When, in 1946, Yeshiva University made Torah u-Madda—Torah and secular scholarship—its official motto, the phrase very much became a slogan for Modern Orthodoxy as a whole. Now, however, some observers have declared the “era of Torah u-Madda” over and see it as no longer the defining principle, or even a defining principle, of any stream of Orthodox Judaism. The rabbi, author, and educator Jack Bieler comments on the failures of Jewish education in this regard:
At the outset, . . . it is important to acknowledge that there are numerous reasons why Torah u-Madda has failed to capture the imaginations of contemporary American Modern Orthodoxy. . . .
Having spent my working life as a religious educator in day schools and synagogues, I tend to view this, and many other issues, both religious and secular, in educational terms. . . . I [primarily] attribute the failure of Torah u-Madda to the inability of Modern Orthodoxy’s key educational institutions, Yeshiva University in particular, to produce, self-consciously, individuals committed to such an outlook who also aspire to leadership and influence in the community’s key institutions, i.e., its synagogues and day schools. . . .
[Furthermore], the structure by which Jewish education is delivered . . . countermands the development of a Torah u-Madda approach. Torah u-Madda is by definition an interdisciplinary approach, whereby elements of Jewish tradition and general studies are brought to bear upon each other. However, over the course of a [typical] school day, not only are English and Tanakh, history and Talmud, Hebrew and French, mathematics and Jewish thought usually presented in splendid isolation from each other, but even subjects within the Judaic-studies and general-studies curricula are rarely allowed to interact within the classroom.
While, occasionally, some teachers may personally be conversant with “both sides of the curriculum,” the need to cover ground in the highly pressurized context of a double-curriculum educational institution usually precludes them from regularly incorporating “outside” ideas and thoughts into the classroom context.