My father related that he was told by someone whose oldest son had just reached school age that he had decided not to send the child to a school with secular studies so that the boy would be able to devote all his time to learning Torah. My father protested, "But your son will be unable to read even the street signs to know where he is standing." When the unbending father replied, "R' Hayyim Soloveichik also did not read Russian," our protagonist, who felt that the child's development would be impeded altogether by the abnormal education his father was charting for him, argued, "Yes, but R' Hayyim had a shamosh who knew Russian and read the signs while escorting him through the streets. Do you expect your son to have a shamosh when he grows up?"
It is noteworthy that when asked as an octogenarian whether young students at a Monsey yeshiva may be permitted to read light English literature (which would pass faculty censorship), my father- with the caveat that he would be "considered a leftist" for the ruling - referred to this experience of his own to prove that such reading is not harmful. He mentioned that he read Russian translations of such classics as the science fantasies of Jules Verne and the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle :. He added that the licentiousness of present-day society and literature mandates that contemporary secular books be carefully screened before being put onto a permitted-reading list. The principal of the secular department in Mesivta Torah Vodaath, R' Moshe Lonner, reported d that my father suggested students study certain plays by Shakespeare "because in olden times there was less reference to topics to which yeshiva bahurim should not be exposed", and referred to his own reading of these classics in the Russian language. (He added at the time that we should not think that people of the Elizabethan and Victorian ages were better than those of latter times - "there was simply more ,nr, [shame] then".)
Also like my father, R' Aaron Kotler dabbled in secular studies at this time. He was more interested in literature than in the sciences which attracted my father's interest. My father stated to his son-in-law R' Yisrael Shurin that R' Aaron was proficient in all of classical Russian literature'L This was corroborated when, during a visit with a young, intellectual protoge of the Hazon-Ish who headed a yeshiva in Ramlah, R' Aaron blurted out, "This was expounded by Aleksander Pushkin" - as reported to this author by the yeshiva head '. The Ramlah Yeshiva was visited by R' Aaron Kotler, R' Shmuel Graineman and the Kopycznitzer Rebbe, R' Avrohm-Yehoshua' Heschel, in the summer of 5714 (1954). At the same time, Moshe Bar-Sela', director of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry and a Pushkin buff, dropped by for a glass of tea and a chat - people were wont to stop off in Ramlah on the then long drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. When Bar-Sela' quoted a line from the poem Yevgeni On'yegin without naming the author, R' Aaron reacted as reported. (Pushkin was a Russian author favored in Jewish intellectual circles. This author came across an interview of French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas by Francois Poiri in "Emmanuel Levinas, Qui etes-vous?? ''° which has the thinker relating, "A few years ago an Israeli born in Eastern Europe paid me a visit. Upon entering my home, he noticed that I had the complete works of Pushkin on the bookshelves. 'You can see right away,' he said, 'that this is a Jewish home.'"
posted originally by Daas Torah