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Is reading non – Jewish books that help one improve middos considered torah


Hope you are well.

The following questions have been on my head recently and I am wondering if you can help.

Hope you are well.

The following questions have been on my head recently and I am wondering if you can help.

  1. I am wondering if a non-Jewish book written by a non-jew, which contains lots of tips about how to overcome certain character traits, such as anger, taivah etc. is considered learning. Is it different to reading a mussar sefer written by the Ramchal? Surely they are both just teaching you how to improve character traits. Does the fact that the Ramchal sources his idea from the Torah make a difference? If a non-Jew would write the same thing as Rabbeinu Yonah on Avos, but coming from wordly experience and not a Mishnah, is one considered Torah and one not?
  2. What exactly is the status of biographies? Is reading a Biography considered learning? If they are not considered Torah, why is a story the gemara mentions considered Torah? What would be the din, in regards to both Biographies and a non-Jewish book written to help improve middos. Can they be read on the beis hakisay? Can they be read before birchas hatorah? And would one be able to put them on top of another sefer?


Looking forwards to response


Thank You




You are asking some interesting questions.

  1. Before answering your question, it is The Midrash (Eicha 2-9) says, “חכמה בגוים תאמין תורה בגוים אל תאמין”, “the gentiles have wisdom, but they don’t have Torah”. Maharal (Netzach Yisroel 31) and others explain that there is a fundamental difference between human wisdom and Torah. Human wisdom is what us humans can comprehend, and what makes sense to our minds on our level, and from the angle that see can see things. Torah on the other hand is Godly knowledge. It is the knowledge, by which God created all of the universes, and it is on a level that by far surpasses, any mortal human knowledge and wisdom. Additionally, since it is Godly wisdom, it is inherently holy, and has to be treated that way. Therefore, we cannot take Prikei Avos into the bathroom. Additionally, being that it is Torah, therefore it is binding and obligatory for all Jews. Pirkei Avos is not just old, wise Chinese saying of wisdom, but a part of Torah and binding.

Pirkei Avos starts by teaching us the transmission of the Torah. “Moshe received the Torah at Har Sinai, and taught it to Yeshua, etc. Maharal asks an interesting question. Why did Rabeinu Hakadsh decide to start this tractate with history lesson? Shouldn’t this have been stated at the beginning of the Mishnayos to let us know the source of the transmission of the oral law and not here, in middle of Seder Nezikin? He explains that Pirkei Avos teaches us Mussar and related ideas of how to act. One may think that they are just practical pieces of advice, but not as important and binding as the Torah. Therefore, this Mesechta starts off with “Moshe received the Torah at Har Sinai.” Just like Moshe Rabienu received the Torah from Hashem with all the Mitzvos, he also received all the ideas written in Pirkei Avos. In fact the Vilna Gaon devoted his commentary on Pirkei Avos to this idea. He quotes verses from the Torah as a source for every part of every Mishnah!

Therefore, although there are many books out there that give good tips and advice how to help one improve their middos etc., and they may be very helpful, however they are still not on the level of Godly wisdom and Torah. And yes, they may be taken into the bathroom, in fact that is a great thing to do in the bathroom, instead of reading all sorts of novels, such books will give the person productive knowledge. Books written by Ramchal etc, which are deriving their work from Torah itself, the written and oral Torah’s, therefore they are also considered Torah, and if it falls on the floor, showed be picked up and kissed, and should not be taken into the bathroom.


  1. The stories written in the Gemora are not written there to tell us the history and life of the people living then. Rather there is deep meaning and lessons in all of the Aggadic stories. The commentaries on the Aggada, such as the Vilna Gaon, Maharsha, Maharal, Ben Yehoyada, and others, explain some of the deep concepts that are hidden and alluded to in the Aggada gemoras. Therefore, we cannot consider them mere stories. On the other hand, biographies, even of tzaddikim who lived in the last hundreds of years on the other hand are essentially stories. However, if they contain Torah verses, gemoras, etc,. then they should not be taken into the bathroom.

Even if they do contain pesukim etc., they should not be placed on top of real seforim, because essentially, they are stories.


Best wishes

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