Sometimes, it amazes me that after three millennia this issue still has to be thrashed out. All one has to do is review the discussions in Judaism's Encounter with Other Cultures in order to realize how rich and vital a case has been made for the integration of 'secular studies' within a Torah curriculum. (In the Israel context, I must say that it is nothing less than tragic that this volume, and others like it, are not available in Hebrew. Anyone who undertakes such a translation, or sponsors such an undertaking, would be performing an invaluable service to the cause of Torah in Israel.)
In any event, it is a fact that the value of secular knowledge has not penetrated the rabbinic or Jewish educational world in Israel, much as religiously observant academics all too often treat the world of Torah learning with barely disguised contempt. The result is that the Torah is perceived by those Western educated as (חלילה) 'primitive,' while the Torah community sees the former as a wast of time (at best) and out and out dangerous (at worst).
Both positions are seriously flawed.
Contrary to the supercillious judgements of some, there is no flaw in the Torah. There are, however, serious flaws in the way it is often approached and, a fortiori, the way in which it is presented. There is nothing new in this. A galaxy of medieval scholars can be invoked who inveighed against the puerile interpretation of Hazal, which leads to the Torah being treated with derision. The most penetrating comments come (not unsurprisingly) from the pen of Maimonides. Twice, in the Introduction to פרק חלק and in מורה נבוכים III, 31, the Rambam inveighs against those who present the Torah in a way that will not command the respect (never mind the assent) of the intelligent person (Jew or non-Jew). That assumes, of course, that the Torah is understandable in an idiom that is universal. In order to do that, one must acquire the cultural and intellectual tools to intelligently interpret and understand the Torah's manifold wisdom. Anything less is, let's face it, a Desecration of God's Name (רחמנא ליצלן).
However, secular study is not merely an apologetic, or pedagogic, tool. It possesses intrinsic value for the observant Jew. In an article I published many years ago in the now defunct British Journal L'Eyla (Spring 1989), I argued that a large section of what passes as 'secular studies' (and not confined to Math and Physics either) should be seen as an integral part of Torah (along lines set by Maimonides in הל' יסודי התורה פרק ד הלכה יד and הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק א הלכה יד). How this wisdom should be used in a Jewish Religious context is discussed by R. Aharon Lichtenstein in his magisterial essay in the 'Encounter' volume. However, he was preceded in this by the way in which Professor Twersky characterized the R. Soloveitchik's זצ"ל use of secular studies. It is used masterfully, and judiciously in order to elicit the deeper, highly sophisticated, levels of Torah spirituality and insight. Furthermore, in a world in which the Jew is bombarded with alternate cultural models, it is an absolute requirement to courageously and forcefully engage those models.
Engagement does not betoken surrender. On the contrary, all too often the absence of a sophisticated engagement with the West (for example) abandons the Torah to the 'graces' of those who would distort it in order to decorate an a priori surrender to general culture.
Mastery of Western Culture (music, philosophy, belles lettres, history, art etc.) provides depth of thought and sensitivity, as well as precious tools to illuminate our Tradition (מסורה), for the sake of our own minds and souls. Not everything outside is acceptable, or valuable. Sometimes, though, even from those things we are forced to reject, we arrive at a deeper sense of who we are.
As I've written before, all of this is predicated upon an all too rare quality: intellectual and spiritual humility. It is lacking both among western intellectuals and among too many rabbis.
That discussion, though, will have to wait for another day.