yeshiva World and their Modern Orthodox counterparts. Those who have been hidden, "a hundred of the Lord's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied with food and water," namely, the Torah that is their sustenance, will of course be disturbed by a world that does not seem to consist of the same zeal and desire for God which exists in theirs. And perhaps they will burn up those of the other camp with their eyes, disturbed as they are by what they perceive as the fact that God's honor is forgotten.
And the truth is that were this to be accurate, they would be correct in their actions. However, the word of God is precious even in the mouths of those who are not the scholars resolute within the walls of the yeshiva. There is the elderly man with his bunches of myrtle, and there are those who are Modern Orthodox who are precisely that elderly man. With such as he, they ought to be comforted. Of course, there are also those who have truly forsaken God in pursuit of pleasure and the rush toward modernity, but oftentimes, these are people who were not taught properly. Thus, it will avail neither camp to become angry or strict with such members of their respective sects; it is only through love, warmth and interest that you shall interact, learn and simultaneously give over that which you uphold as true and valuable.